Americana Corner: The Treaty of San Lorenzo


The Treaty of San Lorenzo, also known as the Treaty of Pinckney, is an agreement signed on October 27, 1795 between the United States and Spain. He settled a dispute between the two nations over the Spanish Florida border and granted the Americans navigation rights on the Mississippi River. Spain has long had territories along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico and all of present-day Florida. During the Seven Years’ War, Spain sided with France against England. When the war ended in 1763 with the Spanish coalition on the losing side, the British claimed Spanish Florida.

From this territory, England created two new colonies, East Florida and West Florida, and administered them much like their other North American possessions, the Thirteen American Colonies and Canada. However, unlike the rest of colonial America, the British made little effort to populate this area with settlers.

One change the British made to this territory was to move the West Florida border north about 85 miles to the town of Natchez on the Mississippi River. They made this border adjustment to increase the area of ​​the West Florida colony.

At the start of the American Revolution, these two sparsely populated colonies remained loyal to England. To control this area, Pensacola was invaded and captured by the Spaniards, America’s allies, in 1781.

When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, England returned the two colonies of Florida to Spain. However, it was not specified in the agreement whether the northern border of West Florida was the original line or the border 85 miles further north. America insisted on the border further south which led to a dispute between Spain and the United States.

In retaliation, the Spaniards closed New Orleans to all American products. This decision was significant given the growing number of Americans living on the west side of the Appalachians who needed to get their goods to market. Instead of taking a relatively easy waterway to markets in the East and Europe, these settlers had to transport their goods through the eastern mountain range.

Because treaty-making was not easy under the Articles of Confederation, this issue escalated for several years. With a new Constitution and a stronger executive branch, President Washington was determined to resolve this border issue and reopen Mississippi to US trade.

The president sent Thomas Pinckney, a South Carolinian, to Spain to see if an agreement could be reached. Pinckney began negotiations with the Spanish representative Manuel de Godoy in June 1795.

Godoy first proposed accepting the border further south of West Florida and reopening the Mississippi to American trade if the United States entered into an alliance with Spain. True to President Washington’s desire to avoid tangled alliances, Pinckney rejected the offer.

After some thought, Godoy accepted our border demands and the reopening of the Mississippi River to our goods without any alliance commitment, but wished that all American goods be subject to rights of passage through New Orleans.

Pinckney also rejected this offer and threatened to leave without a treaty if the rights demand was not dropped. The very next day, Godoy agreed to eliminate all claims for duties payable on American goods and the deal was made.

In summary, Spain agreed to use the southernmost border of West Florida, reopen the port of New Orleans and Mississippi to US goods, and waive its requirement that all US goods pass through. New Orleans pay Spanish duties. Surprisingly, the United States has not given up on anything. Pinckney’s making was extremely popular in America, especially in the southern and western parts of the country.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT So why should the Treaty of San Lorenzo, or the Treaty of Pinckney, be of interest to us today?

The Treaty of San Lorenzo ended a long-standing border dispute with Spain and opened the Mississippi, the mainland’s main river system, to American trade. These changes have accomplished two of President Washington’s fundamental foreign policy goals, to come to terms with other countries and to improve trade relations with as many nations as possible.

The president recognized that wars are expensive and that America should avoid getting drawn into them. He also understood that our nation needed to strengthen its economy and could better achieve this goal with better trade relations with European powers.

The treaty also made it cheaper for Americans living west of the Appalachians to ship their goods to domestic eastern markets.

As a result, this region has become a larger part of the US economy and has strengthened the ties between East and West, helping to bring our nation closer together.

Perhaps more importantly, the Treaty of Pinckney encouraged America’s westward expansion by making the New West a more lucrative proposition for Americans wishing to settle there. This treaty was one of the first parts of our nation’s manifest destiny to populate and colonize this great land. For this we must always be grateful.

SUGGESTED READING The “Life of General Thomas Pinckney,” written by his brother, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, is an excellent account of this often overlooked founding father.

PLACES TO VISIT If you ever visit New Orleans, you should stop by the Cabildo, which is part of the Louisiana State Museum system. Housed in a magnificent building originally built in 1799 and located in the French Quarter, it features a comprehensive exhibit of the early days of Louisiana history.

Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, love of the fatherland guides me.

Tom Hand is a West Point alumnus, Ford Plantation resident, and American history blogger. Check out his website at


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