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Man Without a Country

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The Clarion-Ledger Jackson Daily News

July, 06 1986

 

Hale's Classic Story Had Mississippi Ties

by

Frank Smith

Book Columnist

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 Adams.

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 distrust.

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 Natchez

Edward Everett Hale used this part of the real Nolan's story as the basis of another novels, the now forgotten Phillip Nolanís Friends.

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 'Nolan.'"

Hale intended to give his fictional character a different first name, but his memory failed him, and he unconsciously used the real one, Philip.

 

 

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