The Journal of the Life and Culture of San Antonio

French Flavoring III: Among the Early Citizens

Among the “foreigners” in San Antonio in 1860, the French were fourth in number. The 1860 census shows 1,477 Germans, 1,220 Mexicans, 310 Irish, 232 French and 68 English. This was not a large number of French people, yet no other city in Texas had as many. By 1876, the City Assessor listed even fewer French, 128, but his figures show 5,630 “Germans, including Alsatians.”

The Alsatians had come from the farm and coal country in the northeastern corner of France, near the German border. Colonizer Henry Castro of Paris had personally recruited people near Strasbourg and among Rhinelanders east of the Rhine River. They spoke a mixture of French and German. Some 2,134 settlers had been brought to the Bexar area in 1844 by the French empresario--primarily to farmland around Castroville, 27 miles from San Antonio.

Later, many of the original colony moved to San Antonio. In 1850, six years after Castro’s colonizers came to his settlements of Castroville, D’Hanis, Quihi and Vandenberg in Medina County, the population of free inhabitants in the county was only 881. The French made a lasting imprint on the minds and bodies of San Antonians—as educators, they founded schools and colleges, and French nuns established an orphanage and the first well staffed and equipped hospital. St. Mary’s University, Our Lady of the Lake University, Incarnate Word College and Santa Rosa Hospital had French beginnings. All those early institutions were sponsored by the Catholic Church. According to Father Virgilio Elizondo, rector of San Fernando Cathedral, “the French influence is evident in the presence of seven different orders of nuns and priests operating in San Antonio that have helped expand hospital care, education, the legal profession and social services.”

The French also involved themselves significantly in commerce, art, architecture and government affairs.

--Frank Jennings, 1992

See:

Sister Mary Generosa Callahan, C.D.P., The History of the Sisters of Divine Providence, San Antonio, Texas (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1955)

Cornelia E. Crook, Henry Castro (San Antonio: St. Mary's University Press, 1988).

Mooney and Morrison’s General Directory of San Antonio, 1877-1878  (Galveston: Galveston News, 1877)

Ralph A. Wooster, "Foreigners in the Principal Towns of Ante-Bellum Texas," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 66 (October 1962).


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