Anglo-American Colonization

By: Margaret S. Henson

Type: General Entry

Published: July 1, 1995

Updated: January 4, 2021

Anglo-American colonization in Mexican Texas took place between 1821 and 1835. Spain had first opened Texas to Anglo-Americans in 1820, less than one year before Mexico achieved its independence. Its traditional policy forbade foreigners in its territory, but Spain was unable to persuade its own citizens to move to remote and sparsely populated Texas. There were only three settlements in the province of Texas in 1820: Nacogdoches, San Antonio de Béxar, and La Bahía del Espíritu Santo (later Goliad), small towns with outlying ranches. The missions near the latter two, once expected to be nucleus communities, had been or were being secularized (i.e., transferred to diocesan from Franciscan administration), while those near Nacogdoches had been closed since the 1770s. Recruiting foreigners to develop the Spanish frontier was not new. As early as the 1790s, Spain invited Anglo-Americans to settle in Upper Louisiana (Missouri) for the same reason. The foreigners were to be Catholic, industrious, and willing to become Spanish citizens in return for generous land grants. Spain expected the new settlers to increase economic development and help deter the aggressive and mobile Plains Indians such as the Comanches and Kiowas. Mexico continued the Spanish colonization plan after its independence in 1821 by granting contracts to empresarios who would settle and supervise selected, qualified immigrants.

Anglo-Americans were attracted to Hispanic Texas because of inexpensive land. Undeveloped land in the United States land offices cost $1.25 an acre for a minimum of 80 acres ($100) payable in specie at the time of purchase. In Texas each head of a family, male or female, could claim a headright of 4,605 acres (one league-4,428 acres of grazing land and one labor-177 acres of irrigable farm land) at a cost about four cents an acre ($184) payable in six years, a sum later reduced by state authorities.

Beginning in 1824 when the Mexican Republic adopted its constitution, each immigrant took an oath of loyalty to the new nation and professed to be a Christian. Because the Catholic Church was the established religion, the oath implied that all would become Catholic, although the national and state colonization laws were silent on the matter. Religion was not a critical issue, however, because the church waited until 1831 to send a resident priest, Michael Muldoon, into the Anglo-Texan communities. This was inconvenient for those wishing to marry because there was no provision for civil ceremonies, and only priests had authority to perform nuptial rites. Anglo-Texans unwilling or unable to seek a priest in Catholic communities received permission from the authorities to sign a marriage bond, a practice common in the non-Anglican foothills of Virginia and the Carolinas before 1776, promising to formalize their union when a priest arrived.

Two other reasons brought Anglo-American settlers to Texas. Through the 1820s, most believed that the United States would buy eastern Texas from Mexico. Many thought that that portion of Texas had been part of the Louisiana Purchase and that the United States had "given" it away to Spain in exchange for Florida in the 1819 Adams-Onís Treaty, which established the Sabine River boundary. The Texas pioneers expected annexation would stimulate immigration and provide buyers for their land. A second attraction was that Mexico and the United States had no reciprocal agreements enabling creditors to collect debts or to return fugitives. Therefore, Texas was a safe haven for the many Mississippi valley farmers who defaulted on their loans when agricultural prices declined at the end of the War of 1812 and bankers demanded immediate payment. Faced with seizure of their property and even debtors' prison in many states, men loaded their families and belongings into wagons and headed for the Sabine River, where creditors could not follow and there was opportunity to start over.

Against this background, Moses Austin traveled from Missouri to Spanish San Antonio in 1820 to apply for an empresario grant to bring Anglo-American families to Texas. Like so many others, he had suffered losses in banking failures and hoped to restore his family's fortunes by charging small fees-12½ cents an acre-for land within his assigned area. He had become a Spanish citizen in 1798, when he moved from Virginia to the St. Louis area where he acquired an empresario grant to develop a lead mine and import workers. The Spanish governor at San Antonio gave tentative approval to Austin's plan, subject to review by his superiors, to bring 300 moral, hardworking, Catholic families from the former Spanish territory of Louisiana. Although the authorities wanted him to settle close to San Antonio, Austin opted for a still-to-be-defined area along the lower Colorado River, where he hoped to establish a port. On his return to Missouri he became ill and died at home in June 1821, leaving the plan with his eldest son, Stephen Fuller Austin.

