© 1997-2015, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
Birth of the Colony-Index

Green DeWitt   James Kerr

Colony Birth | Gonzales | Old Station
DeLeon Conflict | Fredonian Rebellion | Old Station to Gonzales

DeWitt Colony MapBirth of the DeWitt Colony. News of events in Texas in 1821, the enormous potential rewards for a successful empresario and the successful award of the Moses Austin grant prompted Missourian Green DeWitt to travel to Mexico City to investigate possibilities in 1822. He returned to Missouri after three months without presenting a petition. Hearing of the favorable legislation for colonization of 1824, he returned to Texas where he became close friends with Stephen F. Austin, son of Moses Austin who inherited his father's colonization initiative in Texas. DeWitt relied on Austin as mentor through the maze of politics required to obtain an empresario grant. With the help of Austin and influence of Baron de Bastrop, a member of the Mexican legislature from Texas, Green DeWitt was granted and authorized in Saltillo, capital of Coahuila y Texas, on April 15, 1825, along with Haden Edwards, Robert Leftwich and Frost Thorn who received contracts on the same day, to introduce 400 families into the area southwest of the Austin Colony (Green DeWitt Petition and Grant Conditions). Over 75,000 acres were placed in escrow for him personally, 25 percent to be delivered after the first 100 families were settled and the remainder pro-rated for delivery as he fulfilled his contract with additional families. The DeWitt Colony of Texas was officially born.

Birth and Temporary Demise of Gonzales on Kerr Creek 1826. Green DeWitt recruited fellow St. Charles County Missourian James Kerr as his surveyor-general and right-hand man. Kerr first came to the Brazoria Settlement in the Austin Colony in 1825 with his family and slaves. After the death of his wife and two children, Kerr and black slaves Jack, Shade and Anise along with Erastus "Deaf" Smith, Bazil Durbin, Gerron Hinds, John Wightman, James Musick and a man named Strickland established a few cabins on Kerr Creek, a mile east of current Gonzales. Green DeWitt visited the site in Oct 1825 for 3 to 4 weeks, presumably from Saltillo. The site was believed to have received several visitors interested in looking over the land. On 12 Nov 1825, DeWitt wrote a letter from Trinity giving instructions to Major Kerr and stating he would return in April of the next year. It is thought that DeWitt did not return until the group had relocated to Old Station at the mouth of the Lavaca River. Major Kerr laid out the four leagues allocated to the capital town of the colony and named it in honor of Don Rafael Gonzales, the governor of the state of Coahuila y Texas. Several weeks later, Francis Berry and family from Missouri settled at the site on Kerr Creek. In summer 1826 Gonzales and the DeWitt Colony had a population of 18. They were the only Anglo residents west of the Colorado River at the time with nearest neighbors Empresario DeLeon and less than 10 colonists 60 miles south at Guadalupe Victoria and those at San Antonio de Bexar over 70 miles to the west. There were no roads to either the south or west and only a trail east to the Colorado River to Beason's Crossing near present Columbus.

In July the newborn settlement experienced its first setback in what began as a horse-stealing raid by a band of Indians passing through the area. Realizing that security of the Kerr Creek settlement could not be maintained with so few settlers, Kerr petitioned local authorities to establish a settlement near the mouth of the Lavaca River to receive settlers coming into the bay. There was some controversy over the move since both the national and state colonization law forbid settlement within ten leagues of the coast or border of Texas, however, practicality prevailed and a temporary settlement called Station on the La Baca or Old Station six miles from the coast on the Lavaca River was established in summer 1826.

