Sarah Seely DeWitt's petition for a Mexican land grant
Saving her family from financial ruin
Sarah Seely DeWitt (1787–1854) was an early colonist to Texas, coming to the Mexican state in 1826 to settle an empresario land grant awarded to her husband, Green DeWitt.
Born in Brooks County, Virginia, Sarah married Green DeWitt (1787–1835) in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1808. Green DeWitt was determined to follow in the footsteps of fellow Missourian Stephen Austin and apply for an empresario land grant from Mexico. Backed by Austin and the Baron de Bastrop — who served as intermediary between the Mexican government and Anglo colonists — DeWitt was awarded a contract on April 15, 1825, to settle 400 families.
Sarah's dowry had included a considerable amount of Missouri land holdings, which the couple sold to help support the new Texas colony. In 1826, the couple moved to Texas with five of their six children. Sarah ran the household, tended to the farm, and taught the children while Green tried to settle enough families to fulfill the terms of his contract. When it became clear that DeWitt was not going to succeed, Sarah applied for a land grant of her own. Concerned that the family might lose everything, she wrote in her testimony for the petition that her husband was "behind in his negotiations for the Enterprise that he has had, and other circumstances have placed the family in an unfortunate state."
On April 14, 1831, she filed a petition for a land grant from Mexico under her maiden name. Spanish legal customs going back to the 13th century, called Siete Partidas, gave women the right to own property independently of men. Letters from witnesses supporting Sarah Seely's petition were entered into her testimony. One supporter, Thomas Baruete, wrote that the land grant was "very important for the preservation of the family, that the tract she solicits be conceded to the Senora. The Senora is of very good habits, of much integrity, and she has a very interesting family."
Sarah Seely DeWitt was awarded one league (4,428 acres) in modern-day Gonzales County, where the Guadalupe and San Marcos Rivers meet. Though the family never lived on the land, the DeWitt family cemetery is located there in the town of Gonzales.
Green DeWitt did not complete his contract. At the end of his allotted six years, he had only recruited 195 families to DeWitt's Colony.
Courtesy Texas General Land Office, Archives and Records Program, Austin
Time Period: 1821 - 1834
This artifact is currently on view.