The Austin Empire

Moses Austin

A Connecticut Yankee was Moses Austin, an intrepid entrepreneur who had been an importer in Philadelphia and a lead miner at Richmond. In 1797, learning of the rich lead deposits in Missouri discovered by the French, he visited Missouri and obtained a grant from the Spanish officials covering a large part of Azor’s mines at Mine Au Breton. He brought his family, and 30 others here in 1798 and settled in his magnificent home, Durham Hall.

Portrait of Moses Austin

Here Austin transformed the primitive mining methods of the French into Missouri’s first major industry, turning out the first lead sheet cannonballs made in Missouri. By 1802, he was smelting all the lead for the district, and in 1809 he established Herculaneum, north on the Mississippi, for shot production and a shipping point for lead. But he overreached, took his fortune from the mines and invested it into a banking venture in St. Louis, which failed and left him financially ruined by 1819.

Seeking to retrieve his fortune, he set out for Texas in November, 1820. There was a chance meeting with a Spanish official he had known in Missouri and got him an audience, and permission from the Spanish to settle the first 300 American families in Texas.
The hardships of the return journey were too rigorous for him, and he died in June 1821, three weeks after his arrival back home in Missouri. He and his wife, Maria, are buried in the Old Cemetery in Potosi.


Carrying out Austin’s plan and becoming the “Father of Texas” was his son, Stephen F. Austin, who respected his father’s deathbed wish and took the colony on into Texas. Stephen has spent his boyhood at Potosi and represented Washington County in the territorial legislature for six years. Stephen carried on delicate negotiations with the Spanish as his Austin colony grew, and when friction flamed between the Spanish and Mexicans and the growing American colonies, served as commander-in-chief of the Army of Texas in the struggle for Texas independence.

With the formation of the Republic of Texas, Austin was named the first secretary of State. He died soon after on December 27, 1836, but not before placing his stamp on the Southwest and his name on the new state’s capitol, Austin.