In 1876 I visited Louisiana and Texas, to obtain material for “Philip Nolan’s Friends.” I obtained there several autographs of the real Phil Nolan,—and the original Spanish record of one of the trials of the survivors of his party,—a trial which resulted in the cruel execution of Ephraim Blackburn, seven years after he was arrested. That whole transaction, wholly ignored by all historians of the United States known to me, is a sad blot on the American administration of the Spanish kings. Their excuse is the confusion of everything in Madrid between 1801 and 1807. The hatred of the Mexican authorities among our frontiersmen of the Southwest is largely due to the dishonor and cruelty of those transactions.
Edward E. Hale.
I [Note 1] suppose that very few casual readers of the “New York Herald” of August 13, 1863, observed, [Note 2] in an obscure corner, among the “Deaths,” the announcement,—
“Nolan. Died, on board U. S. Corvette ‘Levant,’ [Note 3] Lat. 2° 11’ S., Long. 131° W., on the 11th of May, Philip Nolan.”
I happened to observe it, because I was stranded at the old Mission House in Mackinaw, waiting for a Lake Superior steamer which did not choose to come, and I was devouring to the very stubble all the current literature I could get hold of, even down to the deaths and marriages in the “Herald.” My memory for names and people is good, and the reader will see, as he goes on, that I had reason enough to remember Philip Nolan. There are hundreds of readers who would have paused at that announcement, if the officer of the “Levant” who reported it had chosen to make it thus: “Died, May 11, the man without A country.” For it was as “The Man without a Country” that poor Philip Nolan had generally been known by the officers who had him in charge during some fifty years, as, indeed, by all the men who sailed under them. I dare say there is many a man who has taken wine with him once a fortnight, in a three years’ cruise, who never knew that his name was “Nolan,” or whether the poor wretch had any name at all.
There can now be no possible harm in telling this poor creature’s story. Reason enough there has been till now, ever since Madison’s [Note 4] administration went out in 1817, for very strict secrecy, the secrecy of honor itself, among the gentlemen of the navy who have had Nolan in successive charge. And certainly it speaks well for the esprit de corps of the profession, and the personal honor of its members, that to the press this man’s story has been wholly unknown,—and, I think, to the country at large also. I have reason to think, from some investigations I made in the Naval Archives when I was attached to the Bureau of Construction, that every official report relating to him was burned when Ross burned the public buildings at Washington.