Fort Nogales

In 1790 the Spanish commandant at Natchez made a treaty with the Choctaws by which the British district line was confirmed, and it seems that additional land was granted for the building of fortifications on the Walnut hills, which in Spanish were the Nogales hills. This point was then 25 miles above the upper settlements in the Natchez district. The construction was in progress in May, 1791, when David Smith was there, and he reported to Gov. Blount, in Tennessee, that the works were extensive. He described the site as a mile and a half below the mouth of the Yazoo, on a high bluff. There were then two blockhouses and large barracks completed. Besides other laborers “about 30 United States deserters” were engaged in the work. A galley and Spanish gunboat were lying in the river close at hand.

Gen. Victor Collot, (q. v.) visiting the country as a military spy in 1796, said, “The post of Nogales, called by way of irony the Gibraltar of Louisiana, is situated on the left of the river, near a deep creek, and on the summit of different eminences connected with each other and running northeast.” The main work, on the south side of the creek, called the fort of the great battery, was an enclosure made on the river side by a wall of masonry twelve feet high and four feet thick, and on the land side a ditch four feet wide and three deep, and palisades twelve feet high. Twelve cannon were mounted in the river battery, and a blockhouse with four howitzers was placed on an eminence in the rear, included in the quadrangle, within which, also, were a powder magazine, the commander’s house and barracks for two hundred men. On a hill, across the creek, was a blockhouse with four cannon, called Fort Sugarloaf. About a thousand yards behind these works, on a chain of small heights, was built Fort Mount Vigie, a square earthwork, with ditch and palisades, blockhouse and four cannon, and four hundred yards to the right and left two small blockhouses called Fort Gayoso and Fort Ignatius. The garrison of 80 men did not suffice to keep the works from decay.

Says the author of “In and About Vicksburg,” (1890) “Old Fort Nogales stood on the high eminence about a mile and a quarter due north from the present courthouse, that is still locally known as Fort Hill. There was a graveyard near the river in front of the fort and nearly in front of the present National cemetery.” * Andrew Ellicott and his party stopped at the fort February 19-20, 1797. Ellicott wrote that the Spaniards “have erected some considerable works. The post is a very important one, and capable of being made very strong.” On the 20th at noon, Ellicott “took the sun’s meridional altitude at the curtain of the lower battery, after which we dined with the commandant and his officers.” This commandant was a French Creole, Capt. Elias Beauregard. Francis Daily, coming down in 1797, described the fort as “an irregular fortification, occupying a great part of the hill on which it stands, which is very high and steep.” Baily, being an Englishman, perversely determined not to stop and show his passports, because he thought the Spaniards had no right there after the treaty, “though perhaps their right was better than the American before the treaty.” A gun was fired at his boat, but the rapidity of the stream carried him by in safety.

Fort Nogales was evacuated by Capt. Beauregard in March, 1798, after giving four days notice to Capt. Minor at Natchez, who informed Guion. The latter took no steps to occupy the works, because his orders were that Maj. Kersey should arrive with re-enforcements for that purpose. Consequently the fort was for a time vacant. When Beauregard left, Guion’s courier was there, ” and besides sixteen or seventeen inhabitants, particularly one Mr. Glass, that for their own interest would not suffer the Indians to make depredations.” A false report that the buildings of the fort were burned, was circulated by a river trader. (Letter of Gayoso, Claiborne’s Miss.)

After its evacuation by the Spaniards, the name of the fort was changed to Fort McHenry, in honor of the then secretary of war. But its occupation was short, and it was finally abandoned about the close of the 18th century.

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Source: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, by Dunbar Rowland.

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