Rick & Lila Guzmán were looking for a subject of mutual
interest so they could co-author a book, when Rick discovered a website
that mentioned a secret mission in 1776. General Washington sent
Captain George Gibson to New Orleans to get supplies from the Spanish.
Rick and Lila, like many of us, never heard of Louisiana’s connection
to the Revolution. Likewise, they had never heard of George Gibson,
William Linn, or Oliver Pollock as important figures in the American
And so, a storey unfolds.
Who Owned What and Why
In 1763, Spain relinquished East Florida and West Florida to the
British to comply with the treaty ending the French and Indian War.
These became British colonies in the future Gulf States. So, the
Spanish no longer owned Florida. Pensacola became the capital
of East Florida while Baton Rouge served as capital of West Florida.
Added to the “original thirteen colonies” that rebelled against King
George, that would make 15 British colonies in the future Continental
The two Floridas had no reason to rebel. They were happy and
prosperous. Baton Rouge was only 70 miles from Spanish-held New
Orleans and British colonists often went to New Orleans on shopping
sprees. The two Floridas would not join the American Revolution.
War would come to them in 1779.
On July 4, 1776, the other British colonies declared their independence
from King George III. General Washington, in charge of the new
Continental Army, needed supplies: medicine, cloth for uniforms,
muskets, gunpowder and lead. He decided to send men to New
Orleans for supplies.
We think of New Orleans as a French city, but in 1763, at the end of the
French and Indian War, the King of France turned over the Louisiana
territory to the King of Spain to keep it out of British hands. It was a
"wink-wink-nod-nod" kind of deal and a surprise to the residents of New
Orleans when they learned that they were no longer French subjects.
They were Spanish! In 1768, they revolted against the Spanish governor.
Alejandro O’Reilly, an Irishman in the Spanish army, was sent to New
Orleans where he crushed the rebellion, executed the ringleaders, and
acquired the name of Bloody O’Reilly.
With the arrival of the Spanish, the official government language changed
from French to Spanish. However, the average person on the streets of
New Orleans spoke French.
General Washington realized that he would need to send an agent who
was fluent in French and Spanish.
Captain George Gibson and Gibson’s Lambs
In colonial America, few people were bilingual, much less trilingual.
Captain George Gibson, a Pennsylvanian who spoke English, French,
and Spanish, fit the bill. His grandmother, a French countess who had
married a Pennsylvania miller, insisted that her children and grandchildren
learn French and Spanish. This made George Gibson the ideal man to
tap for the supply mission to New Orleans.
Gibson was a huge man by 18th century standards, well over 6’5" tall.
His grandson remarked in his biography that Gibson never met a vice
he didn’t like. Everyone liked George. With his brother, John, he ran
a frontier trading post.
At the start of the war, George Gibson formed his own militia company.
His men were wild frontiersmen who proved difficult to control. Their
idea of fun was to go to the local tavern, get drunk, and cause trouble.
Once, after Gibson’s men had been particularly rowdy, his commander
yelled in complete frustration, "Gibson! Can’t you control your little
From then on, Gibson’s company was known as "Gibson’s Lambs."
Unfortunately, history did not record their names. However, we know
that most of them were big, powerfully built Irishmen with strong backs
-something they would need for Gibson’s secret mission to New
Orleans. We also know that they were illiterate, as were many people
in the colonies, and did not record their adventures in journals.
The New Orleans Connection
In July 1776, Gibson and his second in command, Lieutenant William
Linn, set out by flatboat from Fort Pitt near what is now Pittsburgh,
in western Pennsylvania. They traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi
Rivers and arrived in New Orleans a few weeks later.
Gibson found the Spanish more than willing to help the fledgling United
States. The new military commander, Don Bernardo de Gálvez, warmly
received Gibson and the Lambs who masqueraded as fur traders. By
September 1776, ten thousand pounds of Spanish supplies were ready
for the trip. Then, one night in September, Gálvez arrested Gibson
and threw him in jail.
Deception and Winter
This was merely a ruse to make the British think that the so-called
American fur traders would not leave without their leader.
Nine thousand pounds of medicine, cloth, muskets, gunpowder and
lead headed north. Lieutenant William Linn and Gibson’s Lambs left
Gibson sitting in jail.
They rowed past Baton Rouge and were making good time upriver until
they came to a Spanish outpost along the Arkansas River. There, they
learned bad news. The Ohio River had frozen over and they would have
to wait until the spring thaw to travel on.
