Moses Austin: Colonization in Spanish Missouri and Texas

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Moses Austin starts a colony in Spanish Missouri, then travels to Texas and obtains a Spanish land grant there.

Westward Migration to Spanish Missouri

Moses Austin, a Connecticut-born lead mine operator in Virginia, in 1796, found himself in a failing business situation when his lead mines played out. After hearing of other lead mine prospects to the west, and getting written permission from the Spanish Minister to the United States to investigate these lead mine prospects, he and his party of miners and slaves set out for Missouri. Moses Austin was just past thirty and already a successful businessman when he migrated westward to Missouri at a time when this area was still a Spanish province.

In St. Louis, Missouri, Austin was granted from the Spanish Commandant a square league of land and the lead mines discovered at a place called Mine A Burton near St. Genevieve in January of 1797. He also received the right to settle thirty families there from the United States.

First Permanent Settlement in Washington County, Missouri

Moses Austin created the first permanent settlement in Washington County, Missouri. He erected smelting furnaces, and developed the lead deposits. He was now considered an excellent Spanish subject until Upper Louisiana, of which Missouri was a part of, entered the United States in 1804. He then resumed his American citizenship and became one of the founders and principal stockholders of the Bank of St. Louis.

National Depression Ruins Business

Moses Austin’s continuing success and fortune seemed assured, then came the first great national panic, or depression. By 1818 land values had drastically dropped. Banks everywhere were broke, including the Bank of St. Louis. Austin, now in his fifty-fourth year, was bankrupt but he was not willing to remain that way.

Austin Looks Towards Texas

What Austin now needed was new land on which to make a new beginning. After some long discussions with his son Stephen, Moses set out for Texas. Eight hundred miles later, he entered San Antonio de Bexar. It was the fall of 1820.

Prior to Austin’s arrival in Texas, General Arredondo, the Commandant of the eastern internal provinces, had ordered Texas governor Martinez not to let any Americans stay in Texas. The governor, upon learning that Austin was an American, refused to talk to him. That Austin had been a loyal Spanish subject previously made no difference. He was told to leave at once and to cross back over the Sabine River. If he stayed overnight in Bexar he would be arrested.

Except for a surprising twist of fate, this could easily have been the beginning and the end of American colonization in Texas, at least for many years to come.

Austin Secures Spanish Land Grant in Texas

When Moses Austin crossed the plaza to his horse he happened to see an old friend. Felipe Enrique Neri, known in Texas as Baron de Bastrop, was a Hollander who had previously served in the Prussian army. Having migrated to America, then to Texas from Louisiana, he was now a citizen of Spain. Austin and the Hollander had been friends in Louisiana. After agreeing to serve as Austin’s agent, Bastrop, within a week, had obtained a petition requesting permission for Austin to settle three hundred families in Texas. On January 17, 1821, Moses’ Texas land grant was secured.

Source:

  1. Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Stare: A History of Texas and the Texans. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1968.