Moses Austin

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Portrait of Moses Austin

Moses Austin (October 4, 1761 – June 10, 1821) played a large part in the development of the American lead industry and was the father of Stephen F. Austin, a leading American settler of Texas. After receiving a land grant from the Spanish government in 1820, Moses Austin planned to be the first to establish an English American settlement in Spanish Texas, but died before his dream was realized. His son, Stephen F. Austin, led the colony to a now sovereign Mexico, and in time, the settlers would demand autonomy and win independence from the Mexican ruler Antonio López de Santa Anna thereby establishing the Republic of Texas.


Austin was born October 4, 1761 to Elias Austin and Eunice Phelps Austin in Durham, Connecticut.[1]

In 1784, he moved to Philadelphia to enter the dry goods business with his brother, Stephen. He then moved to Richmond, Virginia to open a second dry goods store.

In 1785, he married into the affluent iron mining family of Mary Brown, who then became known as Mary Brown Austin.[2] The Austins' second child was born in 1793 and named Stephen Fuller Austin in honor of his father's brother and his mother's great uncle. Their daughter Emily Austin followed in 1795. James Elijah Brown Austin was born in 1803.

Austin sought to start his own mining business in southwestern Virginia, and in 1789 he traveled to southwest Virginia to look at a lead mine site. Moses saw potential in the site and by 1791 his family had joined him in what is now Wythe County. Moses and his brother Stephen and several other partners and individuals industrialized the area. Several smelters, furnaces, commissaries, the Jackson Ferry Shot Tower, blacksmith shops, liveries, and mills were established. The tiny village around the mines became known as "Austinville," and Moses came to be known as the "Lead King."

Moses Austin house in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri; April 2007

The brothers incurred debts, causing the collapse of the company. After the Virginia lead business failed, Moses skipped out to avoid imprisonment and the consequences of debt, which was then customary in the U.S. for debtors under traditional English law (now being developed for U.S. federal and state codes), looked toward the rich lead deposits in Missouri, then a part of upper Spanish Louisiana.[3] In December 1797, Austin and a companion traveled to investigate the Spanish mines. In 1798, the Spanish crown granted to Moses one-league (4,428 acres). In return he swore allegiance to the Spanish Crown and stated he would settle some families in Missouri. Stephen remained behind to salvage the Virginia business, creating a rift between the two brothers that would last for much of the rest of their lives. The state of Virginia seized much of the property Moses owned and broke up the various operations, which were later purchased from the state at great discounts by Thomas Jackson and his partners.

In 1803, Missouri came under the jurisdiction of the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Austin became founder and principal stockholder in the Bank of St. Louis, but the bank failed in the Panic of 1819 causing him to lose his entire fortune. He again sought help from Spain. In 1820, Austin traveled to Presidio San Antonio de Bexar in Spanish Texas and presented a plan to colonize Texas with Anglo-Americans to Governor Antonio María Martínez. The Governor rejected Austin's plan due to the ongoing attacks on Texas by American filibusters. An old acquaintance, Felipe Enrique Neri, Baron de Bastrop, who was living in San Antonio at the time and well liked by the Spaniards, helped convince the governor to accept Austin's plan. In 1821, the governor asked Austin's friend, Erasmo Seguín, to give him the news that he had been awarded a land grant and permission to settle three hundred families in Texas. On Austin's return trip, he became ill and died in 1821, shortly after arriving back in Missouri. His son Stephen F. Austin carried out his colonization plan.

In 1885, the legality of Austin's Spanish property claims were settled posthumously by the Supreme Court in Bryan v. Kennett.


Moses Austin had many relatives who helped settle Texas, including Stephen F.Austin and Emily Austin Perry (daughter), Moses Austin Bryan (grandson), and others. Moses Austin should be distinguished from his grandson Moses Austin Bryan. James Bryan was his first son-in-law; James F. Perry was his second son-in-law. The Missouri State Archives reflect that Moses Austin lived in a mansion called Durham Hall, named for his birth town of Durham, Connecticut.[4]


The tomb of Moses and Maria Brown Austin

Moses Austin died of pneumonia. The tomb of Moses Austin is located in Potosi, Missouri.[5]

A statue of Moses Austin located in San Antonio, TX

Role in Texas mythos

Moses has been compared to his namesake as to his role in Texas's founding mythos, in that he led the chosen people (the Texians, instead of the Israelites) across a red body of water (in this case the Red River, instead of the Red Sea), only to die before seeing the settlement of the promised land (Texas, instead of Israel).[citation needed]


  1. Gracy II, David B. "Moses Austin". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved November 13, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. The Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association. Texas State Historical Association. 1907. pp. 343–.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Edmondson (2000), p. 56.


  • Barker, Eugene C., Life of Stephen F. Austin (1926)
  • Edmondson, J.R. (2000), The Alamo Story-From History to Current Conflicts, Plano, TX: Republic of Texas Press, ISBN 1-55622-678-0<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Gracy, David B., Moses Austin: his life (Trinity University Press, 1987) ISBN 0-911536-84-1
  • Haley, James L. "Texas An Album of History", Doubleday & Co., ISBN 0-385-17307-5
  • Haley, James L.;"Passionate Nation: The Epic History of Texas';Free Press; ISBN 0-684-86291-3
  • Cantrell, Gregg; Stephen F. Austin-Empesario of Texas; Yale University Press; ISBN 0-300-09093-5
  • Moses Austin from the Handbook of Texas Online
  • "Moses Austin", A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography, Vol. 1 (1988), p. 25

Further reading

  • Warren, Betsy (1996), Moses Austin and Stephen F. Austin: A Gone to Texas Dual Biography, Hendrick-long Pub. Co., ISBN 978-0-937460-96-2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>