The colonization of what is today Fort Bend County began in the early 1820s when the Spanish government permitted pioneer Moses Austin to settle 300 families in the valleys of the Brazos and Colorado rivers.
On the road to Texas, however, Austin contracted pneumonia and died in 1821. His dying wish was for his son, Stephen Fuller Austin, to take over the settlement process, according to "Historic Fort Bend County," by Andrea Guy-Halat.
Colonization was delayed further by the ongoing Mexican War of Independence against Spain. After winning its independence, the newly established Mexican government denied the 300 land grants promised by the Spanish, according to "Historic Fort Bend County." Stephen F. Austin, who would become known as the "Father of Texas," traveled to Mexico City in 1821 to plead his case.
Mexico awarded 297 land grants to Austin's settlers, which included an estimated 58 land parcels that would become the foundation for what is today one of the state's fastest-growing counties. Austin was named the administrative authority and given control of immigration into Texas.
Later that year, a handful of colonists led by Austin landed at the mouth of the Brazos River. From there, a small group of settlers traveled about 90 miles inland before finding a suitable, fertile area. They built a two-room cabin called Fort Settlement, also known as Fort Bend—nicknamed for its location on a bend of the river, according to "The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States," written by Henry Gannett in 1905.
"The area was an almost barren prairie covered by grasses and wild grain, which was ideal for grazing animals," Guy-Halat wrote in her book. "The river and creek bottoms were well suited for growing cotton and corn. However, the colonists lived a rugged existence. Their crops were threatened by drought, fires and floods."
Early clashes with the land's original inhabitants—the Karankawa Indians—occurred between 1822-24 until the natives were banned from the area.
The city of Richmond was incorporated under the Republic of Texas in 1837, and Fort Bend County was carved from sections of its neighbors—Austin, Brazoria and Harris counties—the same year.
Many of the family-owned farms were replaced by the ranching and cotton industries. Oil was discovered in the northeast part of the county at Blue Ridge—a sparsely populated and undeveloped area—in 1919, according to the Texas State Handbook.
A few years later, natural gas was also found near the area. In addition, oil and gas was discovered in Orchard, Thompsons and Katy, bringing new industry.
Since the 1970s, the county has been one of the fastest-growing in the U.S.
Fort Bend has remained economically vibrant largely because of its oil and gas industry and the development of several master-planned communities, such as Greatwood, New Territory, Riverstone and Sienna Plantation.
Today, Fort Bend County is an 885-square-mile swath of diverse development with more than 625,000 residents.