Nolan, Philip (1771–1801)

By: Jack Jackson

Type: Biography

Published: 1976

Updated: May 1, 1995

Philip Nolan, mustanger and filibuster, son of Peter and Elizabeth (Cassidy) Nolan, was, according to his own statement recorded in the 1794 Nacogdoches census, born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1771. He apparently received a good education. He became associated with Gen. James Wilkinson in Kentucky, moved into Wilkinson's home in 1788, and served as his bookkeeper and shipping clerk until 1791. During these years Nolan represented Wilkinson's business interests at New Orleans and learned of the opportunities for trade in the adjoining province of Texas. Through the influence of Wilkinson in 1791 he secured from Governor Esteban Rodríguez Miró a passport to visit Texas on a trading expedition. His goods were confiscated, however, and after living with Indians for two years Nolan returned to New Orleans with fifty mustangs. The new governor of Louisiana, Louis Héctor, Baron de Carondelet, greeted him as a person "risen from the dead." By June 6, 1794, Nolan was back in Nacogdoches with a passport from Carondelet authorizing him to obtain horses for the Louisiana militia. He visited the provincial capital, San Antonio de Béxar, made the acquaintance of Governor Manuel Muñoz, and through him obtained permission of the commandant general of the Provincias Internas, Pedro de Nava, to export horses to Louisiana. Taking with him 250 head, Nolan returned to Natchez by the end of 1795.

On these two trips he gained much information about the "unknown land" but not without making Spanish officials suspicious about his loyalties. Their suspicions were further aroused when Nolan, returning from a mapping expedition up the Missouri River, arrived at Natchez with the party of Andrew Ellicott, boundary commissioner for the United States. Nolan attempted to mollify Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, governor of Natchez, and went on to New Orleans, where he obtained another passport, dated June 17, 1797, from Carondelet. According to his will, which he executed on June 20, he was the son of "Pedro" Nolan and "Ysabela Cassedy." His mother was deceased, and being still single he made his father his heir. Merchant Daniel Clark was given charge of his affairs. Nolan left for Texas in July, authorized to obtain more horses for the Louisiana regiment. This time he took a considerable load of trade goods, even though trade between Louisiana and Texas was strictly prohibited. He arrived at Bexar in October, presented his credentials, and claimed to have Carondelet's permission to go to Nuevo Santander in search of horses. Nava ordered Muñoz to assist Nolan in fulfilling his Louisiana contract and gave approval for the introduction of 2,000 pesos' worth of goods to defray expenses. Meanwhile, Gayoso had written to the viceroy of Mexico, warning against foreigners (like Nolan) who were stirring up the Texas Indians against Spanish rule. Advised of this development, Nava tried to justify his allowing Nolan to enter Texas but revoked the permission for him to introduce trade goods. Thinking that Nolan had left the province in the summer of 1798, Nava was alarmed to find him still there almost a year later. Governor Muñoz, in bad health, defended Nolan vigorously and claimed that his delays were unavoidable. With Muñoz's support Nolan left Texas safely. He arrived in Natchez in the latter part of 1799 with more than 1,200 horses and soon became aware of Gayoso's hostility toward him.

On December 19, 1799, Nolan married Frances Lintot, daughter of a prominent Natchez planter. He intended to meet with Thomas Jefferson, who had written him concerning Texas and its herds of wild horses, but the meeting apparently never took place. Instead, Nolan was soon making plans for another trip to Texas, even though he could not obtain a passport and knew that it would be a dangerous undertaking. It is unknown if he revised his will on this occasion. He left Natchez at the head of a body of well-armed men in October 1800 and made his way to the area north of Nacogdoches. He then proceeded to a McLennan or Hill County tributary of the Brazos River (the exact location is disputed), where he erected a small fortification, including some corrals, and began catching mustangs. He was killed there by troops from Nacogdoches sent out to intercept him. Historical sources conflict regarding the exact date of the attack and Nolan's death. Spanish commander Miguel Francisco Músquiz recorded the event on March 21, 1801, in his diary. In his memoir, Peter Ellis Bean, a member of Nolan's expedition, gave the date as March 22, 1801. His men were captured and tried, and spent years in prison for their part in Nolan's final expedition, the precise nature of which has not yet been satisfactorily explained.

Because of the decade Nolan spent in Texas on his mustanging expeditions he has become recognized as the first of a long line of filibusters that eventually helped to free Texas from Spanish and Mexican rule. He is often credited with being the first Anglo-American to map Texas, but his map has never been found. His observations were passed on to Wilkinson, however, who used them to produce a map of the Texas-Louisiana frontier around 1804. Nolan was survived only six months by his wife, who gave birth to a son shortly before she died. This son, Philip, did not live to adulthood. Nolan was named as the father of a girl, María Josefa, born out of wedlock at Bexar to Gertrudis Quiñones in 1798. According to the census of 1815 both mother and daughter were living at San José y San Miguel de Aguayo Mission at that time, but their fate is unknown. See also NOLAN EXPEDITIONS.

Maurine T. Wilson and Jack Jackson, Philip Nolan and Texas: Expeditions to the Unknown Land, 1791–1801 (Waco: Texian Press, 1987).
  • Exploration
  • Explorers (American)
  • Peoples
  • Irish
  • Politics and Government

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Jack Jackson, “Nolan, Philip,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 25, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995