Journal Of The Life And Culture Of San Antonio

The Irish of San Antonio's Colonial Period

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Two men among the first Irish to come to San Antonio changed their citizenship and their names in order to adapt their lives to Spain. Their names Murphy and O’Connor, became Morfi and Oconor. One was the first historian to report in depth on the breadth of Texas, and the other was interim governor of Texas from 1767 to 1770.

In 1777, Father Juan Agustin Morfi, a missionary, historian and Irishman, accompanied Comandant General Teodoro de Croix on his inspection of New Spain, making keen observations and keeping detailed notes. He authored San Antonio’s earliest history , entitling his account History of Texas 1673-1779. A century and a half later, University of Texas Borderlands historian Carlos Castaneda translated the lengthy text and published it in two volumes in 1935.

The work of Morfi, a priest, intersected with soldier/statesman Governor Hugo Oconor at Mission San Jose. In his youth, Dublin-born Oconor fled the British in his homeland and joined the Spanish army, where his career prospered as he rose through successive ranks. Then, serving as the Interim Governor of the Province of Texas, he lived in San Antonio in 1768, and helped lay the first two stones in the church foundation at “The Queen of Texas Missions,” San Jose. On March 19, 1768, the governor joined with Father Gaspar Jose Solis to start building the new church for the mission, after a previous church, built before 1749, had been torn down to make room for the new structure.

As the Texas revolutions of the 19th century followed, Irishmen continued to play important roles in San Antonio history just the way Morfi and Oconor had in the 18th century. In fact, at the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, twelve of the Texas defenders were Irish-born, and David Crockett and 20 other American-born defenders traced their family heritage to Ireland.

--Frank W. Jennings, 1992

Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library, vertical file, “Ireland”

Sean Burke, Ph.D., telephone interview, September, 18, 1992.

J. B. Flannery, Irish Texans

“Morfi”, trans by Carlos Castendeda, University of Texas Press

Frank W. Jennings, “Oconor” Texas Highways,

San Antonio Express-News, March 18, 1988, p 1c,

San Antonio Express-News, July 21, 1989.