Texas General Land Office:
An Inventory of General Land Office Colonization Certificate Records at the Texas State Archives, 1848-1855, bulk 1848-1851
On December 22, 1836, the 1st Congress of the Republic of Texas created the Texas General Land Office (GLO) as the agency responsible for the disposal of public lands and maintaining the records of those dispositions (An act to establish the General Land Office for the Republic of Texas, Regular Session). The GLO began operating on October 1, 1837, and its first obligation was to collect "all records, books, and papers, in any way appertaining to all the lands of the Republic, and that may be in the care or possession of all empresarios, political chiefs, alcades, commissionarios, or commissioners issuing land titles." During the Republic era, the agency managed records, collected information, and issued patents. The Republic of Texas constitution honored all grants made by the governments of Spain and Mexico and charged the GLO with the responsibility of verifying Spanish and Mexican titles to determine what land was in the public domain and what land was privately owned. GLO commissioners had the ability to issue land certificates, which entitled the grantee a certain number of acres of land in the unallocated public domain. In 1898, the Texas Supreme Court determined that the state's unappropriated public lands had been exhausted. Once Texas' public lands were exhausted, the GLO turned toward managing state-owned mineral resources and lands as well as developing revenue sources for the Permanent School Fund. Though the GLO's duties have evolved, its core mission remains managing state lands and mineral-right properties totaling 20.3 million acres as of 2017.
Laws passed throughout the nineteenth century encouraged settlement and the development of infrastructure within Texas. During the Texas General Convention of March 1-17, 1836, the Spanish and Mexican practice of issuing land grants for colonization was suspended. In 1841, the Texas Legislature authorized a contract between the Republic of Texas President Mirabeau Lamar, William S. Peters and his associates, and a group of English and American investors (An Act Granting Land to Emigrants approved January 4, 1841, 6th Congress, Regular Session). This act revived the practice of issuing a large land grant to an empresario who would then recruit colonists. Under the terms of this agreement, Peters and his associates were granted ten sections of premium unappropriated land per 100 colonists. Peters Colony (also known as Peters' Colony) began operating on August 30, 1841. Peters and his associates primarily recruited in England, France, and the United States. To further encourage settlement, the 7th Congress passed legislation allowing the Republic of Texas to contract with empresarios (An Act amendatory to an act granting land to emigrants, Regular Session). Fisher-Miller Colony commissioners recruited German families, while Castro's Colony attracted French settlers. Mercer Colony, established in 1844, sought Anglo-American single men and families. Other colonization land grants were issued; however, empresarios had difficulty recruiting colonists before these contract expired. On August 27, 1845, the issuance of new colonization contracts was once again suspended, and the practice was considered unconstitutional (An Ordinance of August 27, 1845, Texas Annexation Convention); however, the issuance of land patents and certificates to colonists continued into the 1850s due to political pressure.
Empresarios granted land to colonists on the premise that these settlers would return half of the acreage they received back to the colony for improvements. Starting in the 1850s, colony commissioners, often appointed the by Texas governor or legislature, issued colonization certificates instead of empresarios. Legislators felt that colony commissioners would be act in the interest of colonists instead of investors. Certificates issued by colony commissioners were the equivalent of 3rd class headright certificates (320 acres for a single man, 640 acres for a family). Colonization certificates issued by colony commissioners could be redeemed for land patents, through the Texas General Land Office. To receive a patent, colonists had to live on the property for three years, cultivate the land for at least 10 acres, and make other improvements. The colonist also had to find two creditable witnesses. This also assumed the appropriate fees had been paid and the proper surveys had been made. Certificate holders could sell or transfer certificates. In theory, settlers claimed land within the colony; however, many individuals redeemed their certificates for land outside colony boundaries due to availability. Commissioners submitted lists to the General Land Office so that latter know what certificates had been issued.
(Sources include: Mauro, Garry, Land Commissioners of Texas, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1986; Wade, Harry E., "Peters Colony," Handbook of Texas Online; Nance, Joseph Milton, "Republic of Texas," Handbook of Texas Online; and the Texas General Land Office's website (http://www.glo.texas.gov), all accessed March 29, 2017; various Texas laws and acts; and the records themselves.)
