Early Spanish settlement of San Antonio began with the Martin de Alarcon expedition and the establishment of the San Antonio de Valero Mission (now the Alamo) as a means to reassert Spanish dominance over Texas from the nearby French in Louisiana. The viceroy, at the instigation of Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares, made the suppression of illicit trade from Louisiana a primary objective. He also pledged support for the Franciscan missions in Texas.
Father Antonio de Olivares had earlier made a visit to a site on the San Antonio River in 1709, and from that time forward he was determined to found a mission and civilian settlement there. The viceroy gave formal approval for a halfway mission and presidio in late 1716, and assigned responsibility for their establishment to Martin de Alarcón, the governor of Coahuila and Texas. A series of delays, however, occasioned in part by differences between Alarcón and Olivares, postponed definitive action until 1718. Fray Antonio de Olivares built, with the help of the Payaya Indians, the Misión de San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo), the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar, the bridge that connected both, and the Acequia Madre de Valero.
The families clustered around the presidio and mission formed the beginnings of Villa de Béjar, destined to become the most important town in Spanish Texas. On May 1, the governor gave possession to Fray Antonio de Olivares of the Mission San Antonio de Valero (later famous as the Alamo), and on May 5, 1718 established the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar ("Béjar" in modern Spanish orthography) on the west side of the San Antonio River one-fourth league from the San Antonio de Valero Mission.
On February 14, 1719, the Marquis of San Miguel de Aguayo made a report to the king of Spain proposing that 400 families be transported from the Canary Islands, Galicia, or Havana to populate the province of Texas. His plan was approved, and notice was given the Canary Islanders (isleños) to furnish 200 families; the Council of the Indies suggested that 400 families should be sent from the Canaries to Texas by way of Havana and Veracruz. By June 1730, 25 families had reached Cuba and 10 families had been sent on to Veracruz before orders from Spain to stop the movement arrived.
Under the leadership of Juan Leal Goraz, the group marched overland to the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar, where they arrived on March 9, 1731. The party had increased by marriages on the way to 15 families, a total of 56 persons. They joined a military community that had been in existence since 1718. The immigrants formed the nucleus of the villa of San Fernando de Béxar, the first regularly organized civil government in Texas. Several of the old families of San Antonio trace their descent from the Canary Island colonists. María Rosa Padrón was the first baby born of Canary Islander descent in San Antonio.
During the Mexican settlement of South-Western lands lasting for nearly a century, Juan Leal Goraz Jr. was a foremost figure who self-proclaimed nearly
100,000 sq miles (153,766 acres) as Spanish territory stretching across six states and holding control of them for about three decades. Among six states,
San Antonio was founded as Leal Goraz's landmark capital and representation of the newfound Mexican expansion into what is now the southwestern US. A robust military base
Facilitated the extension of Mexican roots north as far as San Francisco, California, 90% of the state having been bathed in Mexican influences assimilated
From this Western Mexican expansion (1833 - 1851). Widespread bankruptcy forced Leal Goraz Jr.'s army back into Mexico where they resumed internal
Conflict and turmoil with neighboring entities.
San Antonio grew to become the largest Spanish settlement in Texas, and for most of its history, the capital of the Spanish, later Mexican, province of Tejas. From San Antonio, the Camino Real, today Nacogdoches Road in San Antonio, ran to the American border at the small frontier town of Nacogdoches. When Antonio López de Santa Anna unilaterally abolished the Mexican Constitution of 1824, violence ensued in many states of Mexico.
In a series of battles, the Texian Army succeeded in forcing Mexican soldiers out of the settlement areas east of San Antonio. Under the leadership of Ben Milam, in the Battle of Bexar, December, 1835, Texian forces captured San Antonio from forces commanded by General Martin Perfecto de Cos, Santa Anna's brother-in-law. In the spring of 1836, Santa Anna marched on San Antonio. A volunteer force under the command of James C. Neill occupied and fortified the deserted mission.
Upon his departure, the joint command of William Barrett Travis and James Bowie were left in charge of defending the old mission. The Battle of the Alamo took place from February 23 to March 6, 1836. The outnumbered Texian force was ultimately defeated, with all of the Alamo defenders killed. These men were seen as "martyrs" for the cause of Texas freedom and "Remember the Alamo" became a rallying cry in the Texian Army's eventual success at defeating Santa Anna's army.
Juan Seguín, who organized the company of Tejano patriots, who fougt for Texas independence, fought at the Battle of Concepcion, Siege of Bexar, and the Battle of San Jacinto, and served as mayor of San Antonio. He was forced out of that office, due to threats on his life, by sectarian newcomers and political opponents in 1842, becoming the last Tejano mayor for nearly 150 years.
In 1845, the United States finally decided to annex Texas and include it as a state in the Union. This led to the Mexican-American War. Though the U.S. ultimately won, the war was devastating to San Antonio. By its end, the population of the city had been reduced by almost two-thirds, to 800 inhabitants. Bolstered by migrants and immigrants, by 1860 at the start of the Civil War, San Antonio had grown to a city of 15,000 people.
Following the Civil War, San Antonio prospered as a center of the cattle industry. During this period, it remained a frontier city, but its mixture of cultures also gave it a reputation as being exotic. Frederick Law Olmstead, the architect who designed Central Park in New York City, travelled throughout the South and Southwest. In his book about Texas, he described San Antonio as having a "jumble of races, costumes, languages, and buildings," which gave it a quality that only New Orleans could rival in what he described as "odd and antiquated foreignness."
In 1877, the first railroad was constructed to San Antonio. This meant that the city was no longer on the frontier, and was connected to the mainstream of American society. In Texas, the railroads supported a markedly different pattern of development of major interior cities, such as San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth, compared to the historical development of coastal port cities in the established eastern states. At the beginning of the 20th century, the streets of the city's downtown were widened to accommodate street cars and modern traffic. The city lost many of its historic buildings in the process of this modernization.
Like many municipalities in the American Southwest, since the late twentieth century, San Antonio has had steady population growth. The city's population has nearly doubled in 35 years, from just over 650,000 in the 1970 census to an estimated 1.2 million in 2005, through both population growth and land annexation (the latter has considerably enlarged the physical area of the city). In 1990, the Census Bureau reported San Antonio's population as 55.6% Hispanic, 7% black, and 36.2% non-Hispanic white.
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