Moses Austin, the grandfather of Texas
Many historians have called Stephen F. Austin the “Father of Texas” for his efforts to bring the first settlers from the United States to Texas. But the story begins with his own father, the businessman and visionary Moses Austin, who in his own way became the “grandfather of Texas”.
Moses Austin was born in Connecticut in October 1761, already part of a pioneering tradition. His ancestors arrived in the first waves of settlers from England at the beginning of the 17th century. His father, Elias Austin, was a man of many trades and had worked as a tailor, tavern owner and farmer. He thus learns his father’s business acumen and soon wishes to embark on more lucrative professions.
Austin had a keen business acumen. In 1784 he joined his older brother, Stephen Austin, in a successful dry goods business in Philadelphia. Here, Moses Austin married Mary Brown in 1785, the daughter of a wealthy iron mine owner, and the two are said to have five children.
Eager to build on their success in Pennsylvania, the Austin moved to Virginia to expand their dry goods business and engage in mining. In 1789, the brothers helped build the Virginia State Capitol building, designed by Thomas Jefferson. The Austin, through their lead mining company, constructed the building’s original roof. The two quickly expanded their mining operations to southwest Virginia. They founded the small community of Austinville to support their lead and zinc mines in the area. However, the mine played out in a few years. With money problems mounting, Moses Austin moved to Missouri in 1798 to establish a new series of mines.
By the time the United States bought the region from France in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase, Austin was already an established business leader in the region. He made his fortune in the mining industry and founded several communities along the Mississippi River. While in Missouri, he and a group of business partners formed the Bank of St. Louis, which was the first bank established west of the Mississippi River. Although the effort did not last long, the bank helped solidify Saint-Louis’ position as a major trading center.
The panic of 1819 wiped out the mining fortune of Moses Austin. Deeply in debt and frustrated, he began to look for new avenues to repay business partners and creditors. His vision turned to the colonization of Texas.
At the time, Spain was struggling to retain its vast empire in the New World. Its territories, stretching from California to Texas via South America in 1819, were sparsely colonized in many areas and difficult to defend or develop. Austin’s proposal to bring American settlers to the area and develop new communities was met with deep skepticism in December 1820. After an initial rejection by the Spanish governor of San Antonio, Austin convinced the man to respected local business, Felipe Neri, Baron de Bastrop, to appeal. in his name. Due to the baron’s appeals, the governor reluctantly agreed. Eventually, several thousand acres were offered for settlement.
The trip to Texas exhausted Austin. In his already weakened condition, he worked obsessively to make his Texas settlements a success when his fragile health collapsed. Determined to make his Texan dream come true, he enlisted the support of his son. With his dying strength, he asked his wife to write a letter to their son begging him to continue his father’s work. Moses Austin died in June 1821. Their son, the ever-faithful and devoted Stephen F. Austin, accepted his father’s mission and quickly embarked on his destiny, paving the way for the first American colonies in Texas.
Ken Bridges is a native of Texas, a writer and professor of history. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.