History of Martín de León & Patricia de la Garza

Man and woman in clothing of the time

Don Martín de León was born in Cruillas, Nuevo Santander in 1771. His parents, Bernardo de León and Maria Antonia Tomasa Galvan, had come with their respective families to Nuevo Santander with, or shortly following, the original settlers of the province beginning in 1748. They were both descendants of the prominent Spanish families that had settled Coahuila & Nuevo Leon almost two hundred years earlier. In 1766, Captain Joaquin Galvan, Don Martín's uncle, founded the Villa of Cruillas for Don Jose de Escandon. As a young man, Don Martín saw his Tio Joaquin build the settlement of Cruillas from nothing, and perhaps, that is what inspired him to later found his own colony in the wilderness of Texas.

After gaining independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico soon felt the need to secure its Texas territory, really just a wilderness with few military outposts. The young country was left with little money but had plenty of unclaimed land so it utilized the empresario system as a way to settle and populate the province with loyal and honorable citizens. Stephen F. Austin was the first to receive an empresarial grant from Mexico on April 14, 1823.

Birth Certificate for Agustina de Leon

Seeing his opportunity, Don Martín de León applied on April 8, 1824, to the Provincial Delegation of San Fernando de Bexar (in San Antonio) for an empresarial grant. In his petition, Don Martín stated the intention to “establish peaceful relations, to settle the uncultivated and uninhabited wilds of Texas, and to bring knowledge of the divinity of the Lord our God into these remote deserts of North America”. He pledged that his efforts would “facilitate trade and commerce and serve as a point of defense”. His petition was approved on April 13, 1824, just 5 days later.

Don Martín recruited colonists, purchased supplies and arranged transportation using his own funds. His wife, Doña Patricia contributed her $9,800 dowry to the enterprise. Don Martín moved to the colony with his original settlers shortly after receiving his grant. His city, Guadalupe Victoria, was laid out in 1824 on a high knoll just outside the floodplain but with good access to the vital waters of the Guadalupe River.

Vaquero - Tejano Monument, Texas State Capitol Grounds, Austin, TX

As Empresario at the colony, Don Martín directed the creation of basic social infrastructure such as roads, schools, sawmills, the establishment of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Catholic Church in 1824 (which became Saint Mary’s Church, the second oldest Catholic Parish in Texas), and established the Empresarial Courier Service. He provided for defense, granted land to settlers, enforced the laws of Mexico, and represented the colonists to the distant government of Mexico.

The de León Colony grew to include Victoria County and parts of Calhoun, Jackson, Lavaca, and DeWitt counties and included people from the U.S., Canada, Ireland, France, and Germany. By March of 1826, Don Martín had fulfilled his first contract. His obligations met, the Empresario was paid with 5 leagues and 5 labors (23,028 acres) of land. In 1834, Don Martín de León died in a cholera epidemic, leaving direction of the colony to other family members.