Austin’s right arm has a big headache

On December 30, 1847, eleven years after the death of Stephen F. Austin, the right-hand man of the Father of Texas opened the first true independent Texas bank.

Samuel May Williams came from a distinguished Rhode Island clan that took root in New England a century before his birth in 1795. A long list of illustrious ancestors included a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a President of Yale College.

Left home at the age of 20, the young vagabond found himself in New Orleans. During his seven-year stay in Crescent City, he learned enough French and Spanish to speak both languages ​​fluently.


Williams’ language skills landed him a job as an interpreter right after arriving in Texas in the spring of 1822. He soon met Austin, two years his senior at 29, and in 1824 he accepted a job offer. of the colonizer.

Assuming a multitude of varied and demanding responsibilities, Williams has become the indispensable right-hand man of the empressario. Although his official titles were limited to Official Secretary and Public Recorder of the Anglo-American Colony, there was no limit to his actual duties. He did whatever it took, which regularly meant leading the controversial colony during Austin’s extended absences.

The position was anything but cushy. Williams’ head office, the San Felipe de Austin land office, was a dilapidated structure that offered minimal shelter from the temperamental weather. The total amount of furniture was two chairs and a barrel of whiskey

transformed into an office.

Essential supplies were extremely scarce in the early province. Williams had to send a newspaper to Louisiana to record the land transactions, a routine request that took six months.

Austin was an exceptionally private person, who rarely confided in anyone. But his assistant gradually gained his trust and over time became his closest friend, if not the only one.

By 1834 the colony was a thriving community, and Williams finally felt free to pursue more personal goals after a decade of dedicated service. Austin reluctantly accepted that his capable assistant needed to get his life back on track, and the couple parted ways amicably.

However, within months, the ex-employee managed to tarnish the reputation his mentor had strived for so long to keep faultless. Williams engaged in land speculation which, while technically legal, drew harsh criticism from many settlers who concluded without merit that Austin was involved in the shady deals.

The resulting breakup destroyed the relationship the two men cherished. For two years, they haven’t exchanged a single word.

In August 1836, four months after the Battle of San Jacinto, Williams broke the awkward silence. “I am informed that you accuse me of disrespecting your position and your character,” he wrote without the slightest excuse. “All I can do is invite you to reflect and consider what motives you think I might have for such a move towards any man I esteemed a friend, and especially towards you.”

Austin waited until early November to respond. Considering the fact that the land

The scandal of speculation had cost him the presidency of the Republic, his response was remarkably charitable.

“Williams, you have hurt me very deeply, but you are so deeply rooted in my affections that, with all your faults, you are too much at heart like a wild and carefree brother to be banished entirely. “

This touching and generous letter may have been Austin’s last. Exhausted from his nation-building work, he died seven weeks later at the tragically early age of 43.

A shrewd but not always scrupulous entrepreneur, Williams continued to make his fortune in the shipping industry. Using his political contacts to circumvent the constitutional ban on banking, he opened the Commercial and Agricultural Bank at the corner of Market and 23rd Street in Galveston in late 1847.

The intense animosity of most Texans towards land speculators was surpassed only by their ardent hatred of bankers. Opponents immediately filed a lawsuit to overturn Williams’ charter and subjected him to a relentless campaign of public defamation while awaiting the verdict.

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 1859. The justices ordered the Commercial and Agricultural Bank closed and its assets liquidated to the last penny.

But Samuel May Williams was beyond attention. He died six months before the decision, the victim of what his doctor called “a mental and physical collapse”.

In other words, he has lost interest in living. Austin tried to tell him that life isn’t about money, but his right hand foolishly ignored this simple truth.


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