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Fort San Fernando De Las Barrancas

Fort San Fernando, as drawn by Victor Collot, 1796.

Continuous settlement of the Fourth Chickasaw Bluff, the site of Memphis, dates at least from Spain's founding of Fort San Fernando in May 1795. As a co-belligerent of the rebelling United States in the 1770s, Spain captured various British posts on the Gulf of Mexico and in the lower Mississippi Valley. At war's end, Spain claimed present-day Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama by right of conquest. At the Paris conference of 1783, however, the British ceded all their former trans-Appalachian holdings to the United States, creating conflicting claims to the area.

In the mid-1790s Spain moved to secure its northeastern flank in North America. Louisiana Governor-General Carondelet sent Lieutenant Governor Manuel Gayoso de Lemos to secure the Chickasaws' consent and then erect a fort on the bluff site. Gayoso proceeded with dispatch, building a small stockaded fort and a support complex at the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi Rivers.

The fort, a hardship post, lasted less than two years. In 1795 Spain renounced its claims to territory above the thirty-first parallel, destroyed the fort, and withdrew across the Mississippi. Squatters in the shadow of the fort stayed on to welcome American occupation. Some of these pioneers survived well into the nineteenth century and became citizens of early Memphis at its founding. Some Spanish and French customs, usages, and a few place names carried over into the Anglo-American settlement.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010