In the 1840s as Texas made the transition from a republic to a state of the Union, one man and his organization acted as welcoming committee, real estate agent, and provisioner to easterners who had scrawled “G.T.T.” on cabin doors and had “gone to Texas” to start a new life out west.
In 1841—twenty years after Stephen F. Austin began colonization of Texas (then a part of Mexico)—William Smalling Peters began the next large-scale colonization of Texas when it was still an independent nation. On February 4, 1841 the Republic of Texas granted empresario rights to Peters’s Texan Land and Emigration Company. Eleven of the twenty organizers of the company, including Peters, were British. Also involved in the company were several members of Peters’s family, including son William Cumming Peters, who published several songs composed by Stephen Foster.
William Smalling Peters promised the republic that he would bring six hundred families into the colony within three years. The republic agreed to grant 640 acres of land to each family and 320 acres to each single man over age seventeen. In return for organizing the colonists and acting as go-between, the Texan Land and Emigration Company was to receive ten sections (1 section = 640 acres) of land for every one hundred families who settled and five sections for every one hundred single men who settled. The company could charge colonists a fee, payable in land, for such services as surveying land, providing title to land, and arranging transportation to the colony. The company also provided colonists with gunpowder, shot, and seed.
On August 30, 1841 the Peters company got its first contract with the Republic of Texas, establishing the boundaries of the colony as beginning on the Red River and extending south sixty miles and west twenty-two miles. (Map from The Peters Colony of Texas.)
A second contract on November 9, 1841 expanded the colony forty miles southward, taking in what would become eastern Tarrant County. A third contract on July 26, 1842 widened the colony by twelve miles on the east and ten miles on the west. (Map from The Peters Colony of Texas.)
A fourth and final contract on January 20, 1843 greatly expanded the size of Peters Colony, taking in all of Tarrant County and adding more than ten million acres to the west. The colony was now larger than Belgium. (Map from The Peters Colony of Texas.)
This map shows that much of Peters Colony lay west of the frontier line in 1849-1852. (Map from University of Texas Libraries.)
The January 12, 1842 Austin City Gazette reported that six hundred families had bought two steamships and planned to travel up the Red River to claim their new homesteads in Peters Colony.
The Civilian and Galveston City Gazette on September 24, 1842 quoted the Northern Standard of Clarksville as saying that settlers, accompanied by one of the Peters family members, had passed through town on their way to the colony.
The 1843 expansion of the colony took in Stephens County (Breckenridge). This 1879 map labels “Texan Emigration and Land Company’s Premium Surveys of Peters Colony Lands.” The map also labels public land that the state set aside to benefit eleemosynary schools: “Blind Asylum,” “Orphan Asylum,” and “Lunatic Asylum.” (Map from the Texas General Land Office.)
This clip from the Northern Standard shows that not all Peters Colony settlers were from the eastern United States.
But Peters Colony was soon plagued by problems: inaccurate surveys, boundary disputes, the risk of “Indian trepidations,” delays in granting titles, empresario contract extensions, lack of organization, and poor communication between the British and American interests.
But perhaps the biggest problem was squabbles between the colonists and the land company. An 1841 Republic of Texas law allowed the company to keep one-half of a settler’s land grant. The settlers protested this law to the republic, and the law was repealed. But by 1852 Texas was a state of the Union. The state compensated the company with a million acres of colony land. This compensation angered colonists and land speculators, who feared that land values would fall. The company’s agent, English-born Henry O. Hedgcoxe, was not popular with colonists. They felt that the surveying that Hedgcoxe provided was not accurate, that he was cheating colonists.
On July 12 and 13, 1852 a group of Dallas land speculators broke in to Hedgcoxe’s office in Collin County and examined the land records. They didn’t like what they saw. At a meeting in Dallas on July 15 the speculators reported that the company was defrauding colonists. John Jay Good, who would be mayor of Dallas 1880-1881 (and co-namesake of the Good-Latimer Expressway), then led a band of armed men to Hedgcoxe’s office. Hedgcoxe skedaddled, but most of his files were seized, and his office was burned. After the raid, the state amended the law so that colonists obtained their grants from the state, not from the Peters Colony company. But title disputes continued for years. The incident is remembered as the “Hedgcoxe War.” Clip is from the August 18, 1852 Daily Dispatch of Richmond, Virginia.
The Peters land company responded to the raid with a flyer designed to reassure colonists who feared that the company planned to invalidate their land claims. The flyer also condemned the theft of the Hedgcoxe files. (Image from private collection of Mary Newton Maxwell.)
Solomon Davis was one of the settlers who received his Peters Colony grant from the state after the Hedgcoxe raid. This is his land grant certificate for 640 acres in Denton District, Township 1, Peters Colony, 1854. Among settlers claiming Peters Colony land in Tarrant County were Lemuel Edwards, the York and Gilmore families, Samuel Tucker, Adolph Gounah, William Owen Medlin, and Archibald Franklin Leonard.
An 1858 meeting of the colony commissioners in Fort Worth perhaps reflects a reduced activity in the colony. Clip is from the July 24 San Antonio Ledger.
Nonetheless, the stream of immigrants who had “gone to Texas” flowed on.
Several reminders of Peters Colony can be found in local place names. Such as the city of The Colony in Denton County. The Colony has a Hedgcoxe War Historical Park on Colony Boulevard. Several other streets and schools within the Peters Colony boundaries are named after colony figures. To the west, in Stephens and Eastland counties, Colony Creek probably was named for the colony, which once covered all of Stephens and one-third of Eastland County.
There are also several historical markers. This one is in Lewisville.
Seymour Connor in The Peters Colony of Texas wrote: “The colony that helped settle North Texas brought little if any profit to the investors and much disgruntlement among the settlers.” But despite its problems, Peters Colony is credited with bringing two thousand emigrants into north Texas and settling more than 800,000 acres. Some perspective: An election in 1836 indicated that the population of Texas was about fifty thousand—the capacity of TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium. Drawing is from the June 5, 1922 Star-Telegram.
All I know about myself is that I’m A Peters, my Dad was born in Shamrock Texas,, trying to run down the family Tree. My Grandfather was Herman Duncan Peters, and my Grandmother was Maria Peters. Any help would be appreciated. I do know my ancestors came by way of Germany where our last name is from. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you. Douglas W Peters.
All I know about Bobby Peters is in the blog post. Perhaps another reader can help.
Delilah Cox King and husband John King are my 5th great-grandparents. I’m researching and reconstructing Delilah’s life and appreciate your research about Peter’s Colony. Delilah was a most remarkable woman. Delilah and John are created with being among the original settlers of Little Elm, Texas. Delilah moved from Ohio to Indiana to Missouri and then to Texas. The move to Texas was with 9 young children. Her husband died 4 or 5 years after arriving in Texas, yet, she and her sons settled the land and helped build Little Elm. I wish I could have known this remarkable woman.
Does anyone know if there are Denton County maps from the 1850’s?
Does anyone know of diaries about what travel to Texas was like in the 1840’s-1850’s?
Thanks, Glenda. One source of old maps is Texas General Land Office.
William Smalling Peters is buried in our cemetery in Blairsville and we are interpreting him as part of our annual tour next month. This information is wonderful and will help enhance our actor’s presentation.
Glad to supply a piece of the Peters puzzle. He played an important–and largely unremembered–part in the settlement of north Texas.
This is great information. I have done extensive research on many family names. Snider’s from Kentucky settled In Midlothian area, and when Deaf Smith County was opened up by Texas, one Snider daughter moved out there to ranch with her husband. Then there were Powell’s, and Cooks came from Louisiana and Mississippi, and had land on the county line of Eastland and Stephen’s counties. Snider’s also had land land on the county line between Hood and Parker counties. I found relatives who settled the area of Copper Canyon which is now incorporated into Lewisville. And some in Dallas, and Grand Prairie when all 3 were separate communities and not one large metroplex. I am now trying to find their actual original land grants. Interesting that almost all my family came and got Peter’s Colony Land grants. I know about the grant file numbers being weird. Where is a good place to start looking? Is there a cross reference list of families?
