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Abolitionist receives controversial empresario contract

January
29
1844

On this day in 1844, Republic of Texas president Sam Houston granted an empresario contract to Charles Fenton Mercer. Mercer was born in Virginia in 1778. After winning election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1816, he was a strong advocate of developing the American West and colonizing "free people of color" through emigration to Africa. He resigned his seat in 1839, citing the drain on his personal finances caused by his long career in public service and philanthropy, and began work as a bank cashier in Florida. Two years later, he became interested in bringing settlers to a projected colony in northern Texas. He organized the Texas Association and by the end of the year had attracted more than 100 families to his enterprise. Political opinion in the republic had swung away from the empresario system, however, and Mercer's well-known abolitionist sentiments made the colony an issue in the abolition and annexation controversy. Land disputes and the resulting court cases were an additional drain on Mercer's time and finances. In 1852 he assigned his interest in the contract to other members of the Texas Association in return for a $2,000 annuity. Mercer died in Virginia in 1858.

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