Essays and Such

Irish Cultural Society

of San Antonio Texas


Promoting Awareness of Irish Culture

New Orleans and San Antonio
Support George Washington
by Lila & Rick Guzman
Texas in the American Revolution

            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 
Revolutionary war.
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 United States. 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 lambs?" 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.

Oliver Pollock

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 gone unrecorded. EPILOG 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 Revolution. 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 lorenzo1776@yahoo.com. This article is published with the authors permission.