1997-2002,Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Coahuila y Tejas-Index

The DeWitt Colony, Coahuila y Texas, Republic of Mexico

Selective Immigration and Assimilation by Contract. The Republic of Mexico inherited from its parent Spain the same problem of securing its northern border with the new American Republic to the east, some factions of which believed that the Louisiana Purchase extended to the Rio Grande River. Failure of Spanish immigration by assimilation policies, the Mexican Revolution and the increasingly hostile nomadic bands of Indians ranging Texas left it still the vast undeveloped wilderness with few people, little economy and security that it was in 1803. The new Mexican Republic found itself besieged in Mexico City by proposals by foreigners to aid and exploit development of the new Mexican Republic. Illegal immigration from the east into Texas accelerated as news of Austin’s success in obtaining a large grant to establish a colony spread. After some vacillation in 1823 and 1824, the liberal Mexican Federalist Constitution of 1824 instituted colonization policies that invited practically any foreigner to become a citizen of Mexico and left it to the provincial governments to administer the national policy. In 1825, the government and the state of Coahuila y Texas established the elaborate Empresario System to colonize and develop the state by a strategy of selective immigration and assimilation.

The Empresario System. The Empresario System of Coahuila y Texas differed fundamentally from haphazard previous policies of Spain and immigration policies of the US government today. Empresarios were contractors appointed as agents of the Coahuila y Texas government to recruit a specific number of qualified families without respect to race, creed or color within six years. They received no compensation upfront, but a pay for performance schedule of five leagues of range land (22,142 acres) and five cultivable labors (886 acres) of farm land per every 100 families up to a maximum of 800 families. If the contract was not fulfilled on time, there were penalties. The contract was void if the empresario failed to produce a minimum of 100 families within a set time period and uncommitted land reverted to the public domain. Individuals and families were not prohibited from immigration, however, reality encouraged association through an empresario. Most immigrants knew little or no Spanish and the bureaucratic hurdles of obtaining an individual parcel of land were immense, most were eventually referred to an empresario’s colony anyway for organizational purposes. Mexican-born citizens were given preference as empresarios in that they were allowed to accumulate a maximum of 11 leagues of land and preference was to be shown to those exhibiting military service to Texas. Indians were not to be excluded, first encouraged to trade with the settlements and when they demonstrated a level of civilization they were to receive land on equal terms with colonists of all origins. The government of Coahuila de Texas reserved the right to exclude immigrants from specific nations and for specific reasons. In regard to slavery, new immigrants were subject to current and future laws of the Republic. The government authorized that vagrants and criminals should either serve in the military, work on public projects or be hired out by the government to individuals. All colonists were required to be Roman Catholic or convert to it. In practice this policy excluded religious fanatics, extremists and cults from coming to Texas and selected for a tolerant ecumenical breed who could easily reconcile their faith with those of the Roman Catholic Church. Neither the Roman Catholic nor immigrant Protestant clergy proselytized openly and both ministered discreetly. The empresario was responsible for survey and issuance of title to lands within his grant, he was appointed commander of the local militia at the rank of Colonel, he was to establish one or more towns, organize a school which must teach the Spanish language and build a Catholic Church and recruit a priest. The empresario was a novel and innovative concept. It was an individual who contracted with the government with potential to become a sort of self-made regional "Emperor" in the newly independent government of the Republic of Mexico. The position was not acquired by birth, social or economic position, but earned through the economic rewards of land grants and fees for services that were tightly linked to fulfillment of contract.

Powers and Duties of An Empresario-Stephen F. Austin.
The following letter to James W. Breedlove of New Orleans has been pointed out as a particularly good description of the responsibility and mission from the greatest of all empresarios, Stephen F. Austin:

