Austin, Stephen

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Stephen Austin

Stephen Fuller Austin was the chief colonizer of Texas . He carried out his father's dream of creating an agricultural society in the remote Spanish-held region. He was largely responsible for founding the state of Texas.

Early years

Stephen Austin was born on November 3, 1793. His father, Moses Austin, was a mine owner. In 1798, the Austin family moved to the province of Spanish Louisiana , where Moses established and operated a lead mine south of St. Louis. In 1804, young Stephen Austin began school in Connecticut and then entered Transylvania University in Kentucky . In 1810, he returned to Missouri , which had become part of the United States because of the Louisiana Purchase (1803). Austin worked at a bank in St. Louis, and in 1814 he was elected to the Missouri Territorial Legislature.

In 1820, Austin moved to the Arkansas Territory, where he established a farm on the Red River. He was appointed district judge that same year. It was obvious that Austin had natural leadership ability. In 1821, he went to New Orleans to study law.

Moses Austin's dream

Around this time, events set in motion by his father changed the course of Austin's life. Moses Austin decided to found a farming colony in the unsettled land in the Spanish province of Texas. In 1821, Moses secured a grant from the Spanish authorities that permitted him to settle three hundred families in Texas. These families would agree to become Spanish subjects in return for grants of land. Moses Austin, however, died before he could begin his colonization venture. As he lay dying, he asked Stephen to carry out his dream of founding a colony in Texas.

Founding the colony

Austin had just secured his father's colonization grant from the Spanish authorities when Mexico became independent from Spain in 1821. The grant was no longer valid. Austin traveled to Mexico City to speak directly with the new Mexican government. He could not immediately secure a grant for his Texas colony and ended up staying in Mexico City for a year. While there, he learned to speak and write in Spanish and made many friends among the Mexican leaders. The Mexican government finally approved the grant in early 1823.

Austin returned to Texas and assumed direction of the colony, which grew rapidly. By the end of 1824, almost all three hundred colonists permitted by the colonization charter had received land grants. The Austin colony was centered along the rich land of the Brazos River. The small town of San Felipe became its chief settlement.

Texas, Mexico

In 1824, the Mexican government approved additional colonies of Anglo-Americans (white, non–Hispanic Americans) in Texas. Austin was able to bring hundreds more families into Texas, and by 1830 he had attracted some five thousand. Among this population was a significant number of African American slaves.

By the 1830s, the Mexican government was concerned that too many Anglo-Americans had immigrated to Texas. As a result, it passed the law of April 6, 1830, which (among other restrictions) ended all future immigration into Texas from the United States. Austin worked hard to secure a repeal of this law. He once again went to Mexico City to lobby for measures favorable to Texas. Although he failed to secure all the concessions he wanted, he did convince the government to repeal some of the most objectionable aspects of the law.


By the time Austin returned to Texas in late 1831, Anglo-Texans had grown impatient. The town council of San Felipe called for a convention of Anglo colonists to discuss the abuses of the Mexican authorities in Texas. The Convention of 1832 drafted a long list of terms the Anglo-Texans wanted the Mexican government to grant. A year later, a second convention met and drafted a provincial constitution for Texas as a separate state within Mexico. Austin was chosen to deliver this document to the Mexican government, and he left for Mexico City in May 1833.

After Austin presented the proposed Texas constitution to government officials in Mexico City, he wrote a letter to the town council in San Antonio describing the political situation in Mexico. A Mexican government official got hold of this letter and claimed that Austin's desire for Texas to form its own government constituted treason. Arrested in early January 1834, Austin remained in prison until December of that year. He was not able to return to Texas until July 1835. Confinement in the harsh Mexico City prison permanently ruined his health.

The revolution

During Austin's absence from Texas, many Anglo-Texans had come to favor a complete break with Mexico. The Texas Revolution began on October 2, 1835, with a skirmish between Anglo and Mexican troops near Gonzales, Texas. Austin was named commander of the revolutionary army, a position he held for only a few months. The Texas government then appointed him as an agent to the United States, charged with finding materials and supplies for the revolt. Austin spent much of the Texas Revolution seeking help in the United States.

Austin returned to Texas during the summer of 1836 after the Texas Revolution had ended in an Anglo-American victory. Sam Houston (1793–1863), the commander-in-chief of the Texas armed forces during the revolution, was elected president of the new Republic of Texas. Austin, who lost to Houston in the election, became secretary of state but served only a few months until his death on December 27, 1836.

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Austin, Stephen

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