Stephen Fuller Austin

Stephen Fuller Austin (1793-1836) was the founder of Anglo-American Texas. His father applied for the land grant in Texas to settle 300 families. Stephen was preparing to go to San Antonio to help when his father suddenly died. Governor Martinez allowed Stephen to move ahead with the colonization under his father’s grant. Stephen offered settlers 640 acres for the head of a family, 320 acres for the wife, 160 acres per child, and 80 acres per slave. Austin collected 12.50 cents an acre in compensation for his services. Martinez warned Austin that the government could not help the colonists.

In New Orleans, Austin invited colonists, telling them that the settlements would be located on the Brazos and Colorado Rivers. After the Depression and the panic of 1819, settlers were excited to take advantage of the offer. The first colonists began to arrive in Texas in December 1821. However, the temporary government set up after Mexican independence refused to approve the Spanish grant.

Austin convinced congress to complete an immigration law. It offered families some land and allowed empresarios to promote immigration in return for more land. Even though the law changed a few times, Austin settled a total of 1,200 families around his first colony and another 800 families in western Texas.

Austin had complete civil and military authority over his colonists until 1828, when there was a small amount of supervision by officials at San Antonio and Monterrey. As head of the militia, he planned some attacks against Indians. Austin surveyed the land and prepared recorded titles in a bound book.

All the work involved cost money. A political chief in San Antonio proclaimed a fee bill that allowed the land commissioner (Baron de Bastrop) to charge $127 a league for signing titles. Austin made a private arrangement with Bastrop to split the fee.

The status of slavery was a difficult problem, and Austin’s opinion about it was inconsistent. Austin pushed the congress to legalize slavery because there was no free labor to be hired and most of the colonists came from slave states. The legislature passed a law at Austin’s suggestion that bypassed the constitution by legalizing labor contracts with technically freed slaves. Congress then prohibited immigration, and Austin tried to convince the colonists that the long-term interest of Texas would be served by the prohibition. The colonists did not agree, and Austin declared that Texas must be a slave state in 1833.

Austin urged the establishment of ports and the legalization of trade in foreign ships. Congress legalized Galveston port, but coastal trade was not established. The only external trade was with the United States.

Austin never allowed the settlers to forget the benefits that they got through the liberal colonization policy or their obligation to become loyal Mexican citizens. By 1832, Austin’s colonies had about 8,000 people. The Mexican leaders tried to stop immigration. The Anglo settlers rebelled ,and the continued friction led to revolution and independence.

Source: Stephen Fuller Austin
Copyright © Texas State Historical Association

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