By Bethanie DePalermo, San Felipe de Austin Staff
A striking pink granite bench with the simple inscription, “Austin’s Old 300,” sits under an oak tree at San Felipe de Austin State Historic Site. The bench itself provokes questions from visitors and creates an interpretive opportunity for staff and volunteers. Guests are surprised and intrigued to learn that descendants from Austin’s original settlers are organized and active in a genealogical organization called “The Descendants of Austin’s Old 300."
The title Old 300 refers to the settlers who received land grants as part of Stephen F. Austin’s first colonial contract in Mexican Texas. These families had come from the Trans-Appalachian South and were virtually all of British ancestry, many of whom already had substantial means before their arrival. The actual number of grantees, excluding Austin’s personal grant, totaled 297, but the Old 300 name has stuck nonetheless.
In 1828, Stephen F. Austin created an administrative record of these early land grants. This handwritten book is called the Registro, and a digital copy of it is kept at San Felipe de Austin (the original is held in the collection of the Texas General Land Office in Austin). After noticing the benches, many guests inquire about the Old 300 and want to know more about where these families settled.
The Registro is an excellent resource that shows visitors the administrative copies of these early grants. The gift shop at San Felipe de Austin also carries the current collection of biographical sketches of many of the Old 300 settlers. This volume includes modern county maps to help visitors visualize and understand where these grants were located.
The Descendants of Austin's Old 300 held its first meeting on June 27, 1987 at the Stephen F. Austin State Park in San Felipe, underneath the oak tree where the bench now sits. Their main objective was, and still is, to inspire current and succeeding generations to preserve memories of the spirit, courage, and character of the men and women who came to Texas as part of Stephen F. Austin's first colony. This is the reason the organization has donated the benches at San Felipe de Austin and at Freedom Park in West Columbia.
Fred Strauss, the current president, along with Tommy Shelton, current second vice president, searched and located benches made of similar granite as the Marble Falls pink granite statue of Stephen F. Austin. The organization, with members in 26 states, supports the activities and interests of San Felipe de Austin because this is where their ancestors received land grants from Stephen F. Austin beginning in 1824. Members are excited to see recent improvements and anxious to help share this compelling story of Texas history with generations to come.
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