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Baron de Bastrop: Scandalous Texas Hero
Monument to Baron de Bastrop in Bastrop County, Texas
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 Philip Hendrik Nering Bögel in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana on November 23, 1759. His parents, Conraed Laurens Nering and Maria Jacoba Bögel, moved the family to Holland in 1764. In 1782, Bastrop married Georgine Wolffeline Françoise Lijcklama à Nyeholt. They had five children together and eventually settled in Leeuwarden, capital city of the Dutch province of Friesland.
According to the Handbook of Texas Online, Bögel worked as the tax collector for the province of Friesland. Recent historical research has revealed that in 1793 he was accused of stealing tax dollars and using them for personal gain. He abandoned his family and left for Spanish Louisiana before he could be tried in court...and he left with at least a year’s worth of taxes stolen from the province.
As he traveled through Missouri on his way to Louisiana, the Baron 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 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 he easily negotiated numerous land deals in both Louisiana and Kentucky and made many friends with the Spanish people.
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.
An informal history of Texas,: From Cabeza de Vaca to Temple Houston
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. He also spoke, with first-hand experience, of the success of settlements in Louisiana. The Baron de Bastrop's argument was successful and Austin received his grant.
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.
McGehee Crossing, Hays County, Texas Historical Marker
The Baron de Bastrop's Secret Finally Revealed
In 1823, the Baron de Bastrop was appointed commissioner of colonization for the Austin colony and given authority to issue land titles. That same year, he was elected to the provincial deputation at Bexar, then chosen as the representative to the legislature of the new state of Coahuila. His primary political focus was on legislation that favored continued immigration of Anglo-Americans into Mexican Texas and supported the interests of the settlers. He was also a major player in establishing a port at Galveston.
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 on February 23, 1827, he couldn’t afford to pay for his own burial. His friends and fellow politicians paid his funeral costs. He 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 family he abandoned in Holland 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 notorious swindler. Nevertheless, the actions of this charming and charismatic man proved that he was a loyal friend who played a vital role in the Anglo-American settlement 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, are named in his honor.
OLD 300: Gone to Texas
- “Bastrop, Baron De.” The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved December 28, 2015.
- Nevin, David. The Old West: The Texans. Time Life Books. Canada: 1975.
- Rogers, Tex. "The Old 300." American History.Retrieved December 28, 2015.
- “The Dutch Texans: The Baron de Bastrop.” The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio. Retrieved December 28, 2015.