AUCTION 23

 
 

Original Castroville Land Grant Signed by Henri Castro

 
Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

542. [TEXAS COLONIZATION: CASTRO COLONY]. CASTRO, Henri. [Text begins] “Entre les soussignés M. Henry Castro, rentier demeurant à Paris, rue Lafitte No. 18, D’une pars, et Mr. Michel Simon D’autre pars A été conclu le traité suivant....” [Paris, ca. 1842]. [3] [1, blank] pp., lithograph, accomplished and dated in manuscript, November 18, 1843 (p. [3]) and signed by Castro, Ashbel Smith, and Simon. Folio (34 x 21.5 cm). Creased where formerly folded, small losses at folds, chipped with loss, mild staining, holed with minor losses, split in two at vertical fold. Texas Legation Paris ink stamp on p. [3]. Page 4 is completed in French manuscript wherein Range 3, block 1, lot 2 in Castroville is transferred on November 7, 1844, from John McMullan to Simon, followed by an English translation by Louis Huth, whose notarized attestation to his translation is recorded below it and dated November 16, 1854. This is the record of Simon’s actual grant. Among the conditions of the conveyance are that Simon must live in Castroville for three years and build a house, as is required in the printed contract. (Castro had an agreement with McMullan to use his lands for the settlement.) Despite its condition, a very rare survival documenting the settlement of present-day Castroville that apparently made the Atlantic crossing with Simon, one of Castroville’s early settlers. At least two versions of Castro’s contract are known, this apparently being the earlier with only three pages instead of four. The only other known copy of this edition is at Yale. From the estate of scholar R.L. Biesele, author of History of the German Settlements in Texas, 1831-1861 (1931). Preserved in a modern cloth clamshell case.

     These documents were completed in duplicate originals, as noted here within the contract itself. Simon has signed at Ranspach in Alsace, in the northeastern corner of France far from Paris. Thus, Castro probably sent pre-signed contracts with his agents into the hinterlands, one to be returned to Paris with the deposit money, and the other, such as this one, to be retained by the colonist and which would serve as his land grant and his receipt for the deposit.

     The founding of Castroville is one of the success stories in the settlement of the Republic of Texas. In 1842 Castro entered into a contract with the Texas government to settle a colony in Southwest Texas on the Medina River. As a precaution against spurious colonists, Castro required a deposit that was not repaid until the settler actually arrived in Texas. (The deposit for 100 francs is noted as received in this contract.) After great expense, labor, and vexing delays, between 1843 and 1847 he succeeded in chartering twenty-seven ships, in which he brought to Texas 485 families and 457 single men to an area that was basically unsettled wilderness beyond the civilized pale. The initial settlers opened the first church and first school in what became Medina County, and were generally able to prosper despite problems and create a distinct town that retains its European uniqueness to this day. Many original buildings, including Castro’s own house, still remain.

     Empresario Castro (1786-1865) belonged to a prominent Jewish family in southwestern France. After the fall of Napoleon, with whom he was allied, he emigrated to the United States and in 1827 became a naturalized citizen. He returned to France in 1838, became a partner in the banking house of Lafitte and Company, and while there was active in trying to negotiate a loan for the Republic of Texas and thus became interested in the young republic. Out of gratitude for his influence and kindness to Texas, President Sam Houston nominated him consul general for Texas at Paris on February 3, 1842 (Writings, 2:472). After his colony was founded, his generosity to his colonists, including financial expenditures, was legendary, and he continued to publicize and promote the colony through his writings. Although Houston was somewhat critical of Castro’s lack of preparation for his new colonists, he did urge the Texas government to assist them in every way it could, instructing George T. Howard on January 24, 1842, to call on the French minister and “assure him of the kind disposition of this government towards the French immigrants” (Writings, 2: 440). He died and was buried in Monterrey, Mexico. His son, Lorenzo, carried on his father’s work.

     Settler Michel Simon (1813-1874) was born in Husseren-Wesserling (Haut Rhin) in Alsace, France. Following the 1838 death of his first wife, Anne Marie Gissy, he married Marie Rose Weber (likewise from Alsace), in 1840. They sailed for Texas from Strasbourg November 22, 1843, aboard the Heinrich. Simon, one of the original settlers, signed the September 12, 1844, document that founded and named Castroville. He was the original owner of Lot #2, Block 1, Range 3, in Castroville. When allegiance to the Sovereign (in this case the Empresario) was legally transferred to the State of Texas, the Texas General Land Office created their own land grant between Simon and Medina County. A copy of Simon’s land grant, attested on January 26, 1855, is preserved in the General Land Office in Austin. Simon burned to death on April 20, 1874, and was buried the next day in Saint Louis Catholic Cemetery, Castroville.

     Signer August Ferdinand Louis Huth (1813-1892) was something of a Castroville hard-luck story. While Castro was in Paris, Huth made his acquaintance, convinced his own father to invest speculatively in the colony, and himself sailed to Texas, where he found the colonists in desperate condition at Port Lavaca. He managed to move them to San Antonio and thence went on to Castroville with the initial expedition, where he became a leading citizen, being one of the first justices of the peace elected. Unfortunately, Castro’s final collapse ruined both Huth and his family in Europe, and he moved back to San Antonio, where he became a successful businessman.

     Ashbel Smith (1805-1886), known as the Father of Texas Medicine, was appointed by his close friend Houston as chargé d’affaires for Texas to England and France, a post he held 1842-1844, in which capacity he signed this document. He was also active in the Texas Revolution, and the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, during the latter of which he was badly wounded at Shiloh. He had a long, distinguished career in the Republic and State, to which he made many contributions.

     All such documents in private hands relating to the founding of Texas settlements are very rare and have survived in only small numbers.

($1,500-3,000)

Sold. Hammer: $1,500.00; Price Realized: $1,837.50.

Auction 23 Abstracts

Click thumbnails to open zoomable images.

DSRB Home | e-mail: rarebooks@sloanrarebooks.com