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Texas | Columns | All Things Historical

OLD THREE HUNDRED

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.

The 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.

As empresario, 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.

© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
July 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)


 


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