Explore Texas by Historical ErasMexican Rule1821-1835by Katie Whitehurst

When Mexico gained independence from Spain, the population in much of what is today Texas was dominated by Native Americans. Feeling threatened by the native groups, and worried that the United States would try to take Texas, the Mexican government moved to enact policies to move more settlers into the area to help implement control over the region.

The Mexican government worked with empresarios, who operated as land agents in Texas. Empresarios worked to bring settlers who would develop Texas for the Mexican government. In exchange, those settlers would receive title to land – a resource that was abundant.

Stephen F. Austin Signature. Texas General Land Office Archives and Records, Austin

Estevan F. Austin Signature

One of the most famous empresarios, Stephen F. Austin, brought 300 families to settle Texas – a group sometimes referred to as the “Old Three Hundred.” The tracts offered were vast – 4,605 acres for each family. As empresario, Austin would be compensated with an even larger parcel of land. He would also serve, in effect, as the government for his settlers. The records of Austin’s Colony still exist today, in the archives of the state’s General Land Office. They offer a very personal connection to some of the early settlers of Mexican Texas – mainly Anglo Americans who renounced their United States citizenship to move to Texas.

Most people who came to Austin’s settlement were southern cotton farmers from the United States who began to develop the rich bottomlands along the Colorado and Brazos Rivers. Many brought slaves with them, to work their new lands. Although the 1820s brought a series of laws abolishing slavery in Mexico, the government granted a temporary exception to the ban in Texas.

By the 1830s, both the Anglo and Tejano populations of Texas had increased significantly. However, despite becoming official citizens of Mexico, many settlers maintained their affinity for the United States. Texas became a breeding ground for distrust and differences between the US and Mexico. In an attempt to enforce control, the Mexican government tried to force the end of slavery in the region, impose taxes, and end immigration from the United States. Engaged in civil war, the Mexican government struggled to maintain power in the region. After several skirmishes against Mexican soldiers, and a failed attempt to form a separate Mexican state, war seemed inevitable for the settlers.

Relations between the Mexican government and the Texas settlers deteriorated considerably in 1834-35 as President Santa Anna abandoned the constitution under which the American settlers had agreed to live. In the summer of 1835, Santa Anna sent a small army to Texas to confront the rebellious Texans, which included many of the new Anglo American settlers as well as some native Tejanos unhappy with the direction of Santa Anna’s government.

Fearing violence from the settlers, Mexican military officials attempted to retrieve a cannon that had been given to the town of Gonzales for Indian defense. The successful resistance of Gonzales residents, who flew a flag with a picture of a cannon and the slogan “Come and Take It,” is traditionally considered the beginning of the Texas Revolution.