Stephen F Austin to James W Breedlove, 11-12-1829

Summary: Explaining the colonization law and the position of an empresario. Review of his own experiences and of the difficulties of an empresario.

Austin's, Texas, Oct. 12, 1829

James W. Breedlove,—Sir : I beg leave to return my thanks for the information which you communicated through Mr S. M. Williams relative to the rumor of an invasion of Texas by 500 Spaniards, They can expect nothing here but " hard times, hungry times " and rifle bullets. It is to be hoped that the Tampico scrape will learn them to stay where they are, for neither safety or success will they ever find on the Mexican soil.

I shall always feel grateful to you for any information which you may deem interesting to this settlement, or to the Government.

I thank you for your kind disposition manifested in your letter to Mr. W[illiams?] towards this settlement; and in reply to your suggestion relative to the acquisition of land here, I deem it my duty to explain to you, somewhat in detail the nature of the colonization law, the authority given to the " Empresarios," and also the nature of the authority under which I have acted, This subject is not understood in the United States, and the consequence has been, that some persons have been greatly deceived, and even this Government has been most unjustly slandered and abused for exercising the powers and doing what it is by law compelled to do. You are no doubt informed that the person who contracts with the Government to introduce families, or as it is commonly termed, settle a colony, is called in the law Empresario. By explaining to you what an Empresario is, you will understand this matter, and see that such projects, as published by Dennis A. Smith of Baltimore are totally incompatible with the authority given to Ecitor [Exter] and Wilson & Co., for they are nothing more than Empresarios [The empresario] is an agent who is hired by the Government to introduce a specific number of families of a certain description within a certain time, who are to be settled within certain designated limits.— Should the Empresario introduce the families, and they should be received by the Government Commissioners as being of the description required, then, and not before, he is entitled to receive his pay, which is five leagues of land for each hundred families so introduced by him.—The titles for land are all issued by the Government Commissioner, who is especially appointed for that purpose, and he alone has the power to survey or appoint surveyors to survey the land, and to put settlers in possession and no one, under any circumstances, can hold land unless he first removes to the country and becomes an actual and permanent settler: neither can a foreigner hold real estate at all; and should a person who has lived hard all his life, and who has a good title, sell his land to a foreigner, the whole of the property thus sold becomes public by escheating to the Government the moment such sale is made.

The Empresario has no power nor shadow of power of any kind or description whatsoever, except to bring in the families. He is nothing but an agent for that express purpose; and like all other agents, he is liable to be dismissed by his employer for malpractices or neglect of duty. He is not entitled to one foot of land until he has complied with the conditions on which he was to get it; he has no claim to nor no right to dispose of one foot of land in any manner whatsoever, (except his premium land [and] that only after he has received his title as above stated,) and all the land that remains vacant within the limits assigned to the new Colony or settlement, after the specified number of families are settled, is public land and belongs to the Government, and not to the Empresario as some of them have pretended to claim. It is truly astonishing to see to what extent this subject has been misunderstood. We see an Emprosario advertising in the public papers the sale of 48,000.000 of acres of land as though it was his own individual property, when, in fact, he has no more right to dispose of one foot of it than you have. This error has perhaps arisen from the want of correct knowledge of the Spanish language, which has caused the law to be misunderstood—but the misfortune is that innocent persons are mislead, and the Government unjustly slandered. I have no doubt that the contract of Eciter, Wilson & Co. will be annulled by the Government; for Edwards contract was annulled for a similar reason, added to others, and the agency or Empresariorship taken from him; and if that is done, those men to justify themselves, will in all probability lay the blame on the Government and complain that they have been robbed of 48,000,000 acres of land. All this is very unjust, and it is important that public opinion should be disabused in regard to it. I am, however, entirely unwilling that my name should appear in the public papers in any manner connected with this matter. I have heretofore given frank and honest advice to persons on this same subject, and have never yet failed to make an enemy by doing so, for the reason that they knew better than I did. I have interfered with none. But notwithstanding my caution in this respect, I have not escaped jealousy and censure lou know the character of North-Americans, they are taught from their infancy to look upon all who are in office with jealousy and suspicion; and, in general, they always attribute corruption to what they do not clearly understand. The information contained in this letter is given to you in reply to a friendly suggestion made by you from kind and friendly motives. I saw that you did not comprehend the matter, and I deemed it a duty to lay it before you as it really is.

In order that you may more fully understand this subject, it is necessary that I should give you a sketch of the authority under which I have acted in the settlement of my first Colony. You will perceive that it was of an entirely different character from that which is or can be given under the present law. The application to settle 300 families from the United States in Texas, was originally made by my father Moses Austin to the Spanish authorities in 1820 and granted in July [January] 1821, about one month before the grito de Iguala or the revolution of Iturbide.

