Antonio Gil Y’Barbo – Pioneer, Deal Maker, and Father of Nacogdoches


Antonio Gil Y’Barbo, known as the Father of Nacogdoches, Texas, was born in 1729 in Los Adaes Presidio, New Spain.  His parents, Spanish colonists, Matheo Antonio Y’Barbo (b. 1698) and Juana Luzgarda Hernandez (b.1705) both born in Spain, were early arrivals to the Los Adaes Presidio, located on the northeastern frontier of New Spain from 1729 to 1770.  Serving in the Spanish military, Brevet Lieutenant Matheo Antonio Y’Barbo, was deployed by the Spanish Royal Crown to Los Adaes to defend New Spain against French expansion.

The Los Adaes Presidio also included a mission, Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Los Adaes.  Now a historic national monument, Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Los Adaes is located in present-day Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.  The marriage registry of the mission church of San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) documents the date of marriage for Matheo Antonio Y’Barbo and Juana Luzgarda Hernandez as April 28, 1723.

Following his father’s example, Antonio Gil Y’Barbo served in the Spanish military, yet also became involved in cattle ranching, where he established a cattle ranch near Lobanillo Creek, located in present-day Sabine County, Texas.  Antonio Gil Y’Barbo married Maria Davila Padilla, his first wife, having four children.  Antonio Gil Y’Barbo stated in his will dated May 19, 1800:

“I had two male children and two female children by my first wife, namely Mariano, Marcos, Maria Antonia, and Maria Josefa, of the following are now dead; the first two, and the last, who have legitimate issue as she is still living.”

The Los Adaes Presidio, originally established to counter French intrusions into Spanish territory.  At the close of the French and Indian War, 1767, the Los Adaes outpost became nonessential.  Louisiana was then ceded to Spain in terms included in the Peace of Paris in 1763 which terminated the Seven Year’ War.  In the same year of the 1763 Peace of Paris agreement, the Marques de Rubi then appointed to oversee the inspection of the northeastern frontier of New Spain, and executed the Royal Order of 1772 by the King of Spain; the closing of the presidios and missions of northeastern frontier.

With little time to prepare, the military garrison, their families, and other colonists, numbering around 500 at the time, ordered by the Spanish Royal Crown to abandon the post, and relocate to San Antonio de Bexar.  Antonio Gil Y’Barbo, emerged as the de facto leader of the colonists even before the exodus from Los Adaes, as he had the confidence of Baron Juan Maria Vicencio de Ripperda, Governor of Tejas, who entrusted him with the administration of government funds for purchasing supplies for the Presidio of Los Adaes.

In the summer of 1773, the exodus to San Antonio de Bexar posed extreme hardships for the colonists and their families.  Lieutenant Jose Gonzales, the commander leading the expedition back to San Antonio de Bexar, died on July 30, 1773 from such hardships of harsh three-month walk imposed upon the colonists. It was at this point, the colonists appointed Antonio Gil Y’Barbo to lead them for the remainder of the withdrawal back to San Antonio.  By summer’s end, after harsh conditions, exposure to famine, and fatigue, Antonio Gil Y’Barbo successfully led 167 disheartened, tired, and health broken colonists into San Antonio de Bexar.

The arrival of the Los Adaes colonists was just the beginning of their discontent with their new location, and Antonio Gil Y’Barbo made repeated efforts on behalf of the colonists petitioning authorities at Bexar to allow their return to the northeastern frontier.   Baron Juan Maria Vicencio de Ripperda, Governor of Tejas, suggested to Antonio Gil Y’Barbo to carry their petition to Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio Bucarelli, for approval.  As a result, the Viceroy granted approval for the colonists to move to a new site on the Trinity.

The Trinity site appeared to be a reasonable location for a new outpost.  Trinity provided a way station between Bexar and the then-Spanish presidio at Nachitoches, and would provide a base for relations with friendly Bidai Indians in the area, also providing the disenchanted colonists a safe haven, as it would serve as a checkpoint against illicit trade. Potentially, this was also a strategy to prevent the British freebooting Spanish ships from the upper coastal bend of Texas.  A factor that loomed, however, was Spain’s alignment with the American Revolutionaries’ cause against Britain, which had developed.

During this period of the American Revolutionary War, Spaniards like Y’Barbo raised cattle in East Texas for feeding the army of Bernardo de Galvez (b.1746).  General Galvez was instrumental in the support of the American Revolutionaries, and provided food provisions, and other necessary supplies delivered up the Mississippi River to feed and arm the American Revolutionaries in the East.

