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Auction 14: Americana

Lots 7-9: The Austins - Father & Son

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7. AUSTIN, Moses. Autograph note signed. Promissory note for $10 to Tim McMurray, signed by Moses Austin and McMurray (the note holder’s name is signed McMurray, but docket on verso is McMurry). Mine a Burton [Mine à Breton, present-day Potosi, Missouri], June 17, 1813. 1 p., 16mo. Creased where formerly folded and a few minor splits at folds, mild foxing, otherwise fine, with a strong, full signature and paraph.

    Moses Austin (1761-1821), father of Stephen F. Austin, was the first person to obtain permission to bring Anglo-American settlers into Spanish Texas (1820). Earlier, he had founded the lead industry in the United States, and “in 1798 established the first Anglo-American settlement west of and back from the Mississippi River” (Handbook of Texas Online: Moses Austin) at Mine à Breton, the site from which the present note was written. Moses Austin signed this document after obtaining a grant to a portion of Mine à Breton.
    In 1789 Moses Austin was awarded the contract to roof the Richmond, Virginia capitol in lead. Wanting to improve the efficiency of his operation, he brought experienced miners and smelterers from England. The resulting expertise and industry he introduced into the lead business established the U.S. lead industry. Aaron Burr’s conspiracy, the War of 1812, and a depressed economy slowed sales for Moses Austin. He joined forces with others to increase the money supply and founded the Bank of St. Louis, the first bank west of the Mississippi. The bank failed in 1819. Unable to escape his ever-increasing burden of debt, in 1819 Austin came up with yet another new and bold scheme–the establishment of an Anglo-American colony in Spanish Texas. He traveled to Texas and, by sheer chance and luck, encountered Baron de Bastrop, whom he had not seen for nineteen years. Through the intervention of Bastrop, Austin obtained permission to establish his Texas colony in 1820. Due to the hardships he suffered during his trip out of Texas, he died on June 10, 1821. Moses Austin’s deathbed request was that his son Stephen F. Austin carry out the “Texas Venture.” Stephen F. Austin faithfully complied. See next entry.

Austin Writes about the First Steamboat in Texas

8. AUSTIN, Stephen F. Autograph letter signed (“Estevan F. Austin”), in Spanish, to José María Viesca, Mexican Governor of Coahuila y Tejas, recommending that Henry Austin and his family be admitted to the colony and discussing Henry Austin’s experience with steamboats. [San Felipe de] Austin, January 4, 1830. 4 pp., 4to, including integral address. Folds browned and reinforced with tissue, mild to moderate foxing.

    This is an excellent letter with interesting and early commentary on steamboating in Texas. Austin urges Governor Viesca to permit his cousin Henry Austin (1782-1852) to be admitted to the colony. Henry was an attorney, promoter, politician, and land dealer, and Mary Austin Holley was his cousin. Austin persuasively sets out the advantages to be accrued by admitting Henry to the colony, particularly Henry’s ownership of the steamboat Ariel. Apparently Viesca granted both of Austin’s requests. On April 2, 1831, Henry’s application for a land grant was approved, and he and his family sailed for Texas as prospective colonists in May. Henry spent the rest of his life in Texas.

    Regarding Henry’s steamboating venture: “The Ariel, the first steamboat used in Texas waters, was the property of Henry Austin, who brought the vessel to the mouth of the Rio Grande in June 1829 to experiment with steam navigation on the river. In October the Texas Gazette reported that the Ariel had ascended 300 miles up the river to Revilla and was making regular runs between Matamoros and Camargo. After a year Austin gave up the project and arranged to visit Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas. In August 1830 he reached the mouth of the Brazos and ascended to Brazoria. After exploring Brazos waters, he decided that a boat business could not be made profitable and decided to sail for New Orleans. The Ariel was almost wrecked attempting to cross the Brazos bar and put out to sea in a damaged condition; it was forced to return. After three attempts to reach the United States, the ship put back into Galveston Bay and was laid up to rot in the San Jacinto River” (Handbook of Texas Online: Ariel).

9. AUSTIN, Stephen F. Autograph note signed (“S. F. Austin” and with paraph), promissory note by which Austin promises to pay to Dr. M. B. Nuckols $74.66, one-quarter on the debt due by Alsbury to Nuckols. [San Felipe de Austin], June 22, 1828. 1 p. (8.3 x 20 cm; 3-3/8 x 7-7/8 inches). Docketed on verso in contemporary ink: “S. F. Austins | Receipt | $74.66 1/4.” One small void to one letter due to ink corrosion, otherwise very fine.

    This is a routine document relating to two of Austin’s Old Three Hundred colonists. Dr. Milton B. Nuckols (or possibly Nuckels or Nichols; ?-1830), was a pioneer physician from Kentucky, who received title to a league and labor of land now in Matagorda and Brazoria counties. Austin thought highly of Dr. Nuckols and recommended his appointment as síndico procurador for the colony. At the time of this note Nuckols was probably running a mercantile business in addition to practicing medicine.
    Regarding the Alsbury mentioned in the note, one can only conjecture, since no first name is given. There were three Alsbury brothers (Charles Grundison, James Harvey, and Horace Alderson), all Old Three Hundred colonists, possibly from Kentucky, like Dr. Nuckols.
See Handbook of Texas Online for more on these three Alsbury brothers.

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