From the Annals of the Abolitionists – In 1844, President Sam Houston granted an empresario contract to abolitionist Charles Fenton Mercer to establish a colony in the Republic of Texas. A Virginia native, CFM had a distinguished career as an Lt. Colonel of a Virginia regiment in the War of 1812, member of the Virginia House of Delegates, U.S. Congressman for over 20 years, and head of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Co. He was a dedicated abolitionist and instrumental in attempting to resettle free African-Americans in Africa – a now discredited belief as a solution to slavery among many abolitionists of the time. After retiring from public service, Mercer became interested in obtaining an empresario license in Texas – making seven trips to the new nation. Houston granted him a contract for a colony east of Peter’s Colony but only after vetoing a bill that would have restricted the President’s rights in that regard. Mercer’s contract was always controversial because of his well-known abolitionist sentiments. Nonetheless, he organized the Texas Association and began selling shares for $500 each. By the end of the year, more than 100 families had complied with the requirements of his contract and received land certificates. Land disputes and court cases, however, proved top be too much of a burden on Mercer’s time and finances. In 1852 he assigned his interest in the contract to George Hancock of Kentucky and other members of the Texas Association, receiving in return an annuity of $2,000.
From the Annals of Coahuila y Tejas – In 1825, the Mexican Congreso General passed the State Colonization Law of March 24, 1825. The act was intended to foster migration (particularly from the United States) to the largely uninhabited parts of the state of Coahuila y Tejas. The act had provisions that attracted land-hungry Anglo settlers. They could obtain a square league (approx. 4430 acres) of range land and a labor (177 acres) of farmland for a small price. The act also provided tax relief for a period of time. Immigrants had to swear allegiance to the federal and state constitutions, adopt the Catholic faith and display sound moral principles and good conduct. Person who accepted the terms would be naturalized as Mexican citizens. It was under this act that Empresarios Stephen F. Austin, Green DeWitt and others began Anglo colonization of Texas.
From the Annals of the Empresarios – In 1821, New Spain awarded Moses Austin of Missouri a grant to settle 300 families in Texas. Although Anglos had previously travelled to and settled in Texas, this agreement began the process of Anglo-American colonization of Texas. Moses Austin never acted on the grant as he passed away after his initial success in obtaining permission. The task fell to his son Stephen F. Austin who was recognized as his successor. The success of the Mexican War for Independence put the grant at risk. But a special decree issued in April 1823 allowed the younger Austin to begin the colonization that resulted in 300 families settling in Austin’s Colony near San Felipe.
Photo of Moses Austin statue from tshaonline.org
From the Annals of the Empresarios – In 1825, Green DeWitt successfully petitioned the Mexican government to settle a colony of “four hundred industrious Catholic families” in Texas between the Lavaca and Guadalupe Rivers. DeWitt’s Colony was less successful than Austin’s never reaching the maximum allowed number of families before the contract expired. By 1830, the total population was only 377. The areas of settlement were primarily along the Guadalupe and San Marcos rivers, but also on the tributaries of the Lavaca River. DeWitt did manage to reach the required minimum of 100 families, and his colonists were allowed to receive land titles. DeWitt appointed Jose Antonio Navarro as land commissioner. The land was surveyed by Byrd Lockhart and in 1831 and 1832, 189 titles were issued.
From the Annals of the Founding Fathers – In 1793, Stephen F. Austin was born in Virginia. Austin often referred to as the “Father of Texas”, was actually following in the footsteps of his father Moses Austin. Austin was raised in Missouri, but educated back east gaining a degree from Transylvania University and then studying as a lawyer. He was pursuing a legal career in New Orleans, when his father traveled to Texas and received an grant that would allow him to bring 300 American families to Texas. Moses Austin caught pneumonia soon after returning to Missouri. He left his empresario grant to his son Stephen. Though Austin was reluctant to carry on his father’s Texas venture, he was persuaded to pursue the colonization of Texas by a letter from his mother written two days before Moses Austin died.
At the age of 24, Austin led a party of potential settlers to San Antonio covering 300 miles in about 4 weeks. Austin sought a reauthorization of his father’s grant. While in transit, Austin learned Mexico had declared its independence from Spain, and Texas had become a Mexican province rather than a Spanish territory. Jose Antonio Navarro, a San Antonio native with ambitious visions of the future of Texas, befriended Stephen F. Austin, and the two developed a lasting association. Navarro, proficient with Spanish and Mexican law, assisted Austin in obtaining his empresario contracts. With a reauthorized grant, Austin began to explore the area between San Antonio and the Brazos River to find a suitable location for a colony – eventually settling on San Felipe in present day Austin County.