Early settlers coming to Texas received grants of land by the Spanish, Mexican and Republic of Texas governments. Spain issued land grants as early as 1716 to groups of colonists for settlement in towns, then to individuals beginning in 1767. The Spanish government passed a measure in 1820 to open Texas to foreigners who were to be Catholic (or convert to Catholicism), industrious and willing to become Spanish citizens in return for generous land grants. In January 1821, Moses Austin was promised a contract for land in exchange for bringing 300 Catholic families to settle in Texas. After his death in June of that year, his son Stephen F. Austin took over the contract.
Wanting to defend Texas from United States expansionism and hostile Indians, Mexico continued the Spanish colonization plan after its independence in 1821 by granting contracts to "empresarios," land agents who would settle and supervise selected, qualified immigrants. Thirty or so colonization contracts were made during the Mexican-ruled period of Texas, settling some 9,000 families. All grants were defined by more or less definite geographical boundaries and all empresarios had six years in which to carry out their contracts.
Anglo-Americans were drawn by inexpensive land and believed annexation of Texas to the United States was likely and would improve the market for the land. Some settlers were fleeing debts and sought refuge in the Mexican colony, where they were safe from American creditors. Immigrants to Texas faced isolation and hardship as they established their homesteads and made their living from the land.
Land was also granted to settlers by the Republic of Texas. The 1836 Constitution stated that all heads of families living in Texas on March 4, 1836, except Africans and Indians, were granted "first class" headrights of one league and one labor (4,605.5 acres), and single men one-third of a league (1,476.1 acres). Both the Republic of Texas and State of Texas granted lands for military service during the Texas Revolution.
A few colonization contracts were granted by the Republic of Texas. The last colony allowed to be created was the Mercer colony, by a contract signed on January 29, 1844. Upon annexation of Texas to the United States, the Convention of 1845 called for colony contracts to be ended.
The links shown below to the items displayed in this exhibit will open in PDF format in a separate window or tab. The documents are shown here in their entirety so some of the files contain multiple pages.
Travis family Bible, Artifacts collection, 1903/001. The Travis family Bible was last in the possession of a granddaughter of William Barret Travis before it was deposited in 1903 with the Texas State Archives, which finalized purchase of the relic in 2013. Pages record Travis family events, including the marriage of Travis to Rosanna Cato in 1828 and the births of their son, Charles Edward, and daughter, Susan Isabella.
Map of Texas with Parts of Adjoining States, Stephen F. Austin. Published by H.S. Tanner, Philadelphia, 1836. Map #409c. Austin's "Map of Texas" was the first broadly accurate map of Texas to be published and greatly influenced the perception of Texas before and during the Republic period.
Mexican passport issued to Benjamin Roberto Milam after he returned to Mexico and became a citizen, in Spanish, dated July 30, 1824. Nacogdoches Archives, 004-49, Folder 2. In 1826 Milam received an empresario contract to settle 300 families between the Guadalupe and Colorado Rivers north of the San Antonio Road.
Mercer colony contract, January 29, 1844. Colonization records, Texas Secretary of State, 2-9/27, Folder 1 (INV 9125). This was the last colonization contract created in Texas, signed one day before the Congress of the Republic passed a law to prohibit this system of settlement.