Thayer's Note: The reader can follow the narrative on the author's maps and a modern map, collected in a single webpage: they will open in another window.
It is still a prevalent impression that when President Thomas Jefferson consummated his famous "Louisiana Purchase", when he paid Napoleon and France $15,000,000 for a great pie-shaped slice of land cut of the very heart of the North American continent, at the rate of four cents an acre, that all the territory which today comprises the present State of Louisiana was included in the domain that passed to the United States on December 20, 1803, the day William C. C. Claiborne raised the stars and stripes in the ancient Place d'Armes in New Orleans. Such was not the case; the Spanish flag continued to fly over West Florida, Baton Rouge, Ste. Helena, Feliciana, and Spanish governors and their soldiers and alcaldes continued to rule.
With the exception of "the island of Orleans," all the territory south of the 31° line and east of the Mississippi river remained a province of Spain. For seven long years after the banner of fifteen stars and fifteen stripes was unfurled over Louisiana, this strip along the Gulf of Mexico was doggedly held by the Dons who maintained that the "Purchase" had not included this area. This brought on an argument, for the United States claimed that this particular piece of property was included in the sale by France. In this, as in many other like cases, possession proved nine points in a ten-point debate. In consequence Governor Claiborne's jurisdiction on the east bank of the Mississippi extended north only to the junction of the big river with the stream called the Iberville, at Manchac, to the great and outspoken disgust and disappointment of many in this Spanish-ruled territory, for they had expected to become citizens of the United States coincident with the Purchase.
The majority of those populating this western section of West Florida, as had already been pointed out, were of the English-speaking races. But all were not British; many and many a settler came from that independent pioneer, and turbulent western section, Kentucky. "Kaintucks" they were called. There were many from Georgia. "Crackers" these latter were designated; still others came from the Carolinas, and, while a considerable number were Loyalists, still there were those there who were proud of the fact that they had been patriots and not "damned Tories" during the war of the Revolution.
Practically all of these English-speaking planters and settlers in Spanish West Florida openly resented the fact that this land had not been included in the Purchase, and it was with impatience that they watched the seven-year period of bickering between the diplomats who argued the case, with the shirt-sleeved Yankee diplomats getting the worst of the duel of words with the more experienced and limber-tongued representatives of Castile and Leon.
p26 That section of West Florida which had for its seat of government the fort at Baton Rouge was ruled by Colonel Don Carlos de Grand Pré, Frenchman by birth, who had won fame and promotion for himself when he commanded French troops in the colony during the time the Bourbon flag waved over Louisiana. When the province was ceded to Spain in 1763, like many another French officer, Colonel de Grand Pré offered his sword to Spain. When he was placed in charge of the Baton Rouge sector his troubles began, especially during the Kemper rebellion in 1804 when Reuben, Nathan and Sam Kemper, exasperated by the fact that the United States had not taken West Florida as part of the land it had purchased from Napoleon, courageously raised their own flag of seven white and blue stripes and twin stars on a red union1 and started their own move for freedom which, (as related in "The Story of the Kemper Brothers" q.v., "St. Francisville Democrat", July 9, 15, 22, 20, 1933) came to an untimely end.
The Twin-starred Kemper Brothers' Flag
However, dissatisfaction among the inhabitants continued and the feeling of unrest under the continuing rule of Spanish officials grew and threatened to burst all bounds. What else could be expected when the nationality of these "Spanish" citizens is considered?
No better picture of these people has been given than that by Henry Skipwith of Clinton who, in his pen portraits of these pioneers in his little known and exceedingly scarce "East Feliciana, Past and Present," wrote in 1889:
"Vast schemes of colonization were generated in the older settlements when Mr. Jefferson made proclamation, in October, 1803, that a boundless fertile unpopulated empire had been transferred the previous April by France to the United States. That famous state paper found eager readers among our immediate ancestors.
p27 "Still hunting our genealogical source which is common with the population of each of the eight wards without groping in the dark, we can inquire a step farther back for the origin of the sturdy mountaineers who colonized East Feliciana. We can go back to a settlement on the shores of Albemarle Sound by the Cavaliers, fleeing from the cruelties and oppression of Cromwell, back to the settlement along the South Carolina sea coast by the persecuted Huguenots who, after the siege of Rochelle, sought an asylum in the new world for the freedom of conscience denied them by Cardinal Richelieu and the Pope of Rome.
When the sea coast hives of the Cavaliers of North Carolina and the Huguenots in South Carolina became over-populated, they spread out in search of homes, the two lines of homeseekers crossed and commingled among the mountain ranges of the Carolinas. From the comminglings of these two lines sprang the great Marion, Sumter, Laurens and Pickens, and many of the great southern chiefs of the Revolutionary war; and from the commingling of these two historical lines, we claim lineal descent.
"If here amid the cane-breaks and vine clad forests of these southern wilds, we have constructed a civilization characterized by all the virtues of both lines of our haughty aristocratic forefathers, we arrogate to ourselves with pardonable pride some little credit.
