Friday, May 2, 2014

The Islenos from the Canary Islands

My grand uncle, Henry "Jack" Muir, married four times during his lifetime. His second wife was Armita Alleman. He and Armita had four children. I discovered a few of Henry's grandchildren on Ancestry.com's message boards. They were looking for more information about their grandparents. One had always been told she had Native American heritage from her grandmother, Armita. At the time I knew very little about Henry and only Armita's first name.

After several months of digging and help from my research collaborator cousin in New Zealand, we found the record of Henry and Armita's marriage license and learned her last name. Once I had that name I began tracing the Alleman family. I have yet to find Native American ancestors, but what I have discovered so far is fascinating.

Armita's parents were Arrestide Alleman and Alice Istre. Arrestide's grandmother, Maria Xaviera Carmelite Domingue (1814-1876) was descended from Islenos. As a child growing up in Virginia, my education was loaded with Colonial history, but I discovered it was sadly lacking in the early history of the United States beyond the thirteen original colonies. I knew nothing about Islenos. Learning about their history and culture has been the fascinating part of this research effort.

Prior to 1778, Spanish settlements in Louisiana could only trade with ships owned by Spanish subjects, which sailed from Seville, Alicante, Malaga, Carthagena, Barcelona, or Corunna. Don Carlos III eased those restrictions and, at his own expense, sent a large number of farmers and soldiers to Louisiana. He offered each colonist a home, tools and subsistence on which to live for up to four years. As a result of the inducements offered by the Spanish king, several families from the Canary Islands immigrated to Louisiana. They became known as Islenos. 

When the ships landed, the colonists were classified. Soldiers were sent to several Spanish regiments for training and farmers and their families were sent to settlements to claim their land and homes.

The ships that brought Islenos to present day St Bernard Parish;
Photo courtesy of NOAdventure.com

Thanks to the transcription work of Sidney Louis Villere in 1973, we know quite a bit about when and how the Islenos arrived in Louisiana. The villages allocated to the Islenos were:

  • San Bernardo de Galvez, located on the shores of the Terre-Aux-Boeuf in Saint Bernard Parish
  • Galveztown, located on the shores of the Amite river near Manchoc, in Iberville Parish
  • Valenzuela, located on the shores of the Bayou Lafourche, in Assumption Parish
  • Nueva Iberia, located on the shores of Bayou Teche in Iberville Parish
They were settlements strategically placed to guard the approaches to New Orleans.

Four original Isleno settlements; base map courtesy of Google Maps

Armita Alleman's 4 times great grandparents were Islenos. Juan Gonzales Carbo and his wife, Andrea Ruiz, along with their nine children arrived in Louisiana on 26 July 1778 aboard the Scaramento. Carbo became a member of the Infantry Regiment of Louisiana. His daughter Lorenza Gonzales Carbo married Augustin Dominguez in 1782 at Assumption Parish. Augustin's parents arrived in Louisiana on 9 October 1778 aboard a frigate named San Ignacio de Loyola. His father also became a member of the Infantry Regiment of Louisiana.

During the American Revolutionary War, Spain declared war on England and coordinated their efforts with France. Isleno soldiers fought against the English at Natchez, Manchoc, Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Pensacola.

To learn more, visit the Los Islenos Heritage and Culture Society website.

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