The Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company was founded in New York on October 16, 1830, for the purpose of colonizing the lands assigned to the empresarios Joseph Vehlein, David G. Burnet, and Lorenzo de Zavala. The colonization contracts covered an area in East Texas lying east of the San Jacinto River and south of a line running twenty leagues north of Nacogdoches (3,743,163 acres). The company, a real-estate promotion firm with agents, land counselors, surveyors, and salesmen, did not own land itself but sold scrip that allowed the settlers simply to move into the area allotted to the three empresarios. There the settlers had to complete all requirements of the Mexican colonization law before they could obtain title to land. The company sold its scrip to individuals and to such companies as Prentiss's Union Land Company and the Trinity Land Company; it also sold shares to subscribers. By January 1835 the company had issued 1,000 shares to fifty-six stockholders.
On December 29, 1830, the company dispatched the schooner Angelia from New York with fifty-seven emigrants sent to prepare temporary quarters and plant crops for the prospective settlers. In January 1831 it issued a booklet that contained an announcement of company policy, terms on the contracts, and the provisions of the Law of April 6, 1830, concerning colonization. Because of this law, which prohibited further immigration to Texas from the United States, Mexican officials refused to let the passengers on the Angelia locate land or settle, even though most of them were supposed to be from Germany or Switzerland. The immigrants were, however, permitted to build huts and plant gardens on the Trinity River. Agents of the company arrived in Texas to find that they could not give land titles, and a second boatload of colonists found themselves without prospect of title or land. Meanwhile, the company in New York continued to sell scrip for thousands of acres at five cents per acre, but the scrip was worthless in Texas, where an empresario could grant land to an immigrant of good character whether he possessed scrip or not. In January 1831 the company sent ten families on the schooner Climax to Texas. The vessel was wrecked in bad weather near Point Bolivar, but all the passengers were saved.
In April 1831 the company appointed John T. Mason as its agent. The grants of Vehlein and Burnet were extended in August 1832 for three years and the one of Zavala in 1834 for four years. By June 1834 George A. Nixon had been appointed land commissioner for the company, and between his arrival in Texas in September 1834 and December 1835, titles for over 916 square leagues of land were issued. By October 1835 the company was not only carrying on its land operations but was seeking to buy other land in Texas, procuring laborers from Bermuda to work on the lands purchased, and preparing to build hotels and warehouses at New Washington.
In November 1835 the General Council of the provisional government closed the land office and ordered the issuance of land titles to cease. At that time the Galveston Bay Company had not received its premium lands for the 1,000-odd families it had introduced. Soon after the battle of San Jacinto, Mason supposedly tried to employ Sam Houston as attorney for the company. The Republic of Texas passed a law on June 12, 1837, allowing empresarios to institute suit against the president of the republic in order to establish their claims, providing that neither aliens nor assignees of aliens should benefit by the law. The company did not itself enter a suit for its premium lands but authorized Robert Rose, successor of John T. Mason, to sue for it. The suit brought by Rose was not tried until 1848, when the courts ruled that the term alien applied to assignees of the company and that Rose was not qualified to sue.
This did not stop the company. By 1849 the number of stockholders had increased from fifty-six to ninety-five. In the same year the company declared that it had sold scrip for 10,216,635 acres of land and had spent $141,296. If the land was worth between five and ten cents an acre, the company had made a profit of $369,535 to $880,367. In addition, the United States and Mexican Claims Commission awarded the company $50,000 as compensation for its land losses in 1851.
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Mary Virginia Henderson, "Minor Empresario Contracts for the Colonization of Texas, 1825–1834," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 31, 32 (April, July 1928). C. Alan Hutchinson, "General José Antonio Mexía and his Texas Interests," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 82 (October 1978). Visit to Texas (New York: Goodrich and Wiley, 1834; rpt., Austin: Steck, 1952). Elgin Williams, The Animating Pursuits of Speculation: Land Traffic in the Annexation of Texas (New York: Columbia University Press, 1949). David Woodman, Jr., Guide to Texas Emigrants (Boston: Hawes, 1835).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Andreas V. Reichstein,
“Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 01, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
January 1, 1995
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