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Stephen F. Austin

Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas

Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 510
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  • Book Info
    Stephen F. Austin
    Book Description:

    Stephen F. Austin, the "Father of Texas," has long been enshrined in the public imagination as an authentic American hero, but one who was colorless and rather remote. This book, the first major biography in more than seventy years, brings Austin's private life, motives, personality, and character into sharp focus, revealing a driven man who successfully mixed effort and cunning, idealism and pragmatism to build an illustrious career.Gregg Cantrell traces Austin's early life from his privileged boyhood as the son of the Missouri mining baron Moses Austin to his family's humiliating financial downfall after the War of 1812. He tells how in 1821 Stephen Austin inherited his father's daring plan to colonize Spanish Texas. Over the next fifteen years Austin carried out this plan with dazzling success, becoming a consummate manager, exhorter, politician, and diplomat, and playing a central role in the events that led to the Texas Revolution and the establishment of the Lone Star Republic. Within a generation, as a result largely of forces that he helped set in motion, the United States completed its drive for mastery over the North American continent.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18574-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A Note on Spelling, Punctuation, and Usage
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Early on a July morning in 1821, sixteen men on horseback paused at the east bank of the Sabine River. Behind them lay Louisiana, the southwesternmost state of the United States. One by one they urged their reluctant mounts into the sluggish brown waters. When the horses scrambled up the muddy bank on the opposite side of the river, they stood on the soil of the Spanish Empire, in the frontier province of Texas.

    Among the riders was a twenty-seven-year-old Missourian named Stephen Fuller Austin. Slender and handsome, with curly auburn hair and large, penetrating brown eyes, he carried in...

  6. ONE A Foundation for Greatness, 1793–1810
    (pp. 15-42)

    The eleven-year-old boy awoke to the gray chill of another New England winter morning. As he looked out at the dreary, snow-covered ground, home must have seemed very far away. Seven months had passed since that June afternoon in 1804 when his father had put him on the boat at Ste. Genevieve, a thousand miles away on the Mississippi River. He had written home in September but received no reply. Autumn came and went, followed by the Christmas holidays, and still nothing. He knew that the mail service was unreliable between Connecticut and Missouri, but that did little to ease...

  7. TWO Successes and Failures, 1810–1818
    (pp. 43-62)

    At an age when most young men begin thinking of leaving their parents and making their own way in the world, Stephen F. Austin returned to his family and the scenes of his childhood. Moses needed him in Missouri. As would be the case so often in his life, Stephen found weighty responsibilities thrust on him, perhaps before he was really ready for them.

    No sooner had Stephen arrived at Mine à Breton in the spring of 1810 than Moses prepared to depart for New York City, where he hoped to purchase British goods to stock in his store. Moses...

  8. THREE New Beginnings, 1819–1820
    (pp. 63-79)

    Land. In the years after the War of 1812, the word rang in the ears of Missourians. With the British threat ended and Indians a decreasing problem, immense quantities of public land lay to the west. Poor men looked to the valleys of the Missouri, Arkansas, or Red Rivers for fertile, affordable farms. Rich men, or those who would be rich, looked at these regions and saw golden visions of quick profits through speculation.

    At the beginning of 1819, Stephen F. Austin was immersed in his failing mining business, his legislative career, and the affairs of the embattled Bank of...

  9. FOUR Texas, 1820–1821
    (pp. 80-103)

    When Stephen F. Austin stepped onto the river landing in New Orleans in November 1820, he had just turned twenty-seven years old. He was broke, and the depressed economy offered little promise of gainful employment. His spirits had reached a low ebb. “There are hundreds of young men who are glad to work for their board,” he told his mother as he reported on conditions in the Crescent City.¹

    Only one thing was certain: Stephen wanted nothing to do with his father’s Texas scheme. He was worried about his father, but his concern was not that Moses would fail in...

  10. FIVE Mexico, 1821–1823
    (pp. 104-131)

    Austin’s crossing the international boundary into the Mexican province of Texas in December 1821 marked the beginning of a new era in the history of two profoundly different nations and cultures. The population of newly independent Mexico stood at something over 6 million, about two-thirds that of the United States. The racial composition and social structure, however, differed dramatically from those of the United States; some 60 percent of Mexicans were Indians, 22 percent of mixed race, and 18 percent white. The country was rigidly stratified along racial and economic lines, with the bulk of the large nonwhite majority leading...

  11. SIX Empresario Estevan F. Austin, 1823–1825
    (pp. 132-170)

    Newspaper subscribers in such western cities as Nashville, St. Louis, and Little Rock opened their morning papers in the summer of 1822 to read the sad news that Stephen F. Austin had drowned in the Colorado River. “The death of judge Austin is considered a great public loss—he possessed enterprize, was of a conciliating disposition, and having talents of no ordinary kind, would have been a considerable man in the country had he lived,” wrote theNashville Clarion. Other stories had him shot, lost at sea, or killed by Indians. Reports contradicting these rumors soon filtered back to the...

  12. SEVEN Staying the Course, 1825–1827
    (pp. 171-201)

    The mid-1820s were heady days for the young Mexican nation. After the downfall of Iturbide’s empire, Mexico established a federal republic. The Constitution of 1824 deemed all men equal and guaranteed individual rights. In the first national elections, one of the most admired heroes of the Wars for Independence, Guadalupe Victoria, won the presidency. The young intellectual from Yucatán, Lorenzo de Zavala, was elected president of the national congress. Liberalism and federalism seemed triumphant.¹

    Yet Mexico was not destined to follow the pattern set by the United States and become a stable federal republic. Dire economic conditions lay at the...

