There was a time during the settlement of pioneer Texas where large tracts of land were given to agents with the hope that adventurous pioneers would relocate there and help build communities. Pioneer life was never easy but the issuance of land was a big draw for many.
Land grants had actually been commonplace in the Texas region for quite some time. Both the Spaniards and then the Mexicans had encouraged European pioneer settlement for a variety of reasons. The most important reason was to help establish some type of buffer between the ruling government and the Indians. This of course was one of the big dangers of pioneer life on the frontier.
For a very long time the Comanche Indians had fought encroachment into this area. The fighting was often quite brutal and during one particular conflict the Comanches raided all the way southeastward to the very shores of the Gulf of Mexico in the area of Matagorda Bay. During the earliest days of Texas a coastal port, named Indianola, was one of the largest ports for immigrants coming to what is today the Lone Star State.
Many people may have heard of these “empresario colonies” being established in Texas while under Mexican rule but this colonization lasted well into the Republic of Texas era. Beginning in 1841 several contracts had been given out to the Texas Land and Emigration Company in north Texas. This area extended roughly to Willbarger county to the west, down to the Dallas and Fort Worth area to the sou which today th and into present day Collin county to the east. It was a very large tract of land which today includes the largest concentration of North Texas population.
William S. Peters, the founder of the Peters colony of Texas, was born in England in 1779. He moved to North America in 1827 with his wife and six of his children. He worked in Canada as a military bandmaster and was forty-eight years old when he entered the United States.
After a musical partnership ended between Peters and a William Browning, they traveled from Louisville Kentucky to England to find investors for what became known as the Peters Colony.It’s not really known why Peters became interested in Texas What is known is that he was and followed it up with an effort to find investors to make it happen. Peters eventually located the original twenty investors and they petitioned the Texas Republic to contract land to them which at first was to be a colony of Englishmen but the investors ended up being half American and half English. In response, the Republic of Texas through it’s Fifth Congress enacted a the law on February 4, 1841, that authorized the president of the Republic of Texas to enter into an “empresario contract” with Peters and his associates.
Of the American investors, six were related to Peters’ three sons and three sons-in-law. The entire arrangement was a business venture. It’s doubtful as to how many of the initial investors themselves even journeyed to Texas if at all but at the same time the Texas Republic wanted all the settlers they could obtain. The image below is an example of a small Texas pioneer cabin from the author’s private collection.
During the decade of the 1840s William Peters made at least one trip to England to organize and contact immigration associations that might agree to send immigrants to the colony in Texas. He was unsuccessful in trying to talk Robert Owen, an English socialist, into his new project however he was successful in working out an arrangement with a Frenchman named Cabet. The land allocated in the agreement with Cabet was a tract the state had granted Peters’ colonization company in alternate sections with the implicit condition that they secure immigrants. The company in turn granted the Icarians (Cabet’s group) the right of acquiring half of each of its sections. Because of this, the lots the Texas pioneers eventually owned were not contiguous. It has been said that Peters initial goal back at the beginning was to establish a colony of hard working middle class Englishmen in the Texas Republic however The Peters Colony was ultimately settled by Americans.
The Texas Land and Emigration Company’s contract declared that the investors themselves would retain one half of the lands settled on the condition that at least two hundred families were to be settled in three years. The Republic of Texas also had colonization laws for pioneers that further stated that a married man was entitled to 640 acres and a single man to 320 in return for which the settler promised he would reside on and work the land. Today, the visitor on a Texas vacation can learn more about the very earliest settlement events that helped build Texas.
There are many historical societies in many towns and cities which are situated in what was the land of The Peters Colony. You will find some very detailed tract maps at the Texas Electric Railway Museum in downtown Plano Texas. Plano is about 20 miles north of Dallas off of US Hwy-75. The museum is on 15th St. just about five blocks east of US Hwy-75. Another good stop is the Frisco Heritage Museum in Frisco Texas at 6455 Page St. Frisco is about 25 miles north of Dallas just off the Dallas North Tollway. The city of Denton Texas which is about 30 miles northwest of Dallas is another good place to learn about the Peters Colony era. The Peters Colony contracts eventually covered all of Northeast Texas and the colony’s official land office was established near the settlement of Hebron in the southeast corner of present-day Denton County. An excellent stop in Denton is the Historical Park of Denton County located at 317 West Mulberry near the town square.
There are many reminders of the old peters Colony still today. One is the city of The Colony (city logo at left courtesy of The Colony) which is located north of Dallas Texas in Denton county. The Colony has a 2010 estimated population of over 40,000. The Colony is located inside the original Peters Colony lands. Several of it’s streets are named after the original Peters Colony landowners. There are also several streets and highways outside the present city of The Colony named after some of the people involved in the old Peters Colony. One example is Hedgcoxe Rd which is a large street in the residential Collin county city of Plano.
I think that anytime you bring people to a new land where a colony is established, the chances of having disagreements are pretty high. Everything was not smooth sailing in regards to the later years of the Peters colony. One such conflict actually ended up in what is referred to by historians as the Hedgcoxe War of 1852 or the Peters Colony Rebellion. The Peters colony colonists began protesting what they felt was an attempt by the land company to invalidate their land claims.
This conflict had really been simmering for quite some time. On February 10, 1852, the Texas legislature trying to put an end to this disagreement passed a law which was supposed to satisfy both parties, the land company and the settlers. According to its terms of the new bill, all of the current lawsuits between the state and the land company were to be withdrawn. The colonists were given more time to file their claims with some new guidelines. Furthermore, the state of Texas was to give the land company 1,088,000 acres of land. The colonists were not satisfied. They were concerned both by the possible sale of some claims and they were angry over the legislature’s generosity towards the land company.
Things only got hotter in May of 1852. A man named Henry Oliver Hedgcoxe, the agent of the land company, threw gas on the fire when he published an explanatory proclamation that stated the colonists had until August 4 to establish their claims with him. The colonists were angered at both the proclamation and the attitude coming from Hedgcoxe.
The colonists were further aroused when the attorney general of Texas, Ebenezer Allen, issued an opinion upholding the law. On July 15,1852, during a meeting by the colonists, Hedgcoxe was accused of fraud and corruption by an investigating committee. This is when the real trouble started. A day later, on July 16, 1852, John J. Good led 100 armed men from the mass meeting to Hedgcoxe’s office in Collin county. They grabbed Hedgcoxe’s files and moved to the Dallas County Courthouse. Hedgcoxe was ordered to leave the colony and fled to Austin. After this mass rebellion of sorts the land company softened their tone. On February 7, 1853, an amendment to the compromise law which was agreed to by both sides was passed. This essentially ended the dispute and some very minor differences were worked out over the next years through both the courts and Texas legislature.
The Peters Colony establishment was a very unique undertaking in as much as it began during the time Texas was a separate republic and lasted through and after the time of statehood.
Also see our article on a Visit to Luling Texas / Railroads, Oil and Watermelons.