Edges of Empire: Boundary Making on the Louisiana Frontier, 1714-1821

Authors: Dean Sinclair*, Northwestern State University
Topics: Political Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: Political Geography, Boundaries, Frontier, Louisiana
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 2:00 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Muses, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


For over one hundred years, the western boundary of Louisiana was poorly defined and contentious. With French settlement on the Red River at Natchitoches in 1714 and the Spanish response in 1717 at the mission San Miguel de Linares de Los Adaes thirty miles to the west, the boundary between the two empires became a scene of ongoing conflict. Over the next century, the boundary was at issue as the political fortunes of the French and the Spanish rose and fell, and with the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States made its claim. Even then, the uncertainty as to what the United States had actually purchased made the western boundary uncertain, almost breaking into all out conflict in 1806 between the United States, led by the infamous General James Wilkinson, and the Spanish. Wilkinson solved the issue at that moment by proposing a “neutral ground” between Spanish Texas and American Louisiana, which would not be resolved until the approval of the Adams-Onís Treaty in 1821. During this century of contention, there occurred the “chicken war,” Los Adaes served for a time as the capital of Spanish Texas, contraband trading thrived, bandits appeared, squatters made their way onto the land, and Native Americans were displaced. This small corner of North America represents the edges of the French, Spanish, and American empires as they sought to maintain and expand their grip on the frontier.

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