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Map of Texas in 1833 showing several of the land grants

An empresario was a person who had been granted the right to settle on land in exchange for recruiting and taking responsibility for new settlers. The word is Spanish for entrepreneur.[1]


In the late 18th century, Spain stopped allocating new lands in much of Spanish Texas, stunting the growth of the province.[2] The policy was reversed in 1820, when Spanish law allowed colonists of any religion to settle in Texas.[3] Only one man, Moses Austin, was granted an empresarial contract under Spanish law. But Moses Austin died before he could begin his colony, and Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in September 1821. At this time, about 3500 colonists lived in Texas, mostly congregated at San Antonio and La Bahia.[4]

The Mexican government continued the immigration policies.[5] Even as the government debated a new colonization law, Stephen F. Austin, son of Moses Austin, was given permission to take over his father's colonization contract. The first group of colonists, known as the Old Three Hundred, arrived in 1822 and settled along the Brazos River, ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to near present-day Dallas.[6] Immigration was approved on a wider basis in 1824 when the General Colonization Law of 1824 was passed. This law enabled all heads of household who were citizens of or immigrants to Mexico to be eligible to claim land.[5] After the law passed, the state government of Coahuila y Tejas was inundated with requests to allow foreign speculators to establish colonies within the state.[7] There was no shortage of people willing to come to Texas. The United States was still struggling with the aftermath of the Panic of 1819, and soaring land prices within the United States made the Mexican land policy seem very generous.[7]

Most successful empresarios recruited primarily in the United States. Only two of the groups who attempted to recruit in Europe built lasting colonies, Refugio and San Patricio.[8][9] These colonies were successful in part because the empresarios spoke Spanish, were Catholic and generally familiar with Mexican ways, and allowed local Mexican families to join their colonies.[9]

Rules for settlers[edit]

Unlike its predecessor, the Mexican law required immigrants to practice Catholicism and stressed that foreigners needed to learn Spanish.[10] Settlers were supposed to own property or have a craft or useful profession, and all people wishing to live in Texas were expected to report to the nearest Mexican authority for permission to settle. The rules were widely disregarded and many families became squatters.[11]

Under the new laws, people who did not already possess property in Texas could claim one square league (4438 acres) of irrigable land, with an additional league available to those who owned cattle. Empresarios and individuals with large families were exempt from the limit.[12]

Notable empresarios[edit]

Empresario Colony location Capital Notes
Stephen F. Austin Austin's Colony between Brazos and Colorado rivers San Felipe De Austin (son of Moses Austin) considered by many the "Father of Texas".
David G. Burnet East Texas, northwest of Nacogdoches sold his land grant to the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company
Martín De León De León's Colony Victoria The only colony which was primarily Mexican and not Anglo-American[13]
Green DeWitt DeWitt Colony Gonzales
Haden Harrison Edwards East Texas – from the Navasota River to 20 leagues west of the Sabine River, and from 20 leagues north of the Gulf of Mexico to 15 leagues north of the town of Nacogdoches.[14] Nacogdoches Expelled from Texas after launching the Fredonia Rebellion in 1827
Benjamin Drake Lovell and John Purnell Attempted to establish a socialist colony; Purnell died and Lovell abandoned the colony in 1826; land later given to McMullen and McGloin.[15]
John McMullen and James McGloin San Patricio, TX of Irish descent, these men recruited primarily European settlers[9][16]
James Power and James Hewetson land between Guadalupe and Lavaca rivers[17] San Patricio and Refugio Half of settlers were to come from Ireland, the other half from Mexico.[18]
Sterling C. Robertson An area along the Brazos River about 100 miles wide and 200 miles long, centered on Waco, comprising all or some of thirty present-day counties in Central Texas.[19] Sarahville At various times also called Robertson's Colony, the Texas Association, Leftwich's Grant, the Nashville colony, or the upper colony.[19]
Lorenzo de Zavala southeastern Texas in the Galveston Bay Area transferred ownership to the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company
Henri Castro southwestern Texas on the Medina River Castroville

After the Republic of Texas won its independence from Mexico, the young nation continued its own version of the empresario program, offering grants to French diplomat Henri Castro and abolitionist Charles Fenton Mercer, among others.

See also[edit]

  • Patroon (a similar system in New Netherland)


  1. ^ Compare "impresario".
  2. ^ Manchaca (2001), p. 194.
  3. ^ Vazquez (1997), p. 48.
  4. ^ Edmondson (2000), p. 75.
  5. ^ a b Manchaca (2001), p. 187.
  6. ^ Manchaca (2001), p. 198.
  7. ^ a b Vazquez (1997), p. 53.
  8. ^ Davis (2002), p. 72.
  9. ^ a b c Davis (2002), p. 75.
  10. ^ Vazquez (1997), p. 50.
  11. ^ de la Teja (1997), p. 88.
  12. ^ Manchaca (2001), p. 196.
  13. ^ Henderson, p.5
  14. ^ Ericson (2000), p. 37.
  15. ^ Davis (2002), p. 76.
  16. ^ Davis (2002), p. 73.
  17. ^ Davis (2002), p. 78.
  18. ^ Davis (2002), p. 79.
  19. ^ a b Texas State Historical Association


  • Davis, Graham (2002), Land!: Irish Pioneers in Mexican and Revolutionary Texas, Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University; No. 92, College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 978-1-58544-189-1 
  • de la Teja, Jesus F. (1997), "The Colonization and Independence of Texas: A Tejano Perspective", in Rodriguez O., Jaime E.; Vincent, Kathryn, Myths, Misdeeds, and Misunderstandings: The Roots of Conflict in U.S.–Mexican Relations, Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., ISBN 0-8420-2662-2 
  • Edmondson, J.R. (2000), The Alamo Story-From History to Current Conflicts, Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press, ISBN 1-55622-678-0 
  • Ericson, Joe E. (2000), The Nacogdoches story: an informal history, Heritage Books, ISBN 978-0-7884-1657-6 
  • Manchaca, Martha (2001), Recovering History, Constructing Race: The Indian, Black, and White Roots of Mexican Americans, The Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-75253-9 
  • Vazquez, Josefina Zoraida (1997), "The Colonization and Loss of Texas: A Mexican Perspective", in Rodriguez O., Jaime E.; Vincent, Kathryn, Myths, Misdeeds, and Misunderstandings: The Roots of Conflict in U.S.–Mexican Relations, Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., ISBN 0-8420-2662-2 
  • Henderson, Mary Virginia (July 1928). "Minor Empresario Contracts for the Colonization of Texas, 1825-1834, II". The Southwestern Historical Quarterly. Texas State Historical Association. 32 (1): 1–28. JSTOR 30235006. 

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