Meanwhile, Gálvez released Gibson. With the remaining one thousand
pounds of supplies, Gibson took the more dangerous sea route through
the Gulf of Mexico and around East Florida. He arrived in Philadelphia
months before his men made it to Fort Pitt.
Cattle from San Antonio
Because the Spanish had been reliable suppliers, the next year, George
Washington and Patrick Henry wrote to Gálvez and asked about getting
Texas beef from the missions around San Antonio. Gálvez warmed to
the idea and sent vaqueros to the mission ranches for longhorned cattle.
Several hundred head of cattle traveled up the King’s Highway (currently
Highway 21 that goes from San Antonio to Natchitoches, Louisiana).
Part of the King’s Highway has not been paved over and can be seen at
the old Spanish fort outside Natchitoches.
From historical records, we know a cattle drive left San Antonio and
headed to the Mississippi River. The plan was to slaughter the cattle,
salt them, and put them in barrels on the flatboats.
However, the 2nd flatboat flotilla never arrived. It's fate remains
one of history’s mysteries.
SPAIN enters the fray
Later, in 1779, Don Bernardo de Galvez sent more vaqueros to San
Antonio for beef to feed his army. He was ready to attack the British
at Baton Rouge.
As the nephew of one of the most powerful men in Spain, Don Bernardo
had received word that the King of Spain would soon declare war on
Britain. Until then, any aid given by the Spanish had to remain secret.
In August 1779, Don Bernardo was ready to attack Baton Rouge. Then,
a Katrina-style hurricane struck, sinking the ships in the New Orleans
harbor. The levies broke. A lesser man would have given up, but within
a week, he set out with his troops and launced a surprise attack on forts
at Manchac and Baton Rouge.
At his side as his aide-de-camp was his best friend, a rich Irishman
named Oliver Pollock. By the end of American Revolution, Pollock was
bankrupt because he spent so much of his personal fortune fighting the
British. Not only did he help with the initial supplies that Gibson
took north, Pollock sent supplies to George Rogers Clark who was
fighting the British in the Northwest Territories.
When the Spanish defeated the British at Baton Rouge (1779), Mobile
(1780) and Pensacola (1781), Oliver Pollock was there.
He may have left an enduring legacy-the dollar sign. Although there
is no direct proof, many historians speculate that the $ comes from
the fancy way Oliver Pollock made the "P" in his last name or the way
he abbreviated "peso." Some say that it came from the Spanish coat
of arms that showed a pillar wrapped in a banner.
Unfortunately, many details about historical incidents and events have
Lila & Rick started their research with history books from the University
of Texas library and outlined a book. They soon realized that the
material was too rich for one book. They would have to write an entire
series. Not surprizingly many historical "facts" were not true and had
to be "un-learned." Thus was born the Lorenzo series for young adults
(ages 11 and up) to provide a more complete picture of the American
Major Characters of the Lorenzo series:
George Gibson, Real Person. Could not find a description of him.
Found portraits of two of his sons: Colonel George Gibson and Judge
John B. Gibson. We assumed that the father and sons resembled each
other and based a description of Col George Gibson on his sons.
William Linn, Real Person, was more difficult to pin down. No one
described him in a journal. No portrait was done of him. Only find
a few basic facts are found: He was a lieutenant in the Continental
Army in 1776. Later, he served with Gen. George Rogers Clark as a
colonel. He died in 1781 near his cabin east of present-day Louisville,
Kentucky. Other than those tidbits, he remains an enigma.
Oliver Pollock, Real person, a wealthy Irishman who did go bankrupt
helping to fight the British.
Lorenzo, Ficticious person, and was created to move the story along.
The historical events presented in the Lorenzo series are true.
About the Author
Lila Guzman, Ph.D.has written:
LORENZO AND THE PIRATE (Blooming Tree Press, Fall 2008)
LORENZO AND THE TURNCOAT (Arte Publico Press, 2006)
****WINNER: 2006 Arizona Authors Literary Award****
KICHI IN JUNGLE JEOPARDY (Blooming Tree Press, 2006)
Presently (April 2008) Rick and Lila are working on Lorenzo’s Buried
Treasure, where the hero is captured by the British and sent to the
Jersey prison ship. Lorenzo and the Pirate debuts in September 2008.
Visit www.lilaguzman.com for information about her books.
Lila is available for school visits and presentations. She specializes
in the American Revolution, but also gives workshops on the craft
of fiction writing.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is published with the authors permission.