Mexican Land Grants in Texas

Were Not Free

Owen Shannon League


   Many people have the mistaken belief that land grants in Texas during the Mexican Colonial period were free. The common misconception is that all a colonist had to do was just show up and they would receive free land from the Mexican government. This is not how it worked. There were a number of costs and fees that had to be paid by colonists.

   This short article examines the costs and fees that a colonists in Austin's Colony had to pay in order to receive a clear title to their land. This article uses the Owen Shannon League located in present-day Montgomery County, Texas as an example. A league of land in Mexican Texas in 1831 contained 4,428.4 acres. The Owen Shannon League was part of Stephen F. Austin's Second Colony. The information in this article was provided by Galen Greaser who worked for many years as Translator with the Spanish Collection in the Archives and Records Division of the Texas General Land Office.

   "In 1829, preparatory to the arrival of Commissioner General Juan Antonio Padilla in the colony, Austin put out a "Notice" advising settlers of the process for obtaining a land grant. The first step was to obtain a certificate of admission showing that the settler had Austin's consent to locate in the colony. The cost of the certificate was two dollars (pesos and dollars were on a par at this time). As the empresario, Austin also collected a fee of $50.00 for his services, $10 upon receipt of the title and the balance due one year later. The secretary (Samuel M. Williams) was due $10.00, $5.00 on presenting the petition to the commissioner and $5.00 one year later. The title was written on stamped or revenue paper of the third stamp, for which the interested party paid two reales (two bits). Two pages were generally required, making the total for paper 50 cents. These are what we might label "office fees. They totalled $62.50.

   The settler also had to pay a surveyor for surveying his land. Decree No. 128 of the Congress of Coahuila y Texas, dated April 1, 1830, set the fee at $8.00 for surveying a league of land. You can find this decree in Gammel's, The Laws of Texas, Vol. 1. Previously, on May 15, 1828, the same Congress passed a decree, No. 62, setting the commissioner's fee at $15.00 for a league of grazing land and $2.00 for each labor of temporal land. Finally, Article 22 of the 1825 Colonization Law fixed the government dues required from each settler. The land was classified when it was surveyed. The two main classifications were grazing or pastureland and arable or temporal land. Each league of land contains 25 labors. In Owen Shannon's title, 20 labors were classified at grazing land and 5 labors were deemed to be arable. The fee for grazing land was $1.20 per labor, making $24.00, and arable land brought $2.50 per labor, or $12.50 in this case. The total government dues were, thus, $36.50. Settlers were given six years in which to pay the government, the first payment being due in the fourth year. If the commissioner charged $15 and the surveyor collected $8.00, added to the $36.50, the total would be $59.50 for this part, which added to the "office fees" make a total of $122.00. There may have been a few other incidentals, such as the cost of preparing the certified copy of the title that was given to the grantee, but I would be comfortable with stating that the cost of obtaining a title for one league of land in Austin's Colony in 1831 was in the neighborhood of $125 dollars.

   The originals of "Austin's Register of Families" are part of the Spanish Collection here in the Texas General Land Office."

 By: Galen Greaser