The Peters Colony

The Peters’ Colony describes four empresario land grant contracts by the Republic of Texas and the State of Texas for settlement in North Texas. An empresario was a person who had been granted the right to settle on land in exchange for recruiting and taking responsibility for settling the eastern areas of Coahuila y Texas in the early nineteenth century. The name is from the Spanish word for entrepreneur emprendedor. The contracts were signed by groups of American and English investors originally headed by William Smalling Peters. The first contract was awarded by the Republic of Texas on August 30, 1841.

Unappropriated land within the original boundary was not enough to meet the grants required. The empresarios requested a second contract that extended the boundary forty miles south. It was signed on November 9, 1841. Peters’ company had trouble meeting the deadlines and requested a third contract. It was signed by Sam Houston on July 26, 1842. It extended the boundary to include a 12-mile-wide strip on the east and a 10-mile-wide strip on the west. The fourth contract was signed on January 20, 1843. It extended that deadline to July 1, 1848 and expanded the boundary to include 10 million acres to the west.

The initial boundary of Peters Colony ran from the Red River at the mouth of Big Mineral Creek running south sixty miles, then west twenty-two miles, then back north to the Red River, and then east along the Red River to the beginning at Big Mineral Creek. The contract required the empresarios to recruit two hundred families from outside the Republic in three years. Single men could be granted 320 acres and families 640 acres. The empresarios were allowed to keep up to half of the settler’s grants for services rendered. These services included surveying, title documents, shot, powder, seed, and in some cases a log cabin. The terms of the contract involving titles and the retention of property by the company created problems between settlers and the company for many years.

These disputes led to the Hedgcoxe War. In this armed rebellion against the land company’s agent Henry Oliver Hedgcoxe on July 16, 1852, the colonists seized company records and took them to the Dallas County Courthouse. These problems persisted for many years and required additional legislation by the Congress of the Republic of Texas and the Texas Legislature.

In May 1852 Hedgcoxe published an explanatory proclamation that stated the colonists had until August 4, 1852, to establish their claims with his office. The company’s opponents considered the proclamation as arrogant and autocratic and contributed to the colonist’s misinterpretation of the compromise law. At a mass meeting of colonists in Dallas on July 15, 1852, an investigating committee accused Hedgcoxe of fraud and corruption. The following day, about one hundred armed men from the Dallas meeting invaded Hedgcoxe’s office in Collin County. The angry settlers seized Hedgcoxe’s file and took them to the Dallas County Courthouse. The Englishman was ordered to leave the colony. Alarmed by the colonists’ actions, the land company tried to satisfy the settlers. On February 7, 1853, the Texas legislature passed an amendment to the compromise law, which was satisfactory to both sides.

Map of the Texas Counties in the Peters Colony
Map of the Texas Counties in the Peters Colony

The colonists were further incited when the attorney general, Ebenezer Allen, issued an opinion on June 3, 1852, which upheld the law. The Commissioner of the General Landoffice, Stephen Crosby, asked Allen in his role as the State’s legal officer, to review the compromise legislation. Most of Allen’s evaluations were unfavorable to the colonists. Allen stated that land designated under past contracts between the State and various impresarios could not become part of the “vacant domain.” The attorney general concluded that the applicants were not entitled to the patents approved on February 10, 1852. He decided the colonists had “no right to appropriate” the “alternate sections reserved by the state.” Allen determined the colonists were not entitled to “divide their claims” in order to “secure two surveys on one and the same certificate.”

The South-Western American published “the opinion of Col. E. Allen … upon the late law relating to lands in Peters’ Colony.” The paper reported that Allen’s opinion was in response “to sundry questions propounded by the commissioner of the general land office.” The paper concluded by encouraging all parties to reach a compromise as soon as possible. “There is land enough for all, and contests come to no good.”

Disagreements between the settlers and investors led to ten legislative actions over nearly twenty years to finally settle the land titles. The colony that helped settle North Texas generated none or little profit to the investors and caused unhappy and angry settlers.

Return to Ebenezer Allen – Statesman, Entrepreneur, and Spy