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Document Number: AJ-018
Author: Massanet, Damián
Title: Letter of Fray Damián Massanet to Don Carlos de Sigüenza
Source: Bolton, Herbert Eugene (editor). Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916). Pages 347-387.
Pages/Illustrations: 44 / 1
Citable URL:

Author Note

Father Damián Massanet was a member of the College of the Holy Cross of Querétaro. He arrived in Mexico in 1683 and went to the Coahuila frontier a few years later as a missionary. In 1684, Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle and a group of French settlers landed at Matagorda Bay, Texas, and established a fort at Garcitas Creek (see AJ-114 and AJ-121 for French accounts). Alarmed by this intrusion into Spanish territory, the viceroy of New Spain authorized several expeditions to find and destroy the La Salle settlement and to identify sites for Spanish missions. In 1689, Fray Massanet traveled with Alonso de León to Matagorda Bay and was made comisario of the new missions in eastern Texas, the first Hispanic settlements in Texas. Massanet returned with León in 1690 and supervised the founding of the missions on the Neches. In 1691, Massanet again returned to Texas with the Terán expedition.

León-Massanet Expeditions, 1689-1690

The first of the two expeditions set forth March 23, 1689, from Monclova, Mexico, crossed the Rio Grande, and continued east-northeast to the Rio Guadalupe near modern Victoria, Texas. The party found the remains of Fort Saint Louis, La Salle’s settlement on Garcitas Creek about five miles above its mouth. From there, they continued to Matagorda Bay. The 1689 expedition then arrived back at Coahuila in May 1689.

The second expedition began March 1690 heading northeast from Matagorda Bay to the Neches River. Father Massanet selected a site there for the first Texas mission before the expedition party returned to Monclova in July 1690. The Texas missions were abandoned in 1693 and Massanet disappeared from the historical record. It was more than two decades before the settlement was reoccupied.

Document Note

In this letter, Massanet tells how he came to join León on two expeditions into Texas and provides a detailed record of the expeditions in 1689 and 1690. He describes the routes of the expeditions, how they went about tracking down the French settlement, what remained of the settlement, incidents during the journeys, the Spaniards’ encounters with Native Americans, the establishment of the mission among the Tejas Indians, and Native American housing, clothing, food, and customs. In 1899, the Texas State Historical Association published Lilia M. Casís’ translation of this letter in its Quarterly. The document here is a revised version of the 1899 translation, first printed in 1911 and later appearing in Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed., Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1916).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Blake, Robert Bruce. "Terán de los Ríos, Domingo." "The Handbook of Texas Online."

Chipman, Donald E. "De León, Alonso." "The Handbook of Texas Online."

Murphy Givens. “Exploring Texas. Part 2 of 3. New Spain Begins Search for the French.” Corpus Christi Caller-Times (December 11, 2002). 0,1641,CCCT_843_1602014,00.html

Bannon, John Francis. The Spanish Borderlands Frontier, 1513-1821 (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970).

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