Empresarios: Definition & System

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
In 1821, land was granted to the first empresario, an entrepreneur named Moses Austin. After that, 24 other men were given land grants by the new Republic of Mexico to establish colonies in what is now Texas.

Who Was Moses Austin?

The first American settler granted land by the Spanish government in what is now Texas was Moses Austin. He was a failed grocery store owner, a failed lead mine operator and a failed banker, but he had the spirit of an entrepreneur. He believed in himself, and since he knew officials within the Spanish government from past experience (having received a land grant in what is now Missouri in 1798), he was granted land in Texas in 1820. This made him the first empresario, or a foreign person who is granted land and in exchange helps along new settlers and starts a colony. Empresario is Spanish for 'entrepreneur.'

Moses Austin's original grant was the only one to come from the Spanish government because Mexico gained its independence from Spain with the signing of the Treaty of Cordoba in August 1821. Every empresario after that would have to go through the new Mexican government. Unfortunately, Austin was never to realize his own dream of being an empresario. He died in Texas in 1821.

Empresario Land Grants
Empresario Land Grants

The System

Texas and Coahuila were a long way from the Mexican capitol at Mexico City. Travel was difficult, and it was hard to get Mexican settlers, most of whom lived far to the south, to resettle in Texas. At the time of Mexico's independence, there were only around 3,500 people living within the present borders of Texas, and the government realized that more settlers meant greater stability for the region and more revenue for the government. Thus, after Stephen F. Austin, Moses's son, made Mexico aware of the benefits of the empresario system, they continued the policy that the Spaniards had begun with Moses Austin.

The rules under Spanish settlement allowed anyone of good standing to make a claim. It didn't matter what religion they practiced as long as they claimed to be loyal to the Spanish crown. The individual settler had to belong to one of the empresario cooperatives, and he would be given 4,605 acres to farm. If the settler was going to run cattle he was given double that amount of land.

The Mexican government would change those rules somewhat. Settlers had to claim the Catholic religion, learn Spanish and have a trade that they could practice in order to improve the overall community. These laws were largely ignored by the empresarios, who wanted as many colonists as possible to enter their boundaries. Many people also came from the United States and squatted on Texas land. These squatters were so physically far away from the government they realized that there would be no consequences for not following the rules.

The large number of colonists from the United States, who had no real loyalty to Mexico, were seen as a problem from the beginning. The Mexican colonization laws were written in 1824, and, originally, they allowed anyone who met the guidelines to settle. However, if there were too many settlers from a foreign nation (like the United States), the government could end all further settlement from that nation in 1840. This clause was written to make sure that people loyal to another government could not start an insurrection. The government was prescient, as the War for Texas Independence began in 1836.

The Empresarios

The first of the empresarios under Mexican law was Stephen F. Austin, often called the 'father' of Texas. The government allowed him to keep the land that his father was granted, and he started a colony between the Brazos and Colorado Rivers south of the Royal Road (El Camino Real).

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