Robertson's Colony

By: Malcolm D. McLean

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: January 19, 2019

The colonization enterprise that eventually became known as Robertson's colony had previously been referred to as the Texas Association, Leftwich's Grant, the Nashville colony, or the upper colony. The name Texas Association was applied to a group of seventy individuals who, on March 2, 1822, in Nashville, Tennessee, addressed a memorial to the independent government of Mexico, asking for permission to settle in Texas. Robert Leftwich, their most active member, carried the memorial to Mexico City, but he was delayed three years in getting a colonization contract. By the time he finally did get one, from the state government of Coahuila and Texas on April 15, 1825, to introduce 800 families, the money advanced to him by the association had run out, so he got the contract in his own name. Leftwich returned to Tennessee and sold the contract to the Texas Association on August 6, 1825, on condition that the area covered would thereafter be called Leftwich's Grant. Actually the contract that Leftwich sold to the Texas Association was not for land in fee simple: it merely gave permission to introduce colonists into an area covered by all or part of seventeen present-day Texas counties- Bastrop, Bell, Brazos, Burleson, Burnet, Comanche, Coryell, Falls, Hamilton, Lampasas, Lee, Limestone, McLennan, Milam, Mills, Robertson, and Williamson. That area was referred to as Leftwich's Grant until October 15, 1827, when Stephen F. Austin, acting as agent for the Texas Association, made a loose translation of their petition, referring to them as "the Company from Nashville," so the government granted a confirmation in the name of "the Nashville Company" instead of the Texas Association.

The contract extended the boundaries of the colony northwest so as to take in all or part of thirteen more present-day counties-Bosque, Brown, Callahan, Eastland, Erath, Hill, Hood, Jack, Johnson, Palo Pinto, Parker, Somervell, and Stephens. In the spring of 1830, Sterling Clack Robertson, one of the original stockholders of the Texas Association, acting under a subcontract with them and assisted by his partner, Alexander Thomson, Jr., began to recruit families and brought them to Texas, but the Law of April 6, 1830, prevented them from settling in the Nashville colony. However, they were allowed to settle in Austin's colony. Since Austin was preparing to go to the state capitol as deputy for Texas in the legislature, Robertson asked him to intervene for him, and Austin promised to do so. Instead, he applied for that same area, and obtained it, for himself and his secretary, Samuel May Williams, before the Nashville Company contract had expired, on the grounds that the Nashville Company had not taken the first step toward settling the area. The Austin and Williams contract was granted on February 25, 1831, and then the Nashville colony area was referred to as the upper colony of the Austin and Williams contract. The former Nashville colony area was referred to as the upper colony from 1831 to 1834, but during that period Austin and Williams failed to get a land commissioner appointed, so they did not issue a single land title to actual settlers. However, they did sell permits to nonresident speculators to locate huge grants in that area. These grants, totalling 1,459,155 acres, later became involved in lawsuits and delayed the settling of Central Texas for many years. On May 22, 1834, the governor cancelled the Austin and Williams contract insofar as it affected the Nashville colony, and awarded a new contract to Sterling C. Robertson as empresario. Afterward, the area was called Robertson's colony. (Austin and Williams did get a decree passed on May 18, 1835, returning the colony to them, but it turned out that the state legislature did not have a constitutional quorum present when that decree was passed.)

The decree of May 22, 1834, awarding the contract to Robertson, confirmed the boundaries as they had been defined in the Nashville Company's contract of October 15, 1827. Beginning at the point where the road from Bexar (San Antonio) to Nacogdoches, known as the Upper Road, crossed the Navasota River, a line was to be run west along that road to the heights that divided the waters of the Brazos and Colorado rivers; thence on a northwest course along that watershed to the northernmost headwaters of the San Andrés (Little) River; from the said headwaters northeast on a straight line to the belt of oaks extending on the east side of the Brazos north from the Hueco (Waco) village, known as the Monte Grande (Great Forest) and in English as the Cross Timbers, and from the point where that line intersected the Cross Timbers southeast along the heights between the Brazos and Trinity rivers to the headwaters of the Navasota, and thence down the Navasota, on its right-hand or west bank, to the place of beginning. That included all or part of the seventeen counties listed in Leftwich's Grant, plus the thirteen shown under the Nashville colony, constituting an area 100 miles wide, beginning at the San Antonio-Nacogdoches Road and extending northwest up the Brazos for 200 miles, centering around Waco.

In that 1834 session of the legislature, Robertson was recognized as the empresario of the colony, and he was to introduce the rest of the 800 families into the colony before April 29, 1838. Each family that dedicated itself solely to farming was to receive one labor (177.1 acres) of land; those who also engaged in ranching were to receive an additional sitio (league, or 4,428.4 acres). Single men were to receive one-fourth league (1,107.1 acres). For each 100 families introduced, Robertson was to receive five leagues and five labors (or a total of 23,027.5 acres) of premium lands. William H. Steele was appointed land commissioner of the Nashville (or Robertson) colony on May 24, 1834, and he appointed John G. W. Pierson as principal surveyor on September 17, 1834. The capital of the colony was laid out at the Falls of the Brazos (near present Marlin, Texas) and named Sarahville de Viesca; "Sarah" for Robertson's mother, Sarah Maclin Robertson, who had lent him money for the project, and "Viesca" for Agustín Viesca, the Mexican official who was presiding over the state legislature when it granted the contract to Robertson.

All the Robertson colony land titles were issued in Viesca. The first was issued on October 20, 1834, but all the colonial land offices were closed by the provisional government of Texas on November 13, 1835, because of the outbreak of the Texas Revolution. Robertson was thus prevented from completing the full quota of 800 families. However, according to a ruling handed down by the Supreme Court of the state of Texas, in December 1847 Robertson was given credit for having introduced a total of 600 families. After the Texas Revolution the Robertson colony area was broken up to form all or part of the thirty present-day Texas counties listed under Leftwich's Grant and the Nashville Colony.

Malcolm D. McLean, comp. and ed., Papers Concerning Robertson's Colony in Texas (19 vols., Arlington: University of Texas at Arlington Press, 1974–93).

Time Periods:
  • Mexican Texas

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

Malcolm D. McLean, “Robertson's Colony,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 19, 2019

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