Stephen Fuller Austin (November 3, 1793 – December 27, 1836), known as the "Father of Texas", led the second and ultimately successful colonization of the region by settlers from the United States. The capital city, Austin in Travis County, Austin County, Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Austin College in Sherman, as well as a number of K-12 schools are named in his honor.
Stephen F. Austin was born in the mining regions of southwestern Virginia (Wythe County), in what is now known as Austinville, some southwest of Richmond, Virginia. He was the second child of Moses Austin and Mary Brown, the first, Eliza, having lived only one month. On June 8, 1798, when he was four years old, his family moved forty miles west of the Mississippi River to the lead mining region in present-day Missouri. His father Moses Austin received a Sitio from the Spanish government for the mining site of Mine á Breton. In 1813, a decade after the Lousiana Purchase transferred sovereignty of the area to American hands, his father lobbied the territorial legislature to create the county of Washington and to locate the new county seat at the town he created, called Potosi in present-day Washington County, Missouri.
When Austin was eleven years old, his family sent him to be educated at Bacon Academy in Connecticut and then at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, from which he graduated in 1810. After graduating in Kentucky, Austin began studying to be a lawyer, at age twenty one he served in the legislature of the Missouri Territory. As a member of the territorial legislature, he was influential in obtaining a charter for the struggling Bank of St. Louis.
Austin was left penniless after the Panic of 1819, and decided to move south to the new Arkansas Territory. He acquired property on the south bank of the Arkansas River, in the area that would later become Little Rock. After purchasing the property he learned that the area was in consideration as the location for the new territorial capital, which could make his land worth a great deal more.
He made his home in Hempstead County, Arkansas. Two weeks before the first territorial elections in 1820, Austin declared his candidacy for Congress. His late entrance meant that his name did not appear on the ballot in two of the five counties, but he still placed second in the field of six candidates. He was later named a judge for the First Circuit Court. Over the next few months, Little Rock did become the territorial capital, but Austin's claim to land in the area was contested and the courts ruled against him. The Territorial Assembly also reorganized the government, abolishing Austin's judgeship. Austin then moved to Louisiana. He reached New Orleans in November of 1820, where he met and stayed with New Orleans lawyer and former Kentucky congressman Joseph H. Hawkins and made arrangement to study law.
Austin had boarded the steamer Beaver and departed New Orleans to meet Spanish officials lead by Erasmo Seguín. He was at Natchitoches, Louisiana, on July 10, 1821, when he learned of his father's death. "This news has effected me very much, he was one of the most feeling and affectionate Fathers that ever lived. His faults I now say, and always have, were not of the heart."
His party traveled the in three weeks to San Antonio with the intent of reauthorizing his father's grant, arriving on August 12. While in transit, they learned that Mexico had declared its independence from Spain, and Texas had become a Mexican province rather than a Spanish territory. In San Antonio, the grant was reauthorized by Governor Antonio María Martínez, who allowed Austin to explore the Gulf Coast between San Antonio and the Brazos River in order to find a suitable location for a colony. As guides for the party, Manuel Becerra, along with three Aranama Indians, went with the expedition.
Austin advertised the opportunity in New Orleans, stating that the land was available along the Brazos and Colorado rivers. A family of a husband, wife and two children would receive at twelve and a half cents per acre. In December 1821, the first U.S. colonists crossed into the granted territory by land and sea, on the Brazos River in present day Brazoria County, Texas.
When the Emperor of Mexico, Agustín de Iturbide, abdicated in March 1823, the law was annulled once again. In April 1823, Austin induced the congress to grant him a contract to bring 300 families into Texas. He wanted honest, hard-working, people who would make the colony a huge success. In 1824 the congress passed a new immigration law that allowed the individual states of Mexico to administer public lands and open them to settlement under certain conditions. In March 1825 the legislature of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas passed a law that was similar to the one authorized by Iturbide. The law continued the system of empresarios, as well as granting each married man a league of land, 4,428 acres (18 km²), with the stipulation that he must pay the state thirty dollars within six years.
By late 1825, Austin had brought the first 300 families, now known in Texas history as the Old Three Hundred, to the grant. Austin had obtained further contracts to settle an additional 900 families between 1825 and 1829. He had effective civil and military authority over the settlers, but he was quick to introduce a semblance of American law - the Constitution of Coahuila y Tejas was agreed on in November 1827. Also, Austin organized small, informal armed groups to protect the colonists, which evolved into the Texas Rangers. Despite his hopes Austin was making little money from his endeavors; the colonists were unwilling to pay for his services as empresario and most of the money gained was spent on the processes of government and other public services.
It was during these years that Austin sought to establish Freemasonry in Texas. Freemasonry was well established among the educated classes of Mexican society. It had been introduced among the aristocracy loyal to the House of Bourbon, and the conservatives had total control over the Order. By 1827 Americans living in Mexico City had introduced the American York Rite of Freemasonry as a liberal alternative to the established European-style Scottish Rite. On February 11, 1828, Austin called a meeting of Freemasons at San Felipe for the purpose of electing officers and petitioning the Masonic Grand Lodge in Mexico City for a charter to form a lodge. Austin was elected Worshipful Master of the new lodge. Although the petition reached Matamoros, and was to be forwarded to Mexico City, nothing more was heard of it. By 1828, the ruling faction in Mexico was afraid that the liberal elements in Texas might try to gain their independence. Fully aware of the political philosophies of American Freemasons, the Mexican government outlawed Freemasonry on October 25, 1828. In 1829, Austin called another meeting where it was decided that it was "impolitic and imprudent, at this time, to form Masonic lodges in Texas.
He was active to promote trade and to secure the good favor of the Mexican authorities, aiding them in the suppression of the Fredonian Rebellion of Haden Edwards. However, with the colonists numbering over 11,000 by 1832 they were becoming less conducive to Austin's cautious leadership, and the Mexican government was also becoming less cooperative - concerned with the growth of the colony and the efforts of the U.S. government to buy the state from them. The Mexican government had attempted to stop further U.S. immigration as early as April 1830, but again the skills of Austin had gained an exemption for his colonies. He gave 640 acres to the husband, 320 to the wife, 160 for every child, and 80 for every slave.