"If under the enervating influence of southern heats, our progress and development has been slow, when contrasted with the more populous, faster moving northern societies still we claim to be the better, happier, purer civilization, because we have maintained uncontaminated and undefiled the moral and social characteristics of our patriotic high strung ancestors, and because no new fangled 'ism', foreign or native, has ever taken root in our societies which we have always jealously guarded against the poisonous preachings of visionary enthusiasts who come from abroad to teach them to be freer, who know and feel that they are already free as they ought to be — as free as they want to be.
"By these cautionary acts of vigilance we have maintained our civilization, socially and politically free from the turbulent teachings of Irish saloonists and from the socialist heresies of the beer guzzling Germans. Happy would it be for our own country if the older and more trumpeted colonies of Jamestown, Plymouth Rock, and Manhattan Island had preserved the civilization entrusted to them by ancestors as jealously as we have guarded ours.
"A population clinging to the sides of the mountain ranges of the Carolinas and Southwestern Virginia, cultivating the narrow valleys of the Clinch and Holston, rugged as the crags; impetuous as the torrents of their native mountains, still full of the military spirit inspired by the camp fires and on the battlefields of the Revolutionary War, still rehearsing by the light of their pine torches, the shame of Camden and Guilford Courthouse and the glory of Saratoga, King's Mountain and Yorktown, still burning with patriotic fires which lighted Sumter, Pickens, Laurens and all the heroic chiefs of cavalier and Huguenot strain the path of glory, and many a Tory minion of King George the way to dusky death.
"On such a population restless and ill at ease, environed by the dull monotonies of peace, paying willing homage to the authority of the law, relying more on their own p28 valor and trusty rifles for the protection rarely extended by the laws in those early days to segregated and remote communities. On such a population, the stirring announcement that a boundless and fertile empire, larger than the thirteen original states, for which they had risked their lives and freely shed their blood, lay to the south of them waiting to be peopled; and the promise of homes in the genial southland dazzled their imaginations, as did the spoils of England, the restless imaginations of the feudal chieftains who rallied to the standard of William Duke of Normandy.
"Tradition, corroborated by vestiges of a decayed Fort, Mission House, Cemetery and Store House, tell of a small center of population settled between Murdock's Ford on Thompson's Creek, and the great river and along the public thoroughfare leading from Baton Rouge, the metropolis of the political and ecclesiastical power of Spain, in West Florida to St. Francisville, and the Church of St. Francis. An old blotter or day book, of Cochran & Rhea, an adventurous firm doing business in September, 1802, in the old store house now decayed, informs us from day to day until the close of 1803, who were the clients of that earliest commercial venture within the borders of our parish, and likewise discloses the names of many of the old pioneers who first awakened the primeval forests of East Feliciana with the echoing thuds of the woodsman's axe.
[This list of names of the clients of the Cochran & Rhea store was published in the St. Francisville Democrat, May 20, 1933, under the caption "Early Feliciana Residents." S. C. A.]
"Inasmuch as the junior partner of the old store on Thompson's Creek, by his marriage with one of old Dr. Raoul's (a French Emigré) lovely daughters, founded a family which has played a prominent part in the material and social development of Ward One, and has moreover fastened his name and deeds conspicuously on the pages of history, I will devote a short paragraph, to keep green the memory of old John Rhea, who in 1802 was merchant, planter and alcalde for Feliciana (an officer about the equivalent of parish judge in our system). The King of Spain's jurisdiction, as it was administered by his mild and benevolent Anglo-Saxon alcalde, was doubtless equitable and paternal, and the people of that day lived contentedly under it. When, however, a few years later, the country began to fill up with the fiery Huguenot and Cavalier immigrants from the Carolinas, and loud protests against monarchical government began to stir the hearts of the Anglo-American communities, I am afraid the King of Spain's old Anglo-Saxon alcalde, blinded by that love of liberty characteristic of his race, forgot his royal master at Madrid, and in 1810 the alcalde figures prominently as member and president of the convention which founded and governed the free and sovereign State of West Florida."
These were the folk who were restive under the Spanish yoke. The clever Dons, suave, polished, and courteous, maintained that West Florida was theirs, because France could not sell that which did not belong to her. And so the situation dragged along for seven long years.
When Madison, he who had suggested the Louisiana Purchase, followed Thomas Jefferson into the presidential chair the Kingdom of p29 Spain, then under the domination of the acknowledged "master of the world," was compelled to accept the Little Corporal's brother, Joseph Bonaparte, as their king, for Carlos IV had abdicated and fled from Madrid to Rome and his son, Ferdinand VII, had thrown himself on Napoleon's mercy — and Napoleon had thrown the young King of Spain in jail!
West Florida, then nominally under the Spanish domination, was pro-United States at heart; at least nine-tenths of the population wanted to join the newly formed collection of states. But neither West Florida, nor even the Feliciana district, was unanimous in wanting annexation to the infant republic. There was an active pro-French party among these citizens. There was a strong pro-British party among the planters. Also a pro-Spanish aggregation of land owners, and, worse, a turbulent, uncontrollable anti-Spanish and pro-nothing band of men in the district who had no use for laws of any land nor use for those who made them. Most of these "citizens" had been forced to flee American law to find harbor in this Spanish land, consequently their abhorrence for law, in any form, can be understood for many of this rag-tag and bob-tail collection were deserters from the United States Army.
