Stephen F. Austin: Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Matthew Hill
Stephen F. Austin is called the 'father of Texas' for his role in establishing the first American colony in Texas. Though he served as mediator between Mexico and Texas, in time, he supported Texas independence.

Early Life

Stephen F. Austin lived a life of grand adventure and one that forever associated his name with Texas. As a young lad, he bounced from job to job and worked in several roles. His path changed dramatically though when he led the American colonization scheme into Texas. For his efforts in playing peacekeeper between Mexico and Texas, he was imprisoned and eventually became a leading supporter of Texas independence.

Born in Virginia in 1793, his family moved to Missouri when he was five. He attended Transylvania University in Kentucky and then returned to Missouri in 1810 to work in his father's mining business. Ever restless, he worked in several venues over the next few years.

He served in the state militia and then in the Missouri territorial legislature from 1814-1820. His failing business ventures caused him to accept an offer as a circuit-judge in Arkansas in 1820. He soon left this post and moved to New Orleans to study law under Joseph H. Hawkins, a former Kentucky congressman who had established a law firm in New Orleans.

Portrait of Stephen Austin
Stephen Austin Portrait

Move to Texas

His career path changed direction when his father, Moses Austin, received a land grant from Spain to settle an American colony in Texas. In 1820, his father traveled to San Antonio to petition the Spanish government for a land grant. In early 1821, that petition was approved to establish a colony of 300 families - often dubbed the Old 300. This was the origins of American colonists in Texas.

Austin showed little interest in Texas, but his father's sudden death in 1821 convinced him to finalize his fathers colonization plan. Austin traveled to San Antonio where he got permission from Texas governor Antonio Maria Martinez to proceed under his father's prior arrangement.

Austin was given the title empresario - or land grant agent - and settled along the Brazos and Colorado Rivers. In turn, each family received 620 acres per head of each family, 320 for his spouse, 320 for each child, and even 80 for each slave at only 12 1/2 cents per acre. Given its proximity to Texas, Austin advertised these terms widely in the port city of New Orleans, which drew settlers from the southern states.

Immigration Issues and Imprisonment

Everything changed though when Mexico won independence from Spain, and Governor Martinez warned Austin that the new government preferred a general immigration bill to the original deal under Spain. Austin hastened to Mexico City and persuaded the new emperor of Mexico, Augustin de Iturbide, to support colonization. Iturbide agreed to provide various financial incentives to empresarios who could recruit settlers in large numbers.

However, a new 1824 immigration bill tightened immigration restrictions, such as banning slavery and non-Catholic immigrants. Austin though, for the time, retained full civil and military authority over the colonists until 1828. He spent most of his time allocating land grants, maintaining records, and pushing back Indian raids. Mexico grew concerned though when by 1830 Anglo-Americans outnumbered Mexicans.

Stephen Austin Pictured as a Frontiersman
Stephen Austin

Events began to unravel very quickly. In 1830, the famous Law of April 6, 1830 was passed, which forbid further American immigration into Texas and calls for Texas independence grew. The situation worsened when Santa Anna, a Mexican politician and general, demanded full compliance with Mexican law and threatened military action.

Austin, pulled between maintaining diplomatic ties to Mexico and Texas demands for independence, traveled to Mexico City in 1833 for discussions. Distrustful of Austin's independence, Santa Anna had Austin imprisoned for over a year and then placed under house arrest in Mexico City. Finally released, he returned home in August 1835.

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