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Bill Thayer

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The Spanish-American Frontier, 1783‑1795
The Westward Movement and the Spanish Retreat
in the Mississippi Valley

Arthur Preston Whitaker

 p. vii  Acknowledgment

The writing of history is no longer an individual achievement, if indeed it ever was. It is the work of many hands, some living and some dead. Archivists, collectors, benefactors, other historians, and the persons whose correspondence chance and foresight have preserved, all play their part in determining what monuments of the past the writer shall see and how he shall regard them.

My own debit column is a long one. The present work could not have been written at all but for the indefatigable labors of Lyman C. Draper, the establishment of the Archive of the Indies by Charles III, the publication of its voluminous records by the state of North Carolina. The writings of early historians, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Justin Winsor and Archibald Henderson have been of invaluable assistance. One of the most noteworthy of recent contributions in this field is Pinckney's Treaty, by Professor Samuel Flagg Bemis, a book which it was my privilege to read in manuscript (not in its final form) towards the end of my fifteen months' residence in Spain. Important additions to the bibliographical resources of Spanish history have been made within the last few years by B. Sánchez Alonso (Fuentes de la historia española), and R. Ballester y Castell (Bibliografía de la historia de España). The bibliographical aids on the American side are so familiar that it does not seem necessary to name them here.

It was under an appointment as Amherst Memorial Fellow (Amherst College) that I spent two years in France, Spain, England and the United States in the  p. viii preparation of this book, the plan of which was conceived in 1922. It was also the generosity of the Amherst Memorial Fellowship Committee that enabled me to make the present arrangement for publication. My first studies in the history of the Old Southwest were carried on under the guidance of Frederick Jackson Turner, to whom this book is dedicated as a mark of esteem for a great historian and of gratitude to an unfailing friend.

For reading and criticising my manuscript, I am indebted to Dr. James A. Robertson, editor of the Hispanic American Historical Review; Professor Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard University; Professor Laurence B. Packard, on behalf of the Amherst Memorial Fellowship Committee; and Professors Isaac J. Cox and J. A. James of Northwestern University.

I may add that I am planning a companion volume to the present one, carrying through to its conclusion the story of the Spanish retreat from Louisiana and the Floridas in the face of the advancing American frontier. The present work while complete in itself, needs the sequel.

A. P. W.

June 20, 1927

 p. ix  Introduction

Through an amazing web of intrigue and diplomacy the irrepressible frontiersmen of the old South-West burst their way to the Mississippi. When Roosevelt wrote his Winning of the West, little that was certain could be told of this story. Dr. Whitaker has pursued every clue to the Spanish archives, where the servants of declining empire carefully recorded every letter and interview and bargain concluded in their colonies on the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi. From the material so gathered, he has reconstructed a fascinating story of relations between rough-necked backwoodsmen of the Daniel Boone breed and courtly representatives of the King of Spain; Scots fur-traders and the half-breed chiefs of the Creek and Cherokee; picturesque rascals like O'Fallon and Tom Washington, and venal legislatures. The influence of this frontier underworld on the formal diplomacy between Spain and the United States has been clearly brought out; and the significance of it, as a conflict between two different civilizations, adequately appreciated. Twelve eventful years of this conflict are concluded by the Madrid negotiations of 1795 between Thomas Pinckney and Manuel de Godoy, and the treaty of San Lorenzo, which cleared Spanish obstructions from our westward advance.

S. E. Morison


Rival Empires

Protagonists and Field of Action

The Spanish Barrier

The Westward Course

Gardoqui's Mission

The Chevalier of the Order of St. Louis

Intrigue and Immigration

The Union Preserved



Hector, Baron de Carondelet

The French Revolution and the Spanish Empire

The Intrigue Infallible

San Lorenzo: a Frontier Treaty

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Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition transcribed here is that by Peter Smith, Gloucester, Mass., 1962, which appears to be a straightforward reprint; at any rate it bears neither a new preface nor any other indication of changes or corrections. It was copyright 1927, but the copyright was not renewed in the appropriate year (1954 or 1955), and is thus now in the public domain: details here on the copyright law involved.


The book includes three maps, the placement of which seems to have been completely arbitrary, in no particular relation to the text. Since they're useful at many points, my own solution was to put them all on a single page and in each chapter to provide a link to that page: it will open of its own in a separate window. In the print edition, the maps are in black and white; to make them clearer, I've colorized them.


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are therefore shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree; otherwise the backgrounds would be red. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I followed was well proofread, with only two or three typographical errors, which I corrected, marking them, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, seemingly duplicated references, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any other mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (like at the end of this line); p57  these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

[image ALT: A map of (what would become) the eastern United States at the end of the 19c, shaded to show the Spanish portion in the west and the American portion in the east; where the two regions touch is deliberately blurry. It is the icon on this site for Arthur Preston Whitaker's book, 'The Spanish-American Frontier: 1783‑1795'.]

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is of course an approximate map of the area, marked with the towers and lions of Castile and the stars of the new American republic.

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Site updated: 14 Nov 15