Austin's advertisements for colonists coincided with Mexican independence and the presumption that a republic would be organized. Stimulated by these events, some families began moving immediately to the Red River near future Texarkana and across the Sabine along the old Spanish road leading to Nacogdoches. There they remained as squatters, some with intentions of joining the Austin colony, but others engaged in trading with the Indians and Mexicans.

The younger Austin visited San Antonio in mid-1821 as his father's heir and received permission to explore the lower Colorado for a site for the colony. His roaming convinced him that the Brazos watershed should be added to his grant. Upon returning to Texas in early 1822, Austin discovered he must go to Mexico City to confirm the contract with the national government, even though his first settlers were on their way with only vague instructions about where to settle. Soon after he reached the capital, a coup established an empire, and the resulting turmoil delayed Austin for a year. In April 1823 he finally received a contract under the Imperial Colonization Law, which had been passed in January. Because the empire collapsed in April and the republic was reestablished, Austin's empresario contract was the only one issued under this law. The reinstated republican Congress immediately approved the imperial contract, and Austin rushed back to Texas to organize his colony.

The Imperial Colonization Law specified that colonists must be Catholic, so Austin's first 300 families were affected. The 1824 National Colonization Law and the 1825 Coahuila and Texas State Colonization Law said only that foreigners must be Christian and abide by the laws of the nation, thereby implying they would be members of the established church. Protestant preachers occasionally visited Texas, but they seldom held public services. In 1834 the state decreed that no person should be molested for political or religious beliefs as long as he did not disturb public order. This was as close as Texans came to freedom of religion and speech before 1836.

Slavery was also an issue. Mexicans abhorred slavery as allowed in the United States, but pragmatic politicians shut their eyes to the system in their eagerness to have the Anglos produce cotton in Texas. National and state laws banned the African slave trade, but allowed Anglo-Americans to bring their family slaves with them to Texas and buy and sell them there until 1840. Grandchildren of those slaves would be freed gradually upon reaching certain ages. The state inferred in 1827 that it might emancipate slaves earlier, and the immigrants took the precaution of signing indenture contracts with their illiterate servants binding them for ninety-nine years to work off their purchase price, upkeep, and transportation to Texas. Mexican officials recognized the subterfuge as debt peonage, and Black slaves continued to arrive in Texas. The most serious threat to Anglo slaveholders occurred when President Vicente Ramón Guerrero emancipated all slaves on September 15, 1829, in commemoration of independence. Austin's Mexican friends quickly secured an exemption from the law for Texas.

Austin, the most successful Texas empresario, made four six-year contracts between 1823 and 1828 for a potential 1,200 families. They were to be settled between the watersheds of the Brazos and Colorado rivers and as far as the Lavaca River below the Old San Antonio Road, as well as eastward to the San Jacinto River (but not including Galveston Island) and a small area around the site of present-day Austin. A fifth contract issued in 1831 for 800 families to be settled along the Brazos above the old Spanish Road was challenged by Sterling Clark Robertson, who had an expired prior claim. The ensuing conflict made accurate tallies difficult.

Empresarios did not own the land within their grants, nor could they issue titles; the state appointed a land commissioner to give deeds only after 100 families had been settled. Surveyors laid off leagues and labores along the watercourses and roads, after which colonists could choose vacant tracts. The settlers paid fees to the state, the surveyor, the land commissioner, and the clerk, who wrote the deeds on stamped paper and recorded the payments. Austin's plan to restore his family's well-being by selling land was denied because empresarios could not receive fees. The state gave them a bonus of 23,000 acres for each 100 families settled. By 1834, at the virtual end of the empresario system, Austin had settled about 966 families and earned 197,000 acres of bonus land that he could locate where he chose. He could sell the land, but only to those willing to live in Texas.

