As a young man, Manuel Julio de Silva became a Franciscan and decided to model his life after that of Antonio Margil de Jesús. Throughout his early years as a priest he was notable for his penitential observances and acts of self-mortification. In later life he punished himself by invariably wearing a shirt of small chain mesh. As a member of the missionary College of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Zacatecas, in August 1790 Father Silva was elected commissary and prefect of the college's missions in Mexico and Texas for a term of seven years. The appointment prompted him to undertake a personal inspection of the establishments for which he was responsible, which took him and a fellow Franciscan, José Francisco Mariano Garza, to Texas in January 1791. Silva, however, was soon ordered back to Mexico to inspect the province of Zacatecas. There he proposed the founding of a mission for the Karankawa Indians on March 10, 1792, the new religious outpost to be located at the mouth of the Guadalupe River. Silva's grandiose plan was to convert all Indian groups between the Mississippi River and the Rio Grande. Unknown to him, Viceroy Revilla Gigedo II had already approved the founding of Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission on December 31, 1791, thanks to the continued efforts on behalf of the Karankawas by Father Garza in Texas. But in December of the following year, royal expenditures were limited to just this mission.
At that time the great mission era in Texas was rapidly coming to a close. The last mission in Texas was founded in early 1793-just as the older religious establishments at San Antonio were undergoing secularization. Indeed, part of the attractiveness of Silva's plan included reducing the number of missionaries at San Antonio de Valero from four to two and transferring the others to the new mission at the mouth of the Guadalupe. That site, however, proved unhealthful, and an alternate location with the less-than-promising name of Rancho de los Mosquitos was then selected. The second site, about halfway between the confluence of the San Antonio and Guadalupe rivers and the mouth of the latter stream, likewise proved unacceptable, and Father Silva traveled to Mexico in March 1794 to seek more funds for Mission Refugio and authorization for still another change of sites. He returned to the mission in October 1794 and chose the third and present site for Nuestra Señora del Refugio at Rancho Santa Gertrudis. The new location was occupied on January 8, 1795. In the summer of the next year Silva resigned as minister of Refugio Mission, leaving it in the hands of his college. He was then in terrible health. Gout and rheumatism had left him partially paralyzed, he had lost the use of his left hand, and he was unable to bend his knees. In retirement at Zacatecas, Silva lived until December 3, 1798, when he died at the age of sixty-two. By extension it can be argued that he was the founder of the present town of Refugio.
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Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). William H. Oberste, History of Refugio Mission (Refugio, Texas: Refugio Timely Remarks, 1942).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Donald E. Chipman,
“Silva, Manuel Julio de,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 19, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1996
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: