Jan. 3, 1823: Mexico grants Stephen F. Austin permission to start Texas colony
Stephen F. Austin, a Texas founder so important that the state capital is named for him, didn’t start off wanting to found a settlement. That was his father’s dream. But when Moses Austin died before taking his followers to the promised land, his son honored his wishes and led a group of immigrants into Texas territory.
Spain had invited immigrants to Texas to help fend off attacks by American Indian tribes. It sweetened the deal by offering vast tracts of land at low cost. Austin would receive 67,000 acres of land for every 200 families he brought to Texas, and each family would get 1,280 acres at 12.5 cents an acre.
Things didn’t go as Austin had envisioned. Mexico overthrew Spain after Moses Austin got his land grant in June 1821 but before Stephen arrived in August. So by the time the Austin party arrived, Texas under the jurisdiction of a new government that refused to honor Spanish contracts. Undaunted, Austin traveled to Mexico City and negotiated a new grant, finalized on January 3, 1823 — becoming Texas’ first successful American empresario, or immigration agent.
Within three years, 300 families had settled along the Brazos River. Austin would go on to act as a political mediator between Texas and the Mexican leadership and then as an ambassador to the United States. After Texas fought to become an independent state, Austin was set to help lead the new Republic of Texas when he died from an illness in 1836. When a town called Waterloo was chosen for the new Texas state capital in 1839, it was renamed in Austin’s honor.
These days, Austin, Texas, is both the seat of Texas government and a center of live music, competitive barbecue joints and college culture.