The 1766 Reconnaissance

The following article is copied from the Padre Island National Seashore Historic Resource Study by James W. Sheire, August 1971.

Please note the following:

Colonel Ortíz Parrilla refers to Padre Island by names common for it at that time: Isla Blanca, Isla de San Carlos de los Malaquittas, Malaquittas Island, Isla de los Malaquittas, etc. Padre Nicolas Ballí, for whom the island is currently named, did not establish his ranch on it until about 1804.

A vara was a unit of Spanish measurement (in Texas; it could vary elsewhere) equivalent to about 33 1/3 inches.

A league was 5,000 varas (about 2.6 miles). As with the vara, this could vary elsewhere.

A “Bongo” was “…A small vessel used in some American ports to load and unload larger ships. Sometimes a cannon was placed in the prow. The term is used in early eighteenth century English documents from the Gulf of Honduras (LHF). Also known as a "Bombo". This definition is from

Padre Island in the Year 1766

Although Spaniards had visited Padre Island before 1766, Diego Ortíz Parrilla’s inspection of the island in that year was one of the first detailed reconnaissances. His report is one of the first accounts, if not the first, of the island that has survived. A transcript of the document is located in the University of Texas Archives among the Dunn Transcripts. Mr. Ricardo Torres-Reyes of the Office of History and Historic Architecture, National Park Service, provided the following translation.

Year of 1767

Disposition of the writs and inquiries made by Col. Don Diego Ortíz Parrilla about the conditions of the Malaquittas Island, commonly known as Isla Blanca.

Decree: Real de Santa Petronila, September twenty two of the year one thousand seven hundred and sixty six. The ensigns Don Joseph Antonio de la Garza and don Eugenio Fernández and the Patro Matheo Martínez certify as follows everything performed and observed from the thirteenth of the present month when they began the reconnaissance of the Island of San Carlos of the Malaquittas until last night when they arrived in this camp, carrying out with clarity and precision all the instructions and advice issued in the written orders they received.

Don Diego Ortíz Parrilla


Colonel and Commandant of this expedition:

Carrying out the above mentioned orders, we the ensigns Don Joseph Antonio de la Garza, Don Eugenio Fernández, and the Patro Matheo Martínez certify, and if necessary swear, that having departed the thirteenth of this month to reconnoiter the Island of San Carlos de los Malaquittas, with twenty four soldiers and nine Indians from the missions of Rio Grande, and with instructions dated the same date, declare: that having gone to the said island of San Carlos we found that the water of the Island on the western part is one vara deep in some places, and half a vara in others, with places as shallow as the length of four fingers more or less; on the east the water has in some places as depth of from one fourth of a vara to a vara and a half at a distance of fifty steps towards the sea. We saw clearly that at one fourth of a league distant from the center of the island the water is somewhat deeper since the sea beats the sand banks along the whole front of the island. The port located at the northeast of the said island some days has enough water, but most of the time it has so little water that only very small boats could enter; sand banks are formed in the center of the port and the water moves them from one part of the mouth of the port to another. The same thing happens to the port located at the southeast of the said island, and which is formed by the end of the Island and some dunes; although it has no sand banks, it has much less water at its entrance than at the other port. We found out that the width of the said Island is one league more or less in most of it, in other parts three fourths of a league, and where it ends it is a little less than one fourth of a league wide. We found out that the said Island has no permanent running spring, but only some small ponds formed when it rains and they do not last long; in the old hamlets that were found the Indians obtained the water from some small holes that they make, and that is what we did the first day we arrived on the Island. The said Island has no palisade timbers of its own other than two small patches of laurel and elders, but to the eastern branch the sea waters bring all kind of timbers, and among them some topmasts, yards, blocks, and others belonging to the masts of all sizes of ships. We saw that on the beach of the said Island were some broken canoes, one broken down Bongo, part of a ship that had a capacity for ten or sixteen canons [sic], and which we set on fire, but from the whole Island we did not see any ship sailing out, nor anchored. We found out that the only pasture grown in the Island were red grass, and three-spined stickleback., that only by necessity was eaten by the horses. The said Island has no quarry nor loose stone. We cannot tell the number of huts that exist nor the number of person who live in them, because the huts found were depopulated. Land cannot be seen from the eastern part of the Island, nor sand banks but those found on the border of the Island. This Island is fifty five leagues long more or less, and from its end to the Rio Grand, J. Mathes Martínez certifies that there are two leagues more or less. From this end of the said island of San Carlos of the Malaquitta to the to the port of Vera Cruz there is found only the so called Island of Lobos, and the Blanzuilla; the others are some sand bars or sand banks which appear and disappear some times, according to the seasons. I have practical knowledge of these waters because I sailed them for a long time in the schooner of Col. Joseph Escandon. Following his orders I left the port of Santender in the year of sixty four to reconnoiter the mouth of the Rio Grande. By that reconnaissance and the one now completed I assure that from the mouth of the Nueces River to the Rio Grande, which are more or less seventy leagues distant from each other, there is no other island than that of Lobos and the other that your Lordship has seen and that is situated in the same direction and with which the port is formed. Having requested the Indians Miguel el Nuso, and Jácabo to show us the place where the vessels anchored, the first one said that vessels passed by along they whole front of the Island and anchored, and some of them sent persons in boats and canoes to speak with the Indians; the second Indian said the same, but these waters could not be sounded because the boats we found were useless. We came back to this camp the same way we went out because we did not find on the mainland a passage for horses and due to the obstructions of the lagoons. No vessels were found grounded, nor anchored. From the shore of Corpus Christi t to the point where the said Island begins there must be a distance of more or less two leagues. Having answered all the questions, and not having any other information to offer, we feel we have complied with what was ordered, and therefore we sign it on the Camp of Santo Petronila on September twenty four of one thousand seven hundred and sixty six.

Eugenio Fernández,

Joseph Antonio de la Garza Falcon

Matheo Martínez


Most Excellent Master:

Though I have informed your Excellency on April twenty four of this year, about all the affairs of this Island of the Malaquittas, commonly known as Isla Blanca, following instructions and commission from the most Excellent Master Viceroy Marques de Craillas, enclosing exact maps of the said Island, and that of the Culebras, and coast of the mainland from the mouth of the Rio Grande, situated at twenty four degrees, and forty minutes, to the Bay of San Bernardo that is situated twenty nine degrees and twenty minutes. I also put in the hands of Your Excellency a memorandum book with the legal papers that I received about the Island of Culebra. It has seemed to be proper for the certification of my stated information about Isla Blanca, or of the Malaquittas, to accompany this with a paper signed by two officers, and an experienced sailor who went with me to reconnoiter the said territories; these documents, and my special intelligence included in the account prepared the April four, can supersede all other news that have reached the Courts of Spain and France. June twenty one, one thousand seven hundred and sixty seven.

Diego Ortíz Parrilla

Most Excellent Master Marques de Croix

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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