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Stephen F. Austin’s Role in Texas History Essay

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Updated: Jun 24th, 2021

The name of Stephen Fuller Austin can be seen all across Texas. There is a Stephen F. Austin State University, as well as a Stephen F. Austin State Park.1 These places, along with a number of museums and exhibitions, are dedicated to the state’s founder, Stephen F. Austin. He was born on November 3, 1793 in the state of Virginia and carries the name the “Father of Texas,” not without reason.2 Austin was raised during a time when the United States was still a recently formed country, having been established less than twenty years before in 1776. Thus, he was able to see how the nation was changing and expanding its territories. One of the regions that had not belonged to the U.S. initially was given to Austin as an opportunity for settlement. Several years later, Austin brought families and households to Texas and contributed to the creation of an independent republic.

Stephen’s parents were Moses and Mary Brown Austin.3 Moses Austin, Stephen’s father, was also an important figure in the history of Texas. The entire Austin family greatly influenced the formation of the region, although their contemporaries might not have paid much attention to their activities in the area.4 The recognition of Stephen and Moses and their achievements came much later in history. In the early days of his life, Stephen F. Austin lived first in Wythe County, Virginia. He then moved with his parents to Missouri.5 Before this change, Stephen’s father was trying to obtain a grant—a donation for settlers issued by Spain.6 Such urgency for settlement was guided by the need to “form a barrier against the British Canadians.”7

Moses Austin, being a long-time resident of the region, knew much about Missouri. His knowledge and experience allowed him to travel to new and barely-explored areas During these travels, he found an uninhabited territory with many opportunities for mining. However, this region was empty and the mining activities were reduced to a few months in a year, since workers were met with hostility from the local Osage Indians.8 Thus, Moses moved his family to the region, where Stephen F. Austin spent his childhood.

Later on, Austin traveled again for education, living in Connecticut and Kentucky. In the first of the two states, Austin went to a school called Bacon Academy situated in Colchester.9 Then, in Kentucky, he attended a private college called Transylvania University.10 Though his academic path did not end here, Stephen went back home for a time, assisting Moses with his pursuits. The War of 1812 made it difficult for the family to run their business and staggered the industry’s growth.11 In 1817, Stephen was able to take over his father’s activities. He also was a member of the House of Representatives from 1814 to 1820.12

During his last years of service in the House, Congress established the new territory of Arkansas. In 1819, the surge to migrate there from Missouri and other states increased rapidly.13 Stephen moved there as well, hoping to achieve more than he could by working on his father’s businesses. As he still served in Missouri, he was not able to win an election for Congress in Arkansas. Nevertheless, Stephen was appointed as the judge of the “first judicial district of Arkansas” in July of 1820.14 After only a few months, Stephen moved again, and was forced to give up his position. During his stay in Arkansas, his father acquired another grant in Spanish Texas. Unfortunately, Moses had fallen ill with pneumonia and expressed his wish to transfer the grant to his son.15

Stephen, who was residing with his friend, Joseph H. Hawkins, at the time, was unsure of his future in Texas.16 However, after he received some financial help from Hawkins, Stephen agreed to finish his father’s project. In 1821, Austin arrived in Louisiana and met with a postmaster Erasmo Seguín, with whom Stephen and his companions continued to travel to their final destination.17 The next stop was San Antonio, where the men arrived to claim Austin’s grant by speaking to Antonio Martínez, a local Governor.18 However, this plan was made more difficult by Mexico’s war, which resulted in the region acquiring independence from Spain in 1821.19 Austin did not give up his father’s idea and continued to negotiate his right to this land with Mexican authorities. His efforts were a success; by 1825, he was able to bring 300 families to the region.20 He continued to bring in more families and helped them to establish their lives in the new area, although he was met with some criticisms and the inability to receive any payments.

Austin tried to work within the established laws, and his perseverance allowed him to establish working relations with the Mexican government. However, his push for Texas to become independent ended with his imprisonment.21 In later years, as the Texas Revolution was gaining momentum and Anglo settlers were uniting against Mexican rule, Austin returned from Mexico to Texas and announced his candidacy for president after the Republic of Texas was established.22 In the end, he lost the race to Sam Houston, a soldier who had participated in the main confrontation for Texas becoming independent, the Battle of San Jacinto.23 Unfortunately, shortly after being appointed as the first secretary of state, Austin developed pneumonia and died.24 His legacy and hard work to bring Anglo settlers to Texas were later recognized by people who proclaimed him the father of Texas.

Bibliography

Barker, Eugene C. The Life of Stephen F. Austin, Founder of Texas, 1793-1836: A Chapter in the Westward Movement of the Anglo-American People. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010.

Cummins, Light Townsend, and Mary L. Scheer, eds. Texan Identities: Moving beyond Myth, Memory, and Fallacy in Texas History. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2016.

Haley, James L. Stephen F. Austin and the Founding of Texas. New York: The Rosen Publishing Books, 2003.

Scheer, Mary L., ed. Eavesdropping on Texas History. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2017.

Texas Parks and Wildlife. Web.

Humanities Texas. Web.

Footnotes

  1. “Stephen F. Austin State Park History,” Texas Parks and Wildlife, Web.
  2. “Stephen F. Austin,” Humanities Texas, Web.
  3. James L. Haley, Stephen F. Austin and the Founding of Texas (New York: The Rosen Publishing Books, 2003), 7.
  4. Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin, Founder of Texas, 1793-1836: A Chapter in the Westward Movement of the Anglo-American People (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010), 4.
  5. Haley, Stephen F. Austin, 7.
  6. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin, 13.
  7. Ibid., 8.
  8. Ibid., 10.
  9. Ibid., 17.
  10. Ibid., 19.
  11. Ibid., 21.
  12. Ibid., 21.
  13. Ibid., 22.
  14. Ibid., 22.
  15. Mary L. Scheer, ed., Eavesdropping on Texas History (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2017), 32.
  16. Ibid., 28.
  17. Ibid., 31.
  18. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin, 31.
  19. Ibid., 43.
  20. Ibid., 203.
  21. Haley, Stephen F. Austin, 54.
  22. Ibid., 102.
  23. Light Townsend Cummins and Mary L. Scheer, eds., Texan Identities: Moving beyond Myth, Memory, and Fallacy in Texas History (Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2016), 43.
  24. Haley, Stephen F. Austin, 94.
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