Stephen F. Austin to Legislature, 12-22-1824

Summary: Memorial by Austin to the Legislature of Coahuila and Texas: (1) Wants copy of law concerning settlement of estates of deceased persons. (2) Law concerning debts contracted before entering colony. Thinks law should exempt them from prosecution for 12 years. (3) Law concerning deeding and conveying lands. Describes the method he has been following. (4) Asks whether English and French may be used in deeds and records. Has used Spanish consistently, but not "one in a hundred" of the colonists understands Spanish. (5) Asks how to procure sealed paper for 1825. (6) Asks instructions for punishment of thieves, robbers, etc. Position on frontier exposes settlement to rogues of both nations. (7) Argument for establishment of mail service as far as the Sabine; United States would establish a line to connect with the Mexican route. (8) Repeats request for permission to settle additional families and asks about slaves. (9) Instructions for treatment of fugitive slaves from the United States, and for the punishment of kidnappers of free negroes who bring the negroes to Texas. (10) Has Austin authority to punish counterfeiters of Louisiana bank paper who circulate it in Texas? (11) Is he authorized to establish provisional regulations if laws on certain subjects are not available? (12) Suggests appointment of superior judge and his own relief from judicial duties. (13) Toleration for Protestant preaching and worship.

The Empresario Stephen F Austin respectfully solicits in behalf of the Colonists settled by him in this Province that the Government will be pleased to forward Copies of the Laws and particularly relative to the following points.

first—The Law relative to the settlement of the estates of deceased persons and the mode of settling Where the Heirs or a part of them live out of this Nation

second—The Law relative to the Collection of debts Contracted by the Colonists out of this Nation previous to their removal here— This is very important for if the Settlers can be sued and their property taken here for debts due in the U. States of North America before they have time to establish themselves and make any thing they will be totally ruined. They have some of them spent all they had to move and settle themselves in this uninhabited Country, they will however be able by Cultivating Cotton to pay all their Debts if time is given them, but if their Land and property can be taken for those debts it will ruin them and be of more injury to the improvement of this Country than any thing that Could happen—I therefore take the Liberty of respectfully suggesting whether the interest of the Govt would not be greatly promoted by protecting the new Emigrants from all old foreign debts for at least Twelve Years—Many very good Men are unfortunate in business and become involved in Debt by misfortune, some such have removed here and endured all the fatigues, and dangers and losses of settling a wilderness with the hope of bettering their situation and being able in time to pay off all their Debts, and they are now looking to the Government of the State as to a father who will interpose its parental Authority to save them and their wives and Children from the Cruel and merciless persecution of unfeeling Creditors who may follow them from the U. States.—I am not in favor of extending too much protection to any who have defrauded their Creditors but it appears to me that sound policy and the dictates of Justice and Humanity certainly would justify affording the most ample protection to every honest but unfortunate debtor whose hard fate elsewhere has driven him to seek an asylum in the Mexican Republic. Therefore if the Laws do not already afford sufficient protection, I think the Legislature would promote the prosperity of the Country and do an act of humanity and justice by giving at least Twelve years for all who remove and settle in this State to pay their old debts Contracted before they removed here.

Third—The Law relative to the Sale and Deeding or Conveying of Lands between the Settlers—This is also of much importance, most of the Colonists have relations and friends in the United States who they Wish to remove here and settle along side of them on their Lands, and to do this they wish to divide the Lands granted to them by the Govt into several parts in order to establish their Relations and friends near them, and as it is a matter of great importance that there should be no irregularity or illegality in the mode of Making their sales and Deeds I wish to know the Law on the subject and to have the form of makeing Deeds and acknowledging them, this is very important to the prosperity of the Country for by each Colonist dividing his Land amongst his relations and friends the Land will be much Better Cultivated and more produce made than if it was held by the Individual to whom it was originally granted—Many such sales have already been made and I have caused those who gave the Deed to come before me as the Judge of the Colony and acknowledge or Execute the Deed in my presence with witnesses and have made a Record of the Act of Sale in a Record Book kept for that object and delivered the original to the owner—This is the mode used in the United States and is most satisfactory to the Colonists as they are all accustomed to it, and this mode has been approved of by the most Excellent Deputation of this Province who also directed that a Sec- retary should be appointed for the Colony who should Register all such Deeds and Mortgages between the Colonists under my inspection and responsability and who should be paid by the interested party Agreeably to the old Spanish Arancel on the subject— accordingly I have appointed Mr Samuel M Williams the Secretary and have proceeded to execute and Record all sales of Lands by the Colonists in the manner above stated, and Should it meet the Aprobation of the Government of the State I think that this mode will be more satisfactory to the Colonists than any other that could be adopted for by this means a Complete record is kept in the Archives of the Colony of every sale and transfer of Land, which can always be refered to in case the original Deed is lost, and also it will prevent fraud because a reference to the Records will always shew whether the Land had been sold or mortgaged before and the Complete state of the Title in every respect will appear at all times on record.

