|By Tex Rogers (c)Copyright 1999 Southwest Scots
Although many cultures can stake a claim on the settlement of early Texas – mostly the Spanish, Indians and French – it was the Scots and others of Celtic descent who led the way in truly taming the wild territory and bringing it forward to a republic.
More than 85 percent of the pioneers who renounced their American citizenship to follow Stephen F. Austin into the Mexican state of Tejas were of Celtic origin, and half that number were of Scottish descent.
In all, 342 pioneers applied for the 297 grants (thus, the term Old Three Hundred) of land given to Austin by the Mexican government. Most were distributed from 1823-24 and the remainder in 1827. These pioneers were indeed hardy souls who were simply following an ethnic course established generations before on the border of Scotland and England.
Just who these people were and what drove them to give up being citizens of the recently-formed United States for the hope of land in the wild Texas territory is eloquently explained by the emminent historian T.R. Fehrenbach in “Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans” (MacMillan, 1968).
In his award-winning book, considered by many the most definitive one-volume history of Texas, Fehrenbach devoted an entire chapter to “The Anglo-Celts,” in which he detailed in great length the history, migratory patterns and culture of that tough, stubborn people who were shoved from their Scottish borders to Ireland, and eventually across the Atlantic to the New World.
With the Calvinist teachings of John Knox still ringing in their ears, this latest wave of New Worlders were looking for new opportunities on new frontiers, Fehrenbach wrote. Pushing inward from the towns on the Atlantic Coast, these Anglo-Celts found themselves first in Appalachia, then in Kentucky and Tennessee, before finally finding Texas.
The author’s explanation of the Anglo-Celtic ethos makes it easily understood why they followed Austin westward in search of land to an area between the Lavaca and Brazos rivers in southeast Texas which now encompasses Austin, Colorado, Washington, Brazos, Grimes, Wharton, Matagorda, Fort Bend counties and portions of Jackson, Harris and Chambers counties. On a Texas map, the colony encompassed territory from Anahuac east of Houston down the gulf coast as far west as Edna, and north to Bryan-College Station.
In taking up the quest for new land, they agreed to renounce their U.S. Citizenship and become citizens of Spain. They also agreed to become Catholics, but that requirement was waived tacitly by Mexican officials as long as no preachers were found in the new colony.
It was Moses Austin (Clan Keith), a Connecticut-born mine operator who had the initial dream of bringing Americans from the United States into Spanish Territory in Texas. Austin had a successful experience with the Spanish when he was allowed to settle 30 families in Spanish-held Missouri in 1797. Austin proved to be a very good Spanish citizen, and a prominent leader. And after Missouri became part of the United States again in 1804 after the Louisiana Purchase, Austin prospered even more, becoming a founder and principal stockholder in the Bank of Saint Louis.
Then in 1818 the young nation experienced its first national depression that left Austin completely broke when his bank collapsed. Having no loyalty to the United States because of its financial policies, the 55-year-old Moses Austin decided he could do better colonizing Spanish territory. So in the fall of 1820, he set out of an 800-mile trek to San Antonio de Béxar.
Austin wasn’t welcome in San Antonio because the Spanish were still recovering from the escapades of Dr. James Long, who the previous year had led a small army into Texas and establish a republic, only to be executed in Mexico City. Austin found that no Americans were welcome in San Antonio, and he was told by the governor to get out of town before sunset or face arrest.
But before a dejected Austin left San Antonio he met an old friend, the Felipe Enrique Neri, Baron de Bastrop, whom Austin had dealings with formerly in Louisiana. Poor but still well respected in San Antonio, Bastrop was able to gain a new audience with the governor, and argued Austin’s case for colonizing Texas with Americans who were willing to come.
Bastrop offered three arguments:
•The Indian in Texas would never end until the country between San Antonio and the Sabine was settled. The Comanches acted like the owned the entire territory at the time.
•No Spaniards or Mexicans were coming to Texas, even after several centuries of Spain trying to colonize the area. In fact, more were leaving Texas.
•Colonization by willing Anglo-Saxons had been successful in Louisiana, and there appeared to other way to put people on the land.