In the fall of 1825, Green DeWitt had first visited the Gonzales site on Kerr Creek and soon after returned to Missouri via New Orleans. On the way he advertised the new opportunities in Texas and returned to the colony with his family and the Stephens, Lockland and Reynold families in 1826. According to descendant, Edna DeWitt, Francis and John W. Smith, John McCoy, Kirwen and William Bracken and a Mr. Hardy may have left Missouri with the group.  DeWitt states that the party met Byrd Lockhart and Arthur Burns in New Orleans.  The party left Missouri in April from St. Charles County down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. From there they traveled by schooner down the coast in the Gulf of Mexico entering Matagorda Bay between the Matagorda Peninsula and Matagorda Island eventually anchoring in Lavaca Bay at the mouth of the Lavaca River. This route would be commonly used by numerous immigrants to the colony, a journey which sometimes took over 3 months as it did the DeWitt party on this occasion. The party joined the settlers at Old Station on the La Vaca where DeWitt proceeded to build and contract with facilities to transport and receive colonists. In a letter of 3 Sep 1826 from Station on the La Baca, DeWitt informed Stephen F. Austin of establishment of the station and plans for transporting colonists. In the letter, DeWitt mentioned the difficulties of being an empresario and need for much advice from Austin.

Old Station on the La Baca. In the spring of 1827, Frank Johnson in History of Texas and Texans describes his trip to the Station with the McCoy families from near San Felipe who had arrived the previous year from Missouri:

"At De Witt's Station we were kindly received by Colonel De Witt, his family and settlers. Here I made the acquaintance of Hon. James Kerr, principal surveyor of De Witt's colony. Kerr was a gentleman of the old school, social, frank, and hospitable. Our acquaintance ripened into friendship and intimacy, and so continued during his lifetime. Peace to his manes! We arrived at the busy season of preparing for and planting. Those of the settlers who had sufficient teams were breaking prairie, others were clearing what was called weed prairies, and bottom lands sparsely timbered, but with a thick growth of weeds. When the ground is cleared, holes are made at proper distances with a stick, and a corn-seed put in the holes and covered. This done, it is left to grow and ripen and receives no other work, except to knock down the weeds; the ground thus prepared and planted will yield twenty-five or thirty, sometimes forty, bushels per acre. For want of teams and necessary implements, the settlers were planting in various directions, and at short distances from the station, and consequently were scattered and separated for several miles from each other. My health much improved, and improving daily, I began to feel an interest in the exertions of the settlers to provide for their families, as well as newcomers, a sufficiency of corn for bread; as to meat, game was abundant. I visited the various planting grounds, hunted, etc., and enjoyed this sort of life very much. At the station a blockhouse had been erected to give protection to the women and children in the event of an attack on the settlement by the Indians. Hence, all the families remained at the station. Whilst visiting one of these planting camps, and on a hunt one morning, I fell in with a party of Carankawa Indians, whom I conducted to the camp. Being in sight and speaking distance of some of the working parties, I communicated the fact of our new visitors, and requested them to give notice to the other working parties and to come to camp quietly and without disclosing the least excitement or alarm. The whole force was soon in, and a messenger dispatched to the station to inform Colonel De Witt of the presence of the Indians, and to request him, with such others as he might deem necessary, to come to our camp. In due time Colonel De Witt, with others, arrived. In the meantime we endeavored to make the Indians easy. They built a small fire within a few yards of our camp. On the arrival of Colonel De Witt and party a talk was held in which the Indians were assured of the peaceful and friendly disposition of the colonists. Soon after the talk, games of cards were introduced,. and the Indians began to mix among us. Up to this time they had not unstrung their bows. Now they unstrung their bows and put aside their arrow cases. Thenceforth all went on well. The next morning the Indians were invited to the station, and there feasted on bread, meat and milk. They were much pleased with their reception and kind treatment, and declared themselves the friends of De Witt's settlement, and thenceforth observed their plighted faith. The Carankawa Indians, though but few in numbers on account of their war with freebooters, General Long, Austin's colonists, and other tribes of Indians, are a noble looking race of men. They are of a light copper color, six feet and upwards in height, well formed and muscular. They are esteemed the best bowmen in America. They are now nearly or quite extinct. They inhabited the Gulf shore."

Noah Smithwick in Early Days in Texas also describes his impressions of life at the Station on the La Baca, the setting for his oft quoted statement of early life in Texas:

"Men talked hopefully of the future; children reveled in the novelty of the present; but the women---ah, there was where the situation bore heaviest. As one old lady remarked, Texas was 'a heaven for men and dogs, but a hell for women and oxen.'

