"The Old Three Hundred"
By Charles M. Yates
I've gotten several emails recently concerning "The Old Three Hundred". There seems to be quite a few misconceptions about this subject so I've decide to try to explain a few of the many facets of this portion of the Texas Genesis story.
The best place to start any discussion of "The Old Three Hundred"(click here) is with its entry in the New Handbook of Texas.
To be listed as one of "The Old Three Hundred", a pioneer family (or partnership) must have received their land grant under Austin's first contract with the Mexican Government to settle 300 households in Texas (the final tally actually comes closer to 297).
There are several areas that can cause confusion when considering "The Old Three Hundred". Many folks believe that if their ancestor arrived prior to a certain date, they qualify to be listed as one of "The Old Three Hundred". The fact is that many deeds that were to be granted under Austin's original contract, starting in 1823, were yet to be assigned as late as 1827. Because of Austin being a very busy man and having two different Land Commissioners (Bastrop and Abrego), the lands under his first contract were assigned over a span of four years.
Some folks assume that if their anscestors were granted land by Austin, they qualify as one of "The Old Three Hundred". Austin held four separate contracts with the Mexican government to settle families. These contracts were implemented in 1823, 1825, 1827 and 1828. The land granted under these contracts was in or near the lower Brazos River valley. He also had a fifth contract, in partnership with Samuel M. Williams, to settle 900 families in the area just east of what is now Austin, Texas. So there were ample opportunities to have an ancestor that received a land grant from Austin, but not under his first contract and therefore not qualify as one of "The Old Three Hundred".
Some have urged that if their ancestor received a grant of land from an empresario they qualify as one of "The Old Three Hundred". There were several empresarios besides Austin, in Mexican Texas prior to the revolution. These would include Green DeWitt, Martín De León, Haden Edwards, Sterling C. Robertson, James Power, James Hewetson and others. Land grants were also given out by the Republic of Texas to individuals for a myriad of reasons. Many folks also don"t realize that the empresario system was continued by the Republic of Texas for a number of years after independence. http://www.constant.com/~ths/grants.html The point of this is that simply obtaining a land grant from any of the many granting sources does not qualify an ancestor to be part of "The Old Three Hundred", either.
To confuse matters even futher, on the frontier of the time, maps, record keeping and surveying were fairly rudimentry and errors occured. Empresario tracts sometimes overlapped and disputes arose. Some empresarios were not able to procure the need number of families and defaulted on their contract. Conmen claiming to represent the empresario sold land and provided fake titles for they didn't own. The situation was far from being condusive to accurate record keeping.
There have been several lists of the "The Old Three Hundred" published through the years, just as there are several different lists of the men who fought at the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. None of the lists match, exacty, their kindred lists exactly for a multitude of reasons that will probably never be sorted out. This causes no end of problems for genealogists and historians. "The Old Three Hundred" list that I use was compiled by Lester G. Bugbee and orginally published in the October ,1897, issue of the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association. Bugbee spent a great deal of time studying Austin's papers and is, in no small way, responsible for bringing them to, what has since become, the Center for American History. If anyone has come up with a definitive list, it would be Bugbe.
In Texas, much emphasis has been placed on having an ancestor among "The Old Three Hundred". It is considered, in many circles, to be equivalent to having an ancestor who came over on the Mayflower. While having an ancestor among "The Old Three Hundred" is a noteworthy event, there were hundreds of families, both Anglo and Hispanic, who settled in Texas before Stephen F. Austin was even born. Consider the 15 families recruited from the Canary Islands who settled Bexar ninety years before Austin recruited his first colonists. I fear that in the headlong rush to be "the first" of something, people conviently overlook people and events before their own "first" event.
Some have used "The Old Three Hundred" to validate their family's contributions to the state and, in that light, I think it is wise to note that of the men massacred at Goliad in 1836, 75% had been in Texas less than four months. The length of time a family has been in Texas has little to do with the sacrifices and service they have contributed to making Texas the wonderful place it is. If your family has been in Texas two days or two hundred years, the overiding question is "What have you sacrificed to reinforce and perpetuate the freedom and independence that were handed down to you?"