So on Jan. 27, 1821, a petition in the name of Moses Austin was granted. Mexican officials had become convinced that a band of American colonists in Texas might create a buffer between Spanish settlements and the Indians, and that the right kind of Americans who were loyal to be Spanish Crown would prevent future encroachments into Texas because they would have an immense stake in the land, as Fehrenbach wrote.
But Austin never saw his dreamed fulfilled. He arrived back in Missouri in time to die, but not before he asked his son Stephen to carry on the dream.
Stephen F. Austin needed no encouragement. He despised the land system of the United States, which encouraged speculation, while the Spanish system rewarded colonization.
The young Austin traveled from Louisiana to San Antonio where he met with the Spanish governor, who acknowledged him as his father’s successor. By the time Austin returned to Louisiana, more than a hundred letters from applicants awaiting for him. People were already standing in line, wanting to come to Texas.
From 1823-24 Austin and the land commissioner Baron de Bastrop issued 272 titles. Bastrop was called away from the colony for a short period and an additional 35 titles were not issued until 1827, by Gaspar Flores de Abrego, a new land commissioner. In all, 307 titles were issued to 297 grantees.
Most of the families who followed Austin to Texas came as farmers, but several were already of substantial means from the Trans-Appalachia South. they were all were part of a large westward migration from the Eastern Seaboard states that had begun in the late 1700’s. To avoid problems among the colonists, Austin attempted to select only those of “better” classes, and indeed, only four of the grantees could not read.
So, armed with an independent self-reliance strengthened by generational advances through Appalachia, and fortified by a Calvinistic code the stressed discipline, hard work and perseverance, those who followed Stephen F. Austin to Texas carried names linked to Scottish clans like Anderson, Andrews, Bailey, Barnett, Beard, Bell and Bowman. There were also Brown, Callihan, Carter, Charles, Clark, Clarke, Coats, Coles, Cooper, Cumings, Cummins and Davidson.
There were names like Duty, Dyer, Elder, Fenton, Fisher, Frazier, George, Gilbert, Gilleland, Gray, Guthrie, Haddon, Hall, Hamilton and Harris, as well as Harvey, Haynes, Hope, Hudson and Hunter. There were Ingram, Jamison, Johnson, Keller, Kelly, Kennedy, Kennon and Kerr, along with Linsey and Little.
Other among the grantees were McClain, McCormick, McCoy, McCrosky, McFarlan, McKinney, McKinsey, McNair, McNeel, McNutt and McWilliams, along with Martin, Mathis, Miller, Moore, Morrison and Morton. There were also Nelson, Nuckols, Parks, Phelps, Phillips, Prater, Ramey, Rankin, Richarson, Roberts, Robertson, Robinson and Ross. Also, Scobey, Scott, Sims, Smith, Spencer and Sutherland. Among the names were also Taylor, Thomas, Thompson, Walker, Wallace, White and Wilkins.
In all, there were only two names of German origin, eight from France, and two of Dutch extraction. The remainder carried names affiliated to Scottish clans or of Celtic stock from the British Isles.
The Celt’s common quest in Texas was land, a commodity many of their ancestors had lost in Scotland and Ireland, and these new Texians were willing to face isolation, back-breaking work and Indian perils on new borders to hold on to it.
As Fehrenbach wrote in Lone Star: “The Anglo-Celts had not crossed the sea to become servile tenants.”
The group of Scots, Irish and other Celts who followed Austin into Texas was just the beginning. Many more, with names such as Houston, Bowie, Crawford, Everitt, Grimes, Coleman, Bower, Carson, Latimer, Stewart and Briscoe would eventually declare their independence from Mexico, and some would die for that belief.
More information may be obtained from the organization Descendants of Austin’s Old Three Hundred, by writing its president, Shirley Steadman, P.O. Box 185, Marion, TX 78124. Readers may also be interested in the new book “Austin’s Old 300 – The First Anglo Colony in Texas: A Genealogical Profile,” (ISBN 1-57168-291-0), $21.95, published by Eakin Press, P.O. Box 23066, Austin, TX 78735.
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