In A Nutshell
We could have been calling Texans “New Filipinos.” For much of its history, the state was called “Nuevas Filipinas” by the Spanish colonists. The name, however, lost popularity by the early 1800s in favor of its modern name, which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
The Whole Bushel
The Spaniards under Alonso de Pineda first sighted the Texas coastline as they explored the Caribbean area. The 1689 expedition of Alonso de Leon and Damian Massanet met some natives who called themselves thecas or “friends.” In his report about meeting their chief, Massanet referred to him as the “governor” of the “great kingdom of the Texas.” Thus, official Spanish documents initially applied the name “Texas” to various native tribes, not a geographic location. Only later did it come to refer to the area north of Rio Grande and east of New Mexico. The state motto “Friendship” alludes to the origin of the name.
The early Spanish attempts to settle Texas and Christianize the natives were failures. The Spaniards called Texas la tierra . . . tan mala que nadie la querria—“a land so bad nobody would want it.” But the threat of French expansion from neighboring Louisiana prompted the Spanish to people the region as a defensive measure. In a flurry of expeditions and colonizing activity from 1716–1721, Texas was finally settled.
In 1717, Antonio Margil de Jesus established Franciscan missions in East Texas, rounding out Spanish missionary communities in the region to six. By the time the Spanish got around to settling Texas, they were already well-established on their missionary outpost in the Orient, Islas Filipinas—the Philippine Islands—named after King Philip II. The Franciscans sought to equate their work with the evangelizing activities of their comrades in the Philippines.
It was Margil de Jesus who first referred to the area as Nuevas Filipinas. In a letter to the viceroy of New Spain in 1716, he wrote that his work might gain the patronage of King Philip V so he might, “for the greater glory of God and the name of our Catholic Monarch,” transform the territory into “another new Philippines.” A Franciscan embassy to the viceroy expressed their “great hopes that this province shall be a New Philippines.”
Nuevas Filipinas and Nuevo Reino de Filipinas became secondary names given to the province extending roughly from the Coahuilan boundary along the Rio Medina and Rio Santander line at the Rio Nueces in southern Texas to the Sabine River in the east up to Red River in the north. This made Nuevas Filipinas about half the size of the present state.
“Nuevas Filipinas” first appeared in an official 1718 document that gave instructions to governor Martin de Alarcon to reinforce the colony. Alarcon gave himself the grand title “Governor and Lieutenant Captain General of the Provinces of Coahuila, New Kingdom of the Philippines, Province of the Texas.” His capital was San Antonio de Bexar (modern-day San Antonio). In the next 40 years or so, the province was regularly referred to as “Nuevas Filipinas” in official documents.
Toward the end of the 18th century, the name gradually fell out of use. By the early 1800s, it could be found in only a few land grants. Other legal documents preferred to use only the name “Texas.”
Show Me The Proof
Texas State Historical Association: Origin of Name; New Philippines; Margil de Jesus, Antonio
The Presidio And Militia On The Northern Frontier of New Spain, by Thomas H. Naylor
Los Paisanos: Spanish Settlers on the Northern Frontier of New Spain, by Oakah L. Jones