DeLeon Colony MapConflict with the De Leon Colony. With a population of forty and the only established community an illegal, but necessary, receiving station on Lavaca Bay, the "real world" roadblocks and accompanying political hurdles of fulfilling the contract with the government of Mexico to establish a local civilization began to appear for Green DeWitt and James Kerr. Land title disputes oriented around water rights, profiteering through contraband and political treachery early on created enmity between the DeWitt Colony and the De Leon Colony headed by Martin De Leon who earlier in 1823 was authorized to settle unoccupied lands between the lower Lavaca and Guadalupe Rivers with no boundary specified.

Martin DeLeonBy 1826 Martin De Leon (portrait left) had settled over forty families from his home province of Tamaulipas (east coast province of Mexico, north of Tampico) to the area which included the town of Guadalupe Victoria on the lower Guadalupe River. Some of the De Leon colonists were within the DeWitt grant. The De Leon colonists were there legally by provision of the state colonization law that new grants would have to respect and protect settlers present at establishment. Desiring both banks of the Lavaca River free for new colonists, DeWitt and Kerr made proposals to exchange lands on the Lavaca River for some on the Guadalupe River, but that would require resettlement of the De Leon colonists. A series of events in late 1826 and 1827 caused DeWitt to officially turn over power of attorney for the colony to James Kerr and an order by the state authorities to move the settlement at Old Station to Gonzales within one month. These are summarized in a document in the Lamar Papers which is believed to be written by James Kerr.  The series of disputes with DeLeon which involved Austin, Jefe-Politico Saucedo and Kerr with little apparent involvement of DeWitt are described in DeWitt Colony letters of late 1826 and early 1827.  These included a contraband confiscation mission into Old Station led by De Leon and La Bahia Presidio commander Rafael Manchola, a real or perceived conspiracy to get DeWitt removed as an empresario in which DeLeon may or may not have been actively involved, and protests of various wrongdoings by both sides to the authorities in San Antonio.  The affair apparently ended suddenly, probably through cooperative relationship between Austin and Saucedo, without serious clashes as the attention of both the DeWitt and DeLeon colonies turned to mutual goals of developing a society and security issues against Indians.  Despite the motivation behind DeLeon's actions, the affair did little to endear him to the less than 40 DeWitt Colonists who were struggling to survive their first year in the new land.

DeWitt Colonists Denounce the Fredonian Rebellion. Despite their disputes and distrust of native-born Mexicans the early conflicts with DeLeon probably fostered among the struggling and predominantly Anglo DeWitt Colonists, DeWitt Colonists did not sympathize with The Fredonian Rebellion precipitated by dispute over grandfathered land titles to mostly native born Tejanos and others within the Edwards Colony in East Texas.  With only the hope for fulfillment of the promises of land titles and opportunities for a new life of the colonization laws of their adopted Mexican government and the confidence in their leaders Austin, DeWitt and Kerr,  the DeWitt colonists expressed their disapproval of the violation of national and state colonization laws and call for rebellion by all Anglo-Americans in Texas by Empresario Edwards explained in a letter to Stephen F. Austin from Major James Kerr of 24 Jan 1827:

At a meeting of the people of De Witt's Colony at the establishment on the La Vaca (notice having been given for that purpose) Mr. Byrd Lockhart was called to the chair, and James Norton Esq. was chosen Secretary, when the following resolutions were read and unanimously adopted:
1st. Resolved, that the people of this colony came to, and settled in the Mexican Nation, by the benign influence of her laws:-that as adopted children have full confldence and faith in the equity, justice and liberality in the Federal and State Governments of their new parent.
2d. Resolved, that their great object in leaving their parent country, and migrating hither, was not for the purpose of unsheathing the sword of Insurrection, war, bloodshed, and desolation, but as peaceable and industrious subjects, to cultivate and inhabit the bounteous domain so liberally extended and offered them by the Governors of the land of their choice.
3rd. Resolved, that we hope the Mexican Nation will draw a just line of distinction between the honest, industrious and peaceable American emigrants, and those of bad character, whom we consider as refugees, and fugitives from justice, who have raised the flag of 'Independence' at Nacogdoches, but with them have spread confusion, robberies, oppression, and even bloodshed: that we look upon the ring-leaders of that party with contempt and disgust, and that they are unworthy the character of Americans.
4th. Resolved, that we feel every sentiment of gratitude toward our fellow citizen and brother His Excellency the Political Chief and the officers and men with him for their indefatigable exertions by forced marches &c. to allay, suppress, and bring to condign punishment those persons who may be found guilty of treason against this Government; and to establish subordination, good order and tranquility.
5th. Resolved, that the Chairman and Secretary sign the foregoing resolutions, and transmit the same to Col. Stephen F. Austin and that he be requested to translate them, and submit them to His Excellency the Political Chief.
Done at the Labaca, Station in Dewitt's Colony this 27th day of January 1827.
Byrd Lockhart, Chairman, James Norton, Secretary

