Juan Curbelo, pioneer, city official, farmer, and rancher, was born around 1680 in the port city of Arrecife on the island of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa. He was the son of Domingo Curbelo and María Martín Enríquez. Juan and his wife, Gracia Perdomo de Umpierres (also spelled as Garcia Perdomo y Umpienes), along with three children, were among the Canary Islanders who settled in Texas. The Curbelo family was listed as the “Second Family” on a register recorded at Cuautitlán (just north of present-day Mexico City). The census was taken on November 8, 1730, while the Canary Islander families were en route on their journey that included sailing to Havana, Cuba, and Vera Cruz, Mexico, and then traveling overland to Mexico City and northward to Texas. Together in a total of fifteen families, plus four additional bachelors that later constituted a “Sixteenth Family,” the Canary Islanders founded the civil settlement of San Fernando de Béxar (present-day San Antonio) adjacent to Presidio San Antonio de Béxar on March 9, 1731.
Juan Curbelo served as a councilman at San Fernando de Béxar by 1735, when ranching and farming interests clashed after a stockade fell into disrepair. To avoid probable damage to crops from livestock running loose, senior alcalde Juan Leal Goraz ordered the residents to repair the fencing “under penalty of four pesos in silver, half of which shall be applied to public works.” In response, Curbelo stated before Governor Manuel de Sandoval on the residents’ behalf “that it is not convenient to make the said stockade in the place determined by the said alcalde [Leal Goras] because it would make things too inconvenient for them.” Instead, Curbelo suggested each resident vote on whether a fence should be built and where, based upon a majority decision. The governor gave his approval, and the two possible locations to be decided upon for a new stockade were either along the canals of the San Antonio River or along the boundaries of the lands belonging to Joseph Cabrera (head of the “Thirteenth Family” on the Canary Islander list).
Tensions escalated among the Isleños when Juan Leal Goraz ordered the imprisonment of Juan Curbelo, Francisco José de Arocha (head of the “Ninth Family” and married to Curbelo’s daughter Juana), and Martín Lorenzo de Armas, one of the bachelors among the original Canary Islanders. All three men were eventually released from prison inside the guard room of the presidio in January 1736 by order of the viceroy.
Additional legal wrangling befell Curbelo a few months later when he was sued for nonpayment of debts in the amount of ninety-three pesos he owed to Francisco Fernandez de Rumayor, a merchant resident in Saltillo, Coahuila. Apparently, Curbelo had obtained a loan in 1733 from Rumayor in the total amount of 301 pesos and owed him additional debts, including for two pounds of steel. Ironically, the constable of San Fernando de Béxar, who presented at Curbelo’s home to demand payment of the loan, was Vicente Álvarez Travieso, listed as head of the “Seventh Family” of Canary Islanders and married to Curbelo’s other daughter, María Ana. Curbelo faced the confiscation of his property, but he ultimately paid 112 pesos in satisfaction of the debt owed Rumayor, plus other costs. The debts with Rumayor and other archival documents reveal the financial dependency of at least some residents in the villa of San Fernando de Béxar upon merchants and other residents in Saltillo as well as potentially greater commercial opportunities between Tejas and Coahuila.
Despite the challenges Curbelo and his wife faced during the first decade after the founding of the villa of San Fernando de Béxar, they accumulated land and established ranching and farming operations. Curbelo’s will, dated January 19, 1742, detailed the real estate, additional debts, and inheritance involving both men and women. He declared among his belongings two houses with corresponding solares (lots) located in the town plaza; an additional town lot; twelve bulls and oxen, with cows in particular marked with his own branding iron; four horses and two mules; various farm equipment; 200 fanegas (bundles) of corn; tilling lands with one day of irrigation; and a pastureland. He further stated that he owed 186 pesos to Ana María de Almandos (a resident of Saltillo), 26 pesos to Juan Leal, and another unspecific amount for “expenses the executors of this village made in Mexico to Capt. Toribio de Urrutia.” Additionally, he owed one bushel of corn to Juan Delgado (head of the “Twelfth Family” on the Canary Islander list). Curbelo’s will also offered glimpses into the importance of religion to residents of San Antonio and how they wished to be remembered.
Juan Curbelo and his wife had five children. He died at some point after writing his will. Unfortunately, the administration of his estate became contested many years later when Álvarez Travieso, as executor of Curbelo’s will, tried to have the court declare Curbelo’s wife (also named as an executor) insane and disputed some property ownership with Curbelo’s eldest son, Joseph Curbelo. In 1756 Ángel de Martos y Navarrete, who became governor of Texas, ordered everything be turned over to Joseph Curbelo, who had declared before him that writs regarding payment of debts and administration of the estate had been stolen from the archives. Juan Curbelo’s legacy lived on for many generations. His son, Joseph, carried on the family ranching business and was elected alcalde of San Fernando de Béxar several times.