Taking advantage of the colonization law of March 24, 1825, promulgated by the state of Coahuila and Texas, James Power and James Hewetson formed a partnership and applied for an empresario contract to colonize the Texas coast with Irish Catholic and Mexican families. Their original petition of September 29, 1826, for the coastal lands extending from the Nueces to the Sabine was modified on June 11, 1828, when the national government and the state of Coahuila granted them ten littoral leagues lying between the Lavaca and Guadalupe rivers. On March 13, 1829, Power and Hewetson asked for an increase in territory. On April 12, 1829, the assigned territory was extended from the Guadalupe to the Nueces, and on May 29, 1831, Power and Hewetson received control of the former lands of the abandoned Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission. Between 1829 and 1831 many conflicts arose with the other empresarios in the area, Martin De León, John McMullen, and James McGloin. In settlement of the boundary disputes with De León, Power and Hewetson compromised by accepting the littoral lands lying between Coleto Creek and the mouth of the Nueces River.
The work in building the colony was committed to Power, who went to Ireland in 1833 and returned with about 350 Irish immigrants, the majority of them from Ballygarrett Parish in County Wexford on the southeast coast of Ireland, where Power had spent his early years. The colonists, lured by the promises of large tracts of land, traveled in two groups, the first of approximately 100 arriving in New Orleans in April, and the remainder following about a month later. During their stay in New Orleans a number of them-perhaps as many as 150-contracted cholera and died. Power reached Port Aransas with the remainder on May 23, 1834, but many of those who reached Texas were later stricken with cholera. Some of the survivors of the epidemic remained at Copano while others moved to the abandoned Refugio Mission, which served as the administrative center of the colony. There they were joined by a roughly equal number of Mexican colonists, many of them recruited in Coahuila.
In 1834 these settlers received their legal allotment of lands from the commissioner, José Jesús Vidaurri. The same year Refugio Municipality was established, and lots, surveyed by James Bray, were distributed free to the colonists. Hewetson came to the colony to assist in the issuance of titles and obtained a headright for himself. He returned to Mexico, however, and in 1835 met Power at Mier and sold him his interest in the colony. Hewetson, however, reserved his headrights and purchased lands.
Before the expiration of the contract, Power obtained an extension of three years. Even though nearly 200 titles were issued before the Congress of the Republic of Texas declared all public lands to be the property of the state, the total of families introduced did not reach 200, because a large number of the titles were to single men, some were for augmentations of previous grants, and in some cases the settlers probably did not occupy the land as the law required. Most of the colonists settled in Refugio or in the surrounding countryside, though a small number of Irish immigrants went back to New Orleans or returned to Ireland. Descendants of some of the original settlers still live in Refugio and San Patricio counties.