The roll of honor of Texas patriots is a long one, but few names surpass that of Stephen Fuller Austin for his contributions to the state. Two excellent biographies, one by Eugene Barker entitled The Life of Stephen F. Austin (1925) and Stephen F. Austin, Empresario by Greg Cantrell (1999) bring to light the remarkable accomplishments of this great man.

Born in Virginia in 1793, Austin was educated in boarding schools in Connecticut and at Transylvania College in Kentucky. He joined his father’s business enterprises in Missouri, and he served in the territorial legislature before settling in Arkansas. In 1820 the Arkansas territorial governor appointed Austin circuit judge, but only a few months later he moved to New Orleans to study law. While there he learned of the death of his father, Moses Austin, who had just completed an agreement with the government of Spain to locate 300 Anglo families in the interior of Texas. He received a letter from his mother informing him that his father’s dying wish was for Austin to complete the Texas venture.

Although less than enthusiastic about the project, 27-year-old Stephen F. Austin felt obligated to carry out his father’s wishes. Following a trip to San Antonio to meet with the Governor to finalize the agreement, Austin began advertising in Louisiana for prospective settlers. The response was overwhelming. But the project appeared to be derailed when news arrived that Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain had succeeded after a 10-year struggle. The Austin contract was void since the Spanish government he had worked with no longer existed.

Austin traveled to Mexico City while the political situation stabilized. He became fluent in Spanish and familiarized himself with the Hispanic culture. When a new government was formed, Austin negotiated a new deal that far exceeded the one secured by his father. The new agreement called for him to bring 300 Anglo families into Texas to settle along the Brazos, Colorado, and Bernard rivers, near the present-day locations of Brenham, Navasota, and LaGrange. He actively recruited people of good moral character. His goal was to “redeem Texas from the wilderness by means of the plow alone.” He had no intention of separating from Mexico, calling it the most liberal government on earth toward immigrants.”

The success of Austin’s colony prompted Mexico to extend contracts to other empresarios to bring Anglo settlers into Texas. But eventually conflicts arose between the two cultures. Hoping to live peacefully as a Mexican state, Austin traveled to Mexico City to resolve the conflicts, but he was imprisoned by Santa Anna, charged with attempting to incite an insurrection. When he was released 11 months later, Austin was convinced that war and independence were the only options for Texas. When independence was secured in 1836, Texas hoped to be annexed as a state by the United States, but when that did not occur, the Republic of Texas was created. Austin was a candidate for the first president of the new nation, but voters overwhelmingly elected war hero Sam Houston to that position. Bitterly disappointed, Austin lamented, “A successful military chieftain is hailed with admiration and appreciation, and monuments perpetuate his fame. But the bloodless pioneer of the wilderness, like the corn and cotton he causes to spring where it never grew before, attracts no notice….”

Houston appointed Austin as secretary of state in his cabinet, but Austin died six months later. He was only 43 years old at the time of his death. Austin’s contributions to Texas are remarkable. He opened the door to Anglo immigration and provided the model for future colonists. He wrote in July of 1836 that “The prosperity of Texas has been the object of my labors … It has assumed the character of a religion for the guidance of my thoughts and actions for 15 years.” His efforts have earned him the title of Father of Texas, and deservedly so.

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