  13. EIGHT Crises, Personal and Political, 1828–1830
    (pp. 202-221)

    The early days of spring usher in the most beautiful season of the year in the Brazos River valley. Oaks and hickories begin to show new growth. Redbuds, dogwoods, and magnolias splash the woods with pink and white blossoms. The prairies grow lush and green, soon to be blanketed with gaudy wildflowers. For a few weeks, nights remain cool while days grow warm with bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies.

    Back in San Felipe after his long trip to Saltillo, even the frequently despondent Stephen F. Austin found cause for optimism. “We move on here slowly, but quietly—this country...

  14. NINE We Will Be Happy, 1830–1831
    (pp. 222-246)

    The passage of the Law of April 6,1830, set in motion a chain of events that threatened the future of Anglo colonization and, with it, all of Stephen F. Austin’s plans. It was rapidly becoming apparent how much Austin’s vision of Texas’s future differed from that of the Bustamante administration. One thing was certain: the Law of 1830 and the regime that enacted it would put Austin’s political skills to their supreme test.

    When he learned the particulars of the law, Austin wrote letters of protest to Acting President Bustamante and to Commandant General Terán, who now also bore the...

  15. TEN The Call of Duty, 1832–1833
    (pp. 247-266)

    At his headquarters in Matamoros, Gen. Manuel de Mier y Terán fumed. Dispatches on his desk told the disturbing news of violent clashes between Anglo settlers and Mexican soldiers on the Brazos. A month earlier, in December 1831, three Anglo captains had sailed their ships past the Mexican fort at the river’s mouth without paying customs duties. Shots were exchanged, wounding a soldier. John Austin and other settlers subsequently threatened open attack on the Mexican garrisons in Texas. Anglo colonists seemingly stood at the brink of the revolution that Terán had long dreaded.¹

    Two letters on Terán’s desk from Stephen...

  16. ELEVEN Prison, 1833–1834
    (pp. 267-296)

    Austin mounted his mule on April 22, 1833, and rode west out of San Felipe for San Antonio. Springtime rains made travel difficult, and the 170-mile trip took a full week. Fortunately, the empresario could find a hot meal and a dry bed at almost any settler’s cabin. As he slogged down the familiar trace, crossing the Colorado, Lavaca, and Guadalupe Rivers and finally emerging onto the plains surrounding San Antonio, he had ample time to reflect on the political course he was taking.¹

    By all appearances he had made up his mind. He would go to Mexico City to...

  17. TWELVE War Is Our Only Resource, 1835
    (pp. 297-328)

    The year Austin spent in prison had at least one positive consequence: it gave him a new appreciation of freedom. Though he longed to return to his beloved Texas, the terms of his release required that he not leave Mexico City until the government resolved his case. Santa Anna had proposed a general amnesty for political prisoners, but until congress approved it, all Austin could do was wait.

    Naturally he had no problem occupying his time. His private affairs in Texas demanded attention, which he could conduct only through correspondence with Perry, Williams, and others. There was also much lobbying...

  18. THIRTEEN The Road to Independence, 1835–1836
    (pp. 329-347)

    With his slight build, narrow chin, broad forehead, large brown eyes, and unruly dark hair, William Harris Wharton bore a passing physical resemblance to his political arch-enemy, Stephen F. Austin. Yet it would be difficult to find two men who differed more in personality or politics. Growing up in Nashville, Wharton and his brother John moved in the same political circles as Sterling Robertson and Sam Houston. If association with Nashville’s Jacksonian Democrats was not sufficient to place Wharton in opposition to Austin, his life after coming to Texas did. Soon after arriving in Texas in 1827, the twenty-five-year-old Wharton...

  19. FOURTEEN Home, 1836
    (pp. 348-364)

    Austin arrived at the mouth of the Brazos on June 27, seasick as usual. With his head literally still swimming from his voyage on the Gulf, he immediately leaped into motion to bring the disorganized affairs of Texas into some semblance of order. Not surprisingly, he believed that his countrymen were blundering in their handling of the current situation. Most Texans seemed to think that the danger from Mexico was past and that the war was over for good. Austin wrote to Mirabeau B. Lamar, who was commanding the army while Sam Houston received treatment in Louisiana for his battle...

  20. EPILOGUE. The Father of Texas: Stephen F. Austin in Retrospect
    (pp. 365-380)

    Sam Houston was among the first to hear the news of Austin’s death, and he immediately ordered the secretary of war to issue an official government notice of the melancholy event. “The Father of Texas is no more!” the announcement read. “The first pioneer of the wilderness has departed!” Houston commanded all officers of the government to wear black arm bands for the next thirty days in “respect to his high standing, undeviating moral rectitude, and as a mark of the nation’s gratitude for his untiring zeal, and invaluable service.” “The president also ordered every military post to fire a...

  21. Appendix Austin’s Circle
    (pp. 381-384)
  22. Notes
    (pp. 385-462)
  23. An Essay on Sources
    (pp. 463-478)
  24. Index
    (pp. 479-493)