François Guilbeau, Jr., businessman, French consul, and horticulturist, was born in 1813 at Ancenis in Brittany, the son of François Guilbeau. He was in the French military and served in the French campaign in Algeria. In 1839 Guilbeau and his father moved to San Antonio and established the first bakery on N. Flores near Military Plaza, for which they brought in bakers from New Orleans. Later they opened a wine shop and import house on Main Plaza. In the Republic of Texas Guilbeau, Jr., assisted in the settlement of Castro's colony and developed an extensive network of ox trains to Mexico and the Gulf coast. Because of the late arrival of the railroad to San Antonio (1877), his transportation empire prospered, especially during wartime, and Guilbeau, Jr., played an important role in the regional economy after the annexation of Texas to the United States. Guilbeau, Jr., served San Antonio as acting mayor in 1841. His father died in 1845, and in 1848 Guilbeau, Jr., married Rosaria Ramón, daughter of Rosario and María Leal Ramón. She was a descendant of Capt. Diego Ramón (who had been appointed interim governor of Coahuila in 1691 and who served as captain of San Juan Bautista in 1701) and of the Leal family (Canary Islanders who settled San Antonio in 1731). François and Rosaria Guilbeau had five children, including Adèle, who married her cousin Bryan V. Callaghan, Jr. Rosaria Ramón Guilbeau died young and was buried in France at an unknown site, probably Montpellier, where they owned a vineyard and chateau, and where the children were reared in a convent after their mother's death. Guilbeau served as French consul from 1855 through the Civil War, and his home became the French consulate. Though preserved only in drawings and photos today, the elegant two-story house on South Flores (later 510 Main Avenue) was the site of frequent weddings and parties. This showplace had crystal chandeliers, sixteen-foot-high ceilings, multiple French doors opening onto gardens, and three large drawing rooms that could be opened up to form one great ballroom. Both Guilbeau's home and his store were San Antonio landmarks. The store's façade is known from an 1856 print by Erhard Pentenrieder, a detail of which shows camels on Main Plaza in front of Guilbeau's wine shop, next to a saloon.
A successful entrepreneur and businessman, Guilbeau was also a frontier hero before he became an international hero. According to one account, the legendary marksman was "barred from the important shooting matches in San Antonio. [because he could] cut a playing card in half with a dueling pistol while the card was held edgeways between the fingers of an assistant." In his report from San Antonio entitled Du Texas ("from Texas"), published in 1857, Victor P. Considerant said that around 1850 his friend Guilbeau had planted two banana roots in San Antonio. His gardener covered them with a foot of dirt in the winter, permitting them to yield abundantly; from them, thousands grew. A horticulturist of epic reputation, Guilbeau collaborated with Jules Poinsard (1814–1885), the agricultural commissioner from France to Texas, who was also the architect and builder of the Guilbeau home; nurseryman Matthew N. Knox; and viticulturalist Thomas Volney Munson to save the wine industry in France and the rest of Europe from phylloxera (seeGRAPE CULTURE). Knowing the Texas mustang grape to be resistant to this disease, Guilbeau contracted with Knox to harvest vine cuttings, which were bundled and boxed in his warehouse, carted to Galveston by ox train, and shipped to Europe to be grafted onto ailing vines. Between 1876 and 1878, Guilbeau shipped several hundred tons of mustang grapevine cuttings, enabling the European vine industry to survive. After Guilbeau died of a cerebral hemorrhage on February 9, 1879, his wine continued to be sold in San Antonio for at least two more decades, and the results of his enterprise are perpetuated in the rootstocks of European wines.
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Frederick Charles Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio (Yanaguana Society Publications 4, San Antonio, 1937). Victor Prosper Considérant, Du Texas: Premier Rapport à mes amis (Paris: Librarie Sociétaire, 1857). Dorothy Steinbomer Kendall and Carmen Perry, Gentilz, Artist of the Old Southwest (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1974). San Antonio Express, May 28, 1933.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Betje Black Klier,
“Guilbeau, Francois, Jr.,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 15, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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