first group of settlers in Mexican Texas who came to Mexican Texas
legally in the 1820s found land in Stephen F. Austinís colony along
the lower Brazos River. Because Austin had been authorized to convey
300 land grants to individual settlers in his larger empresarial
grant, those first settlers are called the Old Three hundred.
Stephen F. Austinís father, Moses Austin, received permission to
settle the families in 1819, but died before he could complete the
venture. Even while Stephen Austin worked his way through several
revolutionary governments early in the 1820s, securing permission
from each to succeed to his fatherís grant, settlers had already
begun to come to Texas.
The first arrived aboard the Lively, a costal packet from New Orleans
in 1821. Others came overland via Nacogdoches
and El Camino Real. With
permissions secured, Austin returned to his colony with the Baron
de Bastrop, the governmentís land alienation agent.
Austin had been instructed to admit only industrious settlers with
good morals and work habits. The colonists also had to be or agree
to become Roman Catholics. That established, Austin could award
farmers a labor, or 177 acres, and stock raisers a sitio, or 4,428
acres. Not surprisingly, many a dirt farmer metamorphosed instantly
into a rancher upon learning the difference in rewards.
Once Austin decided a settler met the qualifications, and a site
was located, De Bastrop did the necessary work of moving that land
from public domain to private property. The language of the document
literally said, "we put him in possession." When De Bastrop had
to depart, this role was assumed later by Gaspar Flores de Abrego.
Together, they officiated at the transfer of 307 land grants. Twenty-two
of them went not to families but to men in partnership, and nine
families received two land grants, so actually only 297 grants were
included in the Old Three Hundred, but the number of actual residents
admitted doubtless exceeded 500 souls.
The governmentís and Austinís requirements helped produce the most
successful, affluent, and best educated of all the empresarial grant
developments. Only eight of Austinís colonists were listed as illiterate,
and Jared Groce, an immigrant from Alabama, unquestionably was the
wealthiest colonist in Texas.
Modern descendants of the Old Three Hundred hold an annual reunion
to remember the founders of Anglo Texas who also were the founders
of their families in Texas.
5, 2005 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and
author of more than 20 books on Texas)