Thomas Pinckney, US special minister to Spain, and Manuel de Godoy y Álvarez de Faria, prime minister of Spain, negotiated and signed the “Treaty of Friendship, Limits, and Navigation between the United States of America and the King of Spain” (known as the Treaty of San Lorenzo or Pinckney’s Treaty) at the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo el Real on 27 October 1795. Godoy endorsed and negotiated this treaty as a consequence of the unknown implications of the 1794 treaty between the United States and Great Britain (Jay’s Treaty), a peace treaty between Spain and France, and the aggressive, unbridled western advance by the United States.
Even before Pinckney, the US minister to London, received his appointment as “envoy extraordinary” to Spain, Godoy had expressed a willingness to discuss a permanent Florida boundary and open navigation of the Mississippi River. Spain’s inability to foment separatism on the American frontier or to stop American expansion through its southern Indian alliance forced Godoy to make concessions to protect Spain’s declining American fortunes. John Jay’s 1794 mission to London raised the specter of an Anglo-American alliance that could threaten the fragile Spanish presence in North America. After Godoy deserted the Anglo-Spanish alliance by signing a secret treaty with France, the Peace of Basel, on 22 July 1795, he needed to reach a peace accord with the United States to protect Spain’s possessions. At the same time, Pres. George Washington’s administration wanted to maintain peaceful relations with Spain, resolve the southern boundary dispute, and provide western farmers with access to markets via the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
With the creation of the Northwest Territory in 1787 and the Southwest Territory in 1790, thousands of new settlers demanded protection from the Ohio and southern Indians and outlets for their tobacco and other products. Under Jay’s Treaty, Great Britain agreed to abandon its Great Lakes posts, which contributed to the defeat of the Ohio Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794 and to the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. In Spanish Louisiana, Francisco Luis Héctor, Baron de Carondelet, governor and intendant general, had developed an aggressive defensive strategy, including an alliance with the southern Indians, operating war galleys on the Mississippi and constructing military outposts on the Upper Tombigbee River and on the Chickasaw Bluffs at present-day Memphis, Tennessee. The unsuspecting Carondelet knew nothing about Pinckney’s mission or the machinations orchestrated by Godoy, who had received a new title, Prince of Peace, for his efforts in Basel, Switzerland.
Pinckney and Godoy started their negotiations in Madrid shortly after Pinckney’s arrival on 28 June 1795. After the Peace of Basel was ratified and war with France formally ended on 7 August 1795, Pinckney proposed treaty articles on 20 August in which he pushed for the American right to free navigation of the Mississippi and a free port near the mouth of the Mississippi. Godoy demurred on a place of deposit and on 18 September demanded a treaty conceding the right of navigation and thirty-first parallel as the boundary with Spanish West Florida. Deciding to make the right of deposit a fundamental condition of a treaty, Pinckney threatened to end the negotiations by demanding his passports on 24 October. Godoy capitulated and agreed to permit US citizens to deposit goods duty-free for three years at New Orleans; he further promised “to continue this permission” or to assign US citizens “an equivalent establishment” on the Mississippi.
Although the US Senate ratified the Treaty of San Lorenzo on 7 March 1796 and Spain did so on 25 April, its full impact and implementation were delayed until May 1799 by the tardy Spanish withdrawal east of the Mississippi and north of the thirty-first parallel. Carondelet did not take steps to abandon his Indian policy, frontier intrigues in Kentucky, or the military posts east of the Mississippi until he received orders in late February 1796 and specific directions to evacuate military posts east of the Mississippi on 22 September 1797. Ironically, Andrew Ellicott’s survey of the new boundary line, which took four years to complete, provided more excuses for delays. The garrison at Fort Confederation on the Upper Tombigbee retreated downriver to Fort San Esteban north of Mobile on 17 March 1797, and Spanish forces dismantled and abandoned Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas (Memphis) three days later. The final Spanish withdrawal from Natchez occurred on 30 March 1798, and Spanish forces surrendered Fort San Esteban on 5 May 1799. Congress formally organized the Mississippi Territory on 7 April 1798 with boundaries from the Mississippi River to the Chattahoochee River and from the thirty-first parallel to the 32°28ʹ line of north latitude.
- Samuel Flagg Bemis, Pinckney’s Treaty: America’s Advantage from Europe’s Distress, 1783–1800 (1960)
- Andrew Ellicott, The Journal of Andrew Ellicott: Late Commissioner on Behalf of the United States . . . for Determining the Boundary between the United States and the Possessions of His Catholic Majesty (1962)
- Douglas Hilt, The Troubled Trinity: Godoy and the Spanish Monarchs (1987)
- Abraham P. Nasatir, Spanish War Vessels on the Mississippi, 1792–1796 (1968)
- Antonio R. Peña, Early American Review (Summer–Fall 2002)
- David J. Weber, The Spanish Frontier in North America (1992)