Without the support of the Spanish as a silent partner in American Revolutionary War by providing much needed provisions, bankrolling trade, and the Spanish military and navy numerous engagements to fight the British on behalf of the American Revolutionaries, the outcome of the American Revolutionary War would have been bleak for American Revolutionaries in Yorktown and in Southern region.  The American Revolutionary War battles fought under General Bernardo de Galvez;  Capture of Fort Bute, Battle of Baton Rouge, Battle of Fort Charlotte, and Battle of Pensacola. Galvez’s Louisiana army was made up of Native Americans, Free Slaves, Red Bones, and Spaniards.

In the August of 1774, Antonio Gil Y’Barbo and the colonists left San Antonio, arriving in their new settlement location six months later in February 1775.   By June of 1775, fifty wooden houses with corrals, fields, roads, and improved river crossings had been created at the Bucarelli settlement.  This new settlement, according to the Spanish census, at the time,  recorded 347 inhabitants.  All went reasonably well until 1779, when a series of Comanche Indian raids and a devastating Trinity River flood greatly diminished the opportunity to occupy the settlement any longer.

Sometime in late Spring of 1779, Antonio Gil Y’Barbo again seized the initiative, reasserted his leadership abilities, and set out for East Texas without official sanctions.  Captain Antonio Gil Y’Barbo led 300 to 350 weary former Adaesanos into the little valley between two flowing streams in East Texas, which later became known as Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Nacogdoches.  It was here the former Adaesanos found a sense of place among the pines of East Texas.  Antonio Gil Y’Barbo’s persistence, action, and diplomacy, succeeded in mitigating the Royal Order of 1772.

With the establishment of Nacogdoches, a new page was created in the history of Spanish settlements of Texas, as Nacogdoches became the center of trade rather than Los Adaes.  The request for trading with the Indians now granted, and Y’Barbo quickly became among the Indians of Northeast Texas the most influential Spaniard of the day. The officials in San Antonio de Bexar and Mexico City recognized his unique talents in holding the colonist together during the difficult transition, established successful relationships with the Indians of the region, and keeping effective diplomatic correspondence with the French, and the Americans to the East, in which he was elevated to the position of Lieutenant Governor of Nacogdoches.

Antonio Gil Y’Barbo quickly went to work in the region, establishing commodity-based economic system with the Indians, establishing a blueprint of civil design of Nacogdoches with blocks and streets following traditional Spanish pattern of a center plaza surrounded by religious, government, military, and other centers.  Nacogdoches became a viable trading center point on the El Camino Real, a vibrant town and culture, on special occasions, residents,walked around the square speaking an assortment of languages, and wearing clothing designating a variety of ethnic backgrounds.”  By the beginnings of 1800s, Nacogdoches became the second largest Texas settlement.

Antonio Gil Y’Barbo governed Nacogdoches for ten years, after Antonio Gil Y’Barbo tendered his resignation as civil Governor in 1790.   In 1791, formally accused of smuggling contraband, and trading with the Indians for horses stolen from the Spanish, Antonio Gil Y’Barbo was found acquitted where he was cleared of all charges brought against him.  In his eightieth year, about 1809, Antonio Gil Y’Barbo died at Rancho La Lucana.  He is buried in the Old Spanish Cemetery in Nacogdoches.  The distinguish historian of Spanish Texas, Carlos E. Castaneda, describes Antonio Gil Y’Barbo as one of those remarkable leaders of men which pioneer communities sometimes engender.”

Credits and Primary Sources:

  • Carolyn Reeves Ericson and Linda Ericson Devereaux , Antonio Gil Y’Barbo, The Father of Nacogdoches, 1995, pages i-xv
  • Linda Ericson Devereaux, Y’Barbo and Mora Families, (Nacogdoches, Ericson Books, 1994)
  • Frederick C. Chabot, With the Makers of San Antonio, (San Antonio; Privately Published, 1937)
  • Carlos E. Castaneda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas – 1519 to 1936, (New York, Arno Press, 1976, reprint ed. seven volumes, Vos. IV and V).
  • Robert Bruce Blake, B. Blake Research Collection, Texas History Center
  • W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, 85 volumes
  • Shirley Seifert, By the King’s Command, (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott Company).
  • Bexar Archives, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin
  • Barbara A. Mitchell, America’s Spanish Savior: Bernardo de Gálvez, HistoryNet
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