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The Greeks of Early Texas

Map of the State of Texas
Was there a Greek presence in early Texas? County Map of the State of Texas, Michael Barrera, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wikipedia Commons

In the tales of Texan history, many would not expect a Greek presence. Alas, they are wrong. In the colorful mosaic of Texan history, a tale of the Greek experience unfolds.

This is woven together by the threads of enduring excitement, profound moments of pain, and a narrative as intricate as the sprawling landscape it encompasses. While it is not well-known, Texas had its own Greco-Texan Odysseys. The narratives of Captain Nicholas, Pedro & George Serates, and Mexican Colonel Francisco Garay established the little known precedents.

These stories beckon readers to embark on a journey through time. In these tales, pioneers, akin to mythical heroes, endeavored to discover their Ithaca. Their explorations reveal the captivating tales of these historical figures in the mosaic of early Texan history.

Their stories are not merely a chronicle of events. They are a testament to the resilience, tenacity, and spirit that define the Lone Star State.

The University of Texas at San Antonio with James Patrick McGuire initiated research regarding the history of Greek presence in Texas. McGuire’s work documents stories of unbelievable merit and testaments of sheer will. His work covers the history of the Greek presence in Texas from the early 19th century through to the end of the 20th.

The Old Greek Seafarer of Galveston

The story of Greeks in Texas begins in 1817, whence a young Greek man named Nicholas joined the group of pirates of sea bandit Jean Lafitte.

Captain Nicholas, as later named, joined Lafitte in Savannah, Georgia in the year 1817 and then arrived in Galveston aboard the Jupiter later that same year. Soon after, Nicholas managed to become captain of a ship named the Arabella and continued to serve the pirate colony until it was dissolved in 1820.

Following the dissolving of the colony, Captain Nicholas procured a wife from the indigenous Karankawa tribe in exchange for ten pounds of sugar and some rum. Along with other pirates, he left Galveston, while Orta, his wife, and the other women and children were left behind.

During his travels abroad, the hurricane of 1823 killed the majority of individuals who remained behind. When Nicholas returned later, he was unable to locate his wife or child. He is known to have been with Laffite in the Yucatan and Sisal later on. There, Laffite was said to have perished in 1826 or 1827.

Nicholas returned to Galveston Island in 1842 on a Texas Navy warship after surviving a yellow fever outbreak. He established a recognizable presence in Galveston during the next half-century, selling fish and oysters and bringing charcoal from the mainland.

Captain Nicholas retired in 1890 and then lived on his farm near Turtle Bayou. He died a  few days before his one hundredth birthday. The sturdy seafarer along with other residents was lost in the disastrous 1900 Galveston storm.

The Greeks of Pre-Republic Texas and the Republic of Texas

Captain Nicholas may have been the first Greek of Texas, but he was not alone. Two of the earliest Texan colonists were two Greek brothers, Pedro and George Serates. The two resided in the Power and Hewetson colony, otherwise known as Goliad County. The siblings received one and a half leagues of land in October 1834. This was about two years prior to Texas declaring independence.

In the census of the Republic of Texas from 1840, Pedro stands out. Pedro, a dry goods merchant, resided in San Antonio with his wife and two children. Interestingly enough, he seems to have owned a town lot in Victoria County as well.

During Pedro Serates’ time in San Antonio, there was another Greek who likely preceded him in San Antonio. In the book Memoirs of a Mrs. Maverick, the infamous Roque Catahu stands out. He was a shopkeeper from San Antonio who was Greek by descent and known to spoil his wife with jewelry and fine clothes.

A Tale of Respect Amongst Rivals

While the Greek presence in Texas was not populous, it received praise and admiration as was noted in the case of Colonel Francisco Garay. Francisco Garay was a Greek serving in the Mexican army. Colonel Garay saved Texans in the massacre of Goliad, with many Texans recalling his kindness. Garay prevented the death of a dozen doctors and carpenters by hiding them in his tent on the eve of the slaughter.

Garay is know to have said, “Keep still gentlemen, you are safe; these are not my orders, nor do I execute them.” Francisco Garay lived a fascinating life of much wonder and suspense. Born in Jalapa, Mexico in 1796, Garay descended of Greek parentage.

An advocate for Mexican independence, Garay was exiled until 1829. Following his return, he enlisted in the military and was dispatched to Matamoros in 1835. There, he assisted General Urrea during the 1836 war in Texas.

Following the Matamoros conflict, Garay survived a Mexico City inquiry into the reasons for the Mexican loss. In 1841, he received a promotion to a general and resisted the American assault at the Calabazo River six years later. Garay finished his military career with his appointment as the Mexican Consul in New York City. In 1865, he passed away in New Orleans.

From the daring exploits of Captain Nicholas and the Serates brothers to the compassionate heroism of Colonel Francisco Garay, these Greek pioneers not only navigated the early chapters of Texas history but left an indelible mark on the Lone Star State.

Hidden stories of Greek resilience and tenacity come to light, and such tales remind us that in the heart of Texas, the tales of these Greek pioneers find their place alongside the legends of old.

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