May 03 2015

Recently independent from Spain, Mexico was eager to populate her northern territory. Parts of Texas were open to Anglo American colonization by qualified families. The first set of families to take advantage of Mexico’s liberalized immigration policies were those that settled in 1822 along the Brazos River as part of Austin’s colony. In 1824, San Felipe de Austin was established as the colony’s capital.

In 1824, Mexico adopted a federalist constitution giving power to the states. The new state of Coahuila y Tejas was responsible for implementing the new General Colonization Law within its borders. Would-be Empresarios, inspired by Austin’s success, the decentralization of Mexican authority, and inexpensive land petitioned the Mexican government. 

In 1825, Green Dewitt was granted an Empresario contract to settle land immediately to the southwest of Austin’s colony. In 1827, the current site of Gonzales on the Guadalupe River was established as the colony’s capitol.

In the 1820s, all roads in Texas lead to San Antonio. San Antonio as the capitol of the district of Béxar (the Texas portion of the new state of Coahuila y Tejas), served as the authority between the Mexican government and the new colonies. 

As Austin’s San Felipe grew to become a commercial and political center for the Anglo-American colonists, so too did the importance of the road linking it to San Antonio. DeWitt’s Gonzales was the settlement between these capitols. 

The Mexican government hired the surveyor Byrd Lockhart to lay out the road that connected San Felipe de Austin, Gonzales, and San Antonio. By the end of 1827, Lockhart had completed his survey in exchange for expenses and four leagues of land (17,714 acres). 

Lockhart’ request for payment characterized the road as being 169 miles long and as being wide enough to accommodate large wagons. That same year, Lockhart completed his survey of the town tract of Gonzales along this same road.

Mexican President Guadalupe Victoria wanted to better understand the landscape, population, and boundaries of the Tejas province. He dispatched General Manuel de Mier y Terán to travel from Mexico City to Nacogdoches as head of a ‘Boundary Commission’. Terán’s travels into Texas included visits to San Antonio, Gonzales, and San Felipe along the newly minted road. 

The group’s diaries offer remarkable insight into contemporary life in the colonies. Terán’s reported experiences in Gonzales and particularly San Felipe would have dramatic consequences. While visiting San Felipe, the group’s diarist Lt. José María Sánchez recorded:

This village has been settled by Mr. Stephen F. Austin, a native of the United States of the North. Its population is nearly two hundred persons, of which only ten are Mexicans... The Americans are... in my opinion, lazy people of vicious character. Some of them cultivate their small farms, but this task they usually entrust to their Negro slaves, whom they treat with considerable harshness... 

Sánchez made the fateful prediction:

…. In my judgment, the spark that will start the conflagration that will deprive us of Texas, will start from this colony… 

Terán’s observations and recommendations were reported to the Mexican government and became the foundation for the Law of April 6, 1830. This law forbid any new Anglo-American immigration into the state, forbid the importation of slaves, rescinded the property tax exemption previously enjoyed by immigrants, and instituted a custom duty tax on imports from the United States.