Establishment of Mission San José

San José was founded on February 23, 1720. The location of the original site is not certain, but recent archeology indicates that it may have been the present site of Mission Concepción, established eleven years later. San José set the pattern for the location of the other missions of the San Antonio river valley.

The question of the locations and even the number of locations of Mission San José is a difficult one. The long-accepted story is told succinctly by Fray Marion Habig in the Alamo Chain of Mission. Evidence, both historical and archaeological, has become available which permits a reevaluation of Habig’s narrative. The most important difference is that Mission San José probably had only two sites--the original site of its founding and its present location, rather than three. It was probably moved from the original site to its present location in 1721, about a year after its founding, rather than arriving on its present site in ca. 1740, as Habig suggests. Fr. Espinosa’s statement in 1744 did not actually say that the site was moved downstream, only that it was on the river below the presidio, and that it was moved from one side to the other.

A site east or northeast of present-day San José and south of Valero’s boundary would have been somewhere in the area of the site of present Mission Concepción. The first site of the proposed dam for San José’s irrigation system was two miles north of the site chosen for the mission. If the original site were located at Concepción, this would place the dam approximately where Concepción’s dam was located later. This implies that the Concepción acequia system may have begun as the acequia for San José’s first site. A possible location for the first site was found during archeological investigations at Mission Concepción in 1981.

However, the Concepción site had a serious problem for the founders of San José. The native people that were to occupy the new mission were enemies of the Indians living in Valero. Fray Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares, the founder and chief missionary of San Antonio de Valero was the author of the petition for the full legal spacing of 3 leagues (8 miles of river bank) between the two missions. He was not present for the actual selection of the site. As a result, even though it was only half the distance required by law, it appears that the future Concepción site was selected for San José.

Soon afterwards, in an undocumented and unclear sequence of events, San José was moved to the west side of the river. Here, even though the linear distance was still only about 2 leagues, the river separated the two missions of Valero and San José. The later history of mission founding on the river indicates that in practice the laws governing the distance between missions applied only to missions on the same side of the river.

The move from the east to the west bank occurred within 3 years of its founding on February 23, 1720. It was at its present location by March, 1722, when described by Fray Juan Antonio de la Peña. There are no founding documents for San José on its second site. The site San José occupied on the west bank was probably the present one. There is no real evidence for the possibility of a site intermediate between the original location on the east bank and the present location on the west.

Edited excerpts from the original work “Of Various Magnificence” by Jake Ivey, NPS 2007
Chapter 5: The Structural History of San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, 1720-1900

Last updated: December 22, 2016

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