A Walk Through Time
Colonization Under Empresario Grants
The Spaniards placed but a moderate value upon land and manifested a willingness to give reasonable quantities to actual settlers. But the hostility of the Indians rendered it unsafe for single families to locate at any considerable distance from the Missions. To secure protection, the plan was suggested of introducing companies of colonists under empressario contracts. Robert Owen was probably the first who proposed to plant a colony in the province. He wished here to test the practicability of his communist theory. But as the Spanish authorities required all colonists to profess the Catholic faith, Mr. Owen's application was rejected. The first colonial grant issued by the Mexican Government was to Edmund Keene, an Englishman, who failed to comply with his contract.
From adventurers who had traversed the contry, Moses Austin, then a resident of Missouri, heard glowing descriptions of Texas--its rich soil, delightful climate and capabilities of sustaining a dense population. He resolved to apply to the proper authorities for permission to introduce 300 families into the country. In pursuit of this, Austin visited San Antonio. He was at first coldly received by Govenor Martinez, and ordered to leave the province under pain of imprisonment. As he left the Governor's office, and was walking across the plaza, he met Baron de Bastrop, with whom he had previously formed an aquaintance in Louisiana. Through the influence of Bastrop, the Governor was induced not only to rescind the order for Austin's banishment, but to join the officers of the
city in recommending his project to General Arredondo, at Monterey. Not doubting the success of his application Austin hastened back to make arraingments for introducing his colonists. Disease delayed him on his route, and he reached Missouri in feeble health. News arrived that Arrendondo had granted the petition, (January 18, 1820), but in the meantime Austin had died, leaving, however, a dying injunction that his son Stephen should carry forward his plans for planting the new colony.
Stephen F. Austin was in New Orleans when he heard of the success of his father's application, and he immediately started for Natchitoches, to meet the commissioner sent on with the decree of Arredondo. Soon afterward he heard of the death of his father, and of his dying request in reference to the colony.
The commissioner sent to conduct Austin to Texas was Don Erasmo Seguin. He was accompanied by Don Juan Veramendi. Both were distinguished citizens of San Antonio. These gentlemen at once recognized the right of Stephen F. Austin to carry out his father's contract, and invited him to accompany them to the interior of the country and select a location for the settlement.
Besides the escort of the commissioners, Austin took with him 13 companions. They entered Texas, July 16, 1821, and arrived at San Antonio, August 13. Austin was cordially received by Governor Martinez, and proceeded at once to examine the country, with a view of selecting a location. He chose the region south of the San Antonio road, between the San Jacinto on the east and the Lavaca river on the west. This included the rich bottom lands of the Lower Colorado and Brazos Rivers. Having thoroughly explored the country, Austin returned to New Orleans.
Austin's means were limited, but at New Orleans he found Mr. Joseph H. Hawkins, a former school-mate at the University of Transylvania, KY. With the assistance of Mr. Hawkins, the schooner Lively was purchased, and loaded with provisions, farming utensils, etc. The Lively, with 18 persons on board, sailed from New Orleans for Matagorda Bay, Nov. 20, 1821 and was never heard from afterward.
The same day the Lively left New Orleans, Austin started for Texas by land. At Natchitoches he was joined by 10 companions. The party reached the Brazos River on the last day of the year. Crossing a little below where the town of Washington now stands, a camp was struck upon a small stream, which the next morning received the name of New Year's Creek. Austin hastened to the coast to meet the party of the Lively. For nearly three months he waited, and hunted along the beach, when, receiving no tidings of the missing vessel, he finally gave her up for lost.
On visiting San Antonio, Austin learned that it would be necessary for him to go to the city of Mexico to obtain the sanction of the newly inaugurated Republican Government. He requested Josiah H. Bell to take charge of the new colony during his absence, and departed for Mexico, reaching that city April 29, 1822. The revolutionary state of the country compelled him to remain a whole year in the capital before a government was established which he deemed worthy of confidence. Having obtained the sanction of all the rulers who had temporarily exercised authority in the city, Austin started back to Texas in the spring of 1823. At Monterey he met with a cordial reception from General La Garcia, who had succeeded Arredondo as commander of the Eastern Internal Provinces. La Garcia appointed Barron do Bastrop commissioner to issue land titles to the colonists. He also directed that the capital of the new province, when laid off, should, in honor of the Empresario, be called San Felipe de Austin.
Having introduced the 300 families required by the first contract, Austin, under the general colonization law of April 24, 1825, entered into another contract for 500 more. In 1827 he took a third contract for 100 families, and the next year a fourth for 300.
On the 18th of April, 1825, Hayden Edwards took a contract for the introduction of 800 families into East Texas, including the territory between the Navasoto and the Sabine Rivers. Edwards found in his territory, especially about the old settlement of Nacogdoches, a good many squatters, who laid clam to large tracts of land, Some of these were former occupants of the neutral ground. They comprised a few Americans, but were mostly Mexicans. These Mexicans not unfrequently set up claims to land, improved and occupied by the colonists introduced by Edwards. In almost every instance the alcaldes decided in favor of their Mexican countrymen. To quiet these old claims, Edwards gave notice that they must all be presented within a given time, or they would be rejected, and the land reappropriated. This still furthered complicated the affairs of the colony.
Appeals were taken to Saucedo, the political chief at San Antonio, who vigorously espoused the cause of the Mexicans. After protesting somewhat warmly against the unjustice with which his colonists had been treated, Hayden Edwards made a visit to the United States, leaving his brother, Benjamin W. Edwards, in charge of the colony. Benjamin wrote to Governor Blanco defending his brother whom the charges brought against him by persons styled in the letter his "Mexican enemies." The use of the term, of "Mexican enemies", gave Blanco great offence.
