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Home Tennessee Shelby County Memphis Historical Markers Spain


126 North Front Street, Memphis, TN , USA

Latitude & Longitude: 35° 8' 39.359976", -90° 3' 34.139988"
  Tennessee TN State Historical Marker
Tennessee State
Historical Marker

The Spanish were the first Europeans to discover the Lower Mississippi, but 260 years of shifting international politics allowed them only occasional sovereignty over the area.

Hernando DeSoto's pioneering expedition stumbled on the Mississippi somewhere south of here on May 8, 1541, but it is unlikely that they raised a Spanish banner over their discovery. After a laborious two year trek up from Florida and a recent defeat by the Chickasaws, DeSoto's force was in tatters. He was searching for seven mythical cities of gold, and the river was more of an obstacle to him than a discovery. DeSoto died a year later on the bank of the river he had found, and was buried beneath its waters. The remnants of his expedition made a hasty exit down river to the Gulf. No Spaniard set foot on the Mississippi for the next 150 years.

In 1762, on the verge of losing the Seven Years' War to England, the French sold the Mississippi's west bank and the New Orleans area to Spain. At war's end in 1763, England took control of the land east of the river above New Orleans, only to lose it in 1779 when Governor Galves of Louisiana captured British Fort Bute above New Orleans and claimed the entire lower river for Spain.

After the American Revolution , Spain maintained a string of ragtag outposts on the west bank, and by 1791 had established east bank forts near New Madrid, Missouri and Nogales, now Vicksburg, Mississippi. A fleet of Spanish war vessels patrolled the river between them.

Eager to consolidate his east bank position, Spanish commander Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos established a camp directly across the river from this spot on May 20, 1795 and ferried back and forth to negotiate with the Chickasaw on the bluff east of you. After liberal doses of rum, presents, and promises the Native Americans gave permission for a fort to be built on the bluff. Fort San Fernando de Barracas was completed a year later at the mouth of the Wolf River just north of here.

But while Gayoso was laboring to secure Spain's position in the Valley, Spanish diplomats were giving it away. In 1795, Spain ceded all east bank land north of present day Louisiana to the United States. Die-hard Spanish officials held on to the outpost for 18 months more, but Fort San Fernando was finally evacuated in 1797. In 1800, Spain ceded to France its remaining lands, and Spain's influence in the Mississippi Valley ended.

Erected by Mud Island River Park.

Last updated: 2/14/2015 15:17:00
    Related Themes: American Revolution, the Revolutionary War.
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