Early capital of Texas located in Louisiana

Most of you undoubtedly know that, over time, the capital of  Texas has moved about from place to place.  But did you know one of the earliest capitals was situated about thirty miles east of the Sabine River in northwest Louisiana?  It’s true.  From 1729 to 1770 the first official capital of the Spanish province of Tejas was Los Adaes.  In fact, fourteen territorial governors ruled over Tejas from this location during that period.  Over the five decades it served as an active settlement, Los Adaes anchored what was quite literally the end of the road for the Spanish territory.  It was the easternmost point on the trail titled El Camino Real de los Tejas (the Royal Road of the Tejas Indians).  This road, more of a glorified trail really, linked Los Adaes in the east with Mexico City, the seat of Spanish royal authority in New Spain.

Both a fort and a mission, the Spanish built this outpost to bring Christianity to the Caddo Indians and to keep the French out of New Spain.  Ultimately, it didn’t really succeed in either endeavor.

All during those forty years, the border separating Louisiana and Texas was vigorously debated with both France and Spain continually claiming sections of each other’s territory as their own.  The French established Fort St. Jean-Baptiste at Natchitoches, Louisiana in 1714.  (This is the basis of Natchitoches’ claim to be the oldest permanent settlement in the entire Louisiana Purchase).    Eight years later, the Spanish constructed Los Adaes thirteen miles away to protect their claim to the land and to keep the aggressively expanding French from encroaching further. 

Officially named the Presidio Nuestra Senora del Pilar Los Adaes (Fort of Our Lady of Pilar at the Adaes), the structure was a hexagonal fortress measuring 115 feet on each side.  Each of threelosadaessketch alternating corners were fortified and defended by two cannons.  The whole structure was surrounded by a moat.  Nearby the mission of San Miguel de Cuellar de Los Adaes was erected.

Almost immediately, Spain designated Los Adaes the capital of the province of Texas.  The governor’s official residence was built there and it remained the administrative seat of government for the entire province for the next 44 years.  The remote provincial capital eventually grew to become the home for over 400 Spanish citizens.  Among these were families, soldiers, priests, French traders, converted Indians, escaped slaves and an assortment of other settlers of the frontier.

Yes, Los Adaes was built to counter the French incursion into Spanish territory, but as it happens, if it had not been for their proximity to the French supply center, Los Adaes might not have survived.  This presidio was no plush capital city.  Life at Los Adaes was harsh and unforgiving.  Frontier posts were expected to be self-sufficient so the soldiers stationed there also worked as farmers and ranchers.  But the land was poor and crop failures were a common happenstance.  The nearest Spanish supply post, Saltillo, was 800 miles away and the humid, rainy climate meant supplies brought in were often spoiled by the time they reached their destination.   Without the ability to trade with the French at the Natchitoches settlement, those at Los Adaes would most likely have starved.

This set the stage for Los Adaes to become the site of a unique cooperation among the Spanish, the French and the Caddoans.   Though Fort St. Jean-Baptiste and Los Adaes were located near one another and were established primarily to protect their respective nations’ interests from aggression by the other, their inhabitants got along surprisingly well.  In fact, when the French fort was attacked in 1730 by about 400 Indians who kept them under siege for 22 days, it was the soldiers from Los Adaes who eventually came to their rescue.

The French capitalized on the shortages of supplies in the Spanish camp to set up a flourishing, if illicit, trade.  The Caddo Indians traded with both sides.  Though the Spanish Crown banned this commerce, the Spanish settlers eventually took on the role of go between the Indians and the French.   No battles were ever fought at Los Adaes during the years it served as the Spanish provincial capital.  Instead a stalemate, reminiscent of a cold war, existed between the opposing forces.

In 1763 France ceded Louisiana to Spain.  Finally, in 1772, Spain transferred the capital of the Tejas province to San Antonio and most of the 500 plus settlers relocated.  By the 1780s the center of Spanish life in East Texas had shifted to Nacogdoches.  In 1800 the Louisiana territory was transferred back to the French who sold it three years later to the United States.  Interestingly, in 1806 Los Adaes was reoccupied by the Spanish for a short time but the Americans quickly drove them back.  Both the United States and Spain continued to lay claim to Los Adaes until the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 finally settled the matter and Los Adaes, once the capital of Texas, ended up firmly within the boundaries of the state of Louisiana.

Los Adaes is very likely the only Colonial Spanish provincial capital that is still intact from an archeological perspective.  Admittedly, other capitals such as Sante Fe, San Antonio and Saltillo are still population centers today.  But most traces of their provincial origins have been erased – either built up, dug up or obliterated in some other manner.  What parts do survive are but remnants of the original settlements.  Los Adaes, on the other hand, is an archeologist dream.  While the standing architecture, made entirely of wood, disintegrated over time, beneath the ground the patterns and substantial material evidence of the presidio remain, traces that archeologists are still exploring today.  The state of Louisiana now owns the property so this very special site will be preserved and available for study for many years to come.

 

Winnie Griggs
Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.
Updated: January 5, 2018 — 2:45 am

22 Comments

  1. Glad to see this show up on Twitter this morning. Great blog, Winnie!

  2. Love this look at Texas history. It’s so rich. The Spanish, the French, the Indians, the hard land that made tough people and in the end turned them all into Americans.

  3. Interesting stuff, Winnie. I knew that part of Louisiana was in “Tejas” territory, but didn’t realize it had been the governmental seat. Thanks!

  4. Winnie,

    I have learned alot about Texas. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post

    Hope to get your interview questions soon

    Here is my email navajotrust@yahoo.com

    Walk in peace and harmony,

    Melinda

  5. I love reading the history of our country. It is especially fun when I can give my Sped student a little known fact to share with the regular class. this I shall file and share when the time is right. Thank you, Fillies, because you have given me many such moments.

  6. Hi Winnie, great information here. Texas history is as big as the lone star land itself! Thanks.

  7. Wow! Winnie, what great research! Enjoyed reading about the capital’s history!

  8. Sorry I’m so late responding folks – was up for 28 straight hours trying to meet a deadline.

    Glad you all enjoyed this little slice of history this morning. I found it quite interesting myself. Los Adaes is probably about 70 miles from where I live, yet I never knew it existed until I stumbled up on it recently in some research I was doing

  9. Hi Winnie!

    Great research and information. Sorry I’ve been absent from the forums — I’ve been gone and away from a computer. Am doing this at the library actually while I’m away from home.

    Loved the blog.

  10. Loved the history lesson, Winnie. So where exactly is this past capitol? I saw your picture…are there plans to create more of a monument.

    The new things I learn everyday….:)

  11. Karen, glad you enjoyed the post. And no need to apologize – I’m amazed you can find time to do ANY of this when you’re on the road.

  12. Liz – Hi!! Glad you stopped by. Los Adaes is right off Hwy 485 at Robeline, about 15 miles west of Natchitoches. There’s a state historic site there that runs tours for visitor. Might make for an interesting day trip sometime.

  13. Hi Winnie, glad you made it through the deadline! Thanks for a super post… you taught me a lot!

  14. Avatar

    Winnie,
    Thanks for an informative post. We just got back from 11 days in Texas on vacation. Visited the State History Museum in Austen which covered some of what you did, but not all. Am glad the state of Louisiana has the property. It will be an interesting site to visit.

  15. Joanne, Thanks for stopping by!

    Patricia. Glad you enjoyed the post – and that it coincides with what the Texas State History museum says 🙂

  16. Very interesting, Winnie! I knew that Los Adais was there as a face-off between Spain and France, but I didn’t know it was once the capitol of the Texas territory. I have actually been there.

    There is another interesting Spanish ruin on a bluff overlooking the Neches River near Rockville, Texas, Fort Teran. It is interesting partly because bluffs are pretty hard to come by in that part of the world. There is an unusal geologic uplift there.

    Teran was also a fort built by the Spanish to try to keep Anglo settlers out of Texas. There is a ford across the Neches near there. My brother discovered it on a float trip down the Neches. Getting to it by car proved to be an adventure, creeping down a sand logging road lined with hostile posted signs. Which we ignored. 😉 (I don’t think you can post access.) Once you get to aforesaid bluff, there is a nice little parklike area and a granite marker pocked with bullet holes. I can’t imagine that anyone but history buffs like us ever goes there. I don’t think it was manned for long.

    patti

  17. Hi Patti. Cool that you’ve actually been to Los Adaes. And the Fort Teran sounds really interesting too.

  18. Oops! Make that Rockland, Texas.

    p

  19. Avatar

    In the year 1959 I was a student at North Western State College in Natchitoches, La. I was hitch hiking one day on highway 6 toward Many, Louisiana and was by chance let of at (Coldwater)Hagewood, Louisiana and saw a stone marker that stated that the capitol of Texas was at that location. I have told a number of people about it over the years and none seem to believe me. I thankful to you for the information relative to the Texas connection.

  20. Glad to be of help! By the way, NSU is my alma mater as well

  21. I used to be a volunteer at the park from 2002 through 2008. I really loved working there. When its popularity waned about 2008, the state closed it down, crying shame. I really miss it.

    Jesus/Jessie/Redlegs

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