The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996 Page: 2
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
lead mining business at Potosi, Missouri. Instead of being able to rescue
the Austin family from financial disaster, Stephen Austin himself had
fallen deeply in debt along with his father.' In 1818-1819 he had
plunged into high-risk land speculation in Arkansas, which had only
worsened his debt burden.2 A stint as a territorial judge in the summer
of 182o proved short-lived when the court to which he was appointed
was almost immediately abolished by the Arkansas legislature." Reflect-
ing on his troubles in April 182o, Austin lamented that "My opinion of
mankind has, unfortunately perhaps, been as bad as it could be for some
years, but the longer I live the worse it grows.... I shall remain here [in
Arkansas] this summer, and after that it is uncertain where I shall go....
I believe I am nearly indifferent what becomes of me, or whether I live
or die, unless I am to be of use to my Family by living, and then I should
be as anxious to live as any one." This pessimism, coupled with a strong
sense of familial duty, would become one of the hallmarks of Austin's
personality in the coming tumultous years.4
As Austin's father made preparations for a trip to Texas to investigate
colonization opportunities, Stephen abandoned Arkansas for New Or-
leans. As the commercial and financial center of the Deep South, New
Orleans seemed to offer the best opportunity for a well-educated, well-
connected, ambitious young man to get back on his feet. "I came here,"
Moses Austin's financial difficulties are ably chronicled in David B. Gracy II, Moses Austin.
Hzs Life (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1987), chaps. 9-11. Stephen F. Austin's biograph-
er is almost totally silent on the nature and magnitude of Stephen F. Austin's financial problems;
see Eugene C. Barker, The Life of Stephen F. Austin, Founder of Texas, i793-z836: A Chapter in the
Westward Movement of the Anglo-American People (1925; reprint, Austin: University of Texas Press,
198o), 22. Presenting all the evidence of Stephen F. Austin's indebtedness would require a sepa-
rate article, but for two major examples (among many) of his Missouri debts, see Statement of
Account, Dec. 22, 1818, in Eugene C. Barker (ed.), The Austin Papers, Annual Reports of the
American Historical Association for the Years 1919 and 1922 (2 vols.; Washington, D.C.: Govern-
ment Printing Office, 1924, 1928), I, pt. 1, p. 334 (cited hereafter as Austin Papers); and Robert
D. Dawson to Stephen F. Austin, June 16, 1827, ibid., pt. 2, pp. 1658-1659. Years later, Austin
paid off another of his large Missouri debts, in the amount of $5,767 to Anthony Butler; see en-
try dated Apr. 16, 1833, Austin Account Book (Center for American History, University of Texas
at Austin; cited hereafter as CAH).
2 Through a complex speculation involving the purchase of New Madrid Land Certificates,
Austin and a partner tried unsuccessfully to establish title to the site upon which Little Rock,
Arkansas would soon be built. See Memoranda Concerning Land Speculations, Jan. 30, Feb. 25,
1819, Austin Papers, I, pt. 1, p. 337; Stephen F. Austin to William M. O'Hara, Apr. 5, 7, 1819,
Ibid., 341-343; Promissory Note from Stephen F. Austin to William M. O'Hara, Mar. 5, 1819, in
Chester Ashley Papers (Special Collections and Archives, University of Arkansas at Little Rock).
' Stephen F. Austin's Commission as Judge, Austin Papers, I, pt. 1, pp. 365-366; Arkansas
Gazette (Arkansas Post),July 15, Oct. 28, 1820o. Austin did briefly preside at court; see E[lias] A.
E[lliott] to James Bryan, July 28, 1820o, Austin Papers, Series II (CAH); Skipper Steely, Forty Seven
Years (Paris, Tex.: Northeast Texas Historical Preservation Association in cooperation with
Wright Press, 1988), 155.
4 Stephen F Austin to James Bryan, Apr. 30, 1820o, Austm Papers, I, pt. 1, pp. 358, 359 (quota-
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 99, July 1995 - April, 1996, periodical, 1996; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101217/m1/30/: accessed May 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.