SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
1997-2000,Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
People & Demographics-Index

 

The Character of Early Texians

Thomas White to Austin Jan 1829
Austin to Thomas White 31 Mar 1829
Austin to W.H. Wharton Apr 1829
Austin to Breedlove Oct 1829
Difficulties of an Empresario-Bugbee 1898

Character of colonists and himself as described by Stephen F. Austin. The following letters written by Stephen F. Austin, some pointed out by historian Eugene Barker, and others by the current author as illustrations of the opinion of many people about the colonists who went to Texas and their reservations about joining them. Barker states that "Austin's answer is a fair and honest statement concerning the character of the average settlers" as well as the assessment of himself as an empresario. There are many documents scattered throughout the archives of the period which support Austin's view.


Thomas White to Austin Franklin, Louisiana 31st January, 1829
DEAR SIR: As I contemplate becoming a resident of Texas, I feel great solicitude about the nature of the population which will inhabit the country. I have been informed that you permit no one to settle within the limits of your colony unless they-produce vouchers sufficient to convince you that they possess a good moral character; indeed I believe such is the law, and I was truly glad to hear that you were disposed to rigidly inforce it. But I am fearful you may be imposed on, for I do no of some very bad men who I have been told are going there. There are a number of criminals who after serveing in the state prisons who it is said when they are turned out look towards Texas. The planters here have a most desperate oppinion of the population there, orriginating I presume from such vilains as has been driven from among them and who have taken shelter in that province. There are others of my acquaintance whom I got acquainted with before I came to this state who I have understood are now on their way there. I beleive they are from Tennassee and Alabama, and I can assure you that I know no good of them. I do not wish to make specific charges, but be strict in your enquiries about character. I do not wish to mention names because I may see them when I arrive there. A Gentleman expects to leave Attakapas shortly for the purpose of exploreing your country. If he gives a favourable report, I shall certainly remove there and endeavour to carry along with me a numerous train of friends who I am sure you will find to be honest and industerous citizens and who will bring with them considerable property. The Gentleman above alluded to feels some apprehension of danger of robery by persons liveing on the opposite side of the Sabine river from this and is waiting to get company to go with him. A planter told me not long since that persons who stole his horses fled to the Spanish country, meaning Texas. I mention these things to you to apprise you of the objections which the most respectable class of citizens have to comeing to your country, thinking it probable that you would adopt some means to have those lawles fugatives from the laws of their country driven away from this province. As it regards your Colony I have confidence in what I have heard, that your intention is only to admit respectable persons. But I am fearful that some persons haveing the appearance of gentlemen will impose themselves. I heard the other day of a man from New York who says that he is an intimate friend of Burr going to Texas. From what expressions which I heard he dropt I fear you will find him a restless sperit and perhaps a troublesome fellow. Will you be so good as to write me and let me know whether it is dangerous traveling on the other side of the Sabine in consequence of Robbers. I have heard also that you have obtained an extension of your colony. Pray let me know at what time I could obtain land in it, as I was informed that it was probable it would be ready for settlement this winter. If that be the fact, do let me know and the terms on which I could obtain lands for myself and five or six other families. I removed to this state last year and have not purchased land yet, nor shall I purchase largely untill I see your country or Know more about it from the Gentleman who is about to visit it. THOMAS WHITE
P. S. I shall leave here in a few days for St Martinsville where I would thank you to write me. Since writeing the within I have been told by a gentleman that there is liveing near the Sabine a man by the name of William Knight who brok geoil [jail] here and frequently crosses the river and commits depredations on the state of Louisiana. Would it not be wise to send a force and detect him in his bandit[rly? I presume that the commander of the Mexican Troops at Nacogdoches would order him and his gang arrested if information was given of the character of Knight and his associates. [Addressed:] Colo S. F. Austin, Natchitoches Louisiana. The post master will be so good as to forward this to San Felipe de Austin Texas.


