1762: Territories You Might Be Surprised Belonged to Spain (Like Minnesota)

When I was working on the post about Spanish California, I was shocked when I saw a map of the Viceroyalty of Nueva España. The iconic geography of the Great Lakes clearly marked that the majority of present day Minnesota once was part of Spanish Louisiana; Louisiana as in the purchase! I had no idea that the boundaries went that far north. Other people I know were as astonished as I was to learn of this historical geography. This post is dedicated to Minnesota schools. They’re doing a fair job, but about that time that Spain owned most of Minnesota? Might want to mention that.

First I’ll show a current map of the area around Minnesota, so you can compare it with the older maps below. See how the northeast point cozies up to Lake Superior. That section goes from the French to the British in 1763, shown in the map below.

Midwestern United States Image: Nick Roux, amendments by LtPowers

Now, all you history buffs may still be stuck on the phrase Spanish Louisiana. You might be saying aloud that you thought the US bought Louisiana from the French. You are right, they did. The backstory is a secret treaty between cousins; Louis of France and Carlos III of Spain; the 1762 Treaty of Fontainebleau. The agreement was not revealed to the rest of the world until 1769. The yellow part of the map is Spanish in 1763.

North America 1762-1783 Image: Jon Platek

Below is a map of Spanish Louisiana in 1800. Under Lake Superior in gray is part of Michigan and part of what became Wisconsin (where I currently live). That means that the other side of the Mississippi where two-thirds of Minnesota is today, was part of Spanish Louisiana. That shocked the heck out of me. Minnesota east of the Mississippi had already been given to Britain by France in 1763, which both the maps above and below indicate.

The Viceroyalty of New Spain 1800 Map: US Geological Survey and Mexican Secretary of Education (1810 incorrect date)

Napoleon bought Louisiana back from the Spanish with an exchange of lands in 1801. Then, he decided he needed money to counter the revolt brewing in Haiti and to fund his wars in Europe. In all this hot potato passing Louisiana back and forth, the people who already lived on the land were not consulted, in historically European self-serving fashion.

The head of France contacted President Jefferson to make a deal. When he made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, it doubled the size of the United States, for the price of 15 million dollars ($375 million today). This raised Constitutional issues; could a President buy land? The House called a vote to stop the purchase, it failed by two votes 59 to 57. The New England Federalists, like Alexander Hamilton were strongly opposed to adding this territory to the States. They were worried about competition from western farmers. Concern about the division of states that allowed or did not allow slavery was also on their minds. Their position lost the fight, but they brought up salient problems.

Jefferson was thrilled to add agricultural land for his envisioned nation of farmers. The tribal people in those areas suffered a great deal when forced to move so the incoming settlers could till the land. That past, and enslaving African people over centuries are transgressions we have not reconciled yet as a country.

Westward Expansion of the US Image: National Atlas of the US Note: West Florida/ lower Louisiana area dates are incorrect

In terms of the United States organization today, when we compare the territory colored in brown with the first map of this article, we see the names of many of the states that were formed from this land. North and South Dakota, and Iowa would be three more states I don’t think of when I hear the phrase Louisiana Purchase. I had great hints that several of the states were under Spanish influence at some point, like Montana (Montaña=mountain) and Nevada (snowy). In the case of little ole Minnesota, I just never knew. When I look at the map, I see how small the US was before the purchase! It’s just the pink part above, from the Mississippi east on the map. How would US history have been different had the acquisition from France not been made?

I look forward to your comments about the Louisiana Purchase, the Spanish Empire, and the ideas this post brought to mind.

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. ¡Olé! –Rebecca

Rebecca Cuningham

31 thoughts on “1762: Territories You Might Be Surprised Belonged to Spain (Like Minnesota)

  1. Great stuff, Rebecca! This is fascinating, and the maps make it so easy to grasp. I was struck by what the present-day USA looked like in 1763 when my Morrison ancestors made their way down the Great Wagon Road from PA to NC. They were really living on the frontier, and I can’t imagine all the unknowns they encountered along the way and after they got to NC. You have a wonderful writing style that makes history quite interesting and painless to read.

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  2. While doing my own research, I’m finding all sorts of interesting historical facts about who-owned-what in early North American history. I hadn’t found the tidbit about Spain owning the Louisiana Territory yet – very interesting. I did find (as you did) that Spain claimed a lot of territory in the 1800s. They were certainly a power broker of the day. What was a real shocker to me was just how much territory they claimed. The map you showed of the area claimed in what is now the US is only about a third of the total. The map from the link below shows how vast it was – stretching from the Canadian border to the tip of South America. There are years and volumes of history to explore – I need to get to it. 😁

    Great post as always

    Map link:

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Larry, thanks for the full map of the Imperio Español en América! Spain was positioned to be the superpower in the Americas. If Napoleon had not bought and sold the Louisiana territory, even more of North America would be speaking Spanish today! PS I’ve wanted to learn to add images to comments- how do you do it?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I found you can’t copy/paste directly, but you can paste a link. When the post is displayed, the link draws in the attached image.

        BTW: While I was working on my Black History post today, I stumbled on the Spanish Louisiana reference! It stuck out like a sore thumb after seeing your post. And, I had read this reference article half a dozen times before, and it never clicked. Duh! Here is a link to it if you want to check it out.

        Article link: https://www.nps.gov/casa/learn/historyculture/african-americans-in-st-augustine-1565-1821.htm

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for the tip. Say, I found the Black History component to your site today! Very nice. Thanks for the mention of Fake Flamenco! Thanks for the link. Looks like one of the sites I read to make the Fort Mose post.

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    1. The Spanish killing the Huguenots in Florida in 1565 is a lesser known story, and it is also true that Ponce de Leon had claimed Florida for Spain in 1513. Matanzas Inlet is named for the massacre (it means killings).

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      1. Yes, John, I agree. The European arrogance was supreme; to think land belonged to them because someone from their country walked on it once, rather than the people who had lived there for thousands of years. I hope that one day we understand that the Europeans were not more advanced that Native Peoples, simply better armed. In terms of living with the earth, using appropriate technologies for food, clothing and medicine, and making a place for all people in society, Native People were superior.

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      2. I have spent some time researching your neck of the woods, particularly the Fox River portage to the Mississippi. Mostly I focused on the fur trade in the West. I managed to visit about 70% of the rendezvous. Great country!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Margaret. The Great Lakes are key landmarks, as is the Mississippi River. The River was the western border of the United States before the Louisiana Purchase. I was happy too me find such detailed historical maps for common use. De nada!

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Rosaliene! I think due to the Louisiana in the name, I had not realized that the boundary went way up into present day Canada. When I shared it with three people in my family I think are historically and geographically literate and they didn’t know either, I knew I had a post!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What an insightful post! My education of US history was limited to Spanish colonization strictly on the West Coast, in California and Texas; I had no idea that the Spanish had gone as north as Minnesota! Your research into our country is extensive and thoughtful, and I appreciate you sharing more knowledge on the European powers and how they’ve influenced American culture today. 🙂

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  4. By George, Minnesota! Who would’ve thought. The idea of any part of the two continents “belonging” to any European government is fortunately getting a new look today. But unfortunately, the attitude that “we can do better with this land than the people who live here” is alive and well today.

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