Austin, as the pioneer empresario in Texas, was burdened with more duties than later contractors. With no published compendium of the Mexican laws, administrative and judicial authority rested with Austin, and the result was a mix of Mexican decrees with pragmatic Anglo-American implementation. Local settlements within his colony elected alcaldes, similar to justices of the peace, and constables. Austin sat as superior judge until 1828, when sufficient population permitted the installation of an ayuntamiento at San Felipe, the capital of the colony. This council, with elected representatives from the settlements, had authority over the entire Austin colony and acted like a county government. As population grew, other settlements within the colony qualified for ayuntamientos. These councils settled lawsuits, regulated the health and welfare of the residents by supervising doctors, lawyers, taverns, and ferries, surveyed roads, and sold town lots. Capital cases were referred to authorities in Monterrey and later Saltillo. The remoteness of the court disturbed Anglo-Texans, who wanted accessible courts.

Austin also commanded the local militia to defend the colony against Indians and to keep the peace. His contract area had only a few small Indian villages belonging to such sedentary groups as the Bidais and Coushattas, who wanted only to trade. Less friendly were the seasonally migrant remnant coastal tribes of Karankawas or the inland Tonkawas, who foraged for game and targeted the settlers' livestock. Pioneers along the Colorado River suffered most. Austin led several punitive expeditions between 1823 and 1826; he also negotiated moderately successful treaties with these declining tribes. North and west of the Austin colony Indians continued to resist the flow of immigrants well beyond the colonial period.

Other men besides Austin wanted empresario contracts in Texas, and a few were in Mexico City in 1822. Because of the changing political scene and the slow passage of the colonization laws, they had to wait until 1825, after the passage of national and state colonization laws passed in August 1824 and March 1825. The national law prohibited foreigners from settling within twenty-six miles of the Gulf of Mexico or within fifty-two miles of the Sabine River border without special executive permission. To encourage immigration, settlers were free from national taxes for four years. Land ownership was limited to eleven leagues. Owners had to be residents of Mexico. Preference was given to native Mexicans in the selection, and the national government could use any portion of land needed for the defence and security of the nation.

The state colonization law detailed how to apply for land, how much would be given to heads of families, including females or single persons, and the fees to be paid. The law granted freedom from tithes and the alcabala, an internal excise tax, for ten years. Within three weeks four contracts were signed: Haden Edwards could settle 800 families in the Nacogdoches area, Robert Leftwich 800 along the Brazos valley above the Old San Antonio Road, Green DeWitt 400 on the Guadalupe River, and Frost Thorn 400 north of Nacogdoches. DeWitt, who developed the area around Gonzales, was the second most successful empresario in Texas. He settled 189 families before his contract expired in 1831. His colony suffered Indian attacks and also controversy with his neighbor, Mexican native empresario Martín De León.

De León, a native of a small town 100 miles southwest of the site of present Matamoros, moved his family north across the Nueces River and into the province of Texas in the early 1800s. He lived by catching mustangs and wild cattle and raising mules, then selling the animals in San Antonio or even trailing them to Louisiana. In April 1824, before the passage of the national colonization law, he received permission from the provincial deputation in San Antonio to establish a town for forty-one families about twenty miles northeast of La Bahía on the banks of the Guadalupe River. No boundaries were mentioned. By October, De León and twelve families had arrived at a cypress grove, the site of the town of Guadalupe Victoria (now Victoria, Texas), named for the first president of Mexico, who took office that year.

Unaware of the colonization grant to De León in San Antonio, the state assigned the same area of the Guadalupe valley with specific boundaries to DeWitt in April 1825. When DeWitt's settlers arrived, trouble was inevitable. Because the colonization laws gave preference to native Mexicans, De León petitioned the state for redress, and the authorities told DeWitt in October 1825 to respect De León's prior claims but failed to establish boundaries. The state named land commissioners for both De León's and DeWitt's colonies. The commissioners issued titles in 1831, the year DeWitt's six-year contract expired permanently. The boundaries remained unresolved. Eventually sixteen non-Hispanic families, some of whom were Anglo-Americans with Irish roots, received headrights in De León's otherwise Hispanic community.

De León also quarreled with neighboring empresarios James Power and James Hewetson natives of Ireland and residents of the United States and Mexico. They received a state contract in June 1828 to settle 200 families-half Mexican and half Irish-in the twenty-six-mile coastal reserve between the mouth of the Guadalupe and the mouth of the Lavaca River, an area that received approval from the president. In 1829 their boundary was extended south to the Nueces River. Two hundred titles were issued to Europeans, but because many were single men the colonial contract was left incomplete, since the law specified families. Nearby, two other Irish natives, residents of Matamoros, secured a contract in 1828 to bring 200 European families to the Nueces above the Power-Hewetson grant. John McMullen and James McGloin's colony was known as the Irish Colony; most of its residents clustered around San Patricio, where the land commissioner issued eighty-four titles.

