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VERGARA, GABRIEL DE

VERGARA, GABRIEL DE (?–1739). Gabriel de Vergara, Franciscan missionary and author of the earliest manual on an aboriginal dialect of Texas, was born in Orense, a province of Galicia, Spain. His native language was probably Galician, a romance language akin to Spanish and Portuguese. He must have joined the Franciscan province of Santiago de Compostela at a very young age, since he was already a friar when he was confirmed a Catholic by Fray Damián Cornejo, a Franciscan scholar who was bishop of Orense at the time. Vergara was ordained to the priesthood, also by Cornejo, on June 5, 1700. Four years later, his theological studies apparently completed, he received canonical license to preach and confess. In 1707 he was appointed master of novices. In 1710 he entered the Missionary College of Villaviciosa in Asturias. In 1715 Fray Antonio López de Guadalupe-a Mexican Franciscan, later bishop of Honduras-recruited Vergara, along with eighteen other Spanish friars, for the missions in the New World.

Vergara, a tall man with fair complexion and thin, blondish hair, joined the College of Santa Cruz de Querétaro, Mexico, the same year. He arrived when preparations were under way for the expedition of Domingo Ramón into Texas. He chose to enlist. The purposes of this enterprise were the reestablishment of Franciscan missions in East Texas and the reclaiming of the region by Spain after almost twenty-three years of absence. The spiritual leaders of the expedition were Isidro Félix de Espinosa from Querétaro and Antonio Margil de Jesús, from Querétaro's offspring College of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Zacatecas. The expedition established six missions and a presidio in East Texas and Louisiana. Vergara became resident minister of a mission founded on July 7, 1716, Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainais (later moved to San Antonio and renamed Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña Mission). Espinosa, president of the Queretaran missions in Texas, also chose this mission as his headquarters. It was located east of the Angelina River near the site of present Linwood Crossing, in territory inhabited by Hainai Indians. The missionaries underwent many trials during the next three years. When a border conflict with the French in 1719 provoked a temporary abandonment of the missions, all the Spaniards moved to San Antonio. Vergara was among the group of friars who joined the Aguayo expedition (1721), which reclaimed the eastern frontier for Spain. Vergara was sent ahead by the Marqués de Aguayo to make preparations at Concepción, the only mission with still salvageable buildings, for its solemn reestablishment, celebrated on August 6. He resumed his duties as resident minister, and Espinosa was again his companion. On October 25, Espinosa was elected guardián (superior) of the College of Querétaro and returned to Mexico. Sometime later Vergara succeeded him as president of all the Queretaran missions in Texas, which were four at the time, one in San Antonio and three in East Texas. In 1729 Vergara convoked a meeting at Concepción of the Queretaran friars in East Texas and gathered their signatures on a document protesting a government decree that suppressed Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Tejas Presidio and requested permission to move their missions. As a result, the movables of those missions were transferred in 1730 to a site near the Colorado River. The Indian neophytes stayed behind in East Texas under the care of Zacatecan missionaries, all of whom remained.

Not satisfied with the new location, Vergara, accompanied by Governor Melchor de Mediavilla y Azcona, explored other potential sites. By May 4, 1731, the missions had been moved to chosen spots on the banks of the San Antonio River, near the site of present San Antonio. Pajalats, Pitalacs, and other Indians were recruited and transported by two expeditions organized by Vergara for that purpose. The missions were founded anew with similar or changed names, the Indians were given possession of the land under the stewardship of the missionaries, and mission pueblos were established and their Indian officials elected. In order to feed the new residents, estimated by a chronicler at 1,000, Vergara had to borrow in order to buy cattle and a large enough supply of corn. Crops were planted, irrigation ditches were dug, rough timber shelters with thatched roofs were erected. Vergara's competent management of these missions during their infancy ensured their vitality for decades to come. He again chose a mission named Concepción as his headquarters. Faced with a diversity of languages there, he studied the Coahuiltecan dialect spoken by the largest and most influential group, the Pajalats, and by 1732 had produced a Pajalat-Spanish glossary and had apparently started to collect the information that led to the publication in 1760 of a substantial manual for missionaries in Coahuiltecan.

The most serious problem confronted by the people in San Antonio in the early 1730s was Apache depredations. When Spanish retaliation provoked more raids, the situation worsened. In late 1732 Vergara sent a petition to the governor recommending a policy of reconciliation, and in early 1733 he wrote to the viceroy asking for the establishment of missions among the Apaches. Emissaries were sent, a truce was negotiated and peace was celebrated. But the Apaches violated the truce, and renewed hostilities brought panic to Spanish settlers and mission Indians alike. Vergara gave up his peace initiatives and joined officials and residents in requesting military reenforcements for the presidio. In 1737 he was elected guardián of the College of Querétaro. He died at San Juan del Río, on the road to Mexico City, in February 1739. According to a witness, seven months after being buried in a Dominican convent at that location, his body was exhumed and found incorrupt. His deeds and virtues were still recalled decades later by Franciscans in Mexico and Spain.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–1958; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Catholic Archives of Texas, Files, Austin. William E. Dunn, "Apache Relations in Texas, 1718–1750," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 14 (January 1911). Isidro Félix de Espinosa, Chrónica apostólica y seráphica de todos los colegios de propaganda fide de esta Nueva España, parte primera (Mexico, 1746; new ed., Crónica de los colegios de propaganda fide de la Nueva España, ed. Lino G. Caneda, Washington: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1964). Marion A. Habig, The Alamo Chain of Missions (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1968; rev. ed. 1976). Juan Antonio de la Peña, Peña's Diary of the Aguayo Expedition, trans. Peter P. Forrestal (Preliminary Studies of the Texas Catholic Historical Society 2.7 [January 1935]). Domingo Ramón, Captain Don Domingo Ramón's Diary of His Expedition into Texas in 1716, trans. Paul J. Foik (Preliminary Studies of the Texas Catholic Historical Society 2.5 [April 1933]). Gabriel Tous, trans., Ramón Expedition: Espinosa's Diary of 1716, Preliminary Studies of the Texas Catholic Historical Society 1.4 (April 1930).

Aníbal A. González

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Aníbal A. González, "VERGARA, GABRIEL DE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fve09), accessed October 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on October 22, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.