The Fredonian Rebellion was in some ways a foreshadowing of the Texas Revolution. In 1826, an empresario named Haden (or Hayden) Edwards, who had been operating under a colonization grant of 1825 from Mexico, clashed with Hispanic residents of the area near Nacogdoches. His grant authorized him to settle 800 families in the area. Edwards posted notices asserting land rights to the designated area, including land already occupied by other Hispanic families (apparently in violation of his contract with Mexico). Essentially, Edwards’ group felt that their land rights were superior to those of the Hispanic residents. This was not an uncommon situation in early Texas, and the Hispanic residents led by Gil Y’Barbo resisted. With deference to the Hispanic residents, Mexico nullified or rescinded Edwards’ grant. Edwards then declared that the area he had been granted was no longer subject to Mexican rule. He called it Fredonia, believed to be a modified form of the word freedom.
His initial grant had the following boundaries: “bounded by a line that began at the intersection of the coast and border reservations and ran north to 15 leagues from Nacogdoches, thence west to the Navasota River, south in an irregular line along the Navasota and east to the point of beginning.” Haden Edwards asserted that his land grant authorized him to essentially evict the existing residents who were mostly Hispanic. During the brief time of his control over the area (middle to late 1826) his group installed associates and/or family members in positions of government.
Appeals to Mexico on the part of the original residents led Mexico to rescind Edwards’ grant, as previously noted. To reinforce its decision, Mexico sent troops to respond to Edwards’ claims. Edwards also appealed to Stephen F. Austin who for various reasons declined to support Edwards and instead sent troops to assist the Mexican forces. In anticipation of possible military action, in early 1827, the Edwards colonists dispersed and left the area for Louisiana and other locations. The Mexican government eventually granted amnesty to all except for the Edwards brothers.
This incident happened only within fifty years of the American Revolution. Other major events had led to a rapid and dramatic expansion of the United States. The Louisiana Purchase had been negotiated around 1803, another war with Britain had been concluded a decade later and Spain had ceded Florida to the United States in 1819. Mexico had successfully revolted against Spain by 1824 and one year later, although the effort had been unsuccessful, the United States had also tried to acquire New Spain from Mexico in exchange for cash.
Hadon Edwards had been born in Virginia in 1771. He married and began to move west and by 1820, he and other family members were living in Mississippi when he and several other individuals contracted with Mexico under its General Colonization Law to found settlements in New Spain. Edwards initially left the area in response to the Mexican government’s actions to reinforce the end of his grant, but Edwards returned to participate in the Texas Revolution and continued to reside in the Nacogdoches area until his death in 1849. He and his wife are buried in the historic Oak Grove Cemetery in Nacogdoches.
Edwards County in the Big Bend area of southwest Texas is named for him. The Edwards Plateau and Edwards Aquifer take their names from the county.
Other than his role in the Fredonian Rebellion, Edwards is not known to have been involved in politics, but a son, Haden Harrison Edwards, represented the Nacogdoches district in the First Congress of the Republic of Texas, 1836–37, and in the First (1846) and Eighth (1859–61) legislatures of the state of Texas. He was also a member of the Secession Convention in 1861. The younger Edwards had also fought in the Texas Revoloution. He was also a respected businessman but died of typhoid fever in 1865 when he was in his early fifties.
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