fourth—Whether Deeds of Sale must all be made and acknowledged and Recorded in Spanish or whether they Can be legally executed and Recorded in the English or French Languages—I have in all cases directed all the Colonists to make their Deeds of Conveyance in Spanish as the only legal language, but as not one in a hundred of them understand that language it would afford them a great accomadation if the Law would permit them to Deed Lands and make all their Written Contracts in the English or French and permit them to be recorded in those Languages.

fifth—The Political Chief of this Province ordered me to seal or habilitate all the Sealed paper which the Colonists might need in the Transactions of their business and I have done so and the Alcalde of the District of St Felipe de Austin was appointed to Collect it—but as that order only authorised me to seal the paper for the Year 1824 I wish to know how we are to procure sealed paper for the Year 1825 and Whether I am authorised to Continue as I have done to seal it.

Sixth—I wish for particular instructions relative to the apprehending prosecuting and punishing of Criminals such as Theives, Robbers, Murderers, Disturbers of the peace etc, etc,—-Our Situation so near the frontiers of two Nations and remote from the seat of Government of the State renders us liable to great hazard from the depredations of Rogues from both Nations in their transit from the Territory of one to the other. I have so far taken prompt measures to order out of the Colony all Men of Notoriously bad and infamous Character who Come into it and by this method have succeeded in protecting the Colony from them, and since my return from Mexico there has been not one instance of Murder and only one of stealing which latter was punished by sending the Man with his family and all Concerned in the transaction back over the Sabine River.

seventh—A Number of Gentlemen of high respectability living at Nachitoches, Rapide, and other parts of Louisiana have written to me requesting any information in my power to give whether the Mexican Government would probably establish a mail as far as the River Sabine—They inform me that if such a thing was done there was no doubt the [Govt.] of the United States of North America would order the Mail on that side to meet the one from this at the Sabine—I beg leave most respectfully to suggest to the Govt. that many benefits might probably arise to the whole Mexican Nation as well as to this State if an arrangement of this kind Could be effected once a Month or even once in two Months.

1st. It would afford the means of Conveying the Correspondence between the Mexican Government to their Minister at Washington the whole distance by Land without the hazard of delay or miscarriage incident to the transportation of documents by sea.

2d. It would open a Certain, regular and direct Channel for the Conveyance of letters and Newspapers from every part of either Nation to every part of the other, thereby affording great facilities to Merchants on either side in their Commercial Communications, and presenting an opportunity for the mutual exchange of Newspapers and the dissemination of foreign intelligence recd at the ports of the United States of the North through the United States of Mexico in the event of any interruption by Beligerants of the Communication by sea with our ports: and perhaps it might in some degree tend to draw Closer the bands of fraternity and Confidence which every Philanthropist must desire to see cemented and perpetuated between the two great Republics of North America, by affording to the Citizens of each the opportunity of a frequent and Mutual interchange of sentiments as well by private letters as through the medium of public Journals

Eighth—I have received a number of Letters from respectable and wealthy people from the States of Louisiana and Mississippi asking for information whether they would be allowed to remove and settle in this Province and to bring such property as they needed for their own use particularly their Slaves—I answered them that I could not inform them on the subject but would represent to the Government and accordingly sent on a petition some time since praying for authority to settle Three hundred families more on the Trinity River and round the Bay of Galveston—I respectfully request information relative to my petitions that I may inform those applicants what they have to expect—their reason for wishing to move here is the unhealthiness of that Country and the inundations of the Mississippi they are all men of honor industry and property and Would greatly promote the prosperity of this Country