Don Carlos de Grand Pré, who did have the confidence of many of the more responsible planter folk in the jurisdiction over which he ruled as governor in 1809, was accused of pro-French sympathies, removed, and died in Havana of a broken heart before being tried. He was replaced by another French-born Spanish executive and then trouble began in earnest. The new governor was bland and easy-going. He was so vacillating in his policies that a number of historians have jumped to the conclusion that his character was weak. This is an error, for he had won his many commissions in the Spanish army and service by bravery and ability in other sections of Spanish Louisiana in his dual capacities as military and civil commander. He was unquestionably unfortunate in his selection of subordinates and they, particularly his secretary, were responsible for what happened in 1810 when the planter folk arose in rebellion.
As he played such an important role in the events to be later described it is necessary I properly introduce Charles de Hault de Lassus de Luzière, to give him his full name. He was the eldest son of Chevalier Pierre de Lassus de Luzière, holder of the knight grand-cross of the royal order of Saint Michael, of an ancient noble family established in the town of Bouchaine, in Hainault, French Flanders, who had married Domitille Joséphe Dumont Danzin de Beaufort, of Beauchamp, bishopric of Arras. The chevalier was probably the same "Delousiere" mentioned by Michaux, the botanist, as having been exiled from France for having been concerned in a plot to deliver Havre to the combined English fleets. At any rate he fled from France during the Revolution, went to Spain, and then removed to Louisiana, arriving in New Orleans in 1793.
Charles de Lassus (or Don Carlos, as he becomes better identified in Louisiana history) was born in France in April of 1764, and entered p30 the Spanish service at the age of 18 as a cadet in the Royal Regiment of which the king was colonel, known as the Cuerpo de Guardias Walonas or the Walloon Infantry. He became a second lieutenant of the Grenadiers of the Fifth Battalion, and when 29 was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel in recognition of his bravery in leading a successful assault upon and capturing Fort Saint Elmo in the Pyrenees in 1793. A year later he was again promoted and placed in charge of the king's bodyguard in Madrid. Shortly thereafter he requested his transfer to the Louisiana regiment so that he could follow his father, sister and brothers to the New World colony.
Upon his arrival in New Orleans, Governor the Baron de Carondelet, upon receipt of orders from the Spanish court, made Don Carlos commandant at New Madrid, a post on the Mississippi river, and at the same time gave his father the command of the post of New Bourbon. In 1799 Don Carlos was made Lieutenant Governor of Upper Louisiana and stationed at Saint Louis where he ruled until 1804, when he turned over that portion of Louisiana to Captain Amos Stoddard of the United States Army under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase. It was while he was lieutenant governor of Upper Louisiana in 1802, that he was promoted to the full rank of colonel in the Spanish armies.
When he was at the New Madrid post Don Carlos had for his secretary an interpreter, Pierre d'Herbigny (he later changed the spelling of his name to Derbigny and became in 1828 a governor of the State of Louisiana) who married Félicité Odile de Hault de Lassus de Luzière, sister of the commandant. Two of his brothers were also in the Spanish service in Louisiana, Jacques Marcelin Céran de Hault de Lassus de Saint Varin, who had served in the French navy before the Revolution, in Louisiana commanded the galliot or war galley "La Flecha" (The Arrow); while Camille de Hault de Lassus de Luzière was interpreter and adjutant of the New Bourbon post.
In the spring of 1807 Don Carlos de Lassus was placed in charge of Baton Rouge fort where he was immediately plunged into hot water, raised to the boiling point by the corruption of the officials under him and the lax methods by which they handled crimes. Spain, and the immediate superiors of de Lassus at Pensacola and Havana, being so far away and engrossed with other affairs, it was nigh to impossible for the complaining planters in Feliciana to refer any of their grievances to other than local officials, and these gentlemen, naturally, were prejudiced against any and all complaints lodged against their own actions and activities.
In the midst of this general discontent a trustworthy rumor was spread throughout the district that Napoleon Bonaparte had decided to regain the territory he had sold to the United States and that this occupation of West Florida would be merely his opening wedge in a campaign to retake all Louisiana. Many of the planter folk of Feliciana, although they preferred the jurisdiction of the United States, were tolerant of Spanish rule as long as they were justly treated, but the very thought of being ruled by the Corsican threw them into a state of apprehension. Something must be done to stave off the coming of the p31 French. Consequently they, those of the better element, met secretly and decided upon a bold action to end uncertainty.
The Feliciana planters decided what they needed was a more effective, a well organized local government; but how could they accomplish this and at the same time maintain an attitude of loyalty? Admittedly this was a big problem but one, so they believed, they could solve. These planters sensibly realized that they were about to engage in a ticklish proposition and that any move they would make might be construed as treasonable; that the rope, or incarceration at Morro Castle at Havana, would result if their plans were made public or went astray.
