Baron de Bastrop: The Mysterious Hero of Texas
"The Settlement of Austin's Colony"
Texas once was known as a place for escape. When people were in trouble with the law or families needed a new start they posted GTT on their door, which meant "Gone to Texas," and everyone knew what that meant--the home was vacant and its owner was not coming back.
The Baron de Bastrop escaped to the United States and ultimately Texas with a price on his head--there was no GIT on his Dutch door. When he finally reached American soil he faked a royal heritage and with his charming and charismatic personality influenced the Anglo-American settlement of Mexican Texas, using his fake identity to build a legacy that would last for centuries..
A Dutch Tax Collector Becomes an American Baron
The Baron de Bastrop was born on November 23, 1759 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana to Conraed Laurens Nering and Maria Jacoba Bögel. His parents named him Philip Hendrik Nering Bögel.
When Philip was five, the family returned to Holland and in 1782, Philip married Georgine Wolffeline Françoise Lijcklama à Nyeholt. They had four daughters and a son who died in his childhood. Philip and Georgine moved their daughters to Leeuwarden, the capital city of the Dutch province of Friesland, and Philip was given the task of collecting taxes from the community.
According to the Handbook of Texas Online, recent historical research has revealed that in 1793, Philip Bögel was accused of stealing tax dollars and using them for personal gain. It was believed that he abandoned his wife and four daughters and left for Spanish Louisiana before he could be tried in court--along with a year’s worth of taxes stolen from the province--but ship records show he originally came to the U.S. with his wife and children, who returned to Holland eight years later.
As he traveled through Missouri on his way to Louisiana, Bögel met a young miner named Moses Austin who was also trying to escape debt. The two men were fast friends, but went their separate ways and did not meet up again for many years.
When he reached Louisiana, Philip Bögel changed his name to Felipe Enrique Neri,told his neighbors and friends that he was from a noble family, and claimed that he was forced to flee from the French when they invaded Holland.
With his fabricated title and ancestry, Bögel easily negotiated numerous land deals in both Louisiana and Kentucky and became friends with powerful people in the Spanish community.
Baron de Bastrop Assists the Austin Settlement
In 1803, the Baron traveled to Spanish Texas. He settled in San Antonio in 1806 where he conducted a successful freighting business. He was given permission to establish a colony between Bexar and the Trinity River and appointed to the position of Alcalde, or chief judicial officer, which is the Spanish equivalent to town mayor.
In 1820, while in San Antonio, Moses Austin and the Baron met again. Austin immediately recognized his charismatic friend from their meeting in Missouri twenty years earlier. Moses Austin, like his namesake, was determined to lead people to the "promised land" of Spanish Texas.
The meeting between Baron de Bastrop and Moses Austin developed into a friendship that was crucial to the Anglo-American settlement of Texas. Austin needed the Baron’s influence to persuade the Mexican government to accept his proposal for an Anglo-American settlement in Mexican Texas. The Baron readily agreed to help.
OLD 300: Gone to Texas
Bastrop's Dedication to Moses Austin and his Dream
The Baron de Bastrop urged Governor Antonio María Martínez to accept Austin's proposal and approve a land grant for the colony, a challenging conversation since the governor had already rejected Austin's request and told Austin to leave the country, but the Baron used his Spanish ties in Louisiana to sway the governor’s opinions and produced his Spanish Louisiana passport as evidence of his connections.
According to "The Old 300" by Tex Rogers, Bastrop's argument to the Mexican government offered three valid points. First, he argued that Indian conflicts, particularly with the Comanche, would continue until settlers were well-established in the area between San Antonio and the Sabine River. He then pointed out that repeated efforts over many centuries to appeal to Mexican and Spanish settlers to remain in the area had failed. In fact, the few remaining settlers were leaving quickly due to conflicts with the Comanche.
The Baron claimed to have first-hand experience in the establishment of settlements, and this later proved to be true. The Baron de Bastrop's argument was successful and Austin received his grant.
Stephen and Moses Austin
The Death of Moses Austin Brings More Revelations of the Baron de Bastrop's Adventures
Unfortunately, on his way home to prepare for the move, Moses Austin developed pneumonia. His deathbed request was that his son, Stephen Austin, carry out his plans for establishing the colony and Stephen agreed to do so, but he needed the Baron’s assistance and advice in dealing with the Mexican government.
The Baron was eager to help, and it is possible that without the Baron's assistance, the project would have failed. Without the continued settlement of Anglo-Americans in Mexican Texas, Texas would have remained a part of Mexico.
The Baron de Bastrop did, indeed, have first-hand experience with settlements. According to the Texas State Historical Association, when the Baron de Bastrop (Philip Bögel) arrived in Spanish Louisiana in 1795 he spent the next ten years working to establish a colony in the Ouachita valley. And again, in 1803, when Louisiana was sold to the United States, Bastrop moved to Spanish Texas to establish a colony between Bexar and the Trinity River.
In 1806, the Baron de Bastrop settled in San Antonio to work his freighting business. He was appointed "second alcalde in the ayuntamiento" at Bexar in 1810.
McGehee Crossing, Hays County, Texas Historical Marker
The Baron de Bastrop's Political Career Continues
In 1823, the Baron de Bastrop was appointed commissioner of colonization for the Austin colony and given authority to issue land titles. This was an important political accomplishment for Bastrop. His goal was to encourage Anglo-American settlement in Mexican Texas and he was known for supporting the personal interests of these settlers.
The Baron was also known for his political efforts to help establish the port at Galveston, Texas, which was, again, important to the settlers as it would assist in local commerce.
In 1824, Bastrop was awarded two elections back to back. First, he was elected to the provincial deputation at Bexar, then he was elected to serve as the representative in the legislature in the state of Coahuila.
His most important role was always as advisor to Stephen Austin. Bastrop served as intermediary with the Mexican government for Stephen Austin, who would have encountered insurmountable obstacles without Bastrop's assistance and advice. He was a loyal friend and advisor to Stephen Austin until the Baron died in Saltillo in 1827.
The Felipe Enrique Neri, Baron de Bastrop Texas Centennial Monument
The Baron de Bastrop's Secret Finally Revealed
In spite of his business endeavors, land deals, and political career, the Baron’s salary was dependent on his income from the settlers, and when he died in Saltillo on February 23, 1827, he couldn’t afford to pay for his own burial. His friends and fellow politicians paid his funeral costs.
The Baron de Bastrop was buried in Saltillo, Mexico. He left a will stating that his parents were Conrado Lorenzo Neri, the Baron de Bastrop, and Susana Maria Bray Banguin. He also willed his land to the wife and four daughters he abandoned so many years before.
The truth of his identity remained a secret until the last half of the twentieth century when historians uncovered records in the Netherlands indicating that the Baron was not a Baron after all, but a former tax collector and notorious ebezzler.
Nevertheless, the actions of this charming and charismatic man during his second life in Texas and Louisiana showed that he was also a loyal friend who played a vital role in the Anglo-American settlement of the State of Texas. He earned the respect paid to him through his dedication to his friends and his work as a diplomat and politician.
The city of Bastrop, Louisiana, and the city and county of Bastrop, Texas, as well as numerous public buildings and schools are named in honor of the mysterious Baron de Bastrop.
An informal history of Texas,: From Cabeza de Vaca to Temple Houston
© 2015 Darla Sue Dollman