Earliest land grants in Duval County

Map of San Diego land grant made to Julian and Ventura Flores.
“Tengo…desde el antiguo gobierno cuatro sitios en el paisaje de San Diego en la costa…que poblé y cultive…”
– Juan Rosales
In the middle of the eighteenth century, the Spanish crown began an effort to settle the area between the Rio Bravo and the Nueces Rivers. Settlement of the area that would become Duval County began circa 1794. The Rio Grande River communities of Guerrero, Camargo and Mier were the wellspring for ranches and later communities that would emerge in the area. The earliest settlements were ranchos at San Diego, Los Ángeles, and Concepción.

Spain began to make grants to influential citizens of Camargo and Reynosa, but unlike earlier porciones along the north side of the Rio Grande, these grants were larger and were further inland, along the Gulf of Mexico. The new Spanish land grant policy, however, resulted in vast grants to a few individuals, prompting the crown to revise its guidelines and limit grants to no more than four sitios per individual. A sitio measured 4,316.37 acres or 6.74 square miles. Empresarios got around the new Spanish law by joining forces to obtain larger tracts as did Don Antonio Pérez who swore before the alcalde of Mier that his heirs were entitled to four tracts of land.

San Diego

According to Nueces County court records, the crown made four grants to Perez’ heirs on the banks of the San Diego Creek. They were San Florentina deeded to José Antonio de la Peña y López; San Diego de Arriba and San Diego de Abajo to the father and son Julián and Ventura Flores; and San Leandro to Juan Sánchez Rosales. Each grant consisted of four sitios, or 17,714 acres of land each.

Perfecting title to these grants was a cumbersome process that included denouncement, survey, appraisal, sale at public auction, and act of possession. The process took several years to complete. José Faustino Contreras of San Luis Potosí surveyed San Diego de Arriba and San Diego de Abajo in 1806. Herdsman for Julián Flores occupied the ranch San Diego as early as 1815. Juan Sáenz, whose father was the head herdsmen for Señor Flores, said he was born on the ranch on that year. He remained at the ranch until he turned 18 in 1833. As far as he could remember, Sáenz testified in court, the original grantees or their heirs had always occupied and cultivated the land while living at Rancho San Diego, except when Indians threatened their lives.
To be continued...