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Henri Castro’s Société de Colonisation Europée-Américain au Texas

July 1, 2009

“Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America,” wrote historian Oscar Handlin in the introduction of his Pulitzer Prize winning work The Uprooted. “Then I discovered that the immigrants were American history.” Indeed, the DRT Library’s collections contain many books, vertical files, archival collections, and other materials documenting the history and experiences of immigrant groups in San Antonio and Texas.

Maria Derungs's contract with the Societe de Colonisation au Texas and Maria Derungs dated June 27, 1847.

Maria Derungs's contract with the Societe de Colonisation au Texas dated June 27, 1847.

Second page of the contract.

Second page of the contract.

Third page of the contract.

Third page of the contract.

One of these items, pictured above, can be found in the DRT 9 Documents Collection. It a contract between colonist Maria Derungs and Henri Castro’s Société de Colonisation Europée-Américain au Texas, signed on June 27, 1847. Through the Société, writes Bobby D. Weaver, Castro “hired agents to recruit colonists and devised the means to insure the orderly movement” of European colonists – specifically individuals and families from France and the German states – to Texas beginning in 1842 (26). While the original office for the Société was located at 6 rue de la Beaume in Paris, a new organization with the same name was later created with headquarters in Antwerp.

As an empresario, Henri Castro was granted the right to settle on 1.25 million acres of land west-southwest of San Antonio in exchange for recruiting and taking responsibility for new settlers. The empresario system originated when Texas was ruled by the Mexican government. However, because the practice had the potential to sell vast public lands to new settlers, Texans continued it after independence as a means of remedying the economic instability facing the Republic of Texas. In theory, writes Wayne M. Ahr, the system also benefited empresarios like Castro and each new colonist:

The grant…stipulated that each married man would be allotted 640 acres, and each bachelor would be allotted 360 acres. To gain proper title to the land, colonists were required to construct a permanent dwelling on their plots and put at least fifteen acres under cultivation within a year. Castro would receive ten sections of land for every one hundred colonists he introduced” (130).

Each colonist to Castro’s colony signed a contract similar to the one signed by Maria Derungs. Weaver describes that the document “paraphrased the law that granted Castro his concession and outlined the stipulations of his contract.” In addition, each colonist signed a supplementary statement in which he agreed to “relinquish to Castro one-half the land due to [him] in return for expenses incurred by the empresario in recruiting and transporting the colonist to the property.” After signing both documents, the colonist paid a deposit of 100 francs ($20), “which he could redeem upon arrival on concession land.” The fee protected Castro’s financial investment in the colonization program by “insur[ing] that the person would indeed go to the colony or forfeit his deposit.” Finally, “each emigrant received detailed written instructions on what to do, whom to see, and where to go” at all points on the journey from Europe to Texas (26-27).

Auguste Fretelliere. (SC889.50.2.9)

Auguste Fretelliere. (SC889.50.2.9)

In “Adventures of a Castrovillian,” Auguste Frétellière, friend and brother-in-law of artist Theodore Gentilz, describes his experience in becoming one of Castro’s colonists. The reader firsts meets Frétellière “strolling along the Champs Elysées” on a June morning in 1843, anxious about his future in France. He is intrigued when his friend Page asks “Would you like to earn a million in five years?” and offers to introduce him to a “great capitalist who wished to establish a colony in Texas.” Frétellière’s account illustrates Wayne M. Ahr’s argument that Castro impressed potential recruits with “his manners, sumptuous headquarters, and promises of fortune” (131). However, unlike Frétellière, many people were not impressed enough to agree to go to Texas.

I was punctual for the engagement, and [Page and I] went together to Mr. Henry Castro’s house in the rue Lafitte. We were kept waiting in the antechamber rather a long time. (The custom is fairly general in France, since it gives importance to the personage on whom one is calling.) Finally a butler, conventionally dressed, came to show us into the drawing-room. The apartment was magnificent, Brussels carpet, a tête-à- tête and arm-chairs upholstered in crimson satin; a Saint Gobain mirror with an ornate frame; and a series of paintings which depicted scenes in America and Indian life. It was marvelous. My friend presented me to Mr. H. Castro. He was a middle-aged man, dressed in the latest fashion. He had the manner of a person of consequence, and of a diplomat as well – characteristics which impressed me at once. The conversation began, and he had no difficulty in convincing me that I should join his colony; for with that enterprise I would realize a fortune in a few years. He gave me a brochure, begging me to notice that in the little book I would learn of all the advantages which would accrue to people casting their lot with him. We took leave of the gentleman, promising to give him an answer shortly (80).

While at this time nothing else is known about Maria Derungs, Frétellière’s account helps us imagine and surmise the circumstances in which she signed her contract with Henri Castro’s Société de Colonisation Europée-Américain au Texas.

References:

Wayne M. Ahr, “Henri Castro and Castroville: Alsatian History and Heritage,” in The French in Texas: History, Migration, Culture edited by François Lagarde

Auguste Frétellière, “Adventures of a Castrovillian,” in Castro-ville and Henry Castro, Empresario by Julia Nott Waugh

Bobby D. Weaver, Castro’s Colony: Empresario Development in Texas, 1842-1865

Click here for a full citation of the documents and images included in this entry.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. emily martinsen permalink
    August 18, 2009 8:04 pm

    is there a list of the settlers with this contract ?

  2. drtlibrary permalink*
    August 24, 2009 4:45 pm

    I haven’t seen such a list in my research. Preliminary indications suggest that scholars still do not have a completely accurate count of how many settlers came to Texas, a number that might vary slightly from the number of contracts signed in Europe (assuming some people signed contacts but decided not to immigrate to Texas).

    In his work “Castro’s Colony: Empresario Development in Texas, 1842-1865,” Bobby D. Weaver writes that examples of contracts exist in several archival repositories in Texas (see page 27, footnote). These include the Blevin Papers, Witte Museum Library, San Antonio; Leinweber File, James Menke Collection, San Antonio; and Colonization Papers, Texas State Library, Austin. Weaver further writes that “perhaps the most detailed description of a Castro colonist contact” appears in Audrey Goldthorp’s work “Castro’s Colony” (Master’s thesis, University of Texas, 1928), pages 68-69, and in a letter from Castro to Anson Jones written on November 1, 1842, in the Colonization Papers. Additionally, Weaver’s work references additional sources – such as deed and church records, census records, and ships’ lists – that together provide information about early settlers in Castro’s colony. These can be found in various repositories in Texas.

    The DRT Library also has a photocopy of a contract in the Keller family papers (Doc 1118) and a photocopy of an 1844 roster of colonists in the Charles S. DeMontel papers (Doc 5199).

    You may also be able find additional information about the contracts and the names of settlers who signed them in the Henri Castro papers (finding aid or inventory available at http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/00396/cah-00396.html ) and/or the Ferdinand Louis Huth papers (finding aid or inventory available at http://www.lib.utexas.edu/taro/utcah/00001/cah-00001.html ), both at the Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  3. sam gray permalink
    December 2, 2010 9:07 pm

    My greatgrandfather was Castro dixon gray. We have not been able to tell how they came about that name. He servied in the civil war and died in 1903 in Ark. It may be that his father new of Mr. Castro. I hope that is the case. Sam Gray

  4. Kathy Gray Findley permalink
    October 4, 2011 12:03 pm

    I have been doing some research and have learned that my great, great grand father was Castro Dixon Gray, that died in Donaldson Arkansas. I would like to learn more about him. This is very interesteing information.

  5. drtlibrary permalink*
    November 28, 2011 3:04 pm

    Ms. Findley, Our collection almost entirely pertains to Texas history and genealogy. If Castro Dixon Gray ever lived in Texas, we may have some information about him. You’re welcome to search our online catalog, which contains descriptions of the materials in our collection; see http://69.63.217.28/D92004Staff/OPAC/index.asp. I would recommend starting your search using Mr. Gray’s name and then expanding to search for materials about the counties and communities in which he lived. If you discover a resource that might contain information about Mr. Gray, you can visit the Library in person to examine it, or we can photocopy the relevant pages in the item and mail the copies to you.

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