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Chapter 4

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
New Orleans:
The Place and the People

Grace King

published by The Macmillan Company
New York, 1926

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 6
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

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Indian baskets.

 p75  Chapter V

The revolt of the Natchez Indians against the tyranny and oppression of the French officers, and their massacre of the garrison and settlement, threw the colony into the hitherto unexperienced troubles of an Indian war. The Indians in the upper Mississippi country became openly hostile, those on the lower banks covertly so. Travel on the river changed, from its old time loitering picnic pleasure to a series of hairbreadth escapes from one ambush after another. Every white settlement in the colony trembled and shook with fear, and each plantation became the centre of secret panic, for, to the horrors of Indian attacks, were added the horror of an African rebellion, and the union of the two barbarous nations against the whites, incomparably their inferiors in number. Planters, with their families, abandoned their homes and rushed for protection to New Orleans, which itself lived in a continual state of alarm. One day a woman who had taken too much tafia came running in from the Bayou St. John, screaming that the Indians were raiding the Bayou, and had massacred all the settlers, men, women, and children, there, and were in full pursuit of her. Drums beat the  p76 general alarm, men flew to arms and gathered in the public square, where powder and balls were distributed to them. The women took refuge in the churches and in the vessels anchored in the river. All was wild fear for two hours, when the alarm was found to be groundless.

There seemed to be no alternative for French authorities, but its assertion by a bloody supremacy. In such assertions the civilized races, inflamed by their fears, are no better than savage ones under the passion for vengeance.

Perier had an easy opportunity at hand, and New Orleans received its first stigma of blood. Just above the city lived an insignificant group of Chouachas Indians, who had endeared themselves to the citizens by their friendly offices of all kinds. Perier, a newcomer and a Frenchman, and in so far, it is hoped, an alien to the sentiments of the community, inaugurated his campaign against the Natchez by killing forever any possible hope the Indians might have had of a confederacy with the negroes. He armed the slaves of the neighbouring plantations, and, promising them the reward of freedom, he secured as barbarous an extermination of the unsuspecting red men as the latter could ever have inflicted upon their foes. And soon after, a war party having made a capture of four men and two women of the Natchez, Perier had them publicly burned on the levee in front of the city. Soldiers from all parts of the colony were summoned to the capital, and an army was sent against the Natchez. They, however, made their escape across the Mississippi, and put themselves out of reach of pursuit.

When the reinforcements demanded from France  p77 arrived, Perier, with another mustering of colonial troops, embarked them in barges and pirogues and led them up the Mississippi and through Red River, until he came to the country which held the Natchez stronghold. But again the savages proved too wily for the white men, the bulk of them making their escape and seeking refuge with the powerful tribe of the Chickasaws. Perier returned with but forty prisoners, whom he sold into slavery in St. Domingo.

It was the depressing effect of these Indian troubles that had forced the Company of the West to remit its charter to the king; and it was his old prestige in governing the Indians that gained Bienville his reinstatement as governor of Louisiana. The first efforts of his administration were therefore directed to punishing the Chickasaws for receiving the Natchez, and forcing them to give up the refugees. His warlike plans turned New Orleans into a camp for seven years. Delegations of Indians, volunteers, Acadians, hunters from Missouri, coureurs de bois from all regions, and French soldiers, bombardiers, cannoneers, sappers, miners, such as had never been seen in the colony before — swarmed in the streets; and Perier's embarkation was puny and trifling in comparison to the two expeditions which Bienville led away from the levee in front of the Place d'Armes.

But the Canadian seemed to have lost his old cunning against the Indians, and he was no commander of French troops. His first expedition met with unmitigated disaster, the second with almost as mortifying a failure. He returned to the city with only a humiliating treaty to show for all the brave preparations. Discouragement sapped from his heart all the old  p78 optimistic nerve that had erstwhile vivified his devotion to the colony — his colony, as he had some reason to consider it. Far from his maintaining as of yore his right and his sufficiency to the position of best man for it, in its misfortunes or in its prosperity, he now tendered to the government his resignation. It was accepted, and the Marquis de Vaudreuil was appointed in his place.

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Old slave quarters.

One of the last acts of Bienville was to found a charity hospital, from a legacy left by a humble sailor in 1739 for that purpose; it was situated on Rampart street, between St. Louis and Toulouse streets.

With Bienville's departure closed the childhood of the city. The old glad pioneer days of the young Canadian government, with its boisterous, irrepressible officers, and their frolics and quips and cranks and larking adventures, and irreverent bouts with their spiritual directors, their processions, demonstrations  p79 and ceremonies — it all passed away like a hearty laugh. The Marquis de Vaudreuil brought with him the aristocratic exigencies of his title, the sedate state of the middle-aged, and the cultured polish of continental etiquette. The new influx of French and Swiss officers, fresh from the centres of fashion and politeness, more than overmatched, in the estimation of the society of the capital at least, the virile virtues of the first settlers. "Who says officer, says everything," was the growling comment of the old inhabitants. It is needless to say that the women of the city were the first and most enthusiastic converts to the higher standard of the newer and more fascinating gay world; and after a century of death, tradition through the old ladies of to‑day still tells of the grandeur and elegance displayed by the Marquis, — his little Versailles of a hotel, his gracious presence, refined manners, polite speech, beautiful balls, with court dress de rigueur, dashing officers, well-uniformed soldiers. Even the old negresses — but they are always the rarest of connoisseurs about the standard of manners for white ladies and gentlemen — have trumpeted, from generation to generation, the Marquis de Vaudreuil as a model to be admitted by all, and a test to be applied to individual social suspects.

It was during this administration that occurred the episode that inspired Louisiana's first dramatic effort: "The Indian Father," acted in the governor's mansion in 1753. Afterwards it was put into verse by a French officer, Le Blanc de Villeneuve, and was performed at the Orleans theatre. A Colapissa Indian killed a Choctaw, and fled to New Orleans. The relatives of the Choctaw came to the city and demanded the murderer. The Marquis de Vaudreuil, after trying in vain to pacify  p80 the Choctaws, ordered the arrest of the Colapissa, but he made his escape. The father of the Colapissa then came to the Choctaws and offered his life in atonement for the crime of his son; it was accepted. The old man stretched himself instantly on the trunk of a fallen tree, and a Choctaw chief at one stroke cut his head from his body.

Dumont relates another incident of the period, which also, it would seem, might find fitting commemoration in verse. The colony was without an executioner, and no white man could be found who was willing to accept the office. As every well-regulated government must have an official executioner, it was decided finally by the council to force it upon a negro blacksmith renowned for his nerve and strength, named Jeannot, belonging to the Company of the Indies. He was summoned and made a free man at the same time. The stalwart black giant started back in anguish and horror. "What! cut off the heads of people who have never done me any harm?" He prayed, he wept; but saw at last that there was no escape for him, that his masters were inflexible. "Very well," he said, rising from his knees, "only wait a moment." He ran to his cabin, seized a hatchet with his left hand, laid his right on a block of wood and cut it off. Returning, without a word he exhibited his bloody stump to the gentlemen of the council. With one cry, it is said, they sprang to his relief, and his freedom was given him.

De Vaudreuil being promoted to the governor­ship of Canada, M. De Kerlerec was appointed to succeed him in Louisiana.

De Kerlerec was an officer of the Marine, a gruff,  p81 bluff old salt, who, carrying on an unceasing war with his subordinates, organized their enmity against himself so well that after ten years they succeeded in having him recalled to France, and promptly lodged in the Bastileº on his arrival in Paris.

His administration covered the period of the Seven Years' War, when French and English fought hand to hand for the possession of Canada. Although far removed from the seat of hostilities, New Orleans, as a French possession, suffered her share of incidental damages. The English fleet patrolled the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, over which English privateers swarmed, intercepting and capturing the convoys of supplies from France, and completely destroying her commerce; and France could neither renew the supplies nor protect her commerce.

Curtailed in means, Kerlerec was forced to suspend his yearly tribute of presents to the various important Indian tribes between him and the British possessions. The venal, discontented savages immediately abandoned him and turned to trading and treating with the English. Means failed, also, to pay the royal troops; and the soldiers, disgusted with a service in which there was no money, no food, and no clothing, began also to desert in large numbers to the English.

