The American pioneer Stephen Fuller Austin (1793-1836) was the chief colonizer of Texas. With the exception of Utah, no other state so owes its existence to one man.
Born in Austinville, Wythe County, Va., on Nov. 3, 1793, Stephen Austin moved to Missouri in 1798, where his father, Moses Austin, engaged in lead mining and land speculation. Stephen attended Colchester Academy in Connecticut and Transylvania University in Kentucky before returning home. In Missouri he served in the state legislature from 1814 to 1820, was a director of the Bank of St. Louis and an officer in the state militia, and became active in lead mining, land speculation, and manufacturing.
When the Panic of 1819 bankrupted the family enterprises, Austin moved to Arkansas, where he was appointed a district judge. In August 1820 he moved again, seeking in Louisiana a means of making enough money to repay the family's debts. In New Orleans he read law and worked on a newspaper.
His father died in June 1821, leaving Austin a newly acquired permit to colonize 300 families in Spanish Texas. He traveled to Mexico City in 1822-1823 to secure Mexican recognition of the Spanish grant. This done, he colonized the 300 families, as well as an additional 750 families under subsequent contracts.
Small of stature, lean and wiry, with fine features, thick hair, and brown eyes, Austin was a dignified and reserved man. A bachelor given to self-analysis, he led the Texan colonists by means of his forceful personality and persuasive writings. He mapped and surveyed much of Texas, translated Mexican laws, fixed the land system, and served as civil and military liaison with the Mexican authorities. He also organized the Texan defenses against the Indians.
In 1833 he journeyed to Mexico City to represent the Texan desire for separate statehood. He was arrested on charges of sedition and imprisoned, but never tried. Released in 1835, he returned to Texas, where he joined the faction fighting the dictatorship of Antonio López de Santa Ana. At the outbreak of the fighting, he became commander in chief of the Texan military forces, but in November 1835 he was sent to the United States to seek assistance and, later, recognition of independence.
At the end of the Texas revolution, he reluctantly ran for president of the new republic against the hero of the war, Samuel Houston. Defeated, Austin accepted the position of secretary of state in the Houston administration. He died on Dec. 27, 1836, of pneumonia. His quiet, effective leadership during the years 1821-1836 is recognized in numerous ways in Texas; the capital city, a county, and a college are named in his honor. His statue in the national capitol was placed there by grateful citizens of the Lone Star State.
Eugene C. Barker's standard The Life of Stephen F. Austin (1925) depicts in detail the career of this remarkable colonizer and places him in the context of American history. David M. Vigness, The Revolutionary Decades, 1810-1836 (1965), traces Austin's career in the Texas revolution. Most of the known writings by Austin are contained in Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols., 1924-1928).
Warren, Betsy, Moses Austin and Stephen F. Austin: a gone to Texas dual biography, Dallas, Tex.: Hendrick-Long Pub. Co., 1996.
Austin, Stephen F. (Stephen Fuller), Fugitive letters, 1829-1836: Stephen F. Austin to David G. Burnet, San Antonio, Tex.: Trinity University Press, 1981. □