Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas

Article excerpt

Stephen F. Austin: Empresario of Texas. By Gregg Cantrell. (New Haven and London: Published by Yale University Press in cooperation with the William P. Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Southern Methodist University, c. 1999. Pp. xvi, 493. $29.95, ISBN 0-300-07-683-5.)

Few individuals in American history had a greater impact upon the development of a single state or region than Stephen F. Austin of Texas. He took on the mantle of leading Anglo-American colonization of Mexican lands following the death of his father Moses Austin and worked tirelessly over fifteen years to achieve his father's goal of peopling Texas with enterprising families who cleared the land, planted crops, and built a prosperous society. Although dedicated to being a loyal citizen of Mexico, Austin eventually agreed that Texas independence was necessary, and he led her army in the opening phases of military action against the government forces. When Texas declared its independence, Austin was one of three commissioners sent to the United States to seek assistance and diplomatic recognition for the new Republic. By the time of his early death in December 1836 he was generally regarded to be the father of his country, and Austin remains one of the great icons of Texas history.

This is the first major biography of Austin since Eugene C. Barker's classic 1925 study, a work that was so meticulously researched and carefully written that Austin's image of a modest, noble, and dedicated individual who worked diligently for the welfare of his people was firmly established among Texans. Gregg Cantrell presents a slightly different version of the empresario. Whether, as the author believes, his portrait of Austin "contrasts sharply with the figure drawn by Barker" (p. 3), is debatable. Cantrell's Austin is more human than Barker's and is certainly more complex. Cantrell allows that Austin was sincere in his efforts to help the colonists he brought to Texas but notes that he was at the same time anxious to acquire land and material possessions for himself. Austin was willing to endure personal hardships and make sacrifices, but he often became discouraged and frequently engaged in self-pity. …

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