Stephen F. Austin

From Academic Kids

Stephen F. Austin
Stephen F. Austin

Stephen Fuller Austin (November 3, 1793 - December 27, 1836), known as the Father of Texas, led the Anglo American colonization of the region. The city of Austin, Texas and Austin County, Texas are named in his honor.


Early years

Austin was born in the lead mining regions of southwestern Virginia to Moses and Maria Austin. In 1798, when he was five years old, his family moved to the lead mining region in present-day Missouri. His father established the town of Potosi in present-day Washington County, Missouri. When he was 10 years old, his family sent him to be educated at Bacon Academy and Yale University in Connecticut and then at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, from which he graduated in 1810. After returning from Kentucky, he was employed the family's general store in Potosi, and eventually took over most of the management of the family mining business from his father. He served as public as adjutant of a militia battalion, and from 1813 to 1819 he served on the legislature of Missouri Territory. As a member of the territorial legislature, he was influential in obtaining a charter for the Bank of St. Louis.

After the failure of the family business in Missouri, Austin sought new opportunities and moved to the Arkansas Territory in 1820, where he engaged in mercantile and land speculation activities. While he was in Arkansas, the territorial governor appointed him as circuit judge of the first judicial district of the territory. He served as circuit judge only from July to August 1820, then moved to Louisiana. He reached New Orleans in December, where he stayed with his friend Joseph H. Hawkins and made arrangement to study law.

Moving to Texas

During this time his father Moses traveled to San Antonio and gained a grant of land in the Spanish territory of Texas, with the intention of settling U.S. families in Mexico. Austin was reluctant to join the Texas venture, but he obtained a loan from Hawkins to help support his father's venture. He was at Natchitoches, Louisiana in 1821 when he learned of his father's death. He traveled to San Antonio with the intent of reauthorizing his father's grant, arriving in August 1821. The grant was reauthorized by Governor Antonio María Martínez, who allowed Austin to explore the Gulf Coast between San Antonio and the Brazos River in order to find a suitable location for a colony. Stephen Austin advertised the opportunity in New Orleans, Louisiana, stating that the land was available along the Brazos and Colorado rivers. In December 1821 the first U.S. colonists crossed into the granted territory by land and sea, on the Brazos River, in present day Fort Bend County, Texas.

Empresario Austin

Austin's plan for a colony was thrown into turmoil by the independence of Mexico from Spain in 1821. Governor Martínez informed Austin that the junta instituyente, the new rump congress of the government of Agustín de Iturbide, refused to recongize the grant authorized by Spain, based on a new policy of using a general immigration law to regulate new settlement in Mexico. Austin traveled to Mexico City and managed to persuade the junta instituyente to authorize the grant to his father, as well as the Law signed by the Spanish Emperor on January 3, 1823. The old Imperial Law offered heads of families a league and a labor of land, 4,605 acres (19 km²), and other inducements. It also provided for the employment of agents, called empresarios, to promote immigration. As empresario, Austin himself was to receive 67,000 acres (270 km²) of land for each 200 families he introduced. According to the law, immigrants were not required to pay fees to the government. This fact soon led some of the immigrants to deny Austin's right to charge them for services at the rate of 12½ cents an acre ($31/km²).

When Iturbide abdicated in March 1823, the law was annulled once again. In April 1823 Austin induced the congress to grant him a contract to bring 300 families into Texas. In 1824 the congress passed a new immigration law that allowed the individual states of Mexico to administer public lands and open them to settlement under certain conditions. In March 1825 the legislature of the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas passed a law that was similar to the one authorized by Iturbide. The law continued the system of empresarios, as well as granting each married man a league of land, 4,428 acres (18 km²), with the stipulating that he must pay the state thirty dollars within six years.

By late 1825, Austin had brought the first 300 families, now known in Texas history as the "Old 300", to the grant. Austin had obtained further contracts to settle an additional 900 families between 1825 and 1829. He had effective civil and military authority over the settlers, but he was quick to introduce a semblance of American law - the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas was agreed on in November 1827. Despite his hopes Austin was making little money from his endeavors; the colonists were unwilling to pay for his services as empresario and most of the money gained was spent on the processes of government and other public services.

He was active to promote trade and to secure the good favor of the Mexican authorities, aiding them in the suppression of the Fredonian Rebellion of Haden Edwards. However, with the colonists numbering over 11,000 by 1832 they were becoming less conducive to Austin's cautious leadership, and the Mexican government was also becoming less cooperative - concerned with the growth of the colony and the efforts of the U.S. government to buy the state from them. The Mexican government had attempted to stop further U.S. immigration as early as April 1830, but again the skills of Austin had gained an exemption for his colonies.

The application of the immigration control and the introduction of tariff laws had done much to dissatisfy the colonists, peaking in the Anahuac disturbances. Austin then felt compelled to involve himself in Mexican politics, supporting the upstart Antonio López de Santa Anna. Following the success of Santa Anna the colonists sought a compensatory reward, proclaimed at the Convention of 1832 - resumption of immigration, tariff exemption, separation from Coahuila, and a new state government for Texas. Austin was not in favor of these demands, he considered them ill-timed and tried his hardest to moderate them. When they were repeated and extended at the Convention of 1833, Austin traveled to Mexico City and he did gain certain important reforms, but not a state government. Austin was arrested in January 1834 and charged with insurrection; he was not tried and was finally released, returning to Texas in August 1835. In his absence the colonists had not softened their stance; war began in October at Gonzales; the Republic of Texas became independent on 2 March 1836.

Austin in the Republic of Texas

Austin was appointed commissioner to the U.S. by the provisional government of the republic. He stood for election as President in September 1836 and was defeated by Sam Houston. He was made Secretary of State, but soon fell ill and died. Stephen F. Austin is now known as "The Father of Texas."

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