Austin to Thomas White 31 Mar 1829
DEAR SIR: San Felipe de Austin March 31, 1829.
Your letter of 31 January came to hand yesterday and I hasten to answer the inquiries you make relative to this country. You express great solicitude as to the discription of population that will inhabit Texas. On this subject a mistaken idea has prevailed in most parts of the United States, particularly as to this colony. In 1822-3, when I returned from Mexico to go on with the colony, I found that some bad men had entered this section of country and I immediately adopted measures to drive them away which were effectual, but which drew down upon me the full force of the malice and enmity of all that class, and they were not idle in fabricating and circulating every species of falsehoods and evil reports about this colony which ingenuity and baseness could invent. They denounced me as the tyranical agent of a despotic government, and endeavoured to blacken the characters of the settlers here generally. The most of those who were expelled by me from here, stoped on the Sabine frontier or passed over into Louisiana. Many others of the same class who intended to have removed to this colony and were thus prevented, united with those who were expelled, to blow the clamor about this Government and to blacken every thing appertaining to this colony, and in this way good men have been deceived and even detered from removing here. I lay it down as a rule that has never yet had an exception, that whoever is governed by common rumor or report about this colony, will form erronious opinions and be deceived.

I have not been understood in every instance by the people here as I ought to have been. They have growled and grumbled and muttered, without knowing why, or without being able to explain why; but it has not arisen from moral depravity or because the people are bad. On the contrary it arose from a principle which is common to all North Americans, a feeling which is the natural offspring of the unbounded republican liberty enjoyed by all classes in the United States; that is, jealoucy of those in office, jealoucy of undue encroachments of personal rights, and a general repugnance to every thing that wore even the semblance of a stretch of power. This feeling is correct when properly guided by an enlightened judgement, capable of discriminating between a necessary and rigorous discharge of official duty and an abuse of it. And here, I confess, the People are somewhat defective, tho not more so than the mass of the People, "the multitude," are in the United States. Ninety nine times out of one hundred, an officer who discharges his duty rigorously and firmly in the United States is denounced by the multitude as a tyrant, and he generally sinks under the denunciation, unless shielded by the accidental or substantial brilliancy of his acts, or by the amiable suavity of his manners, or by a talent to conciliate popular favor at the expence of candor and truth. The settlers of this colony taken en masse are greatly superior to any new country or frontier I have ever seen, and would loose nothing by a comparison with some of the oldest counties of many of the southern and western States-this I state as a positive and incontrovertable fact. True it is that some of them have "growled" at me for expelling or rejecting bad men, and they have gone so far as to clamor because bad men have been rigorously handled. It arose from a defect of judgement, and not of the heart. There is a much greater want of men of sound and enlightened and experienced judgement than of sound and pure materials to form a happy community in this colony, tho I will always contend that in this particular we are not behind the great mass of the people of the United States. In proportion to our numbers, we are as enlightened, as moral, as good, and as "law biding" men, as can be found in any part of the United States, and greatly more so than ever settled a frontier. The policy which the Mexican Government has uniformly pursued towards the settlers of this colony, has been that of a kind and liberal and indulgent parent. Favors and privileges have been showered upon us, to an extent that has even caused some to doubt their reality; and hence have arisen many vague and unmeaning suspicions as to the validity of our land titles etc. All such suspicions are vague and unmeaning and groundless. In the month of May, and perhaps in next month, the whole of the country bordering on the coast from Galveston bay to La Baca river on Matagorda bay will be open for settlement. No grants can be made nor even promises of grants, untill the person who applies has first removed his family and has actually become a settler. He cannot first pick out a place, and get a promise that it will be retained for him and then go back and bring out his family. And no one can be admitted without producing the certificates and proof of character required by law. The person you speak of called William Knight came to this colony some time ago, and the treatment he met with affords a pretty fair specimen of public sentiment here. He came here in very great apparent distress-stated that he had been shipwrecked and lost his all, etc.-he was taken by the hand a subscription was made up for his relief-he was clothed and fed and attended to in sickness. Our cabbin doors were thrown open, and the hand of liberal and generous hospitality was extended to him, as it is to all strangers and travellers. Accident discovered the gross imposture he had practiced, and nothing but a precipitate flight saved him from severe punishment. The fears you have of being robbed etc. are all groundless. I will only make the remark that when you come here, you will be astonished to see all our houses with no other fastening than a wooden pin or door latch, even stores are left in this state. There is no such thing in the colony as a stable to lock up horses nor pens to guard them in; they roam in the prairies. The "Mustangs" or wild horses, are the only robbers that are feared. I thank you for the caution you give me as to the men of bad character who have started to this country. My intentions are to admit none but good men, but I have been frequently deceived, and no doubt shall be so very often in future, tho I shall try to guard against it. This colony is very flourishin[g], and now is the best time for emigration. I have certain assurances of an increase Of 300 or 400 families next fall, and the sooner you and your friends get on the better chance you will have of making a good selection of land. Stock is high and you would do well to bring out a large stock of cows in particular--or heiffer calves and yearlins. The disturbances in Mexico do not affect us here-we have nothing to do with them. All that is necessary here is to keep harmony amongst ourselves-and to work hard. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN. To Mr. Thomas White [Addressed:] Mr. Thomas White, San Martinville, Attakapas, Louisiana.