Of more importance to the development of Anglo-Texan communities were the large grants made in 1825 to Edwards and Leftwich that were adjacent to the Austin colony on the east and north. Edwards's contract specified land for up to 800 Anglo-American families in a large area of East Texas from northwest of Nacogdoches, including the forks of the Trinity, west to the Navasota River, thence southeast along the Trinity River valley to upper Galveston Bay. The tract did not include Galveston Island or the twenty-six-mile-wide coastal reserve forbidden to foreigners. The eastern boundary was the fifty-two-mile-wide border reserve along the Sabine River running north from the Gulf of Mexico to the thirty-second parallel. The state instructed Edwards to respect the property of long-time residents in the Nacogdoches area, some of whom had been there since the 1780s. Edwards, insensitive to Hispanic culture, reached Nacogdoches in October 1825 and threatened to dispossess those who had no proof of ownership unless they paid him for the land. The Spanish process to acquire land on the remote frontier was lengthy and expensive, and almost nobody had deeds. But besides Hispanics, there were a number of Anglo-American hunters and traders who had moved there in the 1790s, as well as new squatters who had arrived since 1821. Although local alcaldes were authorized for the scattered settlements, there was no ayuntamiento until 1828, so all official business had to be conducted in San Antonio. In general, Hispanics and old-time Anglos opposed Edwards and complained to the political chief in San Antonio; some newcomers supported the empresario, while others remained aloof. Tensions mounted during 1826, and in response to complaints against Edwards the state abrogated his contract in October and banished him from Texas. Anglo-Texans, even those not involved in the controversy, were disturbed that a contract, almost sacred in Anglo culture, could be canceled. Did that mean that the provisions of the colonization laws might change regarding slavery? Were other empresario contracts vulnerable?

At the time of the cancellation, Haden Edwards was recruiting colonists in Mississippi, but his brother, Benjamin W. Edwards, rallied supporters to protest the order. In November they seized the alcalde (an Anglo old-timer) and tried others at a drumhead court; after a few days all were released. The following month the insurgents declared independence from Mexico by decreeing the Republic of Fredonia. Benjamin Edwards forged an alliance with some disaffected Cherokee leaders who were unable to secure titles to their villages northwest of Nacogdoches, and Edwards promised to divide Texas between the red men and the Whites. The Indians reconsidered, however, and failed to support Edwards, who fled towards Louisiana in January 1827, when soldiers from San Antonio accompanied by Austin's militia approached Nacogdoches. Thus ended the quixotic Fredonian Rebellion, which aroused fears of widespread Anglo-Texan revolt among Mexican leaders. The state banished the ringleaders, promised to send a land commissioner to issue titles to families who had settled the area in good faith, and established a permanent garrison at Nacogdoches to guard against ruffians and filibusters from the United States.

Almost as troublesome was the Leftwich contract, which, unknown to the authorities, was intended as a profit-making undertaking for the benefit of stockholders. This empresario grant eventually was known as Robertson's colony. Leftwich, who was in Mexico City when Austin was there, represented seventy Tennessee investors called the Texas Association. The land assigned was in the upper Brazos valley just north of Austin's grant and touching that of Edwards on the east. When Leftwich returned to Nashville in 1825 with the empresario contract in his name instead of the company's, the investors had to buy out his interest. They sent several agents to Coahuila-Texas to get the contract in their name, but the suspicions raised by the Fredonia Rebellion deterred their efforts. With Austin's help, the Nashville Association (as it was now called) was finally recognized as successor to Leftwich in October 1827. But the stockholders failed to send settlers until October 1830, only six months before the end of their contract. Shareholder Sterling C. Robertson and six others reached the garrison at Fort Tenoxtitlán, one of the new military posts established in 1830; Tenoxtitlán guarded the old Spanish road crossing on the Brazos River. Nine families trailed Robertson, and when they reached Nacogdoches the commandant detained them. The newly passed Law of April 6, 1830, prohibited the entrance of Anglo-Americans into Texas unless they had a passport to Austin's or DeWitt's colony. Austin had quickly secured an exemption from the restriction for his and DeWitt's colonies when he discovered an ambiguous phrase seeming to allow immigration to "established" colonies. This he interpreted as those with more than 100 families in residence. The authorities acquiesced. The Law of April 6 also forbade the immigration of slaves, but even the authorities admitted that this restriction was impossible to enforce.

