Austin’s Old Three Hundred

1833 map of Coahuila and Texas

The two main plantation families in my historical novel, At What Cost, Silence, are members of those southerners who settled along or near the Brazos River under the auspices of Stephen Austin in the early 1800s.

Above is an 1833 map of Coahuila and what we now know as Texas. The pink area on the gulf was the land reserved for Austin’s colony of 300 settlers. This land belonged to Mexico at the time, not the United States or Texas.

Above is a photo I took of a map of Austin’s Colony through glass when I visited Washington-on-the Brazos in 2013. The most obvious squiggly line coming up from the lower right is the Brazos River near which most of the plantations settled. You can also see how many rivers and streams cover the area, nothing like the dry plans most people think of when they consider West Texas. In many ways, East Texas is more like Louisiana, with moss-covered live oaks, rolling hills, mosquitoes and, at the time, even an alligator or three.

After Mexico’s revolution from Spain in 1822, Stephen Austin went to Mexico City and received a grant affirmed by the new government.

The first colonists had actually arrived in December 1821 on New Years Creek and stated it was a “never failing rock bottom creek that lies in a gentle valley with wood and water readily available.”

Most of the three hundred settled along the west side of the Brazos River. Each family engaged in farming was to receive one labor (about 177 acres) and each ranching family one sitio (about 4,428 acres). Each family’s sitio was to have a frontage on the river equal to about one-fourth of its length. Most of the labors were arrange in three groups around San Felipe de Austin, which form the nucleus of the colony.

Many were farmers and many had substantial means before they arrived.

My main character’s papa, Paien Villere (At What Cost, Silence?), arrived on his tract, or sitio, from Virginia with his overseer, his wife Isabella, and his few slaves in July 1824.

In 1830 a Mexican decree temporarily stops colonization in Texas, California and other territories.

Mexico also tried to prohibit slaves, but influential settler Austin reasoned that the success of his colonies needed slave labor and the economics it produced to lure more whites to the area. Austin used his relationships to get an exemption from the law in the Austin Colony.

In 1832 Paien’s first son Lucien is born and Isabella dies in childbirth. The slave Rosanne Hayes take over the house and raises Lucien.

In 1833 Austin returns to Mexico City to present a petition for separate statehood, but was kept in prison for most of two years. The petition was denied.

Independence Hall today at Washington-on-the-Brazos

Texas representatives at the small town of Washington, Washington County on the Brazos River decide to declare their independence from Mexico and secede in 1835.


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