Map of the Mercer Colony in Texas | by Texas General Land Office | Save Texas History | June 2022
New Orleans, 1845
A contract between President Sam Houston and former U.S. Congressman Charles Fenton Mercer established Mercer Colony in northern Texas on January 29, 1844. This was part of a government program introduced in 1841 at a time when the window for applying for a grant as a new settler in the Republic of Texas was closing (the legislature had refused to extend fourth-class head certificates for new settlers beyond 1842). To boost immigration, officials modeled the republic-era colonization effort on the success of the Mexican government. entrepreneur system of the previous two decades.
This 1845 map provides insight into Mercer’s vision for North Texas. He created the map as a promotional tool to recruit new settlers and ordered a thousand copies to be printed with his contract, which he distributed while touring the Midwestern United States. A dotted line forming a rough “J” marks the colony boundaries southeast of Peters Colony. The Brazos River is located to the west, the Trinity River and its named tributaries flow through the heart of the settlement, and the Sabine River appears on the eastern edge of the map. The map identifies three grants to the Texas Emigration and Land Company (Peters Colony), as well as a fifth grant to Mercer. Within the borders of the colony, several annotations indicate the number of families to settle in the area. Roads connect the colonies, including Lexington, Bonham, Fenton, Fort Houston (located outside the colony’s boundaries), and Dallas. This reference to Dallas is significant as it is believed to be the first time the city has been named on a map.
Mercer Colony had been controversial since its inception, as a movement to end the colony contract system had been building since the program’s implementation. Speculators and land certificate holders opposed reserving large swaths of the public domain for settlements and lobbied their representatives in Congress to repeal the law. They had an attorney in the person of Land Commissioner Thomas William Ward, who in his 1843 report to Congress declared that the law authorizing settlement contracts was “unlawful, impolitic, and objectionable on several grounds”, and asked Congress to repeal the program. This resistance persuaded the Texas Congress to pass legislation—despite President Sam Houston’s veto—banning the practice of settlement the day after the Mercer contract was signed. Congress kept up the pressure by passing another law on February 3, 1845, which directed Mercer and his associates to have their colony’s boundaries marked and surveyed by April 1 or risk losing the entire contract.
Mercer successfully established the boundaries of his colony; however, his struggles continued. Faced with legislative obstacles and other outside forces, he abandoned the business on February 27, 1852, ceding his interest to another party. Subsequently, settlement leaders clashed with squatters and lawful certificate holders making claims in the settlement, as well as surveyors from neighboring Robertson County encroaching on the territory. At the same time, the settlers fought with civilian and military forces attempting to enter various parts of the settlement. After the land commissioner authorized the sale of all vacant public land covered by the Mercer grant, the colony’s administrative association found itself embroiled in further legal action. This escalated to the Supreme Court of the United States, which in 1883 ruled that the association was not entitled to any further compensation from the state, thus ending its administration of the territory covered by the contract initial.