French America

The French Roots of Castroville, Texas

In a testament to North America’s French heritage, many regions, towns, mountains, and rivers in the United States have French names. Every month, French-American author Anthony Lacoudre untangles their fascinating history. This month, we explore Castroville, “the little Alsace of Texas.”
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© Mathieu Persan

This town of 2,600 inhabitants some 25 miles west of San Antonio has nothing to do with the Cuban revolutionary. It actually owes its name to Henri Castro, a French-Portuguese banker, who played a major part in colonizing this region of Texas during the mid-19th century.

Born into a noble family from Bayonne, Castro served in Napoleon’s army in Spain, then in the Paris National Guard, before being appointed French consul in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1842, having become close with the fledgling Republic of Texas and the French ambassador Alphonse Dubois de Saligny, he received 1.25 million acres in the region of San Antonio – an area encompassing the current counties of Atascosa, Frio, LaSalle, Medina, and McMullen – which he promised to turn into farmland. The empresario agreed to bring 600 families to the land over three years.

Castro launched an initial recruitment campaign in Paris, then, through a mixture of encounters and circumstances, turned his efforts to Eastern France, Switzerland, and the German Empire. Between 1843 and 1849, he brought more than 2,000 settlers to Texas, two-thirds of whom were from Alsace. In September 1844, after 60 days sailing to Galveston and a perilous journey in a wagon under threat from disease and native tribes, a small group founded Castroville. Two months later, the town already had 63 houses.

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Castroville is now “a sleepy village,” according to the late historian Wayne M. Ahr. “But this was a situation that probably helped conserve its heritage.” A few households still speak Alsatian, and St. Louis Church in the historic district has held Catholic services since 1870. A twinning with Ensisheim, near Mulhouse, has maintained ties with the Old Continent – as has the Steinbach House, a half-timber building constructed in Alsace in the 17th century and transported to Texas in 1998!

 

Article published in the May 2022 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.

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