Austin to W.H. Wharton April 24 1829
W.H. WHARTON DR. SIR Relying on what you told me at the mill that you would call and see me before you left I expected you. You ought to have called. You and myself are almost strangers, our personal intercourse has scarcely been sufficient to enable us mutually to estimate each other properly. I have a very decided friendship for all Col G. [Groce's friends?] I have full confidence in League and he assures me that W. H. W. is all that a man of honor and a firm and stedfast friend ought to be. My own disposition is frank open and confiding. But the experience of the last six years in settling this wilderness and the unfavorable light in which human nature has been so often presented to me, has greatly weakened my genl confidence in mankind-- it has however had the effect to make me cling the closer to the few who are really and substantially men. I now write under the conviction that you are of this class and shall therefore throw aside ceremony or reserve. I wish to see you permanently locate here. All that is now wanting in Texas is a few more men in this colony, not open mouthed politicians, nor selfish visionary speculators, nor jealous ambitious declamatory demegogues who will irritate the public mind by inflamitory criticisms about temporary evils and by indulging in vague surmises. We need men of enlightened judgment, disinterested prudence, and reflection, with a great stock of patience, unshaken perseverence and integrity of purpose. Men who will calmly put their shoulders to the wheel and toil for the good of others as well as for their own, and who will be contented to rise with the country without aimin[g] to force it forward prematurely to overtop the genl level of prosperity by undue individual advancement. A band of such men firmly linked together by the bonds of mutual confidence and unity of purpose and action could and would make Texas the garden of North America. You know enough of the population here to be convinced that we lack men of this class I have in this respect stood almost alone. The fate of this colony has so far rested pretty much upon my own resources my own exertions and management. Councellors I have never had When I began the whole country was a wilderness wholly destitute of resources, the Govt unsettled, the Mexicans genly very much prejudiced against North Amn emigration and public opinion in the United States most decidedly unfavorable both as to the real value of the country, the character of the Mexican Govt and even as to the practicability of succeeding in forming any other kind of settlement here, than a nest of fugitives. Such were the prospects under which I commenced. They were so discouraging that all my friends united in trying to persuade me by argument and ridicule and by every other means to abandon the project. I myself believed that the probabilities of failure or success were almost equal, but I deemed the object worthy of the risk and I had confidence in myself. I foresaw that I must enlist myself as a kind of slave for years, that I must chain down all the impulses of a temperament naturally hasty and impetuous and sensitive to a fault; that I must patiently submit to toil injury and abuse and slander and misconstruction, sometimes bending and yielding to a degree that laid me liable to the imputation of weakness and at others resorting to measures that appeared arbitrary, or partial or whimsical; but to say all in a few words I had an ignorant, whimsical selfish and suspicious set of rulers over me to keep good natured, a perplexed and confused colonization law to execute, and an unruly set of North American frontier republicans to control who felt that they were sovereigns, for they knew that they were beyond the reach of the arm of Govt or of law, unless it pleased them to be controlled.

