Hayden Edwards, Empresario
Haden (or Hayden) Edwards was born in Stafford County, Virginia, on August 12, 1771 and moved to Bourbon County, Kentucky in 1780 while the American Revolution was raging. His father, John Edwards, eventually acquired 23,000 acres of land, worked for statehood, and was elected to the United States Senate when Kentucky gained statehood.
From this privileged childhood, Haden studied law but was more interested in land speculation. A man on the make, he married Susanna Beall of Maryland in 1820 and they moved to to central Mississippi where he and his brother Benjamin W. Edwards acquired a plantation near Jackson. He and Susanna eventually had thirteen children. In Mississippi the Edwardses first heard the news of Moses Austin’s plans for colonization in Texas. In 1823 Edwards traveled to Mexico City, where he joined Stephen F. Austin, Robert Leftwich, and others in lobbying the various Mexican governments to authorize American settlement in Texas. Because of his wealth, Austin often asked Edwards for financial support during these lean times. Eventually, their efforts resulted in colonization laws which allowed empresarios to introduce settlers to Texas but Edwards soured on Austin believing he unfairly claimed the best lands in Texas.
Edwards received an empresario grant on April 14, 1825 to settle up to 800 families around Nacogdoches in eastern Texas. Like all empresarios, he remained obligated to uphold land grants certified by the Spanish and Mexican governments, provide an organization for the protection of all colonists in the area, and receive a land commissioner appointed by the Mexican government. Even so, Edwards acted like a potentate. He arrived in Nacogdoches on September 25, 1825, and posted notices on street corners to all previous landowners that they would have to present evidence of their claims or forfeit to new settlers. This naturally offended the older settlers.
Edwards’s grant was located in a difficult part of the Texas. To the east was the Neutral Ground, inhabited mostly by fugitives and bandits; to the north and west were Indians; to the south was Austin’s colony; and in Nacogdoches itself were the remnants of previous filibuster expeditions that had failed and a remnant population of Tejanos who were increasingly resentful of the Anglo-American newcomers. At the same time, Edwards’s behavior was threatening and polarized the old inhabitants against the new.
An election for alcalde in December provided the occasion for the factions to express their opposition. Samuel Norris was the candidate for the old settlers, and Chichester Chaplin, Edwards’s son-in-law, was supported by the new. After the voting Edwards certified Chaplin’s election to Mexican authorities but Norris’s supporters successfully challenged his claim, charging fraud. In March 1826, officials ordered the office surrendered to Norris but Edwards refused to back down. In the summer of 1826, Mexican lawmakers declared the Edwards grant forfeit. Edwards was outraged, and he found support in the settlers he had brought in upholding his position–and the election of his Chaplin.
On November 22, 1826, a group of some forty men traveled from the Ayish Bayou to Nacogdoches, where they seized Norris, Edwards, and others and tried them for oppression and corruption in office. Edwards, suspiciously, was released–his inclusion in the group may have been to cover up his participation in the attack. The others were tried, convicted, and threatened with death unless if they relinquished their offices.
As soon as Mexican authorities heard of the incident, Lt. Col. Mateo Ahumada, principal military commander in Texas, gathered a force to march on Nacogdoches. He left San Antonio on December 11 with twenty dragoons and 110 infantrymen. It was clear to Edwards that his only chance to make good on the the time and estimated $50,000 he had already expended on his colony was to separate from Mexico–and soon. He and supporters began preparations to meet the Mexican force in the name of an independent republic they called Fredonia. Since they planned to include the Cherokees in their move for independence, the flag they designed had two parallel bars, red and white, symbolizing Indian and white. In fact that support never materialized. The flag was inscribed “Independence, Liberty, Justice.” The rebels signed it and flew it over the Old Stone Fort. The rebels signed the Fredonian Declaration of Independence on December 21, 1826.
Edwards designated his brother Benjamin commander in chief and appealed to the United States for help. Mexican authorities enlisted Stephen F. Austin, who sided with the government, and Peter Ellis Bean, the Mexican Indian agent for East Texas. When the Mexican officers and militia and members of Austin’s colony reached Nacogdoches on January 31, 1827, the revolutionaries fled and crossed the Sabine River.