Absolute secrecy was essential to success and the planters, British, Irish, Scottish and American, realized that there was only one bond that could keep these several nationals together — their membership in an old, a very old, secret society. In consequence all their meetings were held "on the square," and on the "five points of fellowship," in spite of the fact that in the Feliciana district, as elsewhere in Spanish West Florida, such fraternal gatherings were strictly taboo.
The months of May and June, 1810, in the Feliciana country were hectic ones. There were many imputations of graft leveled against the governor's secretary, one Don Raphael Croker (there seems to be evidence he was called "Croquer" at different times) and a captain in the Louisiana regiment. Governor de Lassus objected to the general tone of the complaints against his confidential assistant and demanded specific charges; he even objected to the form of remonstrances made by Captain Croker's fellow-officers stationed at the Baton Rouge fort.
El Capitán Croker airily characterized all the charges of bribery made against him as the "pretext of embryo insurgents to justify the revolution they were fomenting", claimed that "American officials in Mississippi and in New Orleans were inspiring the unrest", and charged that the movement then getting underway in the Feliciana countryside was "due to the machinations of a group of physicians who were meeting secretly with some of the wealthy planters in the neighborhood of Bayou Sara and Saint Francisville."
The commandant of the Feliciana district was one Tomaso Estevan, who, before being placed in charge of the Bayou Sara post, had been the head Spanish officer at Galvez-town, a settlement on the Iberville river below Baton Rouge which had been named for Bernardo de Galvez. When the Louisiana Purchase was consummated, Estevan turned over Galvez-town to the United States representative. While some records refer to him as being a captain, other records stamp him as a "Teniente" or lieutenant of the Spanish Louisiana regiment. He had risen from the ranks, a rather unusual thing in the Spanish army, and had married a daughter of Don José Moller, a planter, who lived on the American or west bank of the Mississippi river, evidently below the lower Pointe Coupée village.
This commandant, who represented the force and arm of Spain in Feliciana, was not invited to attend any of the meetings of the planters p32 in his district, which is not at all strange; neither was the cura in charge of the church of San Francisco asked to attend. This priest, the Cura Francisco Lennán, and the Spanish commander were exceedingly unpopular, the charge frequently being made that between "the Cross and the Crown" the planters were continuously being bled for services of all kinds. Only one of the English-speaking population, so it appears, had anything in common with these two. He was John Murdock, an attorney, who owned a tavern at the "Murdock's ford," the crossing of Thompson's Creek on the Baton Rouge road, the tavern being kept by a man named Horton.
The first news that Governor de Lassus had that an uprising of the planter folk of Feliciana was under way was when Estevan advised him of the circulation of a petition calling for a people's convention and that already secret gatherings had taken place.
These secret gatherings were held at "Troy" plantation, the home of John Hunter Johnson, a captain in the militia. John was the eldest son of Isaac Johnson, a Britisher, who had come to West Florida about 1775, when West Florida was held by the English. Isaac was the son of the Reverend John Johnson, an Episcopal minister, and Margaret Hunter, both of Liverpool. Soon after his arrival in West Florida, Isaac Johnson settled near Natchez, married Mary Routh, who had floated down the Mississippi river with her two brothers, Job and Jeremiah, from Virginia. In partnership with John H. Mills he went into the sawmill business at Second Creek, and when this was floated away by a spring freshet, he moved to the Saint Francisville section and established "Troy" plantation about this time Mills founded Bayou Sara, as has already been related.
Isaac Johnson became the father of twelve children, rearing five sons and five daughters to maturity. The eldest of this sturdy brood being John Hunter Johnson, who married Thenia Munson. (John's eldest son, named for his grandfather Isaac, and born in 1805, became the first Democratic governor of Louisiana in 1846, its war governor during the hostilities with Mexico, and the first governor of Louisiana born in Feliciana). Other children of Isaac Johnson and Mary Routh were: 2— Ann Waugh Johnson, who married Gilbert Mills, son of John B. Mills,2 and later became the wife of Moses Semple. 3— Isaac Johnson, Jr., who married Melissa Jane Williams. 4— Mary Johnson, who married Aaron Gorham. 5— Charles Grandpré Johnson, who married first Anna Ruffin Dawson, and later Eliza Eddington, of England. 6— Carolina Matilda Johnson, who married Benjamin Collins. 7— Joseph Eugenius Johnson, who married Martha Lane. 8— William Gayoso Johnson, who married Eliza Collins Johnson, daughter of William Garrett Johnson, not related. 9— Elizabeth Johnson, who married Thomas Withers Chinn. The tenth and last child was Martha Johnson, who married Dr. Nathaniel Wells Pope, the friend and clerk of John James Audubon.
Unquestionably John Hunter Johnson was not only the brains and moving spirit, but with his dare-devil brothers, Isaac, Charles and p33 Joseph, became the strong right arm of the rebellion of the Feliciana planters against the Spanish rule in 1810. It was at his plantation that most of the preliminary secret meetings were held. It was he who dictated the wordings of the various proclamations issued, and the demands made by the members of the convention when it held the first open meeting.