Passage of the restrictive law was the result of heightened suspicions that the United States intended to seize Texas. Between 1825 and 1829, the United States minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, unsuccessfully pressured the new nation to sell eastern Texas, and his successor, Anthony Butler, had similar instructions. Mexican leaders feared a rebellion of Anglos and annexation to the United States, just as Spain had lost Baton Rouge and Mobile in the early 1800s. Thus the Fredonian Rebellion inspired an official inspection tour in 1828 from San Antonio to Nacogdoches which revealed that Anglo-Americans greatly outnumbered native Mexicans in Texas. Although there was no obvious subversive activity, the Anglos continued to speak only English and conducted legal matters primarily in Anglo tradition. The authorities concluded that Mexico might lose Texas if more Anglo-Americans were allowed to enter and that native Mexicans must be encouraged to settle in the frontier state to "Mexicanize" it. The government dispatched troops to strategic entrances to Texas in late 1830 to enforce the law and also to aid the newly installed customs collectors in levying national import duties. The special exemption from the tariff for Texas pioneer settlers had expired. It was hoped that the new garrisons would produce native Mexican communities and that the tariff would pay for the troops needed to preserve Texas. However, this understandable response to save Mexican hegemony inflamed Anglo-Texans, who inherited their grandfathers' distaste for standing armies and troops billeted in residential communities, and who had come to believe that their exemption from tariffs was permanent.

Robertson's colonists surreptitiously passed Nacogdoches and reached the Brazos in November. Amid a flurry of letters to officials, Austin offered the unlucky settlers sanctuary, a step approved officially in September 1831. Meanwhile Robertson asked Austin, who was leaving to take his seat in the state legislature at Saltillo, to intercede for an extension of the six-year contract. Austin agreed, although he believed the case dead-the six years was up, the Law of April 6, 1830, prevented Anglo settlement, and a French immigration company had already applied for the old Leftwich grant. In early February, however, Austin asked the state for a contract in his name and that of his associate, Samuel May Williams, to settle 800 European and Mexican families on the former Nashville grant, plus some additional land north and west. The application was approved on February 25, 1832.

This action caused trouble with Robertson, who felt betrayed. Austin defended his action by saying that Robertson's cause was hopeless. Austin wanted, he stated, a more dependable frontier neighbor than a French company on his northern frontier, which was still exposed to Indian raiders. Robertson appealed to the ayuntamiento in San Felipe for relief in November 1833 by offering testimony from various persons that the Nashville company had sent 100 families before the expiration of the contract in 1831. The council, influenced by anti-Austin sentiment, agreed that Robertson should be reinstated, and he left for Saltillo, where he presented his documents on April 2, 1834. In May the governor returned the contract to Robertson despite arguments by Austin and Williams's attorney; Robertson's land commissioner began granting titles immediately. Sam Williams attended the 1835 session of the state legislature and won back the colony in May. Austin and Williams's new land commissioner began issuing deeds, while Robertson's commissioner continued to act until the end of the year. The resulting overlapping claims kept lawyers employed past midcentury.