Thanks, Gayla. Some of the reader comments contain links that might be helpful.
Copies of Peters Colony land grants can be found here:
Very easy to access.
I’m looking for information on my 4x great grandmother, Mary Standifer, who was granted land in Peters Colony as a single woman (widowed, I presume) with two children. Any leads would be greatly appreciated.
Seeking information on Ralph H Barksdale, surveyor and agent for Peters Colony prior to and simultaneous with Hedgcoxe. He owned 320 acres in Denton County but apparently didnt live there. Born Virginia about 1782.
My blog post has pretty much everything I know about Peters Colony. Some of the reader comments give resources online, and there is at least one book about the colony.
I found this card on ancestry of my 3rd ggf.
https://expof1.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/peters.jpg He is listed as an Abstract Owner in Fannin County.
It was in the Texas, Index Card Collections, 1800-1900. Card type of Colonial Ship Lists.
can someone kindly advise me where I can look for more info on the Colony land owners. I believe my 4x great grandfather William Sloane may have left Pennsylvania for Peters Colony. I am researching from Pennsylvania. much appreciated! -Jennifer
Lists of colonists exist, but most are still in print form, not online. The bottom of this webpage has some search information that might be helpful.
I was able to find copies of Peters Colony land-grant records for some of my ancestors (Hurst family) who were in the Peters Colony Second Contract (1841-1842) in Ellis County by searching the on-line records of the Texas General Land Office.
What family treasures! Thanks, Michael. The GLO is probably the best online source.
Hello, my 4th great grandfather was Joshua Bartlett Lee, Sr who is on one of the Peter’s Colony landmarks. I found the land grant he received in 1844. He and his family are buried in the Fitzhugh Cemetery in Collin County. I live in Johnson County. It is hard to go back much further other than he came from Illinois but I have a lot of pioneers in my family roots.
Thank you both for sharing these maps. I also live in this area and found them very informative.
Thanks, Traci. An interesting time in our history.
I currently have inherited a piece of property along Quil Miller creek at Hwy 917 and Bethesda road. Any idea who were the original occupants?
It is located right across Bethesda Rd from the Marystown cemetery.
Mr. Thomas, here is the oldest map of Johnson County I know of. But Burleson did not exist, and finding the location of your property would be difficult.
Buchanan was five miles northwest of Cleburne.
Current Village Cr was Caddo Cr & Quil Miller Cr was Turkey Cr on the old 1857 map. Caddo/Village Cr has a northern branch, Deer Creek that matches new maps*. This ties it in. Trace the county line and find where Caddo/Village dips down from Tarrant into Johnson Cty and back up to Tarrant it’s right where Turkey turns South on both maps: *http://www.topozone.com/texas/johnson-tx/stream/quil-miller-creek/
Mr.Thomas, you can comparison trace your creek on the maps to your land. Looks maybe like part of the EZr Jewell plot.
Great work, Mike. Your info just keeps getting better. I can see a good feud brewin’ here. I especially like the idea of the lunatic areas. I think those became Fort Worth, Tax-us.
Thanks, Earl. Peters Colony was always a big mystery to me, like the ward schools, until I forced myself to take the time to figure it out.
My name is Hedgcoxe and this information is very interesting to me. Thank You very much and I wish I could of helped my family come help and do the land scaping before they pasted away.
Peters Colony was an important part of north Texas history, and Henry O. Hedgcoxe saw a Texas that we can only imagine now.
Great historical article, Mike. Thanks for not letting is forget our historical past.
Thanks, Colleen. Growing up I had heard about Peters Colony now and then but never really knew its what, when, and where.
This article clears up a few questions I’ve had for 30 years or more. Thanks for the research!
Thanks, Russell. I had those same questions, I’ll bet. Glad to finally know the what, when, where.