Kerlerec stoutly did what he could to put the colony in the best state of defence possible with his inadequate resources. A ditch was dug and a palisaded embankment erected all around the city, the batteries of English Turn were repaired. The main reliance, however, in case of fighting, was not upon the French troops, but upon the Swiss mercenaries, who were stationed in all the important posts. These were held firm amid the  p82 general demoralization and defection of the French soldiery, by a pitiless application of military discipline; one of the judicial tragedies of the city.

A detachment of Swiss was quartered at Ship Island, which was under the command of a Frenchman, Duroux. The island is a mere dot of white sand in the Gulf, a veritable pearl, which at a distance dances and plays in the gay blue water. It seems totally inadequate to the amount of human suffering which has been experienced upon it, in later times as a military prison of most cruel hardships, and then as the scene and opportunity for the brutality of Duroux. The isolated spot was his kingdom, and he used his soldiers as if no one before him had fittingly illustrated the meaning of "tyrant." He sold rations and gave them for food only what they could gather from the wreckage of the Gulf. Instead of performing their military duties, they were forced to till his garden, cut timber for him, and burn the charcoal and lime out of which he drove a profitable private trade. His exactions of work would have been considered beyond human endurance, had he not hit upon a form of punishment which experience proved to be clearly so. He simply stripped his criminals naked, and tied them to trees; and the mosquitoes, those voracious mosquitoes of the Gulf, accomplished the rest. In desperation, some of the soldiers ran away to the capital, carrying their complaints to the governor, and a piece of the bread they were given to eat. Kerlerec, a naval martinet, sent them immediately back to Ship Island. Then the Swiss took the case in their own hands, and had recourse to the time and world-renowned measures of the over-burdened.

One day, as Duroux's boat neared the strand, after a  p83 hunting expedition, the drums beat the salute, the banner of France was raised, and the guard filed out in arms. But, as the hated commandant put his foot on land, the corporal gave command, and the tyrant fell, pierced, it is safe to say, with a bullet from each musket. His body was thrown into the Gulf. The prisoners, of whom Duroux kept a constant supply in irons, were released; and one of them, a sea captain, was forced to pilot the rebels to the English possessions. Arrived at a safe distance, they sent him back with a certificate that he had aided them only under compulsion. The party separated; one band reached the English in safety; the other was captured, one man stabbing himself in the heart to avoid arrest. They were sent to New Orleans. A court-martial was held by the officers of the Swiss regiment; the men were condemned, and, according to their regulations, were nailed alive in their coffins, and sawed in two. The ghastly execution of the order took place in the barracks yard. The man who had served as guide was broken on the wheel at the same time and in the same place.

An interesting event connects the first clashing of arms in the valley of the Ohio with New Orleans. This was when George Washington, a colonel in the British army, was sent by the governor of Virginia against Fort Duquesne. On the march he heard of a French detachment coming to surprise him. He surprised it, and in the engagement, Jumonville, the ensign in command, was killed. Jumonville de Villiers his brother (ancestor of the New Orleans family) obtained from Kerlerec the permission to go and avenge the death. With a band of soldiers and Indians he hastened to the scene of the engagement, and found Washington  p84 entrenched in Fort Necessity. He attacked him, and forced the future Father of his Country to surrender to him. Later, there came down the river the boats bearing the garrison and officers of Fort Duquesne, who, after a gallant resistance, were forced to abandon their post. And later, down the great artery of the continent, came from time to time other driftings of the French wreckage going on in the North, — weary, heart-broken bands of Acadian pilgrims.

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"Tignon Créole."

Finally, in 1763, France was forced to sign the Treaty of Paris, which left in England's grasp all of her possessions east of the Mississippi, with the exception of the Island of Orleans, as it was called, that irregular fragment of land lying between Manchac or Bayou Iberville and the lakes, which belongs, as natural appanage, to the city of New Orleans. This same year Kerlerec was recalled to France, and M. d'Abadie  p85 arrived with the diminished title of director-general, to suit the diminished area of his government. The military force, reduced to three hundred men, was put under command of Aubry, senior ranking captain.