The most controversial of all of the empresario grants, however, were those of David G. Burnet, Joseph Vehlein, and Lorenzo de Zavala, who sold their respective contracts to New York and Boston speculators. This action was contrary to the intent of the national and state colonization laws. The sale was not only illegal, but also deleterious to the purchasers. As a result of it, small and large investors and innocent colonists lost their promised land and sometimes their lives. Burnet, a native of New Jersey and resident of Ohio, had traded with the Indians in Spanish Texas about 1818 but soon returned to Ohio. In December 1826 he received a contract to settle 300 families in the northwestern area of the former Edwards grant near Nacogdoches. At the same time, Vehlein, a Mexico City merchant, contracted through agents to settle 300 families in the southern portion of the canceled Edwards grant. Neither man visited the land and neither sent a single colonist. Burnet, a younger son of a prominent family, tried to recruit antislavery settlers in Ohio, but lacked the financial means to succeed. In 1829, with time running out, he unsuccessfully offered half of his future bonus land to wealthy and powerful individuals if they would send 300 families to his grant. Finally, in October 1830, he negotiated the sale of his grant to the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company, as did Vehlein's agent. Joining in the sale was Lorenzo de Zavala, a native of Yucatán, a prominent politician and currently a political refugee in New York City. He had acquired the long fifty-two-mile-wide border reserve on the Sabine River as his empresario grant in 1828, when he agreed to settle 500 European or Mexican families. He, too, never saw his Texas land nor sent a colonist.

The Galveston Bay company issued stock entitling investors to scrip in denominations of leagues and labores. Some investors, such as James Prentiss, used their scrip to create separate ventures such as the Union Land Company and the Trinity Land Company. Those companies dispatched two schooners to Galveston Bay in January 1831 with a few European settlers recruited in New York City. Though the Law of April 6, 1830, prohibited sending Anglo-Americans, some American workmen accompanied the settlers. John Davis Bradburn, the commandant at Anahuac, allowed the unfortunate immigrants to land briefly. A few stayed and farmed, but most returned to the United States as best they could.

The entire undertaking was extortionate. Upon landing, each immigrant was to apply for a headright, of which he would receive 177 acres after three years of labor. The remaining 4,428 acres was signed over to the company. The company employed agents in Mexico to lobby for revocation of the restrictive law of 1830, a step that succeeded in 1834. Moreover, those squatters who had lived in East Texas since 1821 without titles discovered they were now colonists of the three empresarios. Although the state had approved naming a land commissioner in 1828, politics delayed implementation. Finally, in 1834, land commissioners arrived to give deeds to those long-time squatters and also the newcomers. One called himself the agent of the empresario and tried to collect fees until complaints to the state ended the illegal practice.

There were a number of lesser empresarios, including Benjamin R. Milam, Arthur G. Wavell, John Cameron, Stephen Julian Wilson,John Charles Beales, and Richard Exeter, as well as a few native Mexicans. All failed to complete their contracts within the allotted time. Most of their grants were located on the southwestern and northern perimeters of Texas.

Settlers continued to arrive in the established colonies and the area claimed by the Galveston Bay Company until the land offices were closed by the General Council on October 27, 1835, and confirmed by the Consultation the next month. By this time most residents, except in Robertson's colony on the northern frontier, no longer thought of themselves as colonists dependent on an empresario. De León was dead, DeWitt died in 1835, Austin was a sort of elder statesman, and few people in the Burnet, Vehlein, or Zavala grants were acquainted with the phantom empresarios. By 1834 Texas was divided into three departments: Bexar, the Brazos, and Nacogdoches, each with its own political chief reporting directly to the governor and each having more than one town with an ayuntamiento. This gave the residents a feeling of self-government. Their main goal was achieving separate statehood from Coahuila. The old Austin colony continued to attract newcomers, including some of those unable to secure titles in other colonies. Its stability, its guaranteed deeds, and its easy accessibility by water from New Orleans through Galveston Bay and the Brazos river were drawing cards.

The Anglo-American settlers imported their culture to Texas and resisted Mexicanizing even after 1830, when purchase by the United States was increasingly unlikely. Rich or poor, Anglo immigrants were independent-minded, self-sufficient republicans suspicious of the traditional deferential society of Hispanic culture, even though Mexican reformers were struggling to build a republic. The spirit of Jacksonian democracy pervaded even those not admiring President Andrew Jackson. Moreover, collecting national tariff duties in Texas in 1830 coincided with the growing anti-tariff movement in South Carolina, which resulted in the Nullification Crisis. Texans, like other agrarians, manufactured nothing and disliked import duties on necessities. It was not surprising, then, that American ship captains, supported by Anglo-Texan merchants, refused to pay the new duties and exchanged fire with the fort at the mouth of the Brazos River in December 1831. At this same time, Colonel Bradburn, charged with enforcing Mexican laws regarding immigration and the tariff at Anahuac, arrested civilians and held some without bail for trial before the commandant general at Matamoros. Anglo-Texans believed Bradburn was acting arbitrarily. They did not understand that his actions were required under Mexican law, which lacked anything like a Bill of Rights. Angry men from the Brazos marched to confront Bradburn at Anahuac, while others loaded illegal cannons on a ship to join them. At the mouth of the river, the Anglo-Texans forced the surrender of the fort. The first of the Anahuac Disturbances and the battle of Velasco took place in June 1832, just as the Federalist party's army defeated that of the conservative administration, thus ending a four-year-old civil war. The Texans claimed to be helping the Federalists, who were led by Antonio López de Santa Anna, and convinced authorities sent to investigate that they were not revolutionaries against Mexico. Their action resulted in the departure of all Centralist troops and customs collectors from Texas.