On February 15, 1842, Henri Castro received two colonization land grant contracts to settle 600 families. One grant, measuring 1.25 million acres, lay west of San Antonio in present-day Atascosa, Frio, La Salle, Medina, and McMullen Counties. The second grant was along the Rio Grande in present-day Starr County. Colonists never settled in the latter grant territory. Castro primarily recruited his colonists in France, particularly from the Alsace region. On September 1, 1844, he left San Antonio for his land grant beyond the Medina River with the first 35 colonists. After two days, the group reached its destination and began building homes. On September 12, an election was held for two justices of the peace and a constable, and the name Castroville was adopted for the settlement. During the colony's first year, headrights certificates were issued to 485 families and 457 single men, for a total of 2,134 settlers. The colony suffered from Indian depredations, cholera, the drought of 1848, and unsafe ship disembarking conditions for incoming immigrants during the Mexican-American War. The formation of Medina County, from the Bexar Land District in 1848, stimulated the colony's population to grow. Henri's adopted son, Lorenzo, assisted in operation of the colony. The colonists founded the settlements of Castroville, D'Hanis, Quihi, and Vandenburg.
In 1850, the Texas Legislature appointed J.M. Carolan as commissioner of the colony. This action removed Castro's ability to force settlers to give half of their land to Castro for improvements. Castro petitioned the legislature to remove Carolan. In January 1854, the legislature responded by appointing Thomas William Ward as colony commissioner. Charles N. Riotte replaced Ward on December 26, 1854.
(Sources include: Williams, Amelia W., "Castro, Henri," and Bishop, Curtis, "Castro's Colony," Handbook of Texas Online, both accessed March 29, 2017; Waugh, Julia Nott, Castroville and Henry Castro, Boerne, Texas: Mockingbird Books, 2011; Weaver, Bobby D., Castro's Colony: Empresario Development in Texas, 1842-1865, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1985; and the records themselves.)
On June 7, 1842, Henry Fisher, Burchard Miller, and Joseph Baker received a colonization grant to bring 600 German-speaking families to Texas within three years. A second contract, obtained on September 1, 1843, and a third contract, obtained in 1844, extended the time to settle families. The third contract also included the option of increasing the number of families to 6,000. Fisher recruited 96 immigrants to Texas before selling part of his (and Miller's) interest in the colonization contract to the Adelsverein, roughly translated from German as "Nobles Society." The Adelsverein was also known as the German Emigration and Railroad Company and the German Emigration Company. The German Emigration Company was incorporated in the German Confederation by 40 wealthy noblemen with the philanthropic goal of fostering emigration from German-speaking states to Texas. The noblemen's intent was to create a German colony in Texas that would continue German values and traditions outside of Europe. Henry Fisher became the corporation's representative in Texas.
The Fisher-Miller Colony (or Fisher and Miller Colony) encompassed present-day Concho, McCulloch, San Saba, Menard, Mason, Llano, and Kimble Counties. In the 1840s and 1850s, the Fisher-Miller Colony's boundaries existed deep into Comanche territory. Unforeseen circumstances caused delays in recruiting families, and led Henry Fisher to repetitively secure extensions through the Texas Legislature. These extensions directed the Texas General Land Office commissioner to continue issuing certificates to colonists until 1855. From approximately 1846 to 1850, the colonists were required to sign agreements that transferred half of their acreage to the German Emigration Company to pay for roads, plows, livestock, and other improvements. In 1847, the commissioner-general for the German Emigration Company, John O. Meusebach, secured a treaty with the Comanche. While this opened up the land grant area to colonization, many of the immigrants had already settled in the areas in and around New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, both outside of the Fisher-Miller Land Grant.
W.F. Evans (1848-1849), Joseph P. Portis (1850), Granville H. Sherwood (1851-1854), and John O. Meusebach (1854-1855) served as commissioners for Fisher-Miller Colony. Between 1849 and 1855, 3,488 certificates for land were issued to colonists. Because many had settled outside the land grant area, the vast majority of colonists sold their certificates to other parties.
By 1851 the German Emigration Company's creditor sued the company to recover losses. Soon after, the owners of the German Emigration Company surrendered all of their interests in the company to their creditors. Fisher and Miller were compensated with 160 640-acre certificates and 100 320-acre certificates. Other creditors received 20 640-acre certificates and 40 320-acre certificates.
(Sources include: Biesele, Rudolph L., "Fisher-Miller Land Grant," Handbook of Texas Online, accessed March 29, 2017; and the records themselves.)
Charles Fenton Mercer, originally associated with Peters Colony, secured a separate colonization land grant from the Republic of Texas President Sam Houston on January 29, 1844. According to the contract, Mercer had five years to settle at least 100 families. Mercer Colony consisted of portions of present-day Johnson, Ellis, Hill, Navarro, Grayson, Collin, Dallas, McLennan, Rockwall, Hunt, Rains, Van Zandt, Kaufman, and Henderson Counties. Some of the land granted to Mercer had already been appropriated to Peters Colony, which caused conflict between the two colonies.
