The Great Panic of 1819 struck and the Moses Austin’s Bank of St. Louis was forced to close. Due to the economic difficulties of the time and in attempt to maintain their familial wealth, Moses Austin traveled to Texas, having heard of the plentiful land available there by way of massive Spanish land grants. Moses was successful in his endeavor to barter for land with the Spanish, but in 1821, Moses Austin, recipient of propitious Spanish land grants, passed away at his home in Herculaneum, Missouri. Moses Austin’s son, Stephen F. Austin, today also known as “The Father of Texas,” inherited his colonization rights and began settling lands in Spanish Texas.
But this is not the story of the Austin family. Instead, this is the beginning of a story not often told. This is the story of the Irish Impresarios of Spanish and Mexican Texas, who also came in search of fortune, and found much of what they desired, but only after a coarse journey over the rugged Texian terrain. The Irish, little to their knowledge, were to encounter a pioneer’s journey of blood, sweat, and tears. This is the story of Refugio County, Texas.
Sometime in the early 1800’s, two Irishmen, James Hewetson and James Power, migrated to the United States. Both men landed in Philadelphia, but there is no evidence that the two ever met at this time. In fact, shortly after arriving, both men went their separate ways: Hewetson journeyed to St. Louis, Missouri, and Power departed to New Orleans.1
During Hewetson’s time in St. Louis, he made acquaintance with Stephen F. Austin, and the two traveled to Louisiana together where Hewetson embarked in a commercial mining venture in Saltillo, Mexico. Hewetson also spent time with Austin in the Bexar municipality, where Austin began touring the Texas terrain for settlement.2
While in Saltillo, Hewetson encountered James Power for the first time and the men became acquainted. The two became interested in a joint venture as empresarios to Mexican land grants at that time, and became involved with the Mission municipality of Nuestra Senora del Refugio. The mission, established by the Spanish, was the last mission in Texas established on the southern frontier. The Irishmen, James Power and James Hewetson, however, were not permitted to establish settlement on the mission grounds.
Power and Hewetson were required to settle 200 Catholic families within six years, in addition to communicating with the Mexican government in Spanish, the official language of Mexico. Half of all families were required to be of Hispanic heritage, the other half were required to be from Ireland. All of these requirements were written and signed into agreement on penalty of the settler’s loss of their rights to the land beginning on July 11, 1828.3
The Power and Hewetson colony declared its capital the site of Nuestra Senora del Refugio in April of 1830, and began to settle families shortly thereafter. The two empresarios, however, faced extensive difficulties, in the meantime. The Refugio settlement was contested both by the McMullen & McGloin settlement in San Patricio as well as the De Leon settlement, with the charge of overlapping boundaries. In 1833, the jefe politico at Bexar dismissed the contest, and Refugio was at last permitted to begin colonizing. The problem, however, was that nearly five years had already passed out of the six-year expiration period of the land grant. This left colonists apprehensive about the fate of their settlement.4
- Graham Davis, Land! : Irish Pioneers in Mexican and Revolutionary Texas, vol. 1st ed, Centennial Series of the Association of Former Students, Texas A&M University (College Station, Tex: Texas A&M University Press, 2002), 73-74. ↵
- Graham Davis, Land! : Irish Pioneers in Mexican and Revolutionary Texas, 73-74; Stephen F. Austin, Translation of the Laws, Orders, and Contracts, on Colonization, from January, 1821, up to This Time, in Virtue of Which Col. Stephen F. Austin, Has Introduced and Settled Foreign Emigrants in Texas, with an Explanatory Introduction (San Filipe de Austin, Texas: Adam Matthew Digital, 1829), http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Graff_118. ↵
- Graham Davis, Land! : Irish Pioneers in Mexican and Revolutionary Texas, 78-79. ↵
- Graham Davis, Land! : Irish Pioneers in Mexican and Revolutionary Texas, 80-82. ↵