OCTOBER 12, 1829. SIR: I thank you for your kind disposition manifested in your letter to Mr. Williams towards this settlement; and in reply to your suggestion relative to the acquisition of land here, I deem it my duty to explain to you, somewhat in detail the nature of the colonization law, the authority given to the "Empresarios," and also the nature of the authority under which I have acted. This subject is not understood in the United States, and the consequence has been, that some persons have been greatly deceived, and even this Government has been most unjustly slandered and abused for exercising the powers and doing what it is by law compelled to do. You are no doubt informed that the person who contracts with the Government to introduce families, or as it is commonly termed, settle a colony, is called in the law empresario. By explaining to you what an empresario is, you will understand this matter, and see that such projects, as published by Dennis A. Smith of Baltimore are totally incompatible with the authority given to Exter and Wilson and Company, for they are nothing more than empresarios. The empresario is an agent who is hired by the Government to introduce a specific number of families of a certain description within a certain time, who are to be settled within certain designated limits. Should the empresario introduce the families, and should they be received by the Government Commissioner as being of the description required, then, and not before, the empresario is entitled to receive his pay, which is five leagues of land for each hundred families so introduced by him. The titles for land are all issued by the Government Commissioner 14th of that month the Executive did confirm them in due form and return them to me. I then left that city for Texas. I give this narrative to show how and whence my authority emanated. You will understand that at that time the Government of this nation was consolidated. The Federal system was not adopted and the State Governments established until about one year afterwards.

The authority given to me was to introduce and settle three hundred families from the United States or elsewhere, in certain limits of Texas. The Baron de Bastrop and myself were jointly appointed the Government commissioners to survey the lands of the settlers and issue titles to them in due form in the name of the Government. We were specially authorized to increase the quantity of land over one league to any settler, who, in our opinion, was entitled to such an increase, either by the capital which he introduced into the country or by the size of his family, and there were no limits fixed as to the extent to which we might go in making such increase of quantity. We were entitled as commissioners to receive fees or pay for our services, and the necessary office fees and charges for writing, translating and recording, and also the surveying fees, all of which were fixed by a regulation of the Government of Texas, and were, or ought to have been paid by the settlers; for the Government allowed us nothing for our services. I was therefore both empresario and commissioner to my first Colony. Besides this, I was specially appointed by the Supreme Government of Mexico to be the Civil Chief, the sole judicial officer, and the commandant of the militia of the new Colony, subject always to the orders of the Government of Texas, and the Commandant-General of the military department, but for these services I received nothing from the Government. These several appointments (for they were all separate and distinct the one from the other) threw a vast burden of labor and responsibility and expense upon me individually--an expense and labor which I was not bound by my contract as empresario to bear. What rendered my situation still more troublesome and perplexing, was that the Government at that time was unsettled and shaken by frequent political revolutions and changes of systems, policy and officers, and I had to make new friends and acquaintances amongst the superior powers at every change. Added to all this, out of my office, there was not one person in the settlement who could correctly translate any law or order of the Government. I was from necessity the sole organ of communication with the Government; and as respects the local government of the settlement, the granting of lands, etc., etc., it appeared to the settlers that my authority was absolute.

It is sufficient for me to say that my settlers were North Americans, and many of them frontiersmen who had never known restraint, to inform you that I was looked upon with jealousy and suspicion. It was the natural result of the national character of those people, and of the situation in which circumstance and necessity, and even the salvation of the settlement had placed me-and that situation also imposed upon me the duty and difficult task of bearing in silence and good humor, all the abuse and jealousy that ignorance and suspicion could heap upon me, leaving it to time to test my acts and prove whether they were correct or not. It has done so, and all are satisfied with me except a few. I do assure you that it was a difficult task, and I may frankly confess that I would have abandoned the settlement, the settlers and the country, if no other motive than pecuniary individual interest had influenced me. My ambition was to be the means of laying a foundation for spreading an intelligent and an enterprising population over this fertile and hitherto unknown and wilderness country. Perhaps, also, I had a little pride in wishing to succeed, for I undertook this enterprise in opposition to the advice of my friends in the United States, who nearly all pronounced it visionary and impracticable. You must pardon my egotism in speaking so much of myself, but the history of this settlement is so closely connected with me individually, that one cannot be clearly explained without allusion to the other, and beside it seems to account in part for some of the erroneous opinions that have spread as to powers of the empresario. Those who were ignorant of the language, or who would not or could not take the trouble of inquiring, supposed, or pretended to suppose, that I derived all my authority solely from being empresario, when, in fact, I held various distinct appointments, and those powers have been supposed to attach to the empresario, which in no respects whatever belong to him. Also, they have confounded the old National Colonization law of January 4th, 1823, which is no longer in force, with the present State law passed 25th of March, 1825.

