Espada's roots lie in east Texas, where Spain founded Mission San Francisco de los Texas in 1690. Along with several others, it served as a buffer against French encroachment from Louisiana. Fevers, floods, fires, enemies, and limited supplies prompted several relocations of this early mission. On March 5, 1731, Mission San Francisco de la Espada was established along this bank of the San Antonio River.
Imagine two diverse cultures - separated by language, values and faith - colliding and merging to create a unique mix.
Spanish Franciscan missionaries pursued a powerful vision for God and country. They aligned and trained the Coahuiltecan (kwa-weel-teken) hunting and gathering cultures to be servants of God and loyal, productive citizens of New Spain. Over a 50-year period, they earnestly taught the principles of farming, ranching, architecture, blacksmithing, loom weaving, spinning, and masonry. Espada was the only San Antonio mission where bricks and tiles were made. The Catholic faith and Spanish language became the foundation of the new culture.
Many Coahuiltecans, staggered by strange intruders, famine, imported diseases, and enemy tribes, opted for the protection and steady food supply of Mission Espada. Here they mastered Spanish arts and trades - and embraced Christianity.
By the mid-1700's, these mission walls echoed with the essence of a dynamic community: the blacksmith's ringing anvil, bellowing livestock, three pounding looms, the clatter of carpentry, and the scrape of the brick maker. Imagine peach orchards and vast fields of beans, corn, and melons beyond the walls, and within, the hum of chants, prayers, and instructional conversations. Daily training and tasks were accomplished to the timing of the mission bells "which clang out three times a day...startling in the still country air."
In 1794, Espada began the process of secularization or the transformation to a church-based community. However, the mission was impoverished. Each of the remaining 15 families received land, but shared equipment and supplies.
In 1826, a band of Comanche raided the cornfields and killed the livestock. The same year, a kitchen fire destroyed most of the buildings; the chapel survived. Yet, people continued to make their home here.