While the Feliciana planters were thus quietly organizing, other trouble was brewing at Baton Rouge. Two Frenchmen from New Orleans began holding secret meetings there, practically under the very muzzles of the guns of the fort. They called nearby Frenchmen into parley under pretext of defending themselves from the Spanish but, according to word sent Governor de Lassus by Diego Morphy, Spanish vice-consul at the Crescent City, these French emissaries were in fact planning a revolution for Napoleon Bonaparte; raising a force in West Florida to join forces with others from New Orleans, to capture not only Baton Rouge but Pensacola as well. De Lassus, seeing in these French activities a well-planned propaganda against his jurisdiction in particular and Spain in general, banished the French malcontents and their local followers. The Frenchmen, fleeing Spanish wrath, crossed the Mississippi to Iberville on the American side and there openly threatened to return and overwhelm de Lassus and his entire force. Whereupon, the governor issued a call for the entire territorial militia to take up arms, he prepared for a defense of Spanish soil, and placed the fort in a state of defense.
While de Lassus was in this perturbed state of mind he received a secret dispatch from Don Tomaso Estevan in the Bayou Sara country, advising him of the circulation of an anonymous petition, calling for a popular convention. Estevan coupled these dire tidings with a fervent plea that de Lassus, accompanied by a considerable force, should come at once to Saint Francisville. Deciding that the peril from the French orators at Baton Rouge was more acute than the trouble brewing in Feliciana, de Lassus refused to leave his fort but dispatched two trusted English-speaking "citizens" to consult with Estevan and to urge the planters not to start any disturbance as by so doing they would only favor the enemies of Spain, particularly Napoleon's scheme to repossess the Floridas and then take over Louisiana.
The two messengers were Philip Hicky and George Mather, Sr., both long residents of the district. Parents of both had come to the province when it was under the domination of England and had remained when Spain ousted the British. Hicky was the son of Daniel Hicky of Ennis, County Clare, Ireland, and Martha Scrivner, of Worcestershire, England. This couple came to Louisiana and West Florida in 1775 and their one child, Philip, was born at Manchac, June 17, 1778.
Mather's father was James Mather, of Bochin Lane, London, who emigrated to British West Florida in 1777, on the chartered ship "Royal Oak," which also brought Richard Devall, Daniel Hicky, and others. George Mather's sister, Ann, the third daughter of James Mather, married Philip Hicky.
p34 George Mather and Philip Hicky had always been staunch supporters of the Spanish government in West Florida and Hicky, after the death of his father becoming a wealthy man, had, on more than one occasion loaned Spanish government of the Baton Rouge jurisdiction money to keep up its functions. The Mathers had long been among the more substantial English-born citizens forced to become Spaniards to retain their properties along the Mississippi. Therefore, the two brothers-in‑law were friends and advisers that a governor could select with safety to his own interests to go to a disaffected region and urge loyalty in place of revolt.
Before Hicky and Mather could attend to the duties of their errand, John H. Johnson had summoned the principal planters of the Saint Francisville region to "Troy". A few hours later, in a body, they rode along the dusty roads to Bayou Sara where the Spanish commandant Don Tomaso Estevan had his headquarters. They found the right arm of Spain in bed, complaining of a sudden illness (which one of the liberty-demanding planters whispered in an aside to another that it was probably "yellow" fever), but marching into his very bedroom, John Johnson presented a petition which he demanded the official should receive, read and approve. It was to the effect that he, Don Tomaso Estevan, commander of the Bayou Sara and Feliciana district should summon all of the inhabitants of Feliciana to a people's convention, that he order all the alcaldes, syndics, militia officers, and the leading inhabitants to form a general meeting "to discuss measures to restore public tranquility."
After a general demurrer, after a plea that he must first consult his superior, Governor de Lassus, after vainly trying to get the determined band of petitioners to put off the matter for a week or two, Estevan signed the call as he was bid and thus saved himself a hurried trip across the Mississippi river to the American side — or into the water!
The date set for the people's convention was Saturday, June 23, and to be held at "the farm of Mr. Stirling, some 15 miles from the Mississippi river and about 10 miles below the line of demarcation," according to one report. To another record, it was held "at Saint Francisville." My investigations prove that this first outspoken move for liberty was held at the Stirling place, not at "Wakefield," as some have supposed, but at "Egypt" plantation, first established on Alexander's Creek by Alexander Stirling, which passed to his son, Lewis Stirling, upon his death in 1808. Today "Egypt" is known as "Rosale" plantation. This agrees with "10 miles from the Mississippi river," but not with "15 miles from the line of demarcation."