Ninth—As we are near the frontiers of Louisiana some Negro Slaves of that state may run away from their owners and Come to this Colony—What am I authorised to do in such a Case? If the runaway remains here, he is a nuisance to the Country—if his owner claims him and he is not given up it will destroy all harmony between the Citizens of that State and this—Also if a free man steals a Negro from that State and brings him here how is the Crime to be punished? This is certainly a very high Crime and I think that Justice requires it should be punished to the utmost extent—and that those who bring stolen Negroes into this State ought to be chastised by Whipping heavy fine and imprisonment to hard Labour but I submit the subject to the Consideration of the Government and solicit their instructions.

Tenth—Our Proximity to Louisiana also makes the Bank paper of that state Current to a small extent here and we may therefore be greatly imposed on by Counterfeiters how am I authorized to punish a Man Who brings a quantity of Counterfeit Bank paper into the Country to defraud the innocent Inhabitants who are not a judge of such money-

I have made provisional regulations relative to some of these subjects which have as yet fully protected us—but it would be more proper and satisfactory to receive the orders of [that] Government— Also I respectfully wish to know whether I am authorised to make any more temporary or provisional municipal regulations for the preservation of good order and good government in the Colony in Cases where We have not received the Laws and are unable to procure them with translations—

Villa de San Felipe Austin 22 de Deciembre de 1824

Estevan F. Austin [Rubric]

[Part of another draft of this document, in Austin's hand, is endorsed by him:] Copies of representation sent to the Baron de Bastrop deputy in the Legislature of this State, to be translated and presented to the Governor of the State of Quahuila and Texas.

[In this partial draft, which perhaps represents the first stage of the memorial, Austin wrote, and then deleted, two additional paragraphs :]

7—In as much as I have so many other occupations to attend to in keeping good order—watching and pursuing hostile Indians—and finally arranging all the business of the Colony, and also being uninformed as to the laws of the nation and the state I wish if possible that a Juez de letras might be appointed to decide appeals etc from the Alcaldes—one Juez de letras could do for the whole Province, I am ready and willing to act in any capacity in which the Govt may deem me useful in this Colony and that without any pay or salary whatever as I have heretofore done and am willing to continue as I have done to manage the civil and militia affairs of the Colony and the keeping of records etc., but if it can be otherwise arranged I do not wish to have anything to do with Judicial proceedings for I think that a man learned in the Mexican laws ought to be appointed for that purpose, though if this colony was divided into as many partidos as are necessary and one Alcalde elected by the people for each partido from whose decission there should be an appeal to the juez de letras of the Province I think it would very much tend to promote good order, and it certainly would be in the highest degree satisfactory and gratifying to me as I should then be releived from the most responsible and disagreeable part of my duties—[In margin:] Not sent.

8—A number of preachers of the Christian Religion in the English language have applied to me for liberty to preach and establish their mode of worship in this Colony, I have informed them, in conformity with the 4 article of the acta Constitution and in complyance with the verbal instructions of the Political chief of the Province that it was contrary to law and if they come here to preach publically they would be liable to be punished If the Constitution and laws of the nation or those of the state could permit any relaxation on this point it would greatly promote the prosperity of this part of the country and as I conceive could not do any injury as the object of those preachers who wish to come in is solely to promote good morals without wishing to attempt making converts from the Catholic Religion—Any indulgence that could be extended to these settlers on this subject will be most thankfully reced and gratefully remembered, as they are now totally destitute of any spiritual aid whatever and must so continue for a long time as they are all unacquainted with the Spanish language, and cannot therefore receive that instruction from the cura who we have been expecting which a subject of such great importance requires— I therefore submit the subject for the consideration of the Honorable State Legislature in the full hope that, that honorable and enlightened Body will be pleased to extend to these inhabitants all the indulgence relative to public worship and preaching in the English language, which they may deem consistent with the laws or with the general interests of the nation. And under the full belief, that the permiting a few enlightened well educated Judicious and reasonable preachers of the Gospel of the christian religion in the Eng- lish language would be attended with the most happy results to the settlers individually and would greatly promote the Genl, prosperity good order morality and improvement of this part of the State- in margin of this section:] deemed a dangerous subject to touch and therefore not sent.