Potosi, MO: A Texas Connection

We just returned from our first meeting as new members of the Dallas Genealogical Society. I had a wonderful time! Lloyd Bockstruck presented an enjoyable, fact-filled lecture entitled The Call of the West: MO, AR, and TX.

It was nice to hear mention of Potosi, MO, the town to which my great-grandfather, Hugh Murray, emigrated in 1857. Potosi was built on land donated by Moses Austin in 1813.

By the time Hugh settled in Potosi, Moses Austin was dead and his descendants had moved to Texas. Moses Austin’s son, Stephen F. Austin, is called the “Father of Texas”. The plaque marking the Austin homestead site, Durham Hall, in Potosi refers to it as the “Cradle of Texas”. Unless he was out of town, I’m certain Hugh Murray would have experienced the great fire in 1871 that destroyed Durham Hall and much of downtown Potosi.

The plaque below marks the site where Durham Hall stood in Potosi, MO.

Durham Hall Plaque

Plaque Transcription

The silent stones in the front foundation wall are all that remain of Durham Hall, magnificent frontier mansion build here by Moses Austin in 1798-99.

Named for Durham, Connecticut, where Austin was born in 1761, the home was the political, social and economic center of Austin’s American colony and of much of Missouri, as well as the “Cradle of Texas.”

In 1797 Austin received a Spanish Land Grant here, adjoining the earlier French mining camp of Mine Au Breton, founded in 1763.

Austin and his family – his wife Maria Brown Austin and their children – Stephen F. Austin (Born 1793) and Emily Margaret (1795) – moved into Durham Hall in July, 1799. A third child, James Elijah Brown Austin, was born here in 1803.

Durham Hall and the first Washington County Courthouse (1814) were designed by Austin in Greek Revival style, dating from Austin’s association with Thomas Jefferson in the first Virginia Capitol. Both were the first of their architectural style in middle America.

From here Austin developed mining and smelting of lead into Missouri’s first major industry. From the lawn of this home, on May 12, 1802, Austin repulsed an attack by a band of Osage Indians. From here, in 1813, Austin gave the land to establish the town of Potosi as the county seat for the new County of Washington. And from here, in 1818, historian Henry Rose Schoolcraft began a famous exploration tour to the Southwest.

Here at Durham Hall, Emily Austin was married to James Bryan in 1813. Their first child, Stephen Austin Bryan, was born here in 1814.

In 1816, Moses Austin moved northward to Herculaneum, which he founded, and expanded his financial interests in St. Louis. Durham Hall was left in the care of Stephen F. Austin, who spent 1816-17 alone here while representing Washington County in the Territorial legislature of Missouri.

Here, as early as 1813, Moses Austin had dreamed of expansion to the Southwest. In 1820, Austin lost Durham Hall and his other properties in financial reverses. Seeking to regain his fortune, he traveled to San Antonio, where, in 1821, he received the first American grant for a colony in Texas.

Upon Moses Austin’s untimely death, on June 10, 1821, the Texas venture was willed to his son, Stephen F. Austin, who became “The Father of Texas.”

In 1831, the last of the Austin family left Potosi. Emily Austin, her second husband, James F. Perry, and their family moved to their Peach Point Plantation in Texas, after first reburying the bodies of their parents, Moses and Maria Austin, in the Potosi City Cemetery.

Durham Hall burned in 1871, in a fire which destroyed much of downtown Potosi.

Taking on the State of Texas

Moses Austin is still buried in Potosi, MO. His tomb bears the cracks made by an undertaker from Texas who was sent by a group of Texans in 1938 to move Moses’ body to Texas. One story goes that the undertaker was caught in the act. The citizens drove the undertaker out of town and Potosians brag they are the only town that ever won a tangle with the state of Texas.

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