All was set for the first move; according to one of the physicians of the district "the imposthume [boil] was ready for the lancet!" Messengers dashed to and fro along the roads of the district summoning all who wanted to have a say in the future of Feliciana to be present, at high noon, at the Stirling place on the following Saturday, for then "Vox populi", the voice of the people, would be heard roaring through the hills and dales of flower-spangled Feliciana.
p35 It was in the midst of this activity that Señors Hicky and Mather arrived in the Feliciana district, ready to call the inhabitants together so that they could read them the letters from the Spanish consul at New Orleans, warning of the French plan, and to show these Feliciana folk that any internal disturbance would only favor the enemies of Spain, which was having its own difficulties across the Atlantic: its king, Ferdinand the Seventh, in one of Napoleon's prisons, and the Corsican's brother seated on the throne of Castile and Leon. They delivered the message, but —
After interviewing commander Estevan, talking matters over with the curate, Francisco Lennán, and holding a secret meeting "on the square" with the planters planning the convention movement, the two messengers returned to Baton Rouge. They assured the governor that he need have no apprehension over the coming meeting, that Estevan and the priest Lennán were jumping at shadows, that the inhabitants of Feliciana were loyal, and the governor need have no fears over what would eventuate. Hicky denied positively that there was any truth to the statements contained in a letter the frightened cura Lennán had written de Lassus; that the coming meeting of the folk of Feliciana merely cloaked a plan to seize the fort at Baton Rouge and deprive the governor of his command. Hicky and Mather had become, too, apostles of liberty.
Early in May, before matters had reached the crisis stage in West Florida, Governor William C. C. Claiborne of the Territory of Orleans (for as such was Louisiana known before it attained statehood), had left the southland and proceeded to Washington where he immediately went into a series of conferences with President Madison. That matters in West Florida formed the topic of the discussions between the head of the territory and the head of the nation is obvious, and is made certain by the contents of a confidential letter Governor Claiborne wrote in Washington on June 14, and dispatched by messenger to William Wikoff, Jr., an American planter and legislator, or as Claiborne described him in a letter to Secretary of State Robert Smith: "Wam.º Wykoff, Jun., is a planter, a native of Penn. and resides on a cotton plantation nearly opposite Baton Rouge, a very honest man, is now and for some time past judge of his parish, speaks English, French, and Spanish." Judge Wikoff was related by marriage to the Hicky and Mather families and was quite familiar with conditions on the Spanish side of the big river. First, let us read Governor Claiborne's letter to his friend and confidant, William Wikoff:
"By the last accounts from Spain it would seem that all hopes of successful resistance to Bonaparte were at an end. The Supreme Junta was dissolved. Cadiz, the last hold of the patriots, besieged, and there it was that a little local committee exercised the only authority maintained on the Peninsula in the name of Ferdinand," wrote Claiborne.
"You know, that under the Louisiana Convention, we claim as far eastwardly as the Perdido. That claim never has, and never will I trust, be abandoned. But I am persuaded p36 under present circumstances, it would be more pleasing that the taking possession of the country, be preceded by a request from the inhabitants.
"Can no means be devised to obtain such request?
"The time may arrive, perhaps it has arrived, when the people of Florida must adopt measures with a view of their present and future security. If Spain has yielded, as is believed, to Bonaparte, the people of Florida will be assailed by a host of intriguers. There will perhaps be a French party and an English party, and a party who would wish to set up for themselves!
"But I hope the good inhabitants, the honest cultivators of the soil, will unite. Silence the factions, and adopt the policy which their best interests advise; to form for themselves an independent government is out of the question! Waving aside other considerations, the paucity of their numbers, their insular situation, and circumscribed limits forbid the idea!
"A connection with France is opposed by all their honest prejudices and would be attended with ruin, and as for the protection of Great Britain, it could not fail to prove to them a curse, for during the contest, with the United States, which in that case might ensue, Florida would be the seat of war and its entire conquest could not be protracted beyond a few months.
"But the line of conduct which honest policy points out, cannot be mistaken. Nature has decreed the union of Florida with the United States, and the welfare of the inhabitants imperiously demands it.
"From the district it is indeed impossible, that it could for any length of time, remain detached. But to enlarge is useless. I now recollect that when we last conversed on this subject, our wishes, our sentiments, were in union, and therefore it is, that I, with the more confidence, invite you to lose no time in sounding the views of the most influential of your neighbors on the opposite shore, and in giving to them a right direction.
"Your friends and acquaintances, Philip Hicky, George Mather, Colonel Fulton, Mr. Lilley, Mr. Duvall of the Plains, William Barrow, Captain Percy, Captain McDermot, Mr. Brown of Tickfaw, and many others who are known to you, have much at stake, and should take decided measures.
"Impress upon their minds the importance of the crisis, the expediency of scouting everything like French or English influence, and assure them, I pray you, of the friendly disposition of the American government.
"I am aware that among the settlers of Florida, there are persons, who during the American war were disaffected to the United States, and who, probably, may feel some uneasiness at falling under the American government. It may be well to quiet their apprehensions by informing them that the transactions of that day will not be remembered to their injury, that the present is a fit occasion to return to the bosom of their country, and, if embraced with cordiality, the prodigal son mentioned in holy writ did not meet a more heartfelt welcome than they would experience from the American family.
"The most eligible means of obtaining an expression of the wish of the inhabitants of Florida can be best determined by themselves. But were it done through the medium of a convention of delegates, named by the people, p37 it would be more satisfactory. In the event that a convention is called, it is important that every part of the district as far at least as the Perdido be represented, and therefore I feel solicitous that you should be at some pains to prepare for the occasion the minds of the more influential characters in the vicinity of Mobile. Whether this can best be done by yourself in person or by some citizen of Baton Rouge in your confidence, is left to your discretion.
"You will consider this letter as confidential, and in pursuing the object referred to you will act with all the circumspection which its nature requires. You may address me at Washington City where I will remain until the latter part of October."
Although this letter had been written during the middle of June, owing to the delays of transportation of mails in those times, it was some days after the planters had met at Lewis Stirling's place to initiate their own move for independence, that Wikoff received Claiborne's missive, which clearly showed how President Madison regarded West Florida, and that he had not abandoned the claim that West Florida, at least as far as the Perdido river, belonged to the area purchased from France under the terms of the Purchase.
On Saturday, June 23, 1810, a great concourse of inhabitants of Feliciana gathered at "Egypt" plantation. There were more than five hundred Spanish citizens in attendance when the "voice of the people" was raised in one great shout. Ostensibly their object was "to secure themselves against foreign invasion and domestic disturbance", if what the ringleaders said to those assembled on the lawn in front of the plantation home was the truth. These leaders, head by John Johnson, submitted a prearranged plan and it was adopted viva voce and only eleven voices, out of the five hundred, were raised in objection.
Under the plan submitted by those responsible for calling the people together, the inhabitants of Feliciana were asked to "select four of their respectable and influential neighbors" who were in turn empowered to ask each of the remaining districts of Baton Rouge, Ste. Helena, Chifoncté, Christianna, to elect their representatives to a common council. This council of the whole to be invested with the general powers of government, which they were to administer "in a manner best calculated for the common good." Spanish officers then governing the territory would be empowered to continue in force, provided they would submit to the new authority of the people!
The plan was agreed upon with roars of approval. There were only 11 dissenting voices raised in the 500 and more who crowded the lawn in front of "Egypt's" plantation home, and cheering Feliciana folk selected the four representatives before the meeting was declared ended, and they were: John Hunter Johnson, William Barrow, John Mills, and John Rhea. The people who had delivered the first blow for liberty then wended their way homeward.
p38 Let us be present at this momentous meeting, witness it through the account written by a "gentleman of Pointe Coupée" to "a friend in the Louisiana territory." It was penned the next day and said:3
"Pointe Coupée, June 24, 1810.
"I yesterday returned from St. Francisville, a little town in the Spanish territory, where I found the whole country in a state of rebellion. A plan had been drawn up by some persons at Baton Rouge for the government of the province. Their names are not known, but it is supposed that Mr. Fulwar Skipwith is at the head. The most important parts of the proposed form of this new constitution are as follows: That the people elect a Governor, Secretary and Council of three to take possession of the country in behalf of Ferdinand VII, if he should again be restored to the throne of old Spain; otherwise they are to hold their offices for life, the Governor to have authority to appoint all inferior officers, Judges, Alcaldes, Syndics, etc., for the administration of justice, with full power to remove them at pleasure, provided a majority of the Council concur. It is in reality, from the apparent intention and meaning of the farmers, nothing more or else than an elective monarchy, giving as ample and uncontrollable powers to their Governor as any the most arbitrary prince in Europe possesses."
"Immediately upon the promulgation of this plan a meeting of the people took place, where a great deal was said upon the subject, pro and con. The crowd was such that I could not get near enough to hear distinctly all the debates, but the final determination was that the people labored under many and weighty grievances from the tyranny and injustice of the Spanish officers, that a change was necessary, and that from the known administration of the present government no man can recover his just debts without sacrificing half their value in bribes and presents to the Judges; but the form proposed, if possible, entails upon them greater misery than that under which they now labor. They would, therefore, support it as it now is, until better can be adopted.
"The meeting then broke up, and the Company of Horse, under parade, saluted the Commandant with "God Save Ferdinand VII."
"You will observe that the above is only the resolution of one of the districts in the province; the others may be of a different opinion, and, if so, a civil war will commence without delay.
"When I inform you that almost all West Florida is settled by natives of the United States and since the French have been driven from Baton Rouge, which happened about two weeks since, there are not in the whole province one hundred families from a different country."
The news of the action of the Feliciana planters quickly spread and the other districts of the territory were soon asking permission to call similar conventions. On July 6, those in the Baton Rouge district petitioning the chief executive and signing the call were Philip Hicky, George Mather, Joseph Sharp, Samuel Fulton, Fulwar Skipwith, Dr. Andrew Steele, Thomas Lilley, John Davenport, George and William Herries, p39 Philemon Thomas, John Morgan, Edmund Hawes, fourteen in all,a all anxious to follow the lead of the Feliciana patriots.
News of the contemplated convention filtered into New Orleans and the newsprints of that city were soon taking cognizance of the unsettled affairs of West Florida. Printed the "Louisiana Gazette" June 27: "Letters have been received today from Bayou Sara and Baton Rouge, stating that the people of those districts in West Florida had it in contemplation to form a government for themselves; that they had been for sometimes without law, or the semblance of government, and that self preservation drove them to the measure they were about to take. We are promised extracts of the letters, which, if handed us, shall be printed tomorrow."
Three days later the "Gazette" stated: "We are not able to give the extracts of the letters on the subject of the commotions in West Florida. The business has assumed a serious shape, and the gentlemen who received the letters, on due consideration, think they ought not to have publicity. We are promised a communication on the subject which will appear Monday."
