The Clarion-Ledger Jackson Daily News
July, 06 1986
Hale's Classic Story Had Mississippi Ties
The Man without a Country, Edward
Everett Hale's Story of the army officer who renounced his native land, is
still a favorite in the annals of American patriotism. Most Mississippians
do not realize that the major action of the story is set in Mississippi,
and that the hero was named for a well-known inhabitant of old Natchez.
The story takes place in the early 1800s in Fort Adams,
an army post on the Mississippi River a few miles above Baton Rouge and
just above the Spanish-U. S. boundary (shortly to become the boundary
between the new states of Louisiana and Mississippi). James Wilkinson,
ranking general of the American Army, maintained his headquarters there.
Despite its important location, service at Fort Adams
was dull and boring. In addition, loyalty to the new nation was untested,
especially among soldiers too young to have served in the American
revolution. Wilkinson himself was taking money from Spain at the same time
he served as American commander. In Hale's story, one of the young
lieutenants at the fort, Philip Nolan, is impressed by the visiting Vice
President Aaron Burr. When Burr is later tried for treason, (with
Wjlkinson as his chief accuser), Nolan is tried on the same charge at Fort
When the fictitious Col. Morgan, president of the court,
asks Nolan at the conclusion of the trial if he wishes to say something in
his defense, Nolan cries out.'
"Damn the United States! I wish that I may never
hear of the United States again!"
The court grants Nolan his wish. He is placed in
permanent detention aboard a naval vessel, never allowed ashore and barred
from receiving mail or reading matter with references to the United
States. His shipboard contacts could never mention the United States to
him. Nolan's floating prison roams the world, and death provides a blessed
release for the man who had named his fate.
A legend has grown up that The Man Without a Country
was based on a real incident and a real person. No such incident occurred,
but there was a real Philip Nolan.
When Wilkinson succeeded to the command of the U.S. Army
upon the death of Anthony Wayne in 1796, and moved his headquarters to
Fort Adams, he probably turned early to in ∑p Nolan for advice. Nolan was
a hunter and trader living
Natchez, and an old friend and Wilkinson portage from
Kentucky. Nolan may have been established in Natchez by accident, but he
may have first come as an agent of Wilkinson, who once described him"
a child of my own raising."
Nolan was first known in Natchez as a partisan of the
American boundary surveyor, Andrew Ellicott, in his skirmishes with the
Spanish governor, Gayoso. After he married the daughter of Bernard Lintot,
a prominent planter who moved to the territory' as a Tory refugee from New
England, Nolan was accepted in Natchez society.
He gained local fame over the Mississippi territory as a
horse tamer and horse trader. He packed trading goods west-ward into what
is now Texas, and came back with herds of wild horses for sale. His
standard price was $50 per horse, but he sometimes charged much more. A
letter from Nolan to Wilkinson, promising him a prize specimen still
survives. According to writings of a French naturalist, Landre Michaux,
Nolan even traveled to Santa Fe.
Nolan apparently cultivated the Indians who supplied his
horses, but ignored the colonial governments of both Louisiana and Texas.
His failure to check with governmental outposts aroused suspicion and
When he left on a horse-gathering trip in 1801, both
colonial governments sent out special expeditions to stop him. In March he
was overtaken on the Brazo River, and either killed in a skirmish or
deliberately executed One of the Spanish officers sliced off both his ears
and brought them back as prizes.
The other members of Nolan's party were taken prisoner
and moved further west into Texas. Mter one of them had been selected by
lot and executed, the remainder were set free to make their way back to
Edward Everett Hale used this part of the real Nolan's
story as the basis of another novels, the now forgotten Phillip
However, Philip Nolan of Natchez will always be far
better known as the man without a country than as the frontier martyr.
In his Memories of a Hundred Years, Hale recalled
why he named his man without a country after Philip Nolan: 'In studying
for the story, I read what I suppose no other man living except myself has
read, this Gen. Wilkinson's Memoirs. When I had to chose a name for
my hero, recollecting Wilkinson's partner Nolan, I called my man
Hale intended to give his fictional character a
different first name, but his memory failed him, and he unconsciously used
the real one, Philip.