Wanting to capitalize on their support of Santa Anna, who was to be the new president, the Anglo-Texans drafted petitions for separate statehood, a better judicial system, and similar reform measures. In April 1833 Austin took the requests to Mexico City, where most were approved except for separate statehood. In a moment of despondency, Austin wrote an incriminating letter urging the leaders at San Antonio to act unilaterally on separation. For this act of sedition he was arrested in January 1834 and incarcerated in Mexico City until July 1835.

Texans remained relatively quiet during Austin's absence fearing for his life. After Santa Anna's installation as president in 1833, he left governing to his Federalist- reformer vice president. By 1835, however, Santa Anna reversed himself, became a Centralist dictator, and sent the army to punish his political enemies. Garrisons and customs collectors returned to Texas in January 1835 and the Anglo-Texan response was predictable. A second attack recaptured Anahuac in June, and when Austin reached Texas in September he surprised many by endorsing the resistance movement against the oppressive administration. Though at first supporting reform of the Mexican government, public opinion moved quickly to favoring a separate Texas nation.

There are no accurate figures detailing the number of Anglo-Americans who settled in Texas between 1821 and 1835. Although Mexican law required an annual census of all residents, the Anglo-Texans resisted such bureaucratic demands. Existing tallies reveal that in 1826 Austin had 1,800 people, including 443 slaves; DeWitt counted 159 Whites and 29 slaves; and the lower Trinity River, then outside of any empresario grant, was populated by 407 settlers with 76 slaves. Subsequent extant records show Austin's colony with 2,201 people in 1828, 4,248 in 1830, and 5,565 in 1831, while DeWitt had only 82 persons, including 7 slaves, in 1828. In 1834 the English-speaking Col. Juan N. Almonte made an official inspection of Texas and estimated that 4,000 people lived in the Department of Bexar, 2,100 in the Department of the Brazos (Austin's colony), and 1,600 in the Department of Nacogdoches. The 3,000 decrease in Austin's colony suggests that Almonte's figures were wrong. A few lists of residents in the Nacogdoches area in 1834–35 and scattered other records are extant, but such incomplete records only hint at the Texas population. Anglo-American colonization in Texas was obviously a success, although not what Mexican leaders envisioned. Neither side worked to understand, appreciate, nor resolve the cultural differences intrinsic to the union proposed by Mexico and accepted by Anglo-American immigrants.


Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1925; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1949; New York: AMS Press, 1970). A. B. J. Hammett, The Empresario Don Martín de León (Waco: Texian Press, 1973). Mary Virginia Henderson, "Minor Empresario Contracts for the Colonization of Texas, 1825–1834," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 31, 32 (April, July 1928). Margaret Swett Henson, The Cartwrights of San Augustine (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1993). Margaret S. Henson, Juan Davis Bradburn: A Reappraisal of the Mexican Commander of Anahuac (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1982). Margaret S. Henson, Samuel May Williams: Early Texas Entrepreneur (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1976). Edward Albert Lukes, De Witt Colony of Texas (Austin: Jenkins, 1976). Malcolm D. McLean, comp. and ed., Papers Concerning Robertson's Colony in Texas (19 vols., Arlington: University of Texas at Arlington Press, 1974–93). Ernest Wallace and David M. Vigness, eds., Documents of Texas History (Austin: Steck, 1963). David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821–1846 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982).

Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Margaret S. Henson, “Anglo-American Colonization,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 24, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to:

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

July 1, 1995
January 4, 2021

This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: