Belgium on the Rio Grande

The year was 1841 and King Leopold of Belgium had a problem. 

Too many Belgians.

General James Hamilton, the Loan Commissioner of the Republic of Texas, also had a problem. He couldn’t get anybody to loan money to Texas.

The Republic of Texas had an even bigger problem than being perceived as a bad credit risk. Santa Anna was back in power down in Mexico and there was nothing to prevent him from marching an army across the Rio Grande frontier.

General Hamilton thought he had a solution that just might make everybody except Santa Anna happy. A Belgian colony in Texas.

Leopold would have a place to put his excess Belgians and Texas would get much needed cash, plus a buffer on the Rio Grande between herself and Mexico.

Belgium on the Rio Grande

The king liked what he was hearing well enough to dispatch Captain Victor Pirson, an engineer and artillery officer, to assess the situation on the ground in Texas.

Pirson spent three months in the Republic of Texas, visiting Galveston, Houston and San Antonio. He was impressed. Not only was the land offer favorable to his country, but the growing population of Texas was a ripe market for Belgian manufactured goods.

But the Belgian colonization project was quashed when, upon re-assuming the presidency, Sam Houston and the new congress repealed the law authorizing General Hamilton to make deals on behalf of Texas.

It seems General Hamilton, who’s most recent job before becoming loan commissioner was serving as Governor of South Carolina, was not above accepting personal remuneration from the parties he was negotiating with on behalf of Texas.

He had also, unbeknownst to his superiors, proposed to Santa Anna that Mexico recognize the independence of Texas in exchange for five million dollars. Hamilton and the Santa Anna would receive $200,000 for their troubles. That was even too slimy for the Napoleon of the West.

Pirson was preparing to depart for home, when he was surprised by a new colonization offer. This one was issued to him as a private party by Secretary of State Anson Jones.

Jones proposed that Pirson settle 1000 Belgian families along the Rio Grande, each receiving 640 acres. That’s 1000 square miles of land if you’re doing the math.

Pirson replied that it was a most attractive offer, but he was not personally interested, and would Texas mind if he were to pass it on to his government instead?

Jones said that would be fine…and we were back where the story began. Everyone would get what they wanted, except for General Hamilton, who was cut out of the deal.

In the end, the Belgian colony never came to pass for a number of reasons.

The Mexican army marched into San Antonio in 1842, causing the Belgians to wonder if there would still be a Texas to deal with.

The United States saw the potential colony as a violation of the Monroe Doctrine and it’s own commercial interests.

But the most powerful deterrent to Belgian colonization of Texas was that Great Britain did not want another European power to gain a foothold here.

You see, King Leopold was the uncle of Queen Victoria. And it’s always good to avoid a family rift, especially when your niece can blockade your ports.