English vessels were soon a familiar sight sailing up and down the river, to and from their new possessions, above Manchac, from which the French inhabitants moved with their slaves, inside the French lines, many of them to the capital. The Indians loyal to France followed them, occupying lands assigned to them by the government about the city and on the lakes.

The increase of wealth and population, and concentration of vitality in the city, produced there a sudden revival of activity of all kinds. New houses sprang up to answer the increased demand, new shops and magazines were opened along the levee, and coffee houses blossomed out from street corners. Deprived for so long a time of so many of the necessaries of life, the colonists, when occasion at last gratified them, could not content themselves with anything less than the luxuries of it. The English shrewdly profited by this epidemic of extravagance, and took advantage of the crippled condition to which they had reduced French commerce. Many of the vessels going up the river, ostensibly to carry supplies to the English possessions, were in reality floating shops, well supplied with goods of all kinds, and furnished inside with the regulation counters, shelves, and clerks. They stopped at a hail, and soon acquired the trade of the entire French coast, a trade which was all the more thriving as it was illicit. For the convenience of New Orleans customers, these contraband boats used to tie up at a tree on the river bank a short distance above the city. As Manchac was  p86 their first lawful landing-place, this place was wittily dubbed "little Manchac," and "going to little Manchac" was long the current expression in the city for shopping excursions to contraband centres.

Now must be told that religious scandal of the time, the war between the Jesuits and Capuchins. For the elements of this famous feud one must go back, if not to the beginning of human nature, at least to the period when the bishop of Quebec, the spiritual head of Louisiana, appointed a Jesuit as his vicar-general.

The Capuchins claimed the territory by right of a contract with the India Company, and therefore opposed the exercise of any spiritual functions by their rivals. In every bout with their burly, physically superior, antagonists, the Jesuits came off victorious. During Kerlerec's administration the campaign had been unusually sharp and brilliant. A new instrument of warfare — an instrument of polite warfare — had been imported, the manipulation of which became a furore with the partisan citizens. Epigrams, pasquinades, quibs, lampoons, burlesques, satirical songs, were posted on the corners of every thoroughfare, and the latter were sung in the coffee-houses. There seemed to be no end to the pleasing variety and abundance of the wit displayed by the citizens, who must have enjoyed the occasion as one of real literary culture; and it may be here mentioned that they became in course of time so addicted to this mode of expressing not only religious, but political and even personal animosities, and became such biting adepts at it, provoking such postscripta of duels, that in the end it was forbidden by law.

The superior council, although invoked by both  p87 parties, wisely forbore deciding in favour of either, as much in fear of the arrogance of the victorious, as of the hostility of the defeated side; but they patched up a truce, only a seeming, and, as it turned out, an insidious one. Father Hilaire de Génovaux, the superior of the Capuchins, although a priest, was by nature a warrior, to whom defeat meant anything but a discipline for the promotion of patience and resignation. He, one day, left his convent and the city and departed for Europe, saying naught to any one of his intentions or purposes. He returned in the same effective manner, but bearing the high-sounding title and office of apostolic proto­notary, which completely outranked the vicar-general of the bishop of Quebec. The surprise of the Jesuits was complete; so was their wrath, and the quarrel flamed on with more brilliancy than ever.

But neither the wit of the partisans of the Jesuits, nor the sharpness of the superior of the Capuchins, brought this memorable campaign to a close. Louisiana had to swing with the great pendulum of the mother country. The Jesuits were expelled from Bourbon Europe, they must be expelled from Bourbon America. A decree to that effect was sent to New Orleans. It is true that Louisiana owed to the Jesuit fathers an irredeemable debt of gratitude. They had been the first missionaries in the colony, and her constant friends at court and in high places. It was they who had obtained the establishment of the Ursulines, and it was they who made the first agricultural experiments; domesticating fruits, vegetables, indigo, and sugar cane in the soil. Nevertheless the decree to expel them was final, and it was enforced. All their property, including their fine plantation, was sold at auction, and they  p88 were made to leave. The Ursuline sisters were broken hearted at the loss of their friends and directors, and the ladies of the city would not so much as tolerate the idea of a Capuchin confessor, and the exaltation of female martyrdom was in the air. Although, in a way, the difficulty had been solved, its settlement seemed further away than ever.

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