Portilla, Felipe Roque de la (1766–1841)

By: Mrs. Patrick H. Welder

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 1, 1996

Felipe Roque de la Portilla Colmenero, colonizer, was born on August 16, 1766, in Carriazo, Santander, Spain, to Domingo de la Portilla Arnuero and Antonia Colmenero Vélez. He went to Mexico as a captain in the Spanish Army and on November 12, 1799, was married to María Ignacia de la Garza Montemayor in old La Feria by José Nicolás Ballí. María was a native of Mier, Nuevo Santander, Mexico, and the daughter of Damián de la Garza Montemayor and María Rozalía Sáenz Almaraz. Felipe and María had eight children, including Dolores and Tomasa, both of whom were later married to empresario James Power. In 1803, after the Louisiana purchase, the Spanish government in Mexico became concerned about American citizens moving into Texas. Officials decided to establish more Spanish settlements between San Antonio de Béxar and Nacogdoches in an effort to secure Spanish presence in the area. The governor of the province of Texas, Manuel Antonio Cordero y Bustamante, approached his friend Portilla to organize and oversee the venture. In 1807, after extracting promises from Cordero that he would receive a substantial land grant and that the government would assist the settlers financially, Portilla headed for Texas with a small group of settlers. The exact number has been disputed; some suggest that only ten persons were in the original group, while other sources say the number was as high as fifty-two. There is also some conflict in records as to whether Portilla's family was in the original group or whether they arrived in the fall of 1808. Most sources agree the group arrived at the San Marcos River on January 6, 1808. In April Governor Cordero issued the official order that established San Marcos de Neve, and his military representative, Juan Ygnacio de Arrambide, issued thirteen titles to town lots. Disaster struck the settlers in June, when a flood washed them out of their homes. Throughout the summer and fall the settlers rebuilt their town. In letters to government officials, Portilla reported that he left the colony in September 1808 to get more settlers and returned with six new families in late October. While there are no other records to confirm the increase, Portilla's census of 1809 did show a total of seventy-three persons and 1,771 animals. Over the next three years, the settlers made a valiant effort to maintain their new homes, but frequent Indian raids and the failure of the government to send soldiers for protection forced them to abandon the settlement in 1812. Portilla, heavily in debt since he had extended loans to many of the settlers and had never been reimbursed by the government, resettled his family in Matamoros, Mexico, where he was elected to civil office. His wife died on August 27, 1819, and he later married the daughter of José Antonio de la Garza Falcón. Portilla held the position of alcalde of Matamoros as well as serving as a lieutenant of the Provincial Militia and Cavalry until 1829. He left Matamoros and joined his son-in-law, James Power, and others in establishing a settlement at Refugio in what is now San Patricio County. In 1836 he left the Power and Hewetson colony and returned to Matamoros, where he lived until his death on May 31, 1841. Descendants of Portilla, the Patrick Hughes Welder family and the Robert Hughes Welder family, still work a ranch on Portilla's original land grant, which is also the site of the Rob and Bessie Welder Wildlife Foundation and Refuge.

Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann–Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). John Brendan Flannery, The Irish Texans (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1980). Goliad County Historical Commission, The History and Heritage of Goliad County, ed. Jakie L. Pruett and Everett B. Cole (Austin: Eakin, 1983). Hobart Huson, Refugio: A Comprehensive History of Refugio County from Aboriginal Times to 1953 (2 vols., Woodsboro, Texas: Rooke Foundation, 1953, 1955). William H. Oberste, Our Lady Comes to Refugio (Corpus Christi: Jones, 1944). William H. Oberste, Texas Irish Empresarios and Their Colonies (Austin: Von Boeckmann–Jones, 1953; 2d ed. 1973). Tula Townsend Wyatt, Historical Markers in Hays County (San Marcos, Texas: Hays County Historical Commission, 1977).
Time Periods:
  • Spanish Texas

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

Mrs. Patrick H. Welder, “Portilla, Felipe Roque de la,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/portilla-felipe-roque-de-la.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1996

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