DeWitt Colony leader James Kerr and other colonists were among the Mexican government detachment including Stephen Austin and those from his colonies sent to enforce the law and restore order in Nacogdoches.

Move from Old Station to Gonzales 1828. To the DeWitt Colonists at Old Station, the order to relocate to Gonzales within one month which was decreed in August, 1827 was unfair and to some impossible. Although DeWitt had sent a work force led by Byrd Lockhart to build a fort at Gonzales in January 1827, progress was slow. A significant inhibitor was feared, more than actual, Indian attacks. Savageries among indigenous Texas Indian tribes and by nomadic Comanches, Wacos and others on indigenous DeWitt Colony tribes were far more severe than collective Indian attacks on DeWitt Colonists. Crops were in the field at Old Station and there had been no time for significant development of the Gonzales area. Some colonists threatened to move to the Austin Colony. As a result of petition for extension by DeWitt and the sympathy of the jefe-politico in San Antonio and Coahuila y Texas governor José María Viesca, the deadline for relocation was extended to June 1828. Byrd Lockhart and crew had managed to complete a fort at Gonzales and Indian activity in the area had been insignificant all summer. When the crops were in and transportation arrangements complete, the forty Old Station residents moved to Gonzales before the first of the year 1828. The official census of the DeWitt Colony of 1828 (Lista de los Havitantes de la Colonia de DeWitt en el Departmento de Texas, ano de 1828, Nacogdoches Archives) indicated a total population of 75 who comprised 9 families and 25 single men, 91 families short of the target of 100 that had to be met by Green DeWitt by 1831 before default on his contract.

Frank Johnson, good friends of the McCoys and other DeWitt Colonists, describes his visit in spring 1828 in History of Texas and Texans:

"In the early spring, 1828, I made a trip to San Antonio de Bexar, in company with William B. Moore, of Tennessee, and brother of John H. Moore, of Texas. John H. Moore accompanied us one day's travel beyond Burnham's on the Colorado. We then struck down the country to the Atascosita road, followed the road to where it crossed the La Baca, and thence up that stream to the road leading to Gonzales, on the Guadalupe. On my way up we fell in with a party of Tonkawa Indians, friendly. At the crossing of the upper road to Goliad, and that to Gonzales, I lost my horse in consequence of a gang of mustangs passing, which caused him to break loose and follow them. However, the next morning we proceeded on our journey "riding and tying" as it is called, to Gonzales, where I obtained a pony. The settlement here had but recently been formed by Colonel De Witt and settlers. Here was the first house we had stopped at since leaving Burnham's on the Colorado. We were hospitably entertained by Colonel De Witt, and others, whom I met with before at the Station. Here I met with Mr. Porter, my ship-mate in '26. After resting two or three days at Gonzales and procuring a small quantity of bread, being otherwise well provided with sugar, coffee, and salt, we proceeded on our way to San Antonio de Bexar, which we reached the fourth day, though only distant seventy-five Mexican miles from Gonzales. We had abundant time, gave our horses ample time to rest and feed on the young rich grass, amusing ourselves in killing deer and turkeys, in excess of our wants. On arriving at San Antonio, we met and stopped with John W. Smith, an American who had married a Mexican lady. Smith was living on the east side of the River San Antonio, in what may be termed the suburb of the town."

© 1997-2015, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved