Article Content for The Alamo

The Mission Period: 1700-1793

A Spanish mission The story of the Alamo begins with the establishment of the Mission San Francisco de Solano near the Rio Grande River in 1700.  There, Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares worked to convert many of the Coahuiltecan bands to Catholicism, the official religion of Spain.  After Olivares traveled to Texas with an expedition in 1709, he was struck by the potential of the San Antonio area and later recommended it to the Spanish viceroy, Marques de Valero, as a site for a mission waypoint on the road to Spanish settlements in East Texas.

In 1718, after many Indians had left Mission Solano, Olivares moved the mission’s belongings to the new site near present day San Antonio.  He named the new mission in honor of Saint Anthony de Padua and the Spanish viceroy who had approved his plan: San Antonio de Valero.

While the mission changed locations several times, the present location was chosen in 1724.   The foundation of the stone mission church was laid in 1744. Until it was secularized nearly 70 years later, San Antonio de Valero was home to Spanish missionaries and their Indian converts.   It was the first of five Spanish missions in the San Antonio area. 

A Spanish mission was much more than a religious institution.  Its purpose was to take an indigenous population and convert it not only to Catholicism, but to the Spanish way of life.  In establishing the missions in Texas, the Spanish hoped to create a self-sufficient population that would continue to exist and grow as loyal Spanish subjects, thereby staving off any involvement of foreign powers like France.  Indian converts were taught farming, raising livestock, blacksmithing, carpentry, stonework, and weaving. 

Indians and missionaries at San Antonio de Valero also found protection at the mission. Encroachment by warlike Apaches from the west and Comanches from the north meant local Coahuiltecan tribes were under constant threat.  Thus, mission life brought protection from other indigenous people as well as shelter and a more stable food supply.  It also gave the Coahuiltecans access to two important technological developments of the period: firearms and horses.  On June 30, 1745, an Apache attack on the nearby town of San Fernando was driven off with the aid of 100 mission converts from Valero.

Mission San Antonio de Valero was originally overseen by the Franciscan College of Querétaro but was taken over by the Franciscan College of Zacatecas in 1773 after the expulsion of the Jesuits from New Spain (1767).  The void left by the departure of the Jesuits from New Spain was filled by reassigning the missionaries from other orders who remained in the various Spanish colonies.

By the late 1700s much had changed on the Texas frontier.  Indian convert populations had dwindled at most of the Spanish missions, sometimes from increased mortality due to exposure to new diseases carried by the Europeans.  The rich mission lands, cultivated over a century, were also coveted by local populations.  As a result, by 1793, Mission San Antonio de Valero was secularized and control passed to local authorities.  Much of the mission lands and goods were distributed amongst the Spanish locals and remaining Indian residents.   The other San Antonio missions would meet a similar fate.

The former mission, with its convento, adobe houses and an incomplete stone church, would soon play host to the first of many military garrisons.