Collection Summary

Title: Bound Case Materials for Walsh v. Preston, also called the Mercer Colony Case
Accession: MSS 95-7
Location: SC - Oversized
Photograph Collection: View 0 digitized photographs
Digitized Content: 0 objects
Use Restrictions: There are no restrictions.

Collection Description & Arrangement

Biographical & Historical Information

Charles Fenton Mercer, a member of the House of Representatives from Virginia, secured a colony as a land grant from the Republic of Texas in 1844.  Mercer's colonizing association was officially called the "Texas Association" but is more commonly referred to as Mercer's Colony.  The colony grew out of a statute enacted by the Texas Congress on February 4, 1841, restoring the Mexican policy of granting empresario contracts to persons who promised to survey the lands and settle individuals and families on the unclaimed public land of the republic.

Republic of Texas President Sam Houston granted Mercer a contract to settle at least 100 families a year for five years, beginning on January 29, 1844, despite opposition from Texas' current residents.  Mercer soon organized the Texas Association, to advertise and promote colonization, and sold shares at $500 each to investors in Virginia, Florida and Texas.

The colony was located east and south of the Peters colony, and lay between the Brazos and Sabine rivers, north from Waco to McKinney in Collin County, covering all or part of 18 present Texas counties, including Hunt, Rains, Rockwall, Kaufman, Van Zandt, Henderson, Navarro, Hill, McLennan, Johnston, Ellis and Dallas.

The colony initially offered only 160 acres to families and eighty acres to single men, but because the Peters Colony promoters were offering 320 acres, and later  640 acres to men and women with families, the better offer drew perspective colonists to that colony before Mercer finally matched the offer.  Nevertheless, by the end of the first year of the contract, more than 100 families had complied with the requirements and received land certificates from Charles Mercer.

However, the work of colonization was soon impeded by the fact that various land speculators, squatters and politicians, including David Spangler Kaufman, the man for whom Kaufman County is named.  They were eager to replace the empresario system with the Anglo-American land system, saying the emprsario system questioned both the wisdom and the legality of granting away the republic's vast public lands without financial gain to the Republic.

To make matters worse, Mercer himself was unpopular with the Republic's citizens, for he was known as an abolitionist at a time when slavery was being defended in Texas and had been an issue during the Texas Revolution.  He also had the reputation of being an unscrupulous speculator, a monopolist, and an opponent of free immigration for Anglo-Americans.  One day after the execution of Mercer's contract the Congress of the republic passed, over President Houston's veto, a statute outlawing colonization contracts.  Congressional resentment culminated in an investigation during 1844-45 of Mercer's contract and his efforts to fulfill its terms.  Meanwhile, squatters moved into the Mercer survey and denied the claims of settlers who held Mercer colony certificates.  Mercer's colonists also discovered land speculators and holders of bounty and headright certificates already claimed the lands for which they had been contracted, many arriving to their new land to find it occupied and under cultivation.  At this same time Mercer's surveyors reported that Robertson County, joining the colony on the south, was sending its surveyors into the limits of the empresario grant, claiming the land they surveyed there.  Finally, Mercer surveyors and settlers clashed with both civil and military forces when they attempted to penetrate that portion of the grant lying west of the Trinity River.  This situation started many years of litigation in the Texas Courts, especially with some of Kaufman County's earliest pioneers.

After the Convention of 1845 instructed the new state of Texas to begin legal proceedings against all colony contracts, Governor Albert C. Horton instituted suit on October 11, 1846, against Mercer and the Texas Association in the district court of Navarro County.  Judge Robert E. B. Baylor of the Third Judicial District declared the contract between Mercer and Houston null and void, but the Texas Supreme Court subsequently upheld the legality of the contract.  On February 2, 1850, the Texas legislature, seeking to quiet the confusion within the colony, guaranteed all land claims made by settlers in the Mercer colony before October 25, 1848.  By virtue of this legislation, 1,255 land certificates were recorded in the General Land Office.  In the face of these developments, and in hope of protecting the investments of his associates in his Texas project, Mercer severed all connection with the grant on February 27, 1852, by assigning his interest in the Texas Association to George Hancock of Louisville, Kentucky.

Although settlers recruited by Mercer and the Texas Association were ultimately granted the lands they had settled on, the state of Texas steadfastly refused to legalize any claims of the association itself.  Litigation over the lands continued into the 20th century.  The commissioner of the General Land Office would not allow The Association to sue in state courts and defended adamantly against all claims that it brought,  making available for sale the public lands within the Mercer grant.  On March 6, 1875, the chief agent of Mercer's Association filed an injunction in the United States circuit court at Austin, demanding that the land titles sought by the colonists be legalized whether within the area of the Mercer colony grant.  The United States Supreme Court settled the issue in 1883 by denying all compensation owed the association that was based on the original empresario contract.  However, the ruling failed to halt all conflicting land claims, some of which were in process of litigation as late as 1936.

Site Authors, "Mercer's Colony & Empresario C.F. Mercer," US Gen Web Project, (accessed November 23, 2015)

Acquisition Information

Date Received 1994
Donor Information Apparently donated by Mary Giliiam - Date Unknown

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