Nicolás de Lafora, soldier and explorer, was born in Alicante, Spain, probably in 1730. He entered the Spanish army in 1746 as a cadet in the infantry regiment of Galicia, where he achieved the rank of second lieutenant. Lafora then transferred to the Corps of Royal Engineers and there attained the rank of captain. His active duty included campaigns in Italy, North Africa, and Portugal. He left Spain for Mexico in August 1764, and was selected in 1766 by the Marqués de Cruillas, the viceroy of New Spain, to accompany the Marqués de Rubí's massive inspection of the northern frontier of New Spain. By Lafora's own estimate, he traveled 2,936 leagues (approximately 7,600 miles) over a span of twenty-three months. His specific responsibilities included recording day-by-day information on physical features, geographical coordinates, and ethnographic information. Aside from these obligations, he was to assist in compiling maps. On his own initiative he wrote a descriptive account of the provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, New Mexico, Sonora, Nuevo León, Coahuila, Texas, New Galicia, and Nayarit. That narrative, in the words of Lawrence Kinnaird, "is the best single source of information upon the frontiers of New Spain yet found."
Lafora left Mexico City on March 18, 1766, and joined Rubí in Durango on April 14. Rubí began his inspection tour in New Mexico, moved to the Gulf of California, and then journeyed to Coahuila. From Monclova, Rubí and Lafora reached the Texas missions at El Cañón on the upper Nueces River in mid-July 1767. From there they continued on to San Sabá and inspected San Luis de las Amarillas presidio, recently renamed Real Presidio de San Sabá by its commander. The next point of inspection was at San Antonio de Béxar Presidio, where the official visitors remained until August 25. Subsequent stops were made in East Texas at the Nacogdoches mission and at Los Adaes, but in neither case did they find a single resident neophyte. At the first religious outpost, Lafora caustically noted that it had been in existence for more than forty years without converting a single Indian.
Rubí and Lafora completed the Texas portion of their inspection tour with visits to El Orcoquisac and La Bahía, and they departed for Laredo and San Juan Bautista on November 12, 1767. Their collective experiences led them to conclude that the Apaches were the scourge of the frontier provinces, and their definition of the northern line of defense was later confirmed by the New Regulations for Presidios, issued on September 10, 1772. The expedition's general map of the areas visited on the northern frontier of New Spain is regarded as a composite drawing, for it includes details that could not have been acquired through direct observation.
Lafora returned to Spain in early 1772. During consideration of the proposed New Regulations, he was summoned as an expert witness and testified before a junta. He was named corregidor (district magistrate) of Oaxaca in 1774 and remained at that post until 1785. He apparently spent his remaining years in New Spain, where he was living as late as 1789.
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Vito Alessio Robles, Nicolás de Lafora: Relación del viaje que hizo a los presidios internas situados en la frontera de la América Septentrional (Mexico City: Editorial Pedro Robredo, 1939). Janet R. Fireman, The Spanish Royal Corps of Engineers in the Western Borderlands: Instrument of Bourbon Reform, 1764 to 1815 (Glendale, California: Clark, 1977). Lawrence Kinnaird, The Frontiers of New Spain: Nicolas de Lafora's Description (Berkeley, California: Quivira Society, 1958). Robert S. Weddle, The San Sabá Mission (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Donald E. Chipman,
“Lafora, Nicolás de,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 14, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
March 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
August 7, 2020
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: