“A nation can only be free, happy, and great in proportion to the virtue
and intelligence of the people.”
Stephen F. Austin
OLD THREE HUNDRED. The name Old Three Hundred is sometimes used to refer to the settlers who received land grants in Stephen F. Austin's first colony. In January 1821 Austin's father, Moses Austin, had received a permit from the Spanish to settle 300 families in Texas, but he died in Missouri a short time later before he could realize his plans. Stephen F. Austin took his father's place and traveled to San Antonio, where he met with the Spanish governor Antonio María Martínez, who acknowledged him as his father's successor. Austin quickly found willing colonists, and by the end of the summer of 1824 most of the Old Three Hundred were in Texas. During 1823–24 Austin and the land commissioner Baron de Bastrop issued 272 titles, but Bastrop was called away in August 1824, and the work remained unfinished until 1827, when the new commissioner, Gaspar Flores de Abregoqv, issued the remaining titles. Since the family was the unit for distribution, Austin permitted unmarried men to receive grants in partnership, usually in groups of two or three. Twenty-two such partnership titles were issued to fifty-nine partners. In all, 307 titles were issued, with nine families receiving two titles each. Thus the total number of grantees, excluding Austin's own grant, was actually 297, not 300. The colonization decree required that all the lands should be occupied and improved within two years; most of the settlers were able to comply with the terms, and only seven of the grants were forfeited.
The lands selected by the colonists were along the rich bottomlands of the Brazos, Colorado, and San Bernard rivers, extending from the vicinity of present-day Brenham, Navasota, and La Grange to the Gulf of Mexico. According to the terms of the colonization agreement, each family engaged in farming was to receive one labor (about 177 acres) and each ranching family one sitio (about 4,428 acres). Because of the obvious advantages, a sizeable number of the colonists classified themselves as stock raisers, though they were technically planters. Each family's sitio was to have a frontage on the river equal to about one-fourth of its length; thus the east bank of the Brazos was soon completely occupied from the Gulf to what is now Brazos County. Most of the labors were arranged in three groups around San Felipe de Austin, which formed the nucleus of the colony.
The majority of the Old Three Hundred colonists were from the Trans-Appalachian South; the largest number were from Louisiana, followed by Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Missouri. Virtually all were originally of British ancestry. Many had been born east of the Appalachians and were part of the large westward migration of the early years of the nineteenth century. Most were farmers, and many, including the Bell, Borden, Kuykendall, McCormick, McNair, McNeel, Rabb, and Varner families already had substantial means before they arrived. Because Austin wanted to avoid problems with his colonists, he generally only accepted those of "better" classes; indeed, only four of the Old Three Hundred grantees were illiterate. Another indication of the financial stature of the grantees was the large number of slaveholders among them; by the fall of 1825, sixty-nine of the families in Austin's colony owned slaves, and the 443 slaves in the colony accounted for nearly a quarter of the total population of 1,790. One of the colonists, Jared E. Groce, who arrived from Georgia in January 1822, had ninety slaves. Though not all of the original grantees survived or prospered, Austin's Old Three Hundred, as historian T. R. Fehrenbach has written, formed "the first Anglo planter-gentry in the province." Their plantations, arrayed along the rich coastal riverbottoms, constituted the heart of the burgeoning slave empire in antebellum Texas.
Eugene C. Barker, ed., The Austin Papers (3 vols., Washington: GPO, 1924–28). Lester G. Bugbee, "The Old Three Hundred: A List of Settlers in Austin's First Colony," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 1 (October 1897). Lester G. Bugbee, Austin Colony (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1893). T. R. Fehrenbach, Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans (New York: Macmillan, 1968).