Anglo-American Colonization

The Imperial Colonization Law specified that colonists must be Catholic, so Austin's first 300 families were affected. The 1824 National Colonization Law and the 1825 Coahuila and Texas State Colonization Law said only that foreigners must be Christian and abide by the laws of the nation, thereby implying they would be members of the established church. Protestant preachers occasionally visited Texas, but they seldom held public services.

Another issue that Austin had to deal with was slavery. Mexicans were strongly against slavery, but realistic politicians ignored the system because they wanted the Anglos to produce cotton in Texas. National and state laws banned the African slave trade, but allowed Anglo-Americans to bring their family slaves with them to Texas and to buy and sell them there until 1840. Grandchildren of those slaves would be freed when they reached a certain age. The most serious threat to Anglo slaveholders was when Mexican President Vicente Ramon Guerrero freed all slaves on September 15, 1829, in celebration of independence. Austin’s contacts got an exemption from the law for Texas.

Austin, as the pioneer empresario in Texas, was burdened with more duties than later contractors. Austin oversaw making administrative and judicial decisions in his settlement. Austin sat as superior judge until 1828, when sufficient population permitted the installation of councils, with elected representatives from the settlements, which acted like a county government. These councils settled lawsuits, regulated the health and welfare of the residents by supervising doctors, lawyers, taverns, and ferries, surveyed roads, and sold town lots. The remoteness of the court disturbed Anglo-Texans, who wanted accessible courts.

Austin also commanded the local militia to defend the colony against Indians and to keep the peace. His contract area had only a few small Indian villages belonging to groups who wanted only to trade. Less friendly Indians were the seasonally migrant coastal tribes of Karankawas or the inland Tonkawas, who hunted for game and targeted the settlers' livestock. Pioneers along the Colorado River suffered most. North and west of the Austin colony Indians continued to resist the flow of immigrants well beyond the colonial period.

Other men besides Austin wanted empresario contracts in Texas, and a few were in Mexico City in 1822. Because of the changing political scene and the slow passage of the colonization laws, they had to wait until 1825, after the passage of national and state colonization laws. To encourage immigration, settlers were free from national taxes for four years. Land ownership was limited to eleven leagues. Owners had to be residents of Mexico. Preference was given to native Mexicans in the selection, and the national government could use any portion of land needed for the defense and security of the nation.

Four contracts were signed within three weeks. One was for Green DeWitt to settle 400 families on the Guadalupe River. DeWitt developed the area around Gonzales and was the second most successful empresario in Texas. He settled 189 families before his contract expired in 1831. His colony suffered Indian attacks and controversy with his neighbor, Mexican native empresario Martín De León.

De León moved his family north across the Nueces River and into the province of Texas in the early 1800s. He made a living by catching mustangs and wild cattle and raising mules, then selling the animals in San Antonio or even trailing them to Louisiana. In April 1824, before the passage of the national colonization law, he received permission to establish a town for forty-one Mexican families about twenty miles northeast of La Bahía on the banks of the Guadalupe River. No boundaries were mentioned. By October, De León and twelve families had arrived at a cypress grove, the site of the town of Guadalupe Victoria (now Victoria, Texas).

Unaware of the colonization grant to De León in San Antonio, the state assigned the same area of the Guadalupe valley with specific boundaries to DeWitt in April 1825. When DeWitt's settlers arrived, trouble was inevitable. Because the colonization laws gave preference to native Mexicans, De León petitioned the state for compensation, and the authorities told DeWitt in October 1825 that he had to respect De León's prior claims, but they still failed to establish boundaries. The state named land commissioners for both De León's and DeWitt's colonies. The commissioners issued titles in 1831, the year DeWitt's six-year contract expired permanently. The boundaries remained unresolved. Eventually sixteen non-Hispanic families, some of whom were Anglo-Americans with Irish roots, received headrights in De León's otherwise Hispanic community.

The Anglos in Texas continued to speak only English and conducted legal matters primarily in Anglo tradition. The Mexican authorities were concerned that Mexico might lose Texas if more Anglo-Americans were allowed to enter. In late 1830 the special exemption from national import duties for Texas pioneer settlers had expired. The government sent troops to strategic entrances to Texas to aid the new customs collectors in collecting these tariffs. This action angered Anglo-Texans, who didn’t want standing armies and troops in their communities, and who had come to believe that their exemption from tariffs was permanent.

Source: Anglo-American Colonization
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association

Back to top