My father died in Missouri in the spring of 1821, a few days after he heard that his petition had been granted and left as a last request that I should prosecute the enterprise. I came on to this country in the summer of 1821, and spent four months in exploring it and completing such arrangements as were deemed by the Government of Texas to be sufficient for me to progress with the settlement. These arrangements were all made through an interpreter, for at that time I did not understand one word of Spanish. In the winter of '21~'22, I arrived on the Brazos with the first families—about 40, and after getting them arranged to their satisfaction, I went to Bexar to report to the Government, etc., and on my arrival there in March he informed me that I must go to the City of Mexico and procure confirmation of my authority from the National Congress which convened in February, 1822. This was unexpected and rather discouraging, for the families were in an entire wilderness and my presence was highly necessary. I started, however to Mexico and arrived there in April. The various revolutions and political changes of the eventful 1822 and 1823 detained me in that city one year before my affairs were finally despatched. Previous to the fall of Iturbide my business was completed, and I received all the necessary documents, but not until I became convinced by the State of parties and public sentiment that the Emperor must soon fall; and I feared that in such an event a doubt might hang over the legality of his acts and those of the Junta Instituyente under whose enactments my business was dispatched. I therefore waited until he did fall and was dethroned and the National Congress reinstated. I then presented the documents which I received from the Imperial Government, and petitioned Congress to confirm them or do with them as that body might esteem proper. On the 11th of April, 1823, Congress passed a decree authorizing the Supreme Executive power to confirm them; and on the 14th of that month the Executive did confirm them in due form and return them to me. I then left that city for Texas. I give this narrative to show how and whence my authority eminated. You will understand that at that time the Government of this nation was consolidated. The Federal system was not adopted and the State Governments established until about one year afierwards.

The authority given to me was to introduce and settle 300 families from the United States or elsewhere, in certain limits of Texas. The Baron de Bastrop and myself were jointly appointed the Government Commissioners to survey the lands of the settlers and issue titles to them in due form in the name of the Government. We were specially authorized to increase the quantity of land over one league to any settler, who, in our opinion, was entitled to such and increase, either by the capital which he introduced into the country or by the size of his family, and there was no limits fixed as to the extent to which we might go in making such increase of quantity. We were entitled as commissioners to receive fees or pay for our services, and the necessary office fees and charges for writing, translating and recording, and also the surveying fees, all of which were fixed by a regulation of the Government of Texas, and were, or ought to have been paid by the settlers; for the Government allowed us nothing for our services. I was therefore both Empresario and Commissioner to my first Colony .-—Besides this, I was specially appointed by the Supreme Government of Mexico the Civil Chief, the sole judicial officer, and the commandant of the militia of the new Colony, subject always to the orders of the Government of Texas, and the Commandant-General of the military department, but for these services I received nothing from the Government. These several appointments (for they were all separate and distinct the one from the other,) threw a vast burden of labor and responsibility and expense upon me individually,—An expense and labor which I was not bound by my contract as Empresario to bear. What rendered my situation still more troublesome and perplexing, was that the Government at that time was unsettled and shaken by frequent political revolutions and changes of systems, policy and officers, and I had to make new friends and acquaintances amongst the superior powers at every change. Added to all this, out of my office there was not one person in the settlement who could correctly translate any law or order of the Government. I was from necessity the sole organ of communication with the Government; and as respects the local government of the settlement, the granting of lands, etc. etc., it appeared to the settlers that my authority was absolute.—-It is sufficient for me to say that my settlers were North-Americans, and many of them frontier men who had never known restraint, to inform you that I was looked upon with jealousy and suspicion. It was the natural result of the national character of those people, and of the situation in which circumstance and necessity, and even the salvation of the settlement had placed me--and that situation also imposed upon me the duty and difficult task of bearing in silence and good humor, all the abuse and jealousy that ignorance and suspicion could heap upon me, leaving it to time to test my acts and prove whether they were correct or not. It has done so, and all are satisfied with [me] except a few. I do assure you that it was a difficult task, and I may frankly confess that I would have abandoned the settlement, the settlers and the country, if no other motive than pecuniary individual interest had influenced me. My ambition was to be the means of laying a foundation for spreading an intelligent and an enterprising population over this fertile and hitherto unknown and wilderness country; perhaps, also, I had a little pride in wishing to succeed, for I undertook this enterprise in opposition to the advice of my friends in the United States, who nearly all pronounced it visionary and impracticable.

You must pardon my egotism in speaking so much of myself, but the history of this settlement is so closely connected with me individually, that one cannot be clearly explained without allusion to the other, and beside it seems to account in part for some of the erroneous opinions that has spread as to powers of the Empresario, for those who were ignorant of the language, or who would not or could not take the trouble of inquiring, supposed or pretended to suppose that I derived all my authority solely from being Empresario, when, in fact, I held various distinct appointments, and those powers have been supposed to attach to the Empresario, which in no respects whatever belong to him— Also, they have confounded the old National Colonization law of January 4th, 1823, which is no longer in force, with the present Slate law passed 25th of March, 1825.

