Founding a Spanish Community

Painting of Baltasar de Zúñiga y Guzmán, the First Viceroy of New Spain.
Credit: Natl. Museum of History, Mexico
Portrait by an unknown artist of the First Viceroy of New Spain, Baltasar de Zúñiga y Guzmán to whom Fray Olivares wrote for permission to establish the Mission San Antonio de Valero.

After several years of petitioning the Viceroy of New Spain, Baltasar de Zúñiga y Guzmán, Fray Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares was granted permission to establish a mission at the location of the San Antonio River, which Olivares had observed during an expedition in 1709. On May 1, 1718, Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares performed the rites and rituals establishing Mission San Antonio de Valero west of San Pedro Springs, located just a few miles from the headwaters of the San Antonio River. The mission was founded as a Spanish foothold in a territory that Spain rarely entered, with the intent to convert indigenous peoples to Catholicism and instruct them to become Spanish citizens. With the establishment of Mission Valero, the associated villa and presidio were also founded along San Pedro Creek by Martín de Alarcón on May 5, 1718.

Image (above): Detail of a 1764 map of the San Antonio Missions, created by Luis Antonio Menchaca, JCB Map Collection, John Carter Brown Library, Brown University.

Valero’s Three Locations

1730 map of San Antonio showing Mission Valero in its third and final location.
This 1730 Spanish map of San Antonio by Marques de San Miguel de Aguayo shows the Presidio of San Antonio, the Missions San Antonio and San Jose, and the proposed Villa de San Fernando de Bexár, as well as, irrigation ditches, gardens, farm lands, trees, and bushes.

Mission Valero soon moved from its first location on San Pedro Creek to another location near the modern-day St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. It appears that the first location was not adequate, as Fray Olivares moved the new mission within a year. The second location seems to have been better, with of land able to be watered, proximity to a stone quarry, and an abundance of natural resources. However, even here, construction of a stone church was abandoned due to a hurricane in 1724. That year, the mission moved to its current location.

Construction Heyday

Close-up of mission-era painting inside the Alamo Church.
Although the mission church was never completed, decorative painting had begun inside, and remnants of it are still visible today.

Construction of a stone convento started immediately. A convento is the area of a mission set aside for the clergy. It housed the priests’ private quarters, as well as offices, refectory, and private gardens. The mission church began construction in 1740, but suffered many setbacks. In 1756, the almost-completed arches for the vaulted roof and portions of the walls collapsed. Construction resumed soon after, but the church was never completed during the lifetime of the mission.

Daily Lives

Daily life at the mission consisted of instruction in the Catholic faith, attending mass and prayers. In addition, the neophytes (indigenous residents of the mission) were taught the Spanish language and skills such as weaving, farming, masonry, and metal-working.  Mission inhabitants harnessed the nearby river and built irrigation ditches called acequias. These allowed them to grow a variety of vegetables, and provide drinking water to their livestock.

Rosary made from chain-linked beads with a metal cross.
Credit: The Alamo Collection
This rosary from the Alamo Collection is representative of the religious objects that missionaries at Mission Valero might have owned.
1766-1767 Spanish plan of the Villa and Presidio of San Antonio de Bexar
© The British Library, Add. 17662.t.

Spanish plan of the Villa and Presidio of San Antonio de Bexár, 1766-1767, showing buildings, acequias, the San Antonio River, roads, and terrain.

Plano de la Villa y Presidio de S. Antonio de Vejar situado en la provincia de Tejas, 1766-1767
Joseph de Urrutia

An Exchange of Cultures

Fragments of mission-era ceramic called Puebla Polychrome discovered at the Alamo.
In 2020, archaeologists unearthed fragments of mission-era ceramic called Puebla Polychrome such as this, demonstrating that pottery traditions continued at the mission.

Archaeological evidence shows that the indigenous population continued their traditions of pottery and stone-tool making, since it was a difficult journey to bring supplies in from Mexico. In addition, archaeologists have discovered beef, pork, goat, and chicken bones here, showing that these became parts of the mission residents’ diets (all resources that were brought by the missionaries). However, archaeologists have also found that wild game consisting of deer, javelina, turkey, and fish, among others, continued to be hunted.

Secularization: A Mission Fulfilled

Painting depicting an ox cart driven by a man with a women on board.
Credit: DRT Library
This painting by Jean Louis Théodore Gentilz, titled “Yendo a la Cuidad (Going to Town)” is typical of everyday life in San Antonio after the mission was secularized.

The mission institution was not set up to be long lasting. Instructions for establishing a mission indicated that it would have served its purpose within ten years and should be secularized to allow the community it helped to create grow. The San Antonio Missions persisted for a much longer period, with Mission Valero being secularized in 1793. Secularization consisted of dividing up the lands and goods that the mission had acquired and distributing them to the mission residents. The families would then fulfill their religious needs at the local parish church. Those who were once the residents of Mission Valero became parishioners at San Fernando, located just on the other side of the San Antonio River.