The Canary Islanders - Journal of San Antonio

“The King Appointed Them to Settle that Place

. . and it shall be known by the name of Villa de San Fernando."

At eleven o'clock in the morning, March 9, 1731, fifteen families of fifty-five settlers filed before Juan Antonio de Almazan, Captain of the Presidio of San Antonio, who welcomed them in the name of King Philip V. The arrival of the Canary Islanders brought to fruition the recommendation of the Council of the Indies that a permanent civil settlement in the remote territory of Texas be established to prevent possible incursion of the French.

The Canary Islanders were a volunteer group, as required by the King: ". . . in no other way was anyone to be sent to settle." The proclamation to the inhabitants of Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, La Palma, and Tenerife was posted in 1723, but it was not until February 14, 1729, that final orders for their embarkation were issued. Throughout those years, plans for the settlement of Texas changed many times, from an original plan of four hundred families to be established in villas throughout the territory, to the final small group which arrived at the Presidio.

Francisco Duval, conductor of the Islanders, presented the credentials of the group, along with the list of family names. There were to be recorded in the case of each person, the names of his parents, his birthplace, his age, his civil status, whether married or single; the name of his wife's parents and her birthplace; and if he should have any children, their number, names and ages.

The list of volunteers from the Islands, the list at Saltillo, and the list of final arrivals at the Presidio San Antonio all varied due to deaths, births, and marriages throughout their year’s journey. To meet the requirement of the Laws of the Indies, that a minimum of ten families constitute a villa, single persons joined together to form families, and later marriages increased the original number of ten families to the fifteen which finally arrived at the Presidio.

Hijos Dalgo de Solar Conocido

Concern for, and personal interest in, the Islanders were expressed by the King, with a royal cedula conferring land-rights and honors upon the citizens of this new villa. "In order to honor any persons and their children, or legitimate descendants, who may undertake to found settlement, when they have concluded and established such settlements, we hereby make them land-holding nobles, hijos dalgo, and persons of noble lineage and estate, solar conocido; and in order that they may be known as such, we hereby grant them all the honors and prerogatives that all landed noblemen and knights of these kingdoms of Castile should have and enjoy, according to the laws and privileges of Spain.”

The Islanders were given temporary housing with the soldiers and inhabitants of the Presidio, and "until a church was to be built for them", the use of the garrison chapel. By July 2, after plowing and planting, the municipality had been laid out. To the west, "about a musket shot from the presidio, was a low, flat hill which formed a plateau upon which the town was to be located." Lands to the north and south of the presidio were practical for farming.

In compliance with the Governor's orders, the colonists were provided with staples of flour, meat, com, and other supplies for daily maintenance. Seeds of wheat, com, beans, chile, pumpkin, grain, and vegetables for planting were provided, and a yoke of oxen was sent from Saltillo to the head of each family. Every member of a family was given an allowance of four reales a day for one year, to pay for planting seeds and other small expenses.

With the founding of their Villa in 1731, in compliance with the Laws of the Indies, the Canary Islanders established the first civil settlement in the province of Texas. The Villa was given the name of San Fernando, in honor of the son of Philip V, Don Fernando, Prince of the Asturias, who in 1746 succeeded his father as King Ferdinand VI.

--Mary Ann Noonan Guerra,

excerpted from: San Fernando, Heart of San Antonio

(San Antonio: Archbishop Francis J. Fuery, 1977)