To have been universally popular amongst the settlers for the first two or three years would have endangered all, for it would have excited vague jealousies in the point. (?) alone that I was concillating popular favor in order to wield it in a particular way. To have been universally unpopular endangered all in another way, for it would have totally destroyed that degree of popular confidence and character abroad which was necessary to draw emigration and it would also have deprived me of the power of controuling the settlers sufficiently to have prevented them from destroying themselves. I could not stoop to associate with the low drunkards and rabble and would not do it under any circumstances but very extreme ones. The reflecting and worthy part of the settlers have always adhered to me firmly throughout. The former class abused me over their grog and at times have had weight enough to require humoring and management to keep within bounds, but they effectually removed all suspicion that I was courting the favor of a rabble for the purpose of wielding it and in this they did me and the colony a service though without knowing or intending it and I used their abuse of me to advance the public good and establish myself more firmly in the confidence of my rulers. Added to all this I was poor, destitute of capital, and never was there an enterprise in which money was more necessary than in this one. I involved myself in pecuniary embarrassments to raise funds at, the outset, but they were in no degree sufficient, and the good of the settlers-in fact the salvation of the whole enterprise-compelled me to raise something out of the settlers themselves. This drew down upon me the imputation of being a speculator and curses and abuse followed. I did not suffer it to turn me aside from my duty to the settlers. I used what I recd for the general good and am still as poor as ever except in land. There were but few men of capital in the country and they were of a cast of intellect better qualified for cent pr cent calculations of present profit than for liberal and enlarged views for the future.

All were greedy to sow largely under the expectation of reaping 1000 fold in a few years, but none were willing to contribute anything for the seed. It was considered that I must furnish all and do all and risk all. Thus it is that I had Scylla or Charybdis constantly in view for the first three or four years of my labor, and I have actually labored hard and dreadfully to build up the fortunes of men, many of whom were heaping abuse upon me. I have no ambition of a political military or avaricious character. My ambition has been to succeed in redeeming Texas from its wilderness state by means of the plough alone, in spreading over it North American population enterprise and intelligence, in doing this I hoped to make the fortune of thousands and my own amongst the rest. My success so far has fully equalled my expectation, and I think that I derived more satisfaction from the view of flourishing farms springing up in this wilderness than military or political chieftains do from the retrospect of their victorious campains. My ambition is to build up, for the present as well as for future generations, to do it silently without ostentation or display. I deemed the object laudable and honorable and -worthy the attention of honorable men. The country is now sufficiently advanced to offer inducements for emigrants of capital to flock to it. The allusions I have made as to the difficulties which have been surmounted added to your own observations while here, will enable you to form a pretty accurate estimate for the future and I think you will agree with me that we are leaving both Scylla and Charybdis far astern and that there is nothing but plain sailing ahead. As I before said all we need is men of intelligence and capital who can harmonize with each other, and a plenty of them, the more the better. Should such men in reply to your arguments in favor of their removal here say that they cannot bring their slaves, you may safely tell them that they can bring them without any fears of being troubled (?). The men now in power in this state wish to tolerate slavery, and whether they wish it or not if Texas firmly and decidedly and prudently wills it so it will be for the voice of Texas will not be disregarded. Should they say that our laws and constitution are defective, tell them that both can be amended and that the people of Texas if united can and will amend them. Should they say that Mexico is in a state of revolution and its Govt crumbling to pieces, tell them that we are 1000 miles from the seat of revolution and separated from any adjoining state by an uninhabited and almost uninhabitable wilderness of 200 miles and that all the adjoining states are thinly populated poor and nearly destitute of resources. Should they object to living under the Mexican Govt tell them that they will find it to be to their interests to be inhabitants of Texas as Mexican citizens.