Before this letter reached Nacogdoches, Hayden Edwards returned. The Americans were of course highly exasperated at this order, and, instead of referring the subjects in controversy to the supreme authorities in Mexico, resolved to maintain their rights by force. An alliance was formed with the semi-civilized Indians, who were quite numerous in the neighborhood. By this alliance the Indians were to have the frontier territory, with an undefined boundary, and the Americans the coast. On the 18th day of December the flag of Fredonia was unfurled, and a legislative council organized. The alcaldes, Sepulvida and Norris, who had been elected by the Mexicans, were deposed, and others appointed. As a precautionary step, the Fredonians took possession of the stone house, and fortified it. Norris, one of the deposed Alcaldes, collected a few followers, and on the 4 of January 1827, attacked this house. He was repulsed with the loss of one killed and several wounded. But Edwards found it impossible to rally any considerable party to his assistance. Colonel James Gains, who had assisted both Magee and Long, took sides with Norris, who was his father-in-law. Colonel Bean, the Indian Agent, succeeded in detaching most of the Indians from the league, and neither Austin nor Bastrop gave the least encouragement to the Fredonians. When news of these proceedings reached San Antonio, Salcedo, with a body of troops under Colonel Ahumada, started for the scene of disturbance, At San Felipe, Austin and a company of his colonists joined him. Before they reached Nacogdoches, Edwards and his followers retired across the Sabine, and, happily, tranquility was restored without further bloodshed.
After the expulsion of Edwards, the territory which he had commenced colonizing was given to other parties. In 1820, Lorenzo de Zavalla obtained a grant for the country bordering upon the Sabine, including the present counties of Jefferson, Orange, Jasper, Newton, etc. At that time the Spaniards (or Gachupins) were obnoxious to the republicans of Mexico, and, by the terms of Zavall's grant, were excluded from this territory.
In 1826, Joseph Vehelin obtained a charter to colonize a large scope of country, includeing the present countries of Liverty, Hardin, Tyler, Polk, Walker, Montgomery, Grimes, etc. Vehelin was requested to introduce Swiss, Germans, and French, though Americans were not absolutely excluded. At the same time, David G. Burnet obtained a grant to colonize the region north of Vehelin's colony, including the counties of San Augustine, Nacogdoches, Cherokee, Anderson, etc. The three grants last mentioned were disposed of to a company of capitalists in New York styled the Galveston Bay Company.
That company, without any participation on the part of either empresario, and contrary to the expressed advice of Burnet, converted its purchase into a stock speculation, and flooded the country with land scrip to an enormous amount. "The Mexican Government," says Burnet, "ratified the contract, and an agency of the company was established at Nacogdoches; but little, however, was done towards colonization under either grant."
Martin de Leon obtained two contracts, the first in 1825, to introduce 41 families; and the second in 1829, for 150 more, all to be located near the Guadalupe River in Victoria County. He was living at Victoria (then called De Leon's Ranche) when he obtained his first contract. The territory still higher up the river, including the counties of De Witt, Gonzales and portions of Lavaca and Guadalupe, was granted to Green De Witt in 1825. On the coast between the San Antonio and Nueces Rivers, Hewitson and Powers introduced some colonists, having in 1828 obtained a contract for 200 families. The same year McMullen and McGloin contracted to introduce a similar number into San Patricio County. Most of these latter colonists were Irish.
In 1825, Robert Leftwich obtained a contract for introducing 800 families ointo the territory above the San Antonio road, and extending from the Navasota River on the east, westward to the dividing ridge between the waters of the colorado and San Marcos Rivers. The next year Leftwich introduced a few families, and erected a fort in what is now Burleson County. He returned to Tennessee and died. After his death an association, called the Nashville Company, was formed to complete the contract. In 1830, under the auspices of this company, Sterling C. Robertson and Alexander Thomson entered Texas with some colonists. But some difficulties arose with the Mexican authorities, and most of these families settled in Austin's colony. In 1831, the same territory was granted to Austin and Williams, and Sterling C. Robertson was ordered to leave the province; but on the 29th of April 1834, decree No. 285 recognized the Leftwich contract, and reinstated Robertson as empresario, who succeeded in introducing some 500 families.
B. R. Milam agreed to settle 200 families on the San Marcos River, but disposed of his contract to the Baring Brothers, London. General Filisola obtained a charter for colonizing the territory immediately north of that given to Burnet, and the Red River country was given to John Cameron. Contracts were also awarded to Frost Thorn, Stephen J. Wilson and Padilla and Chambers, but no steps were taken to settle up the territory. West of the Nueces, in the state of Coahuila, Beal and Grant introduced a few English colonists. After 1825 a large number of immigrants came to Texas on their own responsibility, and selected homes, and obtained titles to their land, under the provision of a general colonization law.
While the colonists were generally satisfied with Austin's management, and grateful for the interest he had taken in selecting homes for them, and securing titles to their lands, a few distrusted his authority, and complained of having to pay twelve and a half cents per acre. Had the settlers received only a section, as Austin first promised, the price (eighty dollars) would readily have been paid; but, obtaining a league and a labor, it amounted to over five hundred dollars, a large sum for a poor colonist. To preserve peace, and to prove his authority to introduce immigrants, he issued an address on the first of November, 1829, giving a short history of his enterprise and the difficulties he had overcome. That his colonists might be fully assured of the validity of their titles, he annexed to his address translations from nearly thirty public documents, which fully justified his acts.