Edwards helped influence the Anglo settlement of East
Texas almost as much as Stephen F. Austin, but the state capitol
and a couple of universities are not named for him. Here's why.
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Edwards was born in Virginia in 1771 and moved with his parents
to the western part of the state that became the state of Kentucky
in 1796. Edwards' father, a land speculator and one of Kentucky's
first U.S. senators, helped sons Haden and Benjamin Edwards begin
their own successful land speculation ventures in Mississippi.
Learning about Moses Austin's land activities in Texas, Edwards
shifted his interest to Texas. He traveled to Mexico City early
in the 1820s to join Stephen F. Austin, Robert Leftwich, and others
in lobbying successive Mexican governments for permission to colonize
Texas . Because of Edwards' wealth,
he supported Austin financially because Austin had already established
a relationship with authorities. Their efforts resulted in the Constitution
of 1824, which left land matters up to Mexican states, and the Coahuiltecan
Colonization Law of 1825, which opened Texas
to settlement by recognized empresarios—such as Austin and
Edwards received permission to settle up to 800 families around
in East Texas—an area southward to modern Jasper
west to the Trinity River, east to the Sabine, and north as far
as the Red River.
Like all empresarios, Edwards had to honor previous grants in the
area from Spanish or Mexican governments. Unfortunately for Edwards,
only his area had a significant number of such grants and the grantees
had no way to prove their claims because all records were in Spain.
Edwards' order that he would regard all the land as his produced
protests, strains with the government, and, late in 1925, the forfeiture
of Edwards' grant.
By his testimony, Edwards had invested $50,000 in his Texas
venture and did not want to lose it. As a result, he led something
called the Fredonia Rebellion in 1826, in which he proclaimed his
grant area independent of Mexico as the Fredonia Republic. It lasted
only until the arrival of Mexican troops, less than a year.
Edwards fled to Louisiana, but returned to Nacogdoches
even before the revolution in 1836. Family descendants lived there
for many decades.
The Fredonia Rebellion alarmed Mexican nationalists about the ultimate
goals of their new Anglo residents, prompting efforts to stop further
immigration—and, ultimately, the Texas Revolution. Perhaps we ought
to name something after Edwards after all.
Things Historical July 9, 2007 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and
author of more than 20 books on Texas.