The policy of this Govt to emigrants is liberal beyond parallel. An immence coasting trade is open round the Gulf of Mexico and to the West Indians, and Europe will, turn with joy and avidity from the "tarriffed cotton " of the U. S. to the fine long staple of Texas. The subject of the cotton trade has been laid before the -national executive through various channels and the secretary of state has informed me in reply to a communication I made on the subject last fall that the President would at a proper time call the attention of Congress particularly to it. He has already recommended a reduction of the tariff. You can also tell him that the Genl land Comr will shortly be here to distribute land and issue titles, and that this fall is the great seed time. If they come in then they will most surely reap a bountiful harvest hereafter , but they must come "bag and baggage" wives children and "plunder" for an actual removal is necessary to create a title. A great part of the coast of Texas will be open for settlement this summer and fall, including the shores of the fine bays of Galveston and Matagorda and also the whole country up to the San Antonio road in this and De Witt's colony. Now then is the time. Let there be a strong population of North Americans here, with a sufficient number of talented and virtuous and prudent men to direct them and who would oppress us? Mexico? She lacks both the power and the inclination for it would be her interest to bind us to her. Spain? She cannot. England dare not for war with the U. S. would of course be the result of the occupancy of Texas by that power and the same applies to France. What then have emigrants to Texas to fear? If they harmonize with themselves and are prudent they have nothing to fear and they have everything that man desires to hope for and expect. Look back at the prospects when I commenced. What were they in comparison with the prospects now? My standing with this Govt and with the people of Texas generally is now established I think on a firm basis and I could do much to benefit Texas if there was a sufficient population here of the right kind, and if such a population would treat me with candor and confidence they could use me very much to their own advantage for I am not selfish. I will remain firm to his Govt so long as it stands and will lose my life sooner than betray in the slightest degree my oath as a citizen. All the alterations that are needed in our laws I think can be constitutionally obtained without difficulty. If the Govt stands and prospers Texas must prosper under it. If the Govt falls the bonds which bind Texas and Mexico will of course be severed by that fall, and in this event Texas can either unite herself to the North under the necessary guarantees from that Govt or become an independent speck in the galaxy of nations. Europe will gladly receive our cotton and sugar etc. on advantageous terms in exchange for " untariffed " manufactured articles. We should be too contemptable to excite the jealousy of the Northern Mammoth, and policy and interest would induce Europe to let us alone. I deem it to be more than probable that the great powers would all unite in garanteeing the Independence of little Texas. There are man powerful reasons why it would be to their interest to do it. Suppose that some 4 or 500 southern men of talents and capital and high character were to emigrate to Texas in a body next fall, what can prevent their future prosperity? I have the legal right to garantee to them a reception as emigrants in my colony and as such the law grants them land. The door is legally opened to them and they are invited to enter and partake of the fortune and prosperity and happiness which nature has provided with a liberal hand for all who will now advance and receive them. Such an opportunity never offered upon earth, never can offer again, and it will be trifling with fortune to neglect it. But do not misunderstand me as to the kind of emigrants-ardent inexperienced hot headed youths piping from college or ignorant self willed "mobish" mountaniers and frontiersmen who "hold to Lynch law" and damning those who are in office merely because they are in office, would totally ruin us forever. We need that class of emigrants who deserve the appelation of southern Gentlemen, whose fortunes are independent but not overgrown, whose judgment has been enlightened by education and matured by experience, and who have families to keep the intemperate wild ambitious passions of the human heart within the circle of prudence. I would fearlessly pledge my head that an emigration of 400 such men next fall to Texas would permanently ensure the prosperity of this country and the happiness of its inhabitants. I have expressed myself to you with more freedom and frankness than is usual with me on subjects of this kind. It is not every man whose mind is capable of embracing the past the present and the future and I have never sought celebrity by trying to confound the ignorant by matters which they could not comprehend. It is my request that this letter should be confidential and that it should not by any means be published. I cannot but think that if proper exertions were made a large company of Southern Gentlemen from C. G. A. and T. [Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee?] might be made up to emigrate here next fall. I am too poor in money to make the trip or I would have gone on with you. I wished to see you on this subject and regret that you did not call. [STEPHEN F. AUSTIN]


SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
1997-2000,Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved