Thursday, December 31, 2015

Clearing on the Halves - The Discovery of a Forgotten Real Estate Practice in Austin's Colony Pertaining to Mexican Land Grants

For several years I have been researching the early history of Montgomery County, Texas. The earliest Anglo-American settlement in what is today Montgomery County, Texas was the Lake Creek Settlement. The Lake Creek Settlement was located in Austin's Second Colony. While doing my research, I discovered a long forgotten real estate practice in Austin' Colony that was quite common in colonial Texas known as "clearing on the halves" or "clearing land."

First, it is important to know that Mexican land grants were not actually free.  There were a number of costs and fees associated with "clearing land" out of Stephen F. Austin's office in the town of San Felipe de Austin. To demonstrate this, we will use Owen Shannon's League which is located today in western Montgomery County.  Using Owen Shannon's League as an example, the costs and fees of obtaining a league of land in Austin's Second Colony in 1831 have been detailed by Galen Greaser, 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 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 required , making the total for paper 50 cents.  These are what we might label "office fees." They totaled $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.

As an example, in Owen Shannon's title, 20 labors were classified as grazing land and 5 labors were deemed 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."

$125 was a lot of money in 1831. Often, early settlers did not have enough money to pay these costs and fees to clear their land out of Stephen F. Austin's office at San Felipe.

"Clearing on the halves" or "clearing land" had nothing whatsoever to do with clearing trees or brush from land, as the name would initially suggest.  Many settlers that came to Texas had waited for years to get their land grants in Austin's Colony.  By the time the Empresario (Austin) had the deed papers ready, the settlers were often out of cash money when it came time to pay the costs and fees described above. Enterprising businessmen with ready cash would offer to pay these closing costs on behalf of the settlers in return for a portion of the league of land the settler was to receive. Typically the person "clearing land on the halves" got, as the name suggests, half of the settler's league of land.

The practice was a win-win-win situation.  The Empresario and the Mexican government won because they got all their costs and fees paid.  The settler won because he received clear title to his league of land without paying any money out of his own pocket.  And the business man "clearing on the halves" immediately got half of the league of land the settler received (about 2,214 acres) for an investment of about $125.00 (or just over 5 and a half cents per acre).

For instance, in the example in the section above, Thomas Taylor paid Owen Shannon's costs and fees on his behalf.  In return for paying these expenses on behalf of Owen Shannon, Owen Shannon deeded half of his league to Thomas Taylor.  This practice was known as "clearing on the halves."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Montgomery County History Road Rally. Historic Willis and Danville, Texas, January 23, 2016

The Montgomery County Historical Commission will be holding its 3rd annual History Road Rally on Saturday, January 23, 2016.  Each year the Montgomery County Historical Commission picks a different part of historic Montgomery County, Texas to make the focus of the History Road Rally. Two years ago, the History Road Rally focused on Montgomery, Texas and the historic sites around Montgomery.  Last year, the History Road Rally focused on Conroe, Texas and the historic sites around Conroe.  This years History Road Rally will focus on historic sites in and around Willis, Texas and Danville, Texas.

There will be trophies and prizes for the winning teams.  Teams of 2-5 participants per vehicle will be given clues to historic sites such as cemeteries, historic homes and churches, 1936 Centennial markers, Texas State Historical markers, etc. Those wishing to participate in the History Road Rally will meet at the North Montgomery County Community Center located at 600 Gerald at Lincoln Ridge in Willis, Texas beginning at noon.  The Rally will be held rain or shine.  Check-in is from Noon-1:00 p.m.  Road rally will start at 1:30 p.m. Each team will follow the clues given at the beginning of the rally.  Historical sites will be located by the teams and photographs of team members will be taken in front of the historic sites, markers etc.  So be sure and bring your cell phones and make sure your batteries are charged.  Each team will have two hours to complete the History Road Rally.  There will be free meals and team recognition beginning at 4:00 p.m. including trophies and prizes.

There is a pre-registration fee of $30 per vehicle and the registration fee will be $40 on the day of the event. This event is sponsored by Gullo Ford of Conroe, Gullo Mazda of Conroe and Gullo Toyota of Conroe. For more information or to register, call 936-525-7311 or 936-537-9070.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Descendants of the Signers Sought by Genealogical Consultant, Shelby Rowan, for Texas 180th Celebration

Are you a descendant of a Signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence (one of the 59 delegates or the secretary of the Convention)? The Texas Declaration of Independence from Mexico was signed beginning on March 2, 1836. The Star of the Republic Museum located at Washington on the Brazos State Park maintains a Registry of the Descendants of the Signers who have proven their descent genealogically.  Have you wanted to be a member listed on the Registry of Descendants of the Signers?  Do you need a little help with your application?  Then read on.

In 2011, the Star of the Republic Museum celebrated the 175th anniversary of the  signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence and over 1500 descendants were in attendance.  That number was largely due to the research done by many volunteer genealogists who compiled family trees of the 60 signers and located a significant number of living descendants who were subsequently invited to the 2011 celebration.  2016 will mark the 180th anniversary and there is currently an effort being made to locate the many additional living descendants.  New research has shown that there are hundreds, perhaps as many as a thousand, living descendants of the Signers still unidentified.

To learn more about the Star of the Republic Museum and the Signers Project, you can go to the Museum's website (, visit the museum at Washington-on-the-Brazos State Park just outside Navasota, Texas, or call the Star of the Republic Museum (936-878-2461), and talk to Dr. Shawn Carlson, Curator, (ext. 214), or Dr. Houston McGaugh, Director, (ext.238). On the Star of the Republic Museum website, you will find family trees of all the signers (the 59 delegates and the secretary, Henry Kimble), and information about the project and about the Descendants Registry project.

For help with your application for the Descendants Registry, Shelby Rowan, Genealogical Consultant for the Museum, can also help.  It is her objective to review all current family trees and then see where descendants of the signers, dead or living are missing.  If you are a descendant of one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, and you have not previously been identified, Shelby Rowan is looking for you. There is still a lot of work to do. Although most of the family trees of each of the signers have most of their children in the second generation identified and listed, Shelby Rowan has discovered several instances where any number of grandchildren or great-grandchildren are missing and thus long lines of living descendants are yet to be located.  You are encouraged to contact Shelby Rowan and forward this to your cousins because Miss Rowan needs your help in finding those missing living descendants.  You need to know that NO INFORMATION ABOUT LIVING PEOPLE is put on the website and the Museum does not share any of the information about living people with anyone!! Occasionally people will contact Miss Rowan  looking for cousins and she will only share contact information if she is given permission. The best plan is be at the 180th celebration  in 2016 and meet those cousins who descend from your signer ancestor personally!

March 5th and 6th have been selected as the dates for the 2016 Texas Independence celebration at Washington-on-the-Brazos as well as the Descendants of the Signers activities.  Information will be online and sent to the Descendants of the Signers beginning sometime in the fall of 2015. There will be a variety of activities on both Saturday and Sunday followed by a roll call of all the families on Sunday, the 6th.  Feel free to contact Shelby Rowan by phone, email or snail mail with any questions OR with additional names for her to add to her files. Remember, if the Star of the Republic Museum does not have your information (correct address and correct email) you will not receive formal invitations to the activities.  Whether they have your contact information or not, be sure and come up to Washington-on-the-Brazos March 5-6, 2016 for all the fun and to celebrate what your ancestor did "Where Texas Became Texas."


Shelby Rowan, Genealogical Consultant for the Star of the Republic Museum
2300 Avon Street, Bryan, Texas 77802

 For more information about the Descendants of the Signers activities for the 180th celebration, visit: or call 936-878-2214.

Photograph of Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick speaking at 2015 Texas Independence Day celebrations at Washington-on-the-Brazos with the Descendants of the Signers flag in the background is courtesy of Jennifer Searle.