Birth 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:
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:
Conflict 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.
By 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:
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:
SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS