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The Baron in Texas
 
The Empresario Arrives


Stephen F. Austin was living a quiet, nine to five life as an attorney's assistant in New Orleans when his father began writing letters urging him to join his colonization efforts in Texas.  After Stephen politely declined, Moses had family and friends send letters reminding Stephen that it was his “family duty” to help his father. Again, Stephen said, “no thanks” and suggested his brother go in his place. Moses then wrote to Stephen's boss, attorney Joseph Hawkins, offering free land in his new colony if the attorney could convince Stephen to at least come to Texas and check it out.

That did it. Hawkins essentially laid off Stephen with a “leave of absence” until he returned from Texa
s. Stephen reluctantly agreed and headed for Bexar, (bay-har) modern day San Antonio, Texas where he was to join his father. Along the way Stephen stopped at the Louisiana border town of Natchitoches. There, he was to meet with settlers who had already signed up to join the colony in response to several ads Moses had placed in local newspapers and lead them to Texas.

 

Stephen and his party had already crossed into Texas before a rider from New Orleans caught up with him bearing shocking news. Moses had died suddenly of pneumonia, a relapse of the same illness that had plagued him on his return trip from Bexar months earlier. Understandably shocked but undaunted, Stephen and his settlers continued onward to Texas, finally arriving in Bexar at eleven o’clock in the morning on August 12th, 1821. As he had done for Moses a year earlier, the Baron de Bastrop was there to greet Stephen and offered his services as a translator and foreign adviser. The young Austin agreed.

Over the next nine days the Baron and Stephen remained in Bexar engaged in numerous discussions over the colony's future. Ironically, they discovered they communicated best in the French language. In his early sixties, the Baron was still an impressive figure of a man, described as “stout” with a kind face and a wise demeanor. It wasn't long before the Baron became a mentor to the twenty-seven-year-old, forming a father / son relationship that will later become in many ways stronger than the relationship Stephen had with own father, Moses.

During the next four months the Baron continued making preparations for the colony while Stephen was exploring the land within the grant. He then returned to New Orleans and back to Texas in January of 1822 with another group of settlers, known today as the “Old Three Hundred.”

Folks continued to arrive over the following months and soon the colony took shape in the form of two settlements:
One on the Colorado river at a site known as Montezuma's Indian village in the present-day town of Columbus, which was originally named Montezuma until Texas' independence in 1836. The other settlement was along the Brazos River, in the present-day town of San Felipe, which became an historic site which you can still visit today.

The colony business was booming things were going well for the Baron and Stephen. The new American settlers had begun clearing land, cultivating the soil, and preparing for the first planting season. But in early 1822, news arrived at both settlements that almost doomed their efforts to extinction.

During the past six months a quiet revolution had occurred. After a decade of constant skirmishes and guerrilla warfare, the Spanish relinquished control over the lands of Mexico to the Mexicans. A different government was now in charge and its leaders didn't recognize the validity of Moses' original petition with Spain.

To continue colonizing Texas, Stephen would have to submit yet another petition with the new Mexican government. He initially thought he would be away only a month or so, as he assumed this new government would certainly honor his father's contract.

When Stephen headed south for Mexico in March of 1822, little did he know that because of the turmoil in the newly formed Mexican government, he would spend over a year in Mexico City negotiating that new contract.

 

The Baron Is An Influencer

 

The Baron knew this government change was huge. He and Stephen were no longer dealing with the Spanish officials with whom he'd spent years cultivating a relationship. These were new folks, most of whom he'd never met. He knew if he could secure their trust, Stephen would have a better chance of successfully renegotiating his father's contract.

The Baron also knew the best and quickest way to gain that trust was through the accolades of someone else. It's always more effective for someone to espouse your virtues than it is for you to do it yourself. Especially someone well-known and respected.

In early February of 1822 the Baron told Stephen that he was going to Bexar, but instead, headed for Mexico City. A full month ahead of Stephen he carried with him a letter of introduction from Spanish Governor Martinez describing the Baron's exemplary service to Spain. Although no longer governor, Martinez had a lot of credibility with the new Mexican officials.

Th
e letter was very effective as it opened doors to meetings with other high-ranking officials. In those meetings the Baron spoke favorably of Stephen and his colonization efforts, pointing out that the colonies would offer the same benefit for Mexico as they had for Spain, a line of defense against Indian raids.

Deliberately or not, less than an hour before Stephen arrived, the Baron left Mexico City and returned to the colonies where he questioned a political insider on the intentions of the United States with regard to the new Mexican government, which now had an Emperor as its leader. Although he never spoke about his trip, there's little doubt his reason was to “pave the way” for Stephen and to hone his political skills. The alliances the Baron forged while in Mexico City will eventually position the colonies very favorably within the Mexican government.

Case in point. During the summer of 1822, the Baron became a close confidant with the man who replaced Martinez as Governor of Texas, Jose Trespalacios. [tres-pa-la-ci-ose] He performed many diplomatic duties for the new governor including serving as interpreter during the signing of several articles of agreement between Mexico and the Cherokee Indians.

But by November, Stephen was still in Mexico City and the colonists were getting very nervous. Rumors began spreading that the colonies may be disbanded, and the settlers would lose everything.
The Baron quickly discussed the matter with his new friend the governor, who declared it lawful for the colonies to create their own local government and ordered the Baron to establish one.

This was an amazing turn of events, an American colony on foreign soil locally governed by its own laws. Whether he realized it or not, the Baron de Bastrop was just placed in charge of the very first step toward an independent Texas

 

 

The Baron Conducts Elections

 

The Baron journeyed to the Colorado settlement first and immediately assured the colonists that the new Mexican government had everything well under control and to show their support, he was to oversee political elections in which they would also elect military officers.

The Baron was also ordered to establish the same local government at the Brazos settlement but was unable to so due to flood waters from the Brazos River. He deputized one of the colonists, Josiah Bell, to travel to the settlement as soon as the waters receded to perform the elections according to very specific instructions the Baron had given him.

Immediately upon his return, the Baron made a full report to the governor having had only one casualty on the entire trip, t
he loss of his luggage in the swollen Guadalupe River.

The governor in turn sent a letter to his superior, Commandant Casper Lopez, stating the colonies now had local governance and praised the Baron for his service to Mexico. Lopez was very pleased and took notice of the governor's new Dutch friend. Whether intentional or not, the Baron was gaining significant political power.

 

Although Stephen F. Austin had proven his loyalty to the Mexican government time and again, he was still considered to be an “outsider,” an “American” who couldn't totally be trusted. On the other hand, the Baron had been a resident of Texas for nearly twenty years and a dedicated public servant of Bexar, plus he commanded the respect of the colonists. To the Mexicans, he was their ally and the perfect ambassador to the colonies.


There's no doubt that the Baron's influence in the Mexican political circles was growing. While Stephen F. Austin's shipment of tobacco was steaming its way toward Texas, a new Mexican law was being passed prohibiting the importing of anything from New Orleans, where the shipment had originated.

Upon arrival at the Port of Lavaca, the tobacco was confiscated and Littleberry Hawkins, son of Stephen's former boss in New Orleans, called on the Baron who quickly negotiated a settlement with the Dock Master. As a result, the young Hawkins became very fond of the Baron and sought his guidance on several other occasions. He was often quoted as saying that “he did nothing without consulting the Baron first.”

During his visits to the settlements the Baron bonded with many of the colonists. Some were curious about his title, and he told them he'd received it while serving in the Prussian Army under Frederick the Great. He imparted many other stories of how he was forced to leave his homeland of Holland as a result of the French revolution.

He dazzled the colonists with stories of secret missions for the King of Spain for which he was awarded a land grant in Louisiana, property he no longer owned because of the injustice imposed on him by the U.S. after the Louisiana purchase.

One of the few descriptions of the Baron stated he was man with an impressive stature, a very articulate, intelligent speaker and an excellent moderator -- traits that endeared him to both Americans and Mexicans alike.

For years after the Baron's death, it was speculated that the fantastic stories he told were fabrications, nothing more than the tall tales of an old man.
But now with most of the world's documents online, it's easy to verify that most are in fact, true. Some will be covered in upcoming tales of the Baron.

The Baron Is Elected President Of Texas

In late 1822 the Baron was elected for a second time as second alcalde, a position much like a mayor or city manager, of the Bexar ayuntamiento, the city government. But soon after his election the first alcalde had to resign, leaving the Baron in charge and second in command of Texas behind Trespalacios.

During this time, the Mexican government was still in a state of organized chaos. Spain had drained the area of capital and resources during the ten long years of the Mexican r
evolution. The nation of Mexico started out with very little cash and a lot of debt. The emperor had dissolved the Mexican Congress and many including, oddly enough, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, demanded that the emperor himself be dissolved and replaced with a government in which the states were in charge. His demand would soon be met.

In a sweeping reform known as “Plan de Casa Mata,” the emperor was deposed and each province in Mexico formed a provisional state government called a “Junta.”  The Texas Junta elected Governor Trespalacios as President and the Baron as Vice President. But the new President had been slow in accepting “Casa Mata” and feared repercussions because of his loyalty to the now defunct emperor. He and his family fled Texas, leaving the Baron behind as President of the Texas Junta. The Baron de Bastrop was now the highest ranking official over the colonies and all of Texas.

But the Baron had inherited a very dangerous situation. The other states had not yet realized Texas had accepted “Casa Mata” and labeled the state a “traitor.”  Troops were being banded together including General Santa Anna's battalion, who were to march into the state and force the traitors into submission, which ironically, he would do some 16 years later at the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto.  The Baron immediately sent two commissioners from Texas to Mexico City with specific instructions on how to convince the central government that Texas was indeed, on-board with “Casa Mata.”

Soon after, in what was described as a “dynamic speech,” the Baron reminded the central government that Texas had been loyal to the Mexican revolution since its inception in 1810.  The delay was caused only because “Casa Mata” was nearly identical to the other federal plans being supported at the time -- that it was just “simply hard for Texans to choose.”

However odd, the tactic seemed to work. By May of 1823 news had reached the colony that the other states were relieved Texas had finally joined them and as one general put it, “happy this puts an end to a difference of opinion that would have kindled a war.” During the summer the three states of Mexico each created a congress called a “Provincial Deputation” which sent a deputy to represent the state in the Mexican central government.

Meanwhile, Stephen was still tied up in Mexico City trying to get his colonization plan officially recognized by a yet unstable government. Fearing the colonists would lose faith in him and abandon the colonies, Stephen, in a letter to his brother Brown, hoped the government would send a letter to the colonists assuring them of the Baron's success regarding the “Casa Mata” incident.

As soon as the Baron heard of this, he penned a proclamation and had a rider post copies in each settlement stating that as acting president of the Junta, the Casa Mata "misunderstanding" had indeed been resolved. He also promised that Stephen would most definitely return and they would receive titles to their land soon thereafter.

Tensions eased in the colony after the Baron's proclamations which allowed him to focus on yet another change of government as the Juntas were being phased out.  As his time in the Texas Junta was coming to a close, the Baron transferred the forms for Mexican citizenship to the colonists and alcaldes of the various municipalities.  He had been repeatedly denied citizenship under Spanish rule and now, he finally had a real opportunity to become a citizen of the country that governed Texas.

In his final act as president of the Junta, the Baron issued a notice on July 8th, 1823, sent to all areas of Texas including the colonies, that a new governor has been appointed to replace the office of the Junta. With that, the Baron relinquished the office of President, the Junta was dissolved and once again the Baron resumed his duties as alcalde of Bexar.

It's interesting to note that in the Gulf of Mexico, on the west end of Galveston Bay, lies two smaller bays – Trespalacios and Bastrop Bays, testaments to the first President and Vice President of Texas.

The First Land Commissioner Of Texas

The timing couldn't have been better. Stephen had finally returned from Mexico City during the previous month with instructions on how to proceed with the colony and the authority to do so. Free from the Junta and dealing with Mexico's inner turmoil, the Baron was now able to help Stephen finally create his colony.

On July 16th, 1823, the Baron was appointed as Texas' first Land Commissioner by Governor Luciano Garcia of the new temporary state government, the one that had replaced the Junta. After receiving a copy of the latest colonization law, the Baron was instructed to survey the colony's lands issue titles to the settlers organize the settlements and lay out a town which the governor had named San Felipe de Austin. It's ironic that the governor named the town San Felipe. That's the Baron's first name, Philip, in Spanish and as mentioned, what he used while in Texas. I've not discovered if this was intentional or not.

In August 1823, the Baron and Stephen arrived at the farm of Sylvanus Castleman, who described his home as being located “on Indian Hill, at the big bend, on the west bank of the Colorado river.” That translates to roughly 6 miles north-west of La Grange Texas in an area called Rabbs Prairie. In reality, "Indian Hill" is indeed a quite tall hill in otherwise flat, river-bottom land. However, it's on the east bank, not west.

Castleman was a close friend of the Austin family and had even accompanied Moses on his trip to Texas. He’d offered a portion of his property for the construction of a land office, which would serve as a “headquarters” for all colonial business within Austin's grant. But upon their arrival Castleman had grim news for the Baron and Stephen. The continuing drought and constant Indian attacks compounded by Stephen's year-long stay in Mexico City, had caused many of the colonists to lose confidence and leave.

Although most had stayed, just as the Baron had feared some the disgruntled colonists had returned to the United States and were spreading rumors of the abysmal conditions in Texas. This made the Baron even more determined to make the colony a success and immediately put a plan into action. He issued a proclamation announcing Stephen's authority as supreme officer of the colony and his new title as Land Commissioner. The proclamation concluded by stating that all who were ready to receive their titles should come to Castleman's immediately.

The Baron was eager to begin issuing titles to settlers whose land had already been laid out. He felt this would help to ease the tension in the colony and counter the blasphemous rumors. But Stephen insisted the land be surveyed first and left the colony to make a hasty inspection of the settlements. While Stephen was out on the frontier, the Baron remained to oversee the surveying job and got a first-hand look of just how bad things were after his horse was stolen from Castleman's by Indians.

The colony was constantly being bombarded by horse stealing, cattle rustling and robbery, making it next to impossible to retain the services of a surveyor. Adding to the continual Indian attacks, the Baron reported the land to be covered with a thick underbrush, making surveying a very slow process.

The area around Castleman's was so plagued with problems the Baron suggested moving the colony's headquarters to a safer location. A site overlooking the Brazos river in the town of San Felipe de Austin was chosen as there was very little underbrush and it was much more defensible. But the process of surveying remained at a snail’s pace as the settlers were taking their time choosing their land.

 

On September 8, 1823, while still supervising the surveying, the Baron was elected to serve as a deputy in the Texas Provincial Deputation. He immediately arranged for someone else to complete the surveying without having issued a single title and hurried back to Bexar at the end of September. There was much preparations he needed to make before taking his seat in January of the following year.

 

Before leaving, he told the colonists he'd return by the next March never suspecting that his new posting would delay that return.

The First State Deputy Of Texas

 

The Baron's first job in the Texas Deputation was to introduce legislation that would officially name the settlements "Austin Colony," by which they had become known. On Feb 3rd, the Baron next introduced a bill to establish the office of secretary for the colonies, a place where documents such as bills of sale, titles, and wills could be recorded.

In April of 1823, the Texas Deputation was instructed by the supreme Mexican government to verify reports of unregistered American settlers who were "squatting" on public lands near the east Texas border. Although the government had designated a twenty-league square boundary along the border which prohibited foreign settlements, there were still many American immigrants who took up residence in the prohibited area claiming they had titles issued by Spain. Others just ignored the law.


Sometime in the fall of 1823 the Baron was assigned to inspect the area and report his findings. What he discovered was shocking and bad news for an independent state government of Texas. The number of squatters was far more than anyone imagined, and many claimed they owned not only acres, but square miles of land under grants issued by Spain.

No one in the area knew exactly where the Texas – U.S. border was and to complicate matters, the Cherokee Nation had moved into the area which created a volatile mix of cultures. After the Baron's report was delivered to the Deputation on December 2, it soon became apparent that Texas alone was powerless to contain any type of uprising in that area and did not have enough resources to sustain an independent state government.

Although the Texas Deputation didn't want to relinquish its authority, a joining of Mexico's three remaining provinces, Texas, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon, seemed to be the best solution. Soon Articles of Incorporation were drafted but, in the end, it was decided that Nuevo Leon had enough resources to remain its own state. Thus, the new state of Texas 'y Coahuila was formed on May 7th, 1824 and the Baron was to remain as its sole representative.

But the problems in east Texas still had not been resolved and would eventually return to become a consistent thorn in the Baron's side.

Issuing Titles And More Unrest

 

With all the transition going on in the central government the Baron's duties in the Deputation took longer than he anticipated, which kept him from returning to the colony until early July of 1824. After his arrival, he had only a short time to complete the surveying and to issue titles. He needed to return to Bexar by August 20th to prepare for his journey to Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila, where the new state legislature would convene.

When the Baron finally did arrive at the colonies, he found the long delays in issuing titles had caused considerable unrest among the colonists, just as Stephen's long stay in Mexico City had. It had been over a year since his first attempt, and many had become very nervous about the delay in his return. Upon leaving the year before, the Baron told the colonists he would be back in March, but now he was four months overdue.

One of the Baron's first tasks was to finish what he and Stephen had set out to do a year earlier, set up a headquarters. The colony's new secretary, Samuel May Williams, donated a cabin for that purpose which to the colonists, became known as "the land office." He also officially established in Mexican law the town of San Felipe, which had been laid out the year before and was to become the capital of the colony. Finally, on July 7th, the Baron was able to begin the arduous task of issuing titles to some very anxious settlers, but it wasn't long before more unrest among the settlers began to br
ew.

 

As a provision of Stephen’s renegotiated contract, Mexico ruled that the amount of land each colonist was required to purchase be more than what the original settlers had to buy. Three times the amount. You got more land, but you had to pay more up-front than the first settlers did.

 

It wasn't the price per acre, the amount of twelve and a half cents per was actually a bargain. Land was going for much more than that in the U.S. It was the increased number of acres each settler was required to now purchase. Many of those who had responded to Austin's original advertisements balked at having to buy that much land, way more than advertised.

 

Adding to the discontentment was the fact the colonization law allowed either Stephen or the Baron to offer free land to those that had performed a service to the colony like Seth Ingram, the man the Baron had hired to complete the surveying, or the before-mentioned secretary of the colony, Samuel May Williams.

To make matters worse the fee Stephen was receiving for being the Empresario or the organizer of the colony, was being questioned, which is why the anger was directed more at Stephen than the Baron. Many of the colonist began to ask why these men were to receive additional land when they were paid for their services. Resentment grew after allegations of favoritism spread through both settlements.

Even the Mexican Political Chief Saucedo heard the rumors and became concerned that this "American may be cheating his own colonists." At first, Saucedo publicly backed Austin and denied the rumors that Stephen would be removed as Empresario. He sent proclamations to the colonists instructing them to disregard the hearsay and trust that "your leader is making fair and just decisions." But behind the scenes the chief was making plans to personally visit the colony and see for himself.

 

Apparently during his journey, even before arriving at the colony, he changed his mind about Stephen.

The Baron Takes Charge

 

The moment Chief Saucedo arrived at San Felipe in May of 1824, he annulled Stephen's twelve and a half cent fee and established a flat rate of which the Empresario – Stephen -- received absolutely nothing. Although Stephen would still receive choice land as his compensation, without this fee he would soon be flat broke. In public, Stephen kept a stiff upper lip and defended his position, but privately he felt he was ruined. He became depressed and wrote to the Baron about abandoning the colony.

“No.” the Baron wrote back. “You must ignore all of this,” he opined. He sent further letters of encouragement, telling Stephen to essentially, “hang on. I'll take care it.” Which he did. Without authorization from Spain, the Baron took it upon himself to re-write the rules. He posted a proclamation that the settlers now only had to pay two thirds of their grant fee and he allowed them two years to remit the balance. The Baron also re-routed one third of his fee as Land Commissioner to Stephen for each title issued.

 

Chief Saucedo wasn't too happy about the proclamation as it was contrary to the instructions the Baron had received concerning collections. But after the Baron reminded Saucedo that the colonies were still paying more than any other part of Texas, the chief approved the proclamation and publicly praised the Baron for his swift action. The rumors of impropriety soon faded, and Stephen F. Austin gained a new confidence in himself which he credited to the Baron. The amount of his new fee wasn't nearly as much as he'd been making, but it was enough to perk him up and keep him going.

The Baron left the colony at the end of August of 1824 after issuing 272 of the first 300 titles. He thought he would return by the following spring after serving out his term as legislator. But this was not to be.

The Baron would never see the colonies or Stephen F. Austin again, although he would tirelessly work for their benefit within the Mexican government for the rest of his life.

 

The First State Representative Of Texas

 

For weeks after his return to Bexar, the Baron worked feverishly preparing legislation he intended to introduce to the deputation, all of which was geared toward the colony's success. Drawing on his first-hand experiences and his many discussions with Stephen, he categorized the colony's needs. He strongly felt that if the settlements were to survive, they had several obstacles to overcome, which he prioritized.

First was the labor shortage. Which each settler receiving such huge tracts of land - some thousands of acres - it was impossible for even a large family to farm that much without additional laborers. Many had brought this extra help along with them in the form of slaves, but the Mexican government frowned on this practice. Many still felt Spain had enslaved them for generations and distrust immediately fell on those who promoted it.

 

It was a very delicate issue as the Baron personally found slavery a hideous practice and felt Mexico would soon outlaw it anyway. But without some form of labor force the colonies were doomed to certain failure as much of the land would go foul if no one was tilling the soil.

 

The Baron felt a possible solution could be prison labor and proposed what would become Article 44 of the new colonization law, which allowed colonists to hire government-approved convicts as an alternative to slave labor. Much like our “community service,” low-risk convicts could reduce some of their prison time by working on the colonists’ farms or receive financial compensation.

Assuming the labor issue could be solved, the next obstacle was the colonist's survival. It would take a few years of cultivation to make the land productive and the colonists would need some type of government subsidy to survive until their farms reached their full potential. The Baron included a proposal that allowed the settlers to grow tobacco, a crop only the state was allowed to grow, and that the government purchase all the colonists could produce, thus creating that subsidy. One that would sustain the settlers through those first lean years.

If the first two tasks could be accomplished, the third and final obstacle to overcome would be transporting these crops to the market. This led to the Baron's proposal for a legal port at the city of Galveston. In addition, the Baron also proposed that the colonists be re-granted some of the freedoms they had relinquished upon settling in Texas, such as the right to choose their religion. Under Mexico's current colonization law settlers had to convert to Catholicism. He further proposed the colonists be guaranteed local elections, trial by jury and improvements to the mail service. If these obstacles could be conquered, the Baron felt the colonies would certainly thrive.

Before leaving for Saltillo, the Baron mastered his pro-colony arguments and practiced pleading his case with the help of his closest friend, Jose de La Blum. He made copies of various documents he would use as references for his proposals and registered them with the Bexar archives.

 

Feeling fully prepared to speak before the legislature, the Baron left Bexar and headed south for Saltillo at the end of September 1824.
Accompanying him was a military escort which he had hired primarily for protection of the documents he'd would be carrying with him. Indians were fond of ransacking those they raided, and the Baron didn't want to risk losing weeks’ worth of work.

As he was making his way toward his new job, things were already churning in the new government of Texas 'y Coahuila, which had been in session for nearly two months when the Baron arrived. The law of 1824 that combined the states had created ten deputies for Coahuila, but only one for Texas, the Baron, which gave Coahuila a quorum with just their deputies.

 

On October 30th, 1824, the Baron was seated as the first and at the time, only legislator to represent the interests of Texas in the Mexican national government. It was discovered that, ironically, the Baron had been elected to serve in the old Texas government, the Texas Provincial Deputation, on the very day the new Deputation had been formed. In other words, he had been elected to a government that had just been officially annulled.

After a brief discussion among the legislators, it was decided that it would be a waste of time to hold another election in Texas. The Baron was very well liked and sure to be re-elected to the new Deputation anyway.
They were also anxious to finish up the passage of two bills, a state constitution and colonization law. The Deputies unanimously voted to receive the Baron and the legislature was now complete.

On October 30th, 1824, the Baron de Bastrop was seated as the first and at the time, only legislator to represent the interests of Texas in the National Mexican government. Interests that were becoming increasingly, American.

 

The Legislature

The following month on November 16th, 1824, the Baron introduced his resolution to allow the colonists to raise tobacco. Immediately many of the deputies objected, stating that other parts of the new state would demand the same right and the resolution was forwarded to the committee developing the state constitution.

A bill that had been proposed before the Baron's arrival, was to limit the power of the city governments of Monclova and Bexar, previous capital cities of Coahuila and Texas before they were combined. Since they were no longer capital cities, the legislators felt their governments were simply too large and proposed reducing their number of officers by one-half.

The Baron objected to the proposal as the Bexar ayuntamiento had been very favorable to the colonies and he had made many political alliances with some of its members. He couldn't afford to lose any support. Nevertheless, the bill was passed into law in December of 1824.

Within two months of his arrival the Baron had witnessed the legislature whittling away at Texas' political clout and realized he needed to do something to restore it. He knew that to gain concessions for Texas they would have to be wrapped inside a benefit to Coahuila. He formulated a plan that would position Texas as a way of solving some of the combined states problems and at the same time, ensure the colonies were always favorably represented in the legislature -- a campaign that began with a very convincing speech on the congressional floor.

On January 11th, 1825, the Baron addressed the Deputation about the current conditions in Texas. In the months since his inspection of the east Texas border, his prediction that the situation would get worse had come true. The unauthorized American settlements were now engaged in illegal trade with the Indians. Those American “squatters” were trading arms for the supplies the Indians would pillage during their constant raids on the colonies and city of Bexar.

It was reported by numerous witnesses the Indians would select houses for their surprise raids and kill everyone -- then take all their belongings which they would in turn, trade for rifles with the squatters in east Texas -- rifles that would be used in the next raid. Compounding this problem was the fact that Texas bordered a foreign country, namely the United States. It had a long, unsupervised coastline plus vast distances between the colonies and Bexar made them difficult to defend.

By all accounts the Baron was an outstanding orator, capturing the legislators' attention with his vivid and eloquent delivery. In his conclusion he solidified his argument by pointing out that a governor in Saltillo, a very long way from Texas, couldn't possibly monitor all of these dangerous situations. He recommended that a Texas Political Chief and Sub-Chief be established to deal with these problems.

The Baron's intense preparation and effective presentation paid off. The legislation agreed and created a special committee consisting of the Baron and two other members of the deputation, to draft a bill to deal with this issue. Although the Baron felt this new combined state would have the resources and power to finally put an end to the east Texas problem, he knew he had his work cut out for him. The deputies on his committee were from Coahuila and had strong opposition to anything that would benefit only Texas as this bill would. Getting it passed would be a struggle.

The Baron's first task was to convince his fellow committee members of the bill's merit, then have them speak in favor of it on the chamber floor, knowing it would appear to have much more validity coming from two Coahuila Deputies, than from the single Texas deputy -- another use of the Baron's strategy to have someone else “go to bat” for you.

The Baron spent days working behind the scenes, outside the legislature, speaking privately to several other influential members of the Deputation, emphasizing the benefits this bill would provide to the entire state, not just Texas. With all of his persuasive power the Baron obtained pledges of support from two deputies, Juan Campos and Francisco Gutierrez and it wasn't long before his new allies were doing exactly what the Baron had hoped, evangelizing his proposal on the chamber floor.

On February 1st of 1825, Decree #13 was passed and the office of "Political Chief of the Department of Texas" was created. Appointed by the Texas governor, the Chief was given police and military authority over land appropriations, state security, the city governments and guardianship of the coastline. The Baron's old friend and former leader of the recently dissolved Texas Deputation, Jose Saucedo, was appointed to serve as the chief. Once again, thanks to the Baron, Texas would have a local authority that was favorable to the colonies.


The Baron had developed a political strategy that worked, one he would continue to use in the dual-state Deputation. He knew that on the chamber floor he was outnumbered ten to one. In front of the legislature as many as ten voices could object, making it easy for the Coahulia Deputies to "gang up" against anything he proposed. He realized that speaking to each deputy privately, shifted those odds to a one-to-one ratio. Eliminating the unwanted influence generated in a public discussion on the legislative floor, made the Coahuila Deputies much easier to persuade.

Once one deputy was convinced, that deputy would promote the Baron's proposal on the legislative floor while he observed, making note of who he needed to work on next. Although this strategy served the Baron well, it would be put to its biggest test on his next assignment -- helping to write a national colonization law, a law that would have an enormous effect on the future history of Texas

 

The Baron Writes The Colonization Law

Immediately after the department of Texas' political chief was created, the Baron was appointed to serve on the committee writing the new state colonization law. The national law that had passed in August of 1824, turned over all authority to the states with regard to colonization. Each state would write their own colonization law and grant public lands for that purpose. But the new state of Texas 'y Coahuila had yet to write their law.

As he had done on his previous bill, the Baron went to work behind the scenes, speaking privately with his committee members and others in the legislature. But this time he found unexpected opposition for the continued American colonization of Texas. Ironically, the Deputies feared that as soon as enough Americans had settled in Texas a "tipping point" would be reached. The colonists would band together, start a revolution, and offer Texas the U.S.  Which we know now is exactly what they did.

The Baron knew that including Americans in the colonization law would be a much tougher battle to get through the legislature, than his bill for political chief had been. But he had come to Saltillo well prepared to address this issue. He and Stephen had spent considerable time together, discussing what would be beneficial to the colonies in such a law.

Also, while in San Felipe, the Baron had spent a lot of time with the colonists themselves, learning about their needs and formulating ideas he would later propose. The colonization law was complex, with individual articles on which could be voted. To compensate, the Baron slightly altered his previous political strategy. He would first casually mention individual parts of his proposal with his fellow committee members outside the legislature, again making mental notes of who agreed or disagreed.

Once determined, he would rewrite the article, keeping it mostly as-is but adding the member's comments as a provision. As before, he'd ask the member to sponsor that particular part of the bill on the floor of the legislature -- a process he would repeat with many other deputies.

 

Just like the bill for Political Chief, one after another, the deputies began promoting most of the articles the Baron had written. The first draft was presented on February 10th, 1825, and was the primary business of the legislature for the next two months. After the initial reading, the articles were debated on the floor and again, the Baron simply watched, never once addressing the legislature personally. By now, he was becoming was a master political tactician, who knew the value of having the Coahuila deputies publicly promote his ideas, while he remained silent.

The new colonization law was given its final reading and passed on March 24, 1825, with only a few minor changes to the Baron's work. It established the Empresario system as an official state colonization policy. Those who settled at least a hundred families, like Stephen F. Austin, were given the title and special compensation for their efforts such as premium lands.

 

All a potential settler had to do to obtain these grants was register their name, age, marital status, and previous residence, take an oath to obey Mexico's laws, be a Christian of "good moral character" and, convert to Catholicism. Settlers received a tax exemption for ten years; foreigners had the right to be elected as members of municipal juntas much like the local governments the Baron had established in the colonies. After living in the settlements for a certain amount of time, colonists would become naturalized citizens of Mexico. This was a personal victory for the Baron after repeatedly being denied citizenship by Spain.

 

Also, Stephen could now apply for another grant, which he did with a request to settle additional an 300 colonists. But after the Baron spoke with the Texas governor, this grant was increased to 500 families.

The colonization law had certainly accomplished the goal of continued colonization of Texas by Americans and with the help of the Baron's influence, those American colonies began to multiply. Several more Empresarios, including Hayden Edwards and Green DeWitt were granted contracts much like Stephen F. Austin's. These new grants actually surrounded Austin's colony, helping to insulate the original setters from the continuing Indian raids.

Although many of the colony's obstacles were still looming, the colonization law and the office of Texas' Political Chief were both big boosts for the continued American colonization of Texas.

In a letter to Stephen, the Baron described the laws as “the only good things the legislature had done to date."

The Baron Reports On Conditions In Texas

 

On March 6, 1825, shortly before the colonization law was passed, the Baron presented a written report to the legislature titled "Memorial on the conditions in Texas." Much like his earlier speech, the memorial vividly described a number of less dangerous, but still important problems in the Texas province.

Three of these items were of particular interest to the Texas colonies. The first was communication. Today we take for granted that just about all of the world's information is at almost everyone's fingertips. But in 1825 there was no official mail service to the colonies. To get their mail, settlers had to travel to Bexar, the last stop on the route. Many in the colonies didn't receive government notices and decrees of the new laws until long after they had been enacted.

This was causing considerable grief in the settlements as these laws were being passed daily and some colonists were in violation without even knowing it. The Baron penned a number of letters on the subject to fellow legislators and members of the national congress. He first proposed a line from Bexar to the Sabine River, where this route could link up with the U. S. postal service who would deliver the mail up the river to the colonists.

The Baron also proposed that postage rates be uniform across the state -- it cost a whopping 50 cents more to mail a letter from one colony to another, less than a fifty miles apart, that it did to send the same letter to central or south Mexico, hundreds of miles away.


The second item regarded logistics, a way for the colonists to export their goods to a global market. In his report, the Baron expanded on his proposal for a port near the present-day city of Galveston, citing the location would offer a safer and more effective global connection with Texas than the existing port at San Bernardo, which is present day Port Lavaca. He argued that Texas was finally beginning to produce bountiful crops and they would be wasted without an effective means to get them to markets outside of the state.


The legislature agreed and the resolution was forwarded to the state committee on commerce. A week later, the Baron also requested additional ports near the current cities of Freeport and Matagorda. Ports at these locations were important because it is where the Colorado and Brazos feed into the ocean, giving each of Austin's colony a direct water route to the Gulf of Mexico.

During August, the Baron read a notice stating the national government was re-opening the Spanish port of Matagorda. A bit confused, he wrote to senator Viesca, asking if this decree would cancel or replace the Galveston port. In a reply letter, Senator Ceballos stated that the Mexican President himself agreed with the Baron's assessment and not only approved the port of Galveston, but all other ports the Baron had recommended as well. Ports near present-day cities of Port Lavaca, Freeport and Galveston would soon be established with the Texas Political Chief as their guardian.

After helping to establish a trade route between Texas and the rest of the world, as the single representative of Texas the Baron spent much of his time forwarding petitions and making recommendations to the national legislature. An increasing concern revolved around the paper currency that President Trespalacios had issued just after the Mexican revolution. It was now worthless and many in Texas had been stuck with money they couldn't spend.

The Baron wrote to numerous senators requesting the money be refunded at an amount equal to the current value. He went on to suggest that even a partial refund would be acceptable. Although the Baron continued to urge the government to settle their obligation, it would take four more years before the Mexican president ordered the national treasury to repay the total amount due to the citizens of Texas.

By May of 1825, the bill the Baron had introduced the previous November that allowed colonists to raise tobacco, was still without a vote. To spur some action, he began a letter-writing campaign to the state senators with three separate proposals that would make it legal for the colonists to grow the restricted plant.

All of his proposals died in committees, which in the end, was actually fortuitous. Texas, it seems, was much better at producing cotton than tobacco
.

The Baron Forms A Coalition And Sends Cotton To The World

 

At the time, cotton was a very valuable commodity and Texas-grown cotton was among the best. The colonists had already proven that with two seasons of bumper crops. The Baron knew Europe had a huge appetite for top-quality cotton and was willing to pay a premium price for it. The problem was getting it there.

This is why control over the Texas coastline and establishing ports were so important to the Baron. Cotton was worthless if you couldn't get it to market. But now with control over the coastline and ports being constructed, the Baron began executing a plan he conceived since proposing the legislation that created the ports.

During his time in the legislature, the Baron had become close friends with several key members of the state and national governments. This friendship and trust led to a coalition between three distinctly different political groups:
* The Tejano elites in Bexar
* The American colonists
* And the Viesca brothers, wealthy capitalists based out of the Coahuilan towns of Parras (paris) and Monclova (mon-clo-va).

The Baron already had the confidence of the Tejanos, having served Bear as alcalde for many years. He also had the trust of the colonists and now with the backing o
f the Viesca brothers, the stage was set for a big boost in the Texas economy, the growing and exportation of cotton.

In this alliance, the colonists would grow and harvest the cotton, then use the Colorado and Brazos rivers to transport it to the new seaports. The Tejanos would negotiate contracts with the European buyers and the Viescas brothers would fund the entire venture.

Although it got off to a slow start the plan eventually worked and significantly boosted Texas' cotton trade for many years. This also created the subsidy for the colonists the Baron was trying to create with a tobacco crop. Turns out cotton was way more profitable anyway.

Ironically, by the late 1980s tobacco was neither being grown nor processed anywhere in Texas except at the Finck Cigar Company of San Antonio f
ounded in 1893, which continues to market its own brand of cigars to this day.

 

In contrast, by 1878, the port of Galveston was the 3rd largest cotton exporter on the American continent. By 1914, more cotton was shipped through the Port of Galveston, than any other port in the world.

 

Contributing To The State Constitution

 

.During this time the legislation had been hard at work on a constitution for the state since before the Baron arrived in Saltillo. It was the most important single piece of legislation the deputies had to settle and so far they had nothing, not a single draft.

Although the Baron's strategy was to keep his opinions to himself on the floor of the legislature, on several occasions he demanded that the constitution committee at least bring out a rough draft of their proposed ideas for public discussions and debate. But instead of preparing a draft of the entire constitution, the committee worked only on sections of it, which they would publish by decree followed by weeks of public debates.

This frustrated the Baron as he'd promised the colonists he would return “next month” to continue the colony's business, but was always delayed. If he didn't return soon, he feared the colonists would again lose faith in Stephen and once more, spread harmful rhetoric.
However, he also felt that if he didn’t stay in Saltillo and continue to lobby his fellow legislators, key provisions of the constitution wouldn't pass leaving the colonists without the subsidy they desperately needed.


Even after Stephen asked him to return to the colony, the Baron insisted that “the very essentials of colonization would be lost” if he left the legislature at this critical time to “merely issue titles on the Colorado.” The long-term success of the colonies were on the line and the Baron knew his place was in Saltillo defending them.

 

His Last Days

 

At every turn the Baron de Bastrop promoted the American colonies he helped to create. He said many times to many people that he felt personally responsible for their success. But now in his late sixties, he privately admitted after the passage of the constitution he planned to retire, and looked forward to spending what life he had left in San Felipe.

The continued stress of legislation was beginning to affect the Baron's health. In June of 1825 it was said he was “attacked by a furious cold” from which he apparently never fully recovered as his cognitive skills began slowly eroding. Within a year the Baron's doctor diagnosed him with “dropsy in the chest,” an early description of congestive heart disease.

In June of 1826 the Baron's health had declined to the point that he confessed to another Empresario, Robert Leftwitch, that he couldn't always answer Stephen’s letters because they “treated many subjects of which he knew nothing,” although he was proficient in those very same subjects a year earlier.  Even fellow legislators noticed the Baron's absent mindedness and lack of focus, for which he was once well known.

While writing several pieces of legislation for the creation of a Texas militia, on January 3rd of 1827, the Baron left the Mexico legislative halls for the last time, never to return. Extremely ill, he went to the home of Juan Padilla, the chief clerk of the congress, who immediately put his sick friend to bed.

Over the following weeks the Baron was attended by a female nurse as his condition worsened. Feeling he was close to death, on January 16 the Baron asked for pen and paper to write his will that named Stephen F. Austin as the executor of his estate. Throughout the next month the Baron's health deteriorated rapidly until 10AM on the morning of February 22, 1827, when the Baron de Bastrop passed away in the town of Saltillo, Mexico.

As a beloved member of the legislature, the president immediately appointed a committee authorizing state funds to assure the Baron had a respectable funeral, which later was reported to be “befitting of the Baron's station in life.” It was assumed the Baron's estate would have the financial means to cover the funeral expenses, but it was quickly discovered the Baron has died a pauper, penniless.

Upon executing his last will and testament in 1827, surprisingly, the Baron named a woman in Holland as his wife, although while in Texas, he had never spoken of being married. Because he had nothing to bequeath her, she was never contacted, and this fact was forgotten.

Nearly 100 years later author Eugene C. Barker noticed this fact during the publishing of “The Austin Papers,” a collection of Moses' and Stephen F. Austin's documents which includes the Baron's Will. Barker states in a footnote he did not attempt verify the woman's identity, or if she was actually ever married to the Baron and again, this fact was forgotten.

Move forward in time to 1955 when Charles A. Bacarisse finally followed this lead and tracked down the woman's marriage certificate in the Netherlands, what once was called Holland. According to the document, her husband's name wasn't Felipe Enrique Neri as the Baron had called himself while in Texas.

In his PhD dissertation, Bacarisse revealed to the world for the first time that the Baron de Bastrop was in fact a man named Philip Hendrik Nering Bögel, a tax collector turned embezzler from the Netherlands who supposedly left his wife and children, changed his identity and simply fooled everyone in America into believing he was a powerful, royal Baron.


Prior to his encounter with Moses Austin, Philip the Baron lived a very complicated and fascinating life in the next state over, Louisiana. There, his name is pronounced differently than in Texas and his legacy is quite different. Filled with stories of intriguing mysteries, straight out of a spy novel and a lawsuit that went all the way up to the United States supreme court.

A story that begins when the Baron and his family arrived in Baltimore, Maryland after narrowly escaping certain death in the Netherlands

 

Click Here To Continue Discovering About The Baron's Unusual Life

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