Central Texas Storybooks

Central Texas Stories and Legends

Maj. Sterling Clack Robertson
(1785-1842)

Sterling Clack Robertson
Maj. Sterling Clack Robertson.

Sterling Clack Robertson was a soldier, an empresario, and a statesman. Robertson was born on October 2, 1785 in what is now Nashville, Tennessee. His parents were Elijah and Sarah (Maclin) Robertson. Robertson spent his youth in Nashville where he received a liberal education under a private tutor. While a young man, Robertson served in the Tennessee Militia and fought the British in the battle of New Orleans. He was discharged with the rank of Major and returned to Giles County, Tennessee, where he owned a plantation. Robertson had two sons: James Maclin Robertson with Rachael Smith, and Elijah Sterling Clack Robertson with Frances King.

Robertson's career as an empresario began in March 1822 when he was one of seventy stockholders of the Texas Association that was formed for the purpose of obtaining a grant from the Mexican Government for permission to bring settlers into Coahuila-Texas.

On April 15, 1825, the agent whom they sent to Mexico, Robert Leftwich, with the assistance of Stephen F. Austin, received a contract from the Mexican government to settle 800 families within six years on a large tract of land lying above the old San Antonio-Nacogdoches road. The contract was made with Leftwich himself rather than the Texas Association and this caused a great deal of dissatisfaction on the part of the Association and delayed further action.

Sometime in 1830, a sub-company was formed and on October 1, 1830, Sterling Clack Robertson, one of the original stockholders, became the agent or empresario of the Nashville Company. In May 1830, Robertson took in Alexander Thomson as his partner. Robertson had been in Texas as early as 1825 and had become the most active member in pushing for colonization. Robertson remained in Texas until August 1826 at which time he returned to Tennessee enthused about recruiting settlers for his new colony in Texas.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government had become alarmed about the large number of immigrants from the United States coming into Texas, so they passed what became known as the Law of April 6, 1830. This law virtually prohibited further emigration from the United States and suspended all contracts which had not been fulfilled. Robertson who was already in Texas with some settlers for his colony was notified that his contract was suspended.

After making fruitless appeals to the Mexican government, Robertson asked Stephen F. Austin to intercede on his behalf. Austin failed to obtain recognition for Robertson's claims and when he learned that a French company was about to get a contract for the lands in question, Austin got the contract for himself and his partner Samuel M. Williams. Austin defended his actions by claiming he pursued the contract to prevent it from being sold to the French. Needless to say, Robertson was bitterly disappointed and declared that Austin had betrayed him. Thus, began a long draw-out controversy between Austin and Robertson.

Map of Robertson's Colony
Map of Robertson's Colony

Finally, in 1834, Robertson was successful in obtaining a contract in his own name and he began to actively recruit settlers into the colony. Initially, immigrants came in along the Brazos, the Navasota, and the Little River. Robertson served as empresario in 1834 and 1835, and is credited with bringing 600 families into Texas. Robertson's colony, situated in Central Texas, covered an area 100 miles wide and 200 miles long. All or part of 30 Central Texas counties have been formed from the colony.

In January 1836, Robertson became Captain of a company of Texas Rangers. Also, in 1836, Robertson and his nephew, George C. Childress were elected as delegates to the Convention of 1836, where they, signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Republic of Texas.

Robertson was stationed at Harrisburg during the battle of San Jacinto to guard army equipment and supplies. He served as senator from the District of Milam in the First and Second Congresses of the Republic of Texas, October 3, 1836-May 24, 1838, after which he retired to his home in Robertson County. Upon his retirement he became the earliest known breeder of Arabian horses in Texas.

Sterling Clack Robertson died in Robertson County, Texas on March 4, 1842 at the age of 56 years. He was buried at the Robertson family cemetery near Hearne. On November 19, 1935, more than ninety years after his death, several family members attended the service to reinter his remains at the renowned Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Robertson, a solider, an empresario, a statesman, and a major facilitator in the establishment and development of Texas now lies in his final resting place.

Sterling Clack Robertson's tombstone
Tombstone of Maj. Sterling Clack Robertson in the Texas State Cemetery. Virtutis gloria merces means "Glory is the reward of valor" in Latin. This phrase is the Clan Robertson motto.

By Charlene Ochsner Carson
Page last updated: October 19, 2018

Bibliography

Handbook of Texas Online, Malcolm D. McLean, "Robertson, Sterling Clack," accessed September 7, 2018.
Kelsey, Michael W., Kelsey, Nancy Graff, Parsons, Ginny Guinn, Empresario's Son: E.S.C. Robertson of Salado, Prairie Queen Publication, Belton, Texas, 2017.
Tyler, George W. Edited by Charles W. Ramsdell, History of Bell County, the Naylor Company, San Antonio, Texas, 1936.
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