Soon after the execution of the contract, Mercer established the Texas Association to advertise and promote colonization. Shares were sold at $500 each and included investors in Virginia, Florida, and Texas. The Texas Association initially offered only 160 acres to families and 80 acres to single men; however, Peters Colony promoters offered 320 acres, and later 640 acres to prospective settlers. This drove many colonists to Peters Colony before Mercer began matching the former colony's offer. Nevertheless, by the end of the first year of the contract, more than 100 families had received land certificates from Mercer.
However, the work of colonization was soon impeded by land speculators, squatters, and politicians eager to replace the empresario system with the Anglo-American land system. Anglo-American land system advocates claimed that the empresario system questioned both the wisdom and the legality of granting away the Republic's vast public lands without financial gain to the Republic. Additionally, many disliked Mercer due to his abolitionist views. In 1844 and 1845, legislators investigated Mercer and his ability to fulfill the contract. Meanwhile, squatters moved into the colony's boundaries and denied the claims of settlers who held Mercer Colony certificates. Mercer colonists also discovered land speculators and holders of bounty and headright certificates had already claimed land within the colony and had begun cultivating the property.
After the Convention of 1845, the new State of Texas began legal proceedings to nullify all colony contracts. On October 11, 1846, Lieutenant Governor Albert C. Horton instituted suit against Mercer and the Texas Association in the district court of Navarro County. District Court Judge Robert E.B. Baylor declared the contract between Mercer and President Sam Houston null and void, but the Texas Supreme Court subsequently upheld the legality of the contract. On February 2, 1850, the Texas Legislature, seeking to minimize confusion, guaranteed all land claims made by settlers in the Mercer colony before October 25, 1848 (An Act supplementary to … An Act for the relief of the citizens of Mercer Colony, 5th Texas Legislature). By virtue of this legislation, 1,255 land certificates were recorded in the Texas General Land Office. Also on February 2, 1850, the Texas Legislature appointed J.M. Crockett as commissioner of the colony. With the urging of Mercer Colony settlers, Crockett ran for the Texas House. In 1851, he was elected Texas House District 26 (Dallas County) representative. He would later become mayor of Dallas (1857-1861) and lieutenant governor (1861-1863).
Although settlers recruited by Mercer and the Texas Association were ultimately granted the lands they had settled on, the State of Texas steadfastly refused to legalize any claims of the Association itself. The General Land Office commissioner did not allow the Texas Association to sue in state courts and defended adamantly against all claims that the association brought. This type of action by the General Land Office commissioner made land within Mercer grant available for sale for the benefit of the state. On March 6, 1875, the chief agent of the Texas Association filed an injunction in the United States circuit court at Austin, demanding that the land titles sought by the colonists be legalized. In 1883, the U.S. Supreme Court denied all compensation owed the association based on the original contract. However, the ruling failed to halt all conflicting land claims, some of which were in process of litigation as late as 1936.
(Sources include: Connor, Seymour V., Peters Colony of Texas, Austin: Texas State Historical Society, 1959; Ericson, Joe E., "Mercer Colony," Handbook of Texas Online, accessed March 29, 2017; various Texas laws and acts; and the records themselves.)
On January 4, 1841, the Texas Legislature authorized the contract between William S. Peters and his associates, a group of English investors, and the President Mirabeau Lamar (An Act Granting Land to Emigrants, 6th Congress of the Republic of Texas, Regular Session). Peters Colony, also known as Peters' Colony, began operating on August 30, 1841. The first contract set the colony's boundaries along the Red River in north Texas. The colony encompassed all of present-day Cooke, Denton, Tarrant, Wichita, Archer, Montague, Young, Wise, Stephens, Parker, Jack, Palo Pinto, and Clay Counties. It also included portions of present-day Grayson, Dallas, Johnson, Ellis, Wilbarger, Baylor, Throckmorton, Shackelford, Callahan, Eastland, Erath, and Hood Counties.
The colony's enacting legislation stated any location or surveys had to be within the colony's boundaries; however, the empresarios felt that the colony's original boundaries did not contain enough vacant public domain land to settle the required number of colonists. On November 9, 1841, a second contract extended the borders of the colony in exchange for increasing the required amount of settlers. The Texas Agricultural, Commercial, and Manufacturing Company, created in Louisville, Kentucky on November 20, 1841, attempted to fill in monetary gaps left by the initial English investors.
Persistent lack of funding and other issues led to problems maintaining the colony's population. The company requested and was granted a time extension to fulfill their settlement numbers as well as make further modifications to the colony's boundaries. A third contract, signed July 26, 1842, extended the boundaries further and allowed for a six-month extension. In exchange, the Republic was given alternating sections of land within the colony.
On October 3, 1842, the original English investors transferred their control to a group of English and American investors. This group created a complicated ownership situation when Sherman Converse, one of the new investors, signed a fourth contract in January 1843. This contract added an additional ten million acres of land to the colony and extended the life of the contract for an additional five years (a period ending July 1, 1848). The rest of the investors felt deceived by Converse and reorganized as the Texas Emigration and Land Company. Under the leadership of Willis Stewart, the Texas Emigration and Land Company successfully established legal ownership of the Peters Colony. The legal battles over ownership of the colony hurt recruitment activities, and the colony's population dropped to 194 families and 187 single men as of July 1, 1844. Legal issues worsened due to Republic of Texas President Sam Houston issuing a colonization grant to Charles Mercer, a Peters Colony defector, on January 29, 1844. Mercer colonization grant included land within Peters Colony boundaries.
The situation continued to deteriorate within the colony. In 1844, the company employed Henry O. Hedgcoxe as its agent and land surveyor. He was not well liked and viewed as a speculator by colonists. When the final contract expired on July 1, 1848, unsettled land within the colony reverted back to Texas' vacant public domain. Additionally, many old settlers in the colony were angered by the empresarios' practice of taking half of the settlers' land as payment, and insisted that the legislature take action. A compromise law was passed on February 10, 1852 (An Act relating to Peters Colony, 4th Texas Legislature, Regular Session); however, it did not satisfy the colonists, and large-scale protests continued. On July 12, 1852, these protests culminated in the "Hedgcoxe War." A group of armed citizens stormed Hedgcoxe's office and forced him to resign. A new settlement between the Texas Emigration and Land Company, and colonists was eventually reached and the company became more colonist-friendly. Under the Peters' land contract, 2,205 families settled on 879,920 acres of land.
(Sources include: Connor, Seymour V., Peters Colony of Texas, Austin: Texas State Historical Society, 1959; Wade, Harry E., "Peters Colony," Handbook of Texas Online, accessed March 29, 2017; various Texas laws and acts; and the records themselves.)
The Texas General Land Office is charged with the disposal of the public lands and maintaining the records of those dispositions. Colonization certificate records tracked the issuance and transfer of land certificates for eligible persons. Settlers were issued colonization certificates to encourage immigration to Texas. Records consist of certificate stubs, registers listing persons issued a colony certificate, and indexes, dating 1848-1855, bulk 1848-1851. These records do not include actual certificates issued to colonists. All records are in bound volumes. Colony commissioners submitted documentation to the Texas General Land Office so the latter could determine if the certificate was valid when the colonist attempted to patent the land. These volumes were submitted to the General Land Office in the 1850s. Colonies represented are Fisher-Miller Colony, Castro's Colony, Mercer Colony, and Peters Colony.
Colonization certificates stubs and register entries typically list the certificate number, person (or estate) issued the certificate, marital status, date of arrival, date of death (in the case of certificates issued to heirs), information regarding witnesses, amount of land, location of land, date certificate issued, and colony commissioner. The character of the land is sometimes included. Indexes are present for all four colonies.
W.F. Evans (1848-1849), Joseph P. Portis (1850), Granville H. Sherwood (1851-1854), and John O. Meusebach (1854-1855) served as Fisher-Miller Colony commissioners. The Castro's Colony commissioners represented in the records are J.M. Carolan (1850-1854), Thomas William Ward (January-December 1854), and Charles N. Riotte (1854-1855). J.M. Crockett served as Mercer Colony commissioner from February 2, 1850 to about November 3, 1851. Henry O. Hedgcoxe served as Peters Colony agent from 1844 to 1852.
To prepare this inventory, the described materials were cursorily reviewed to delineate series, to confirm the accuracy of contents lists, to provide an estimate of dates covered, and to determine record types.
Restrictions on Access
Materials do not circulate, but may be used in the State Archives search room. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.
Restrictions on Use
Most records created by Texas state agencies are not copyrighted. State records also include materials received by, not created by, state agencies. Copyright remains with the creator. The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
Some volumes may be too fragile to photocopy.
(Identify the item and cite the subgroup), Texas General Land Office colonization certificate records. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession number: 2016/182
These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission at an unknown date, and an accession number was not assigned at the time. Accessioned for control purposes on August 15, 2016.
Draft inventory by Robert L. Stephens, volunteer, October 2009
Finding aid encoded and DACS-compliance by Anna M. Reznik, March 2017
Detailed Description of the Records