Biography of Austin, Moses

For the information of our readers who are not familiar with the early colonial scheme of settling Texas with American colonists when it was a province of Spain, we will give a short sketch of the man in whose brain it originated and the various causes which led to it. Moses Austin was a native of Connecticut, born at the village of Durham in 1767. When a boy he went to Philadelphia, and in 1787 he married Miss Maria Brown. His brother, Stephen, was then at the head of an important house in Philadelphia, and Moses Austin soon after his marriage took charge of a branch house in Richmond, Virginia. In a few years the brothers purchased Chizzel’s lead mines in Wythe County, Virginia, and Moses Austin took charge of the enterprise. At that place on the 3rd of November 1793, Stephen Fuller Austin, the future colonial empresario of Texas, was born. Two other children lived to maturity and came to Texas, James Brown Austin and Emily M. Austin. James died of yellow fever at New Orleans in August 1829. Emily married twice, first James Bryan, and after his death James F. Perry.

In a few years the Philadelphia and Richmond house of the Austins failed, which also involved the loss of the lead mines. At this time reports came of rich lead mines in upper Louisiana (now in Missouri), which attracted the attention of Moses Austin. The territory then being under the dominion of Spain, he procured a passport from the Spanish minister to the United States in 1797 and visited that region, and secured from the governor, Baron de Carondelet, a grant of a league of land covering the site where the town of Potosi, Washington County, Missouri, now is, and in 1779 removed there with his family and formed the first American settlement in that section.

He prospered in mining and other pursuits for some years, dispensed a liberal hospitality, and enjoyed an enviable character. But again disaster came. The failure of the Bank of St. Louis swept away his accumulations and left him almost destitute of means, having freely surrendered everything to his creditors. He was now fifty-three years old and began to look around for a new field of enterprise. His residence of twenty years in Missouri had made him familiar to some extent with Spanish laws and methods of administration, and he had also acquired considerable knowledge of Texas through the reports of Captain Pike and others, who, in 1812 and 1813, served under Magee and Perry, and from trappers and Indian traders. In possession of such knowledge and animated by an enterprising spirit, his mind naturally turned to Texas as a field in which to build up his shattered fortunes. With a forethought justified by results, he conceived the idea of founding a colony of his countrymen in the trackless wilderness of Texas. Traveling by land on horseback, he made the long and perilous trip to San Antonio, Texas, where he arrived on the 23rd day of December 1820. Here, however, as soon as his presence and mission were known, Governor Antonio Martinez ordered him to quit the country, as he had violated its laws by entering the Province of Texas without permission of the Spanish King. This was a sad blow to the exalted ideas of Austin in regard to his colonization of the rich lands of Texas east of San Antonio, and he wearily and in much despondency commenced making his preparations to re-turn home, when, fortunately, he met with the Baron de Bastrop, whom he had known in New Orleans and who was now a member of the municipal government. To him Austin explained the peaceful object of, his mission, and the Baron warmly espoused his cause and commended him to Governor Martinez as a worthy man and a former subject of Spain, and secured for him not only the good will but the earnest cooperation of the Governor and other authorities of the place, and these in turn recommended his proposed application to settle 300 families in Texas to the favorable consideration of General Don Joaquin Arredondo, Commanding General of the Eastern Internal Provinces, with headquarters at Monterey, Mexico.

Moses Austin, elated by these prospects of success, in January started on his homeward journey, leaving the Baron de Bastrop with instructions as his representative to look after his interests and inform him as soon as possible of the success of his application should it meet with favor. We do not know who his companions were on this return trip. He followed the old Spanish military road from San Antonio to Nacogdoches, and from there to Natchitoches, Louisiana. It was a severe winter, rains were frequent and the swollen streams had to be crossed by ‘swimming or on rafts. A gloomy beginning for a great enterprise. Finally, however, he reached his home in Missouri. Before leaving for Texas he abandoned a preconceived idea of establishing a farm on Red River to facilitate the passage of immigrants through the wilderness of Arkansas. He, instead, determined to make New Orleans the gateway to Texas. Stephen F. Austin was therefore in New Orleans, having been sent there by his father, with instructions to make such conditional contracts as seemed necessary to provide for the prompt transportation of colonists by way of the Gulf to the coast of Texas.

Moses Austin arrived at “Hazel Run,” the home off his daughter, Mrs. Bryan, with his constitution undermined and a fatal disease permeating his whole system, brought on by exposure to rain and cold in his long journeys. He lingered, however, for some months, but when he saw that his end was near, transmitted to his son the duty of executing his plans, full of promise to after ages, conveyed blessings to the members of his family present, and died on the 10th day of June, 1821.
One historian says of him:
“Noble heart! Great soul! His perpetuation of thy fame needs no stately monolith or monumental pile!”



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