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Texas | All Things Historical

THE FIRST TEXAS CAPITAL

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Greeters at Robeline, Louisiana, seem to take a measure of pleasure in pointing out that the first Texas capital of Texas stands on a blacktop road a few miles east of town.

The site is Los Adaes, and it was indeed a Texas capital -- the colonial capital of Spanish Texas from 1729 to 1773. The fact that Texas has allowed one its capitals to remain in Louisiana intrigues a considerable number of folks.

In recent years, Louisiana has invested a lot of money in Los Adaes, making it an excellent place to brush up on your early Spanish Texas history.

The site dates back to the l700s when Father Francisco Hidalgo, a Franciscan missionary from New Spain (now Mexico), urged the French governor of Louisiana to establish a post near East Texas. He knew that such an action would alert New Spain and cause the Spanish government to reestablish previously closed Spanish military posts and Franciscan missions.

The founding of Natchitoches in 1774 by Frenchman St. Denis and the construction of Fort St. Jean Baptiste had the predicted effort. In 1716, the Spanish established six missions and one fort in East Texas. The easternmost mission, San Miguel, was built among the Adaes Indians, only 15 miles from the French fort.

An attack on Mission San Miguel, ordered by Louisiana governor Bienville during the French-Spanish hostilities of 1719, alarmed the Spanish and they built a new fort to counter any further French intrusion into Spanish territory.

As a result, the Presidio Nuestra Senora del Pilar de los Adaes (Fort of Our Lady of Pilar at the Adaes) was surrounded by a hexagonal stockade with three bulwarks. Inside the walls were a chapel, guard house, barracks, wells, blacksmith shop, and powderhouse. Corrals, service buildings and the dwellings of the Indians and the soldiersą families were located outside the fort.

In 1729, Spain designated Los Adaes as the capital of the province of Texas and the official residence of its governor. A house was built for him and Los Adaes remained the seat of government for the province during the next 44 years.

The 100 soldiers stationed at Los Adaes were Mexican cavalrymen who defended the mission and escorted the governor and missionaries on their travels. The soldiers also doubled as farmers and herdsmen.

Except for one minor raid by the French upon Los Adaes, relations between the Spanish and French were, as a matter of necessity, friendly. Although Spain prohibited trade with the French, the latter sought it and took advantage of supply shortages at Los Adaes. An illegal trade soon flourished between the fort and Natchitoches. This commerce became so important that Natchitoches suffered a recession when Los Adaes closed in 1773.

For many years, Los Adaes was simply a place in the woods marked by a monument erected by the women of Robeline.

Today, however, the location has an excellent archeology workshop, an interpretive complex, an overlook, and an outline of Presidio Los Adaes. Texas visitors should be forewarned that Louisiana residents still enjoy having Texas' first capital sitting in their midst.

All Things Historical Sept. 22-28, 2002 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Bob Bowman is a former president of the East Texas Historical Association and the author of 28 books on East Texas history and folklore. He lives in Lufkin.)

See Also
Los Adaes by Archie P. McDonald
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