Henry Austin, promoter, lawyer, and land dealer, the son of Elijah and Esther (Phelps) Austin, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on January 31, 1782. At the age of twelve he sailed to China as a cabin boy and, on returning, found that his father's death had left him partly responsible for the family. He had quit the sea by 1805 and was engaged in business in New York and New Haven until 1825. Concerning the period from 1808 to 1812 he wrote, "Scarce a dollar that has gone out of my hands has returned to me." In 1814 he married Mary Tailer of Boston. By 1824 he was in a receptive mood to letters from his cousin, Stephen F. Austin, urging him to come to Texas, primarily in the interest of his growing family. He first tried unsuccessfully to set up a gin and commission business in Mexico. Then he bought the Ariel to navigate the Rio Grande. Unable to adjust tothe temperament of the Mexicans, he sailed up the Brazos to Brazoria in 1830, visited his cousin, and made application to Mexico for a ten-league grant of land. The Ariel, being unable to make the trip to New Orleans, where Henry Austin went to visit his sister, Mary Austin Holley, and to make plans for joining the colony, was abandoned in the San Jacinto River. Henry received news of the approval of his application for land on April 2, 1831, and in May sailed for Texas as a prospective settler. He selected a site on the Brazos for his plantation, named it Bolivar, and employed five men to erect buildings. He welcomed Mary Holley there in October and his wife and five children in December of the same year. Stephen F. Austin spent a week with the family before he went to Saltillo as the representative of Coahuila and Texas.
Henry Austin's wife died in 1832, and he sent his daughters home with Mary Holley to Lexington, Kentucky; there they spent several years in school before returning to Bolivar, "where Emily kept house while Henrietta waited on her father." Henry spent his life in Texas in the vain effort to make his land pay, but he only succeeded, as did most of the other settlers, in being "land poor" and having to sacrifice much of his holdings for the education of his children. His public contribution to the state was in his relation to Stephen F. Austin, whose firm friend and staunch supporter he remained until his death. The extensive report he drew up for the administration of his cousin's estate proved to be invaluable. He was a promoter, a lawyer, a land dealer, and a politician and in spite of difficulties added significantly to his landholdings for the benefit of his children. His death on January 23, 1852, in the words of his will, ended "a long life of incessant enterprise, toil, privation, and suffering."