As I have before observed, my business was despatched by the National Government, 14th of April 1823. About one year afterwards the State governments were established under the Federal system, and on the 18th of August, 1824, the National Constitutional Congress (the same that formed the Federal Constitution, and was, in fact, the Convention,) passed a law relinquishing to the States respective limits, and authorizing each State to make its own Colonization law, with the restriction that not more than eleven leagues of land should be granted to any one individual, and also that the lands within ten leagues of the coast and twenty leagues of a line of an adjoining nation, should not be colonized or granted without the consent of the President of the nation. Under this authority the State of Coahuila and Texas passed the colonization law of March 24, 1825, which is now in force, and under which all the Empresarios have been made, for my first Colony is the only one that was ever granted under the law of the 4th of January, 1823. In addition to my first Colony, I made three contracts with the State Government to settle 900 families in all, on the vacant land remaining within the limits designated for my first Colony; one of those contracts includes the land bordering on the coast, which was granted with the special approbation of the President as the law requires. Also, in one of said contracts (the one on the coast,) I was appointed Commissioner as well as Empresario, and in virtue of these two distinct appointments, all the powers of both were centred in me. I am the only person in whom these two appointments ever have been united, although others have only looked at what I did without examining my authority or attending to my advice; and have supposed that all Empresarios could do the same.

A General Commissioner has lately been appointed for the whole of Texas who will shortly be on here. I presume that his appointment will supercede all other appointments of Commissioners, also a Surveyor-General has been appointed, who will be on with the General-Commissioner. If you have not already procured the Colonization law of this State I will send it to you as soon as it can be published in English in the Texas Gazette; and by comparing this statement with the law you will see that it is correct. It may be late in the winter before it is published for there are some other laws which it is highly important to get out in English before the elections in December, for owing to the want of a printing press it has heretofore been impossible to publish them.

The colonization business is the last on earth that any man ought to undertake for the sole purpose of making money; and no Empresario will ever advance one step if no other motive than money influence him—for he will not undergo the labor and receive the abuse for all he can make—that [is] he will not advance legally, No Empresario ever had such an opportunity of making a fortune by imposing on the ignorance and credulity of capitalists in other countries as I have had, for no one of them ever had the power that I had; but instead of leaving my settlers to shift for themselves, and instead of distorting the law to mislead others and benefit myself, I have remained here and shared the toils of settling a wilderness, and have rigidly adhered to the law and my duty to this Government. And I have also succeeded in laying a permanent foundation for the settlement of Texas by an enterprising population, and the day is not far distant when it will become the richest and most powerful State of the Mexican Confederation. But I am poor I have not even the means of living with comfort and that decency which my situation would seem to require, unless I raise those means by a sacrifice of a part of my premium land so hardly earned, and that I will not do for it is my only stake for my old age. Will it not appear strange to you that although such is my real situation an opinion has gone abroad that I have made myself rich by what I received from the settlers or rather by selling land to them as the uninformed and ignorant have styled the fees which I was by law entitled to as Commissioner, and for surveying, etc, etc. Strange as it may seem it is nevertheless a fact, the majority of the settlers were unable to pay anything, and must have left the country if the fees had been exacted from them promptly, and in order to keep all afloat I did exact prompt payment from those who were able to make it, and out of the money thus raised I paid the way of the poor who were unable to pay any thing, and I also defrayed the expenses of the administration of the local Government, and was enabled to keep the Indians friendly by presents and feeding them until we get strong enough to whip them into subjection, and by this course of policy I have saved this settlement and brought it to what it now is, and have secured large landed estates to hundreds of poor men who otherwise would [not] or could not ever have got one foot of land. Some of these men have never yet paid one cent, and accuse me of speculating and cheating them because I ask it of them. It is human nature and I do not complain, besides it is my duty to bear these matters with patience, for it is a sacrifice that is due to the future prosperity and greatness of this favored country, to bear with patience and perseverance all the labor and all the mortifications attendant upon the difficult task of laying the foundation of that prosperity. I have again become an egotist. Perhaps I am influenced by the idea that a man who labors faithfully to the best of his abilities and [with] pure intentions is entitled to some compensation, and that unless I derive one by getting a little credit for what I have done or tried to do, I shall come off badly, for I doubt very much whether I shall live to reap much advantage from my premium land, which as I before observed, is my only stake, and it is not free from embarrasments created solely for the benefit of this settlement.

I have just recovered from a dangerous spell of sickness, and also I have to mourn the recent death of an only and beloved brother, and, I am not in a situation to write connectedly on any subject; you must therefore overlook my style. I will be responsible for the facts which I have stated.

Stephen F. Austin.