Nolan went to Natchez and New Orleans putting the word out he was hiring armed men for an expedition into Texas to mustang.
In a letter to Jesse Cook, before he left on his last trip, Nolan wrote; "Everyone thinks that I go to catch wild horses, but you know that I have long since been tired of wild horses".
In 1796 or 1797, Nolan wrote Samuel P. Moore,
..I look forward to the conquest of Mexico by the United States,
and I expect my patron and friend, the General, will, in such an event,
give me a conspicuous command.
Nolan's signature from one of his letters
The Spanish believed there was more to Philip Nolan's trips than horses. Since his amiable visit in 1794, there had been two governors appointed in Texas. Both became suspicious of Nolan's activities. The Spanish perception of the United States had changed and with it, its perception of American and of Nolan's activities. Since 1713, Spain's arch enemy was England. Spain participated in many wars against England including the American Revolution. In 1794, America signed a treaty (Jay's Treaty) with England. This set off alarm bells in Spain. Though the Spanish signed the Pinckney Treaty with the United States in 1795 they did so because of pressures brought to bear by the treaty between England and the United States. Spain allied itself with France. The Spanish feared the Americans would attempt to take Louisiana and/or Texas. In July of 1795 Pedro Nava, Commandante of the Interior, wrote Governor Muñoz of Texas, " the United States has ordered emissaries to move here and and work to subvert the population." In another dispatch Nava noted that Baron de Carondelet in Louisiana had already reported Americans moving into his area. In 1796, Spain and France declared war with England. Problems between the French and the Americans escalated. The French siezure of hundreds of American ships and the X Y Z Affair brought France and the United States close to war. The ally of the French, Spain, felt there would soon be an invasion of their Eastern Interior Provinces. When President John Adams was granted authority to raise an army of ten thousand men in 1798, a nervous Nava wrote Muñoz to put his province in a state of defense, the Americans "will shortly declare hostilities", "an outbreak of war almost inevitable." The rise of Napoleon to power in 1799 and the subservience of Spain to France, further heightened tension in the Americas.
In 1799, Commandante Nava wrote to the Governor of Texas, Muñoz, he considered Philip Nolan suspect and asked the governor's input. Muñoz responded that he investigated Nolan and found "that he never did anything suspicious..." Nava persisted and ordered Nolan's arrest in June of 1799.
With all this as background, the new Governor of Texas, in 1800, Juan Bautista Elquézabal, was piqued there were American squatters in east Texas. He was aware of Nava's suspicions, he knew of Nolan's map of Texas, his visit to American leaders, and that Nolan was hiring armed men. The Texas governor posted notice for Nolan to be arrested at the border. The Governor was very suspicious of Nolan's intentions. He was sure there was a rebel plot developing and wanted to stop it before there was public support from the Nacogdoches area.
José Vidal reinforced Elquézabal's view when he wrote the governor:
The insult intended by that man Nolan to his Majesty's
territory might have fatal consequences if not checked.
Should he succeed, others would follow his example, and
embark in like expeditions; Americans would by degrees
penetrate these precious possessions which it is important
to conceal from the ambition of the Government of the
Between them, Vidal and Elquezabál sent out the alarm so that in short order, from the Rio Grande to the Sabine, patrols were out looking for Nolan and his men.
In the fall of 1800, Nolan's group contained nineteen men, many of them with Irish names: Cooley, Bean, Harris, McKoy, King, Mahon, Moore (born in Ireland), Pierce, and Reed. Two brother's named House may have been Celtic. One of them referred to Bean, who was Celtic, as being his "contriman", since both of the brothers were from Virginia and Bean was from North Carolina, it is possible they were refering to a shared heritage. There were also seven Mexicans and two black slaves. Nolan knew the authorities were waiting, so he entered Texas north of Nacogdoches. He encountered a patrol, but was able to face these men down with blarney, the old permits, and his well armed men. He continued into Texas around the Brazos River near what is today Blum, Texas, about 40 miles northwest of Waco. There they built corrals and a fortified cabin with some dirt emplacements raised in front.
Another member of the group, John Henderson, born in Scotland, was to meet the group with a pack train of supplies; he was arrested by Spanish authorities when he was passing through Rapides (now Monroe, Louisiana).
Unknown to Nolan, his trip was a cause célèbre on the level of an international incident. Owing to the nervous climate at the time in the Spanish territory, the following entities and elements of the militia and army under their control were actively engaged in locating the whereabouts of the Nolan party:
The Viceroy of New Spain
The Captain General of Havana
The Commandant General of the Interior Provinces
The Governor of The Territory of Mississippi
The Governor of Louisiana
The Governor of Texas
The Governor of Nuevo Santander
The Governor of Nuevo Léon
The Commandants of;
Concordia (now Vidalia, La.)
Rapides (now Monroe, La.)
Ouachita (now Alexandria, La.)
Bahía del Espíritu Santo
La Punta de Lampazos
San Lois Potosí
San Antonio de Béxar
Atakaps (now St Martinsville, La.)
Nogales (now Vicksburg, Miss.)
In addition the Governor of Coahuila, Antonio Cordero, had 160 troops spread and stationed in the towns of: Aquaverde, Monclova, Pachuache, and Iglesias. All were on the lookout for Nolan and his band.
Nolan and his men were unaware of their celebrity status. They had captured about three hundred horses, when a full company of Spanish troops (about 120 men) surrounded them at night. The next dawn they heard William Barr asking them to surrender in the name of the King of Spain. Barr aided the commander of the troops in locating Nolan's camp through his contacts among the Indians. Though badly outnumbered and facing cannon as well, Nolan's men decided to fight. Two of the Mexicans deserted, taking with them Nolan's carbine. The rest took their stand. There were eleven Americans, most of whom were Irish Americans, five Hispanics, and the two black slaves (some of the Americans deserted at the first sign of trouble north of Nacogdoches).
Thus were fired the first shots against the foreign rulers of Texas by Americans, many of them Irish, including their leader, Irish born Philip Nolan.
Nolan was killed outright in one of the first exchanges of fire. He was killed by a cannonball. One of the spokesmen for the group was Peter Ellis Bean, an Irish American, seventeen years old. The group was almost out of ammunition. They were surrounded and badly outnumbered. Nolan, their leader, was dead. Barr told Bean that the Spanish only wanted the group out of Spanish territory and that the Spaniards would escort them to the border. A treaty was signed stating Nolan's party could keep their weapons, and that both parties would return to Nacogdoches in company. Before they left, Nolan's servants asked if they could bury Philip Nolan. They were told they could, but not before Nolan's ears were cut off by Barr. William Barr eventually brought the ears to the governor at San Antonio de Béxar along with Nolan's papers and the report of the company commander of the Spanish troops.
Two suggested sites of Nolan's encounter with the Spanish, the circle and the arrow.
So saddened was Frances Lintot Nolan of learning of her husband's death that she was dead three months (July, 1801) after learning the news. Thus ended the story of Philip Nolan. The Nolan River and Nolan's Creek in Central Texas, as well as Nolan County are named for him. The town of Belton was originally called Nolan to honor Philip Nolan.Though his story is not known by many, his name is familiar to many Americans. Not so much for what he did in Texas, but because his name was used by author Edward Everett Hale for the central character in a popular novel. The novel was about a man involved in the Burr conspiracy who was found guilty of conspiring against the United States. He was sentenced to spend a life at sea and in foreign ports. He was to be kept aboard U.S. Navy vessels, never to see the shores of the United States again. The novel was entitled The Man Without a Country. It was a very successful book and received wide readership. Hale admitted he used Nolan's name in his story, he later wrote another novel called, Philip Nolan's Friends.
Nolan's men waited in Nacogdoches for permission to enter Spanish Louisiana. This was necessary because of the separate Spanish administrations in Spanish Texas and Spanish Louisiana. Passports were required between the two Spanish territories. Nolan's men were quartered in the Old Stone Fort while they waited on the bureaucracy. While they were in the settlement, the Hispanic couple, the Leals, from the nearby settlement at Ayish Bayou were placed on trial for treason in connection with Nolan's expedition. Leal's wife, Gertrudis de los Santos, it was learned, was Nolan's mistress. Also tried for involvement with Nolan was a French trader, Pierre Longueville, and a James Cook. There was also evidence presented of the local priest perhaps being too friendly with Nolan as well as the priest at Ouachita (a Father Brady). Both, it turned out were just friends of Nolan.
While Nolan's men waited in Nacogdoches, three of them escaped: Michael Mahon, Joe Harris, and Robert Ashley. After a time, word finally came from the authorities in Mexico, but it was not the word expected. Nolan's men were put in irons and marched to Mexico and imprisoned. What to do about these men was a question that eventually was asked of the King of Spain and the President of the United States. Eventually, all but one of Nolan's men who were marched off to Mexico......... were to die in Mexico.
It was two Irishman then, who started and stopped the first organized resistance to Spanish authority. The incident entangled the heads of state of Spain and the United States with undertones of conspiracy and jealousy that went beyond those of Nolan and Barr. This state of affairs was agitated further by three events that quickly followed one another: The Louisiana Purchase, Zeublon Pike's Expedition, and the revelation of the Burr Conspiracy. All these events occurred between 1803 and 1806.
Note: Zebulon Pike encountered men of Nolan's expedition in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1806. He was moved by their suffering and while he felt he was in no position to influence the Spanish authorities to improve their lot, he did ask them about them and their status. When he got back to the United States he wrote letters and when they did not get any action, he wrote newspaper editors and owners to publish his concern for Nolan's men. Use this link to read Pike's comments >