Stephen Fuller Austin was born November 3, 1793 in the mining regions of southwestern Virginia (Wythe County). He was the second child of Moses Austin and Mary Brown Austin. On June 8, 1798, when he was four years old, his family moved 40 miles west of the Mississippi River to the lead mining region in present-day Potosi, Missouri. His father Moses Austin received a Sitio from the Spanish government for the mining site of Mine à Breton, established by French colonists.
When Austin was eleven years old, his family sent him to be educated at Bacon Academy in Colchester, Connecticut and then at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, from which he graduated in 1810. After graduating, Austin began studying to be a lawyer; at age twenty-one he served in the legislature of the Missouri Territory.
Austin was left penniless after the Panic of 1819, and decided to move south to the new Arkansas Territory. He acquired property on the south bank of the Arkansas River, in the area that would later become Little Rock. He made his home in Hempstead County, Arkansas, before moving to the Texas territories.
During Austin's time in Arkansas, his father traveled to Spanish Texas and received an empresarial grant that would allow him to bring 300 American families to Texas. Moses Austin was attacked on his way back to Missouri. Upon returning home, Moses became ill with what was believed to be pneumonia and died on June 10, 1821. He left his empresario grant to his son Stephen. Though Austin was reluctant to carry on his father's Texas venture, Austin was persuaded to pursue the colonization of Texas by a letter from his mother, Mary Brown Austin, written just two days before Moses Austin died.
Austin boarded the steamer Beaver and departed to New Orleans to meet Spanish officials led by Erasmo Seguín. His party traveled to San Antonio with the intent of reauthorizing his father's grant, arriving on August 12. While in transit, they learned that Mexico had declared its independence from Spain, and Texas had become a Mexican province rather than a Spanish territory. A San Antonio native, José Antonio Navarro, having like visions of the future of Texas befriended Stephen F. Austin, and a lasting association developed between the two. Navarro, proficient with Spanish and Mexican law, would assist Austin in obtaining his empresario contracts. In San Antonio, the grant was reauthorized by Governor Antonio María Martínez, who allowed Austin to explore the Gulf Coast between San Antonio and the Brazos River to find a suitable location for a colony.
Austin advertised the opportunity in New Orleans, stating that the land was available along the Brazos and Colorado rivers. In December 1821, the first U.S. colonists crossed into the granted territory by land and sea, on the Brazos River in present-day Brazoria County, Texas.
By late 1825, Austin had brought the first 300 families to his settlement (The Austin Colony), now known in Texas history as the Old Three Hundred. Austin had obtained further contracts to settle an additional 900 families between 1825 and 1829. He had effective civil and military authority over the settlers, but he was quick to introduce a semblance of American law - the Constitution of Coahuila y Tejas was agreed on in November 1827.
He was active to promote trade and to secure the good favor of the Mexican authorities. With the colonists numbering over 11,000 by 1832, they were becoming less conducive to Austin's cautious leadership, and the Mexican government was also becoming less cooperative. It was concerned with the growth of the colony and the efforts of the U.S. government to buy the state from them. The Mexican government had attempted to stop further U.S. immigration as early as April 1830, but Austin's skills gained an exemption for his colonies.
The application of the immigration control and the introduction of tariff laws had done much to dissatisfy the colonists, peaking in the Anahuac Disturbances. Austin then felt compelled to involve himself in Mexican politics, Austin traveled to Mexico City on July 18, 1833, and met with Vice President Valentín Gomez Farías. Austin did gain certain important reforms; the immigration ban was lifted, but not a separate state government. Separate statehood required a population of 80,000 before it could be granted, and Texas had only 30,000.
In his absence, a number of events propelled the colonists toward confrontation with Santa Anna's centralist government. Austin took temporary command of the Texan forces during the Siege of Béxar from October 12 to December 11, 1835. War began in October 1835 at Gonzales. The Republic of Texas, created by a new constitution on March 2, 1836, won independence following a string of defeats with the dramatic turnabout victory at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.
In December 1835 Austin, Branch Archer and William H. Wharton were appointed commissioners to the U.S. by the provisional government of the republic. On June 10, 1836, Austin was in New Orleans when he received word of Santa Anna's defeat by Sam Houston at San Jacinto. Returning to Texas, he announced his candidacy for president of Texas. Austin felt confident he could win the election until with two weeks before the election, on August 20, Houston entered the race. Houston carried East Texas, the Red River and most of the soldier vote. Austin polled 587 votes to Sam Houston's 5,119 and Henry Smith's 743 votes.
Houston appointed Austin as the first Secretary of State of the new Republic; however, Austin served only around 2 months before his tragic death.
In December 1836, Austin was in the new capital of Columbia (now known as West Columbia) where he caught a severe cold; his condition worsened. Doctors were called in, but could not help him. Austin died of pneumonia at noon on December 27, 1836, at the home of George B. McKinstry right outside of what is now West Columbia, Texas. Austin's last words were "The independence of Texas is recognized! Don't you see it in the papers?