As I have before observed, my business was despatched by the National Government, 14th of April, 1823. About one year afterwards the State governments were established under the federal system, and on the 18th of August, 1824, the National Constitutional Congress (the same that formed the Federal Constitution, and was, in fact, the Convention), passed a law relinquishing to the States the territory within their respective limits, and authorizing each State to make its own Colonization law, with the restriction that not more than eleven leagues of land should be granted to any one individual, and also that the lands within ten leagues of the coast and twenty leagues of a line of an adjoining nation, should not be colonized or granted without the consent of the President of the nation. Under this authority the State of Coahuila and Texas passed the colonization law of March 24, 1825, which is now in force, and under which all the empresarios have been made, for my first Colony is the only one that was ever granted under the law of the 4th of January, 1823. In addition to my first Colony, I made three contracts with the State Government to settle 900 families in all, on the vacant land remaining within the limits designated for my first Colony. One of those contracts includes the land bordering on the coast, which was granted with the special approbation of the President as the law requires. Also, in one of said contracts (the one on the coast) I was appointed commissioner as well as empresario, and in virtue of these two distinct appointments, all the powers of both were centered in me. I am the only person in whom these two appointments ever have been united, although others have only looked at what I did without examining my authority or attending to my advice; and have supposed that all empresarios could do the same. A General Commissioner has lately been appointed for the whole of Texas who will shortly be on here. I presume that his appointment will supersede all other appointments of commissioners. Also a Surveyor-General has been appointed, who will be on with the General Commissioner. If you have not already procured the colonization law of this State I will send it to you as soon as it can be published in English in the Texas Gazette; and by comparing this statement with the law you will see that it is correct. It may be late in the winter before it is published for there are some other laws which it is highly important to get out in English before the elections in December, for owing to the want of a printing press it has heretofore been impossible to publish them.

The colonization business is the last on earth that any man ought to undertake for the sole purpose of making money; and no empresario will ever advance one step if no other motive than money influence him; for he will not undergo the labor and receive the abuse for all he can make-that is he will not advance legally. No empresario ever had such an opportunity of making a fortune by imposing on the ignorance and credulity of capitalists in other countries as I have had, for no one of them ever had the power that I had; but instead of leaving my settlers to shift for themselves and instead of distorting the law to mislead others and benefit myself: I have remained here and shared the toils of settling a wilderness, and have rigidly adhered to the law and my duty to this Government. And I have also succeeded in laying a permanent foundation for the settlement of Texas by an enterprising population, and the day is not far distant when it will become the richest and most powerful State of the Mexican Confederation. But I am poor. I have not even the means of living with comfort and that decency which my situation would seem to require, unless I raise those means by a sacrifice of a part of my premium land so hardly earned, and that I will not do for it is my only stake for my old age. Will it not appear strange to you that although such is my real situation an opinion has gone abroad that I have made myself rich by what I received from the settlers, or rather by selling land to them, as the uninformed and ignorant have styled the fees which I was by law entitled to as Commissioner, and for surveying, etc, etc? Strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless a fact. The majority of the settlers were unable to pay anything, and must have left the country if the fees had been exacted from them promptly. In order to keep all afloat I did exact prompt payment from those who were able to make it, and out of the money thus raised I paid the way of the poor who were unable to pay any thing. And I also defrayed the expenses of the administration of the local Government, and was enabled to keep the Indians friendly by presents and feeding them until we got strong enough to whip them into subjection.

By this course of policy I have saved this settlement and brought it to what it now is, and have secured large-landed estates to hundreds of poor men who otherwise would not or could not ever have got one foot of land. Some of these men have never yet paid one cent, and accuse me of speculating and cheating them because I ask it of them. It is human nature and I do not complain. Besides it is my duty to bear these matters with patience, for it is a sacrifice that is due to the future prosperity and greatness of this favored country to bear with patience and perseverance all the labor and all the mortifications attendant upon the difficult task of laying the foundation of that prosperity. I have again become an egotist. Perhaps I am influenced by the idea that a man who labors faithfully to the best of his abilities and with pure intentions is entitled to some compensation, and that unless I derive one by getting a little credit for what I have done or tried to do, I shall come off badly, for I doubt very much whether I shall live to reap much advantage from my premium land, which as I before observed, is my only stake, and it is not free from embarrassments created solely for the benefit of this settlement. I have just recovered from a dangerous spell of sickness, and also I have to mourn the recent death of an only and beloved brother, and I am not in a situation to write connectedly on any subject; you must therefore overlook my style. I will be responsible for the facts which I have stated. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN

Difficulties of a Texas Empresario by Lester Bugbee

Empresario Contracts

1997-2002,Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Coahuila y Tejas-Index