As promised, in a letter signed "Common Sense," the "Gazette" published July 2, 1810, a long letter from the Bayou Sarah region, which read:
"For the Louisiana Gazette.
"The people composing the district of New Feliciana, which comprehends that part of West Florida, bordering on the river Mississippi and extending eastwardly about one hundred miles, have long wished and expected that the government of the United States, would either by negotiation, or otherwise, get possession of that part of West Florida, which they have claimed under the treaty and purchase of 1803, lying west of the river Perdido. The inhabitants are generally Americans, and many of them have purchased lands and settled in Florida since the cession of Louisiana to the United States; fully impressed with the belief that they would soon find themselves under their former laws and government. They have long anxiously expected to hear of the unfortunate fate of Spain, of her entire subjugation to the arms of France, and in an event of that kind, they have calculated, that either the conqueror of Spain, or Great Britain, the ally of Spain, would claim the Floridas; and they generally revolt at the idea of being placed under the government of either of those great nations.
"The officers who have declared for Ferdinand VII, and now bear the semblance of power among the people, are divided in their attachments. The real Spaniards are few, their zealous attachment to the cause of Spain would induce them to submit to any order from the Spanish Junta, they would willingly pass under the British government, if it was their order. Bonaparte has his friends and emissaries in office, who speak of his imperial greatness, and recommend the people to declare for King Joseph, this, however, is done generally under the rose, but it is well known to be a fact. In this distracted state of things, without law or government, the people have thought proper and prudent to hold meetings to consult their general safety.
"The local situation of West Florida, surrounded almost as it is with the laws and government of the United p40 States, and nine-tenths of the inhabitants, being either native born Americans, or strongly attached to the American principles and government, it was reasonable to be expected that they would turn their eyes towards the United States for protection. The inhabitants have never raised a clamor against Spain, or against the Spanish patriots, or the glorious cause they are engaged in; they have been solely guided in all their deliberations by the principles of self preservation, the first law of nature. No demagogue or demagogues, who for their own private views, interest or aggrandisement, in my opinion are concerned in the meetings, and should the same unanimity prevail that has so far marked these meetings, there is little doubt that their views and plans will terminate happily. The government of the United States will not, cannot withclaim extends,b which as before described, is from the Mississippi to the River Perdido, and in giving that protection, I have no hesitation in saying that my people will cheerfully become citizens of the United States and feel themselves happy in the appellation.
Independence Day was celebrated with pomp and gusto in New Orleans, although the editor of the "Louisiana Gazette" noted that there was a lack of warmth and zeal among some of the citizens, particularly those of French sympathies, as witness:
"The anniversary was celebrated in this city, in the years eighteen hundred and four, five and six, with the warmth and zeal that marks us true Americans. The 4th of July, in those years, will be remembered with pride and pleasure; the Place d'Armes was covered with regular troops and volunteer militia; firing of cannon, and every demonstration of joy rang through our city, and every American countenance beamed with mirth and gaiety. Since the demon of discord has raised her sneaky head among us, a general apathy prevails to everything that is American; it looks as if we were preparing to change the name of freemen to that of bondmen, as if we were ready and willing to throw ourselves into the arms of some European tyrant. The best tried soundest Americans are laid aside, and the minions of the tyrants, now stand forward as the champions of liberty, but from such liberty, such Gallic liberty, good Lord deliver us."
Below this item was another which pertained to the troubles in Feliciana and West Florida. It read:
"The only news of consequence, by last evening's mail, is the change of government in Carracas. We expect that Mexico will soon follow the example, in fact she ought to have led the way. Our little neighbours (we hope this appellation will not offend them) the Floridians, have anticipated the good cause, and this day, we are informed, they intend declaring themselves free. The fair Goddess of Freedom driven from the one continent, seeks an asylum in another, and happy, thrice happy are we, that she is likely to meet such a cordial reception."
Governor de Lassus did not mull very long over the petitions sent him by the other inhabitants to call an assembly similar to the one held in the Feliciana country so they could select delegates. He replied immediately. He said that as the avowed purpose was to preserve intact the dominions of the Spanish monarchy and sustain Spanish laws, p41 and as such an action would tend to insure the tranquility and well being of every citizen in the jurisdiction, therefore he freely granted permission to hold such meetings in Baton Rouge, Ste. Helena, Chifoncté, and even sanctioned the meeting already held in Feliciana.
With this assurance that their delegate-selecting meeting would be recognized as legal, official, and non-treasonable, the Baton Rouge petitioners assembled at the home of Samuel Fulton in that village. This makes necessary a pause in the recital of events to introduce Señor Fulton. He was at that time adjutant-general of the West Florida militia and the husband of a daughter of former Governor Carlos de Grand Pré. Before settling in the Baton Rouge district, Samuel Fulton was one of the French agents in the service of the Directory in its plan to reoccupy Louisiana when the Spanish held it. He visited General George Rogers Clark in 1796, and confirmed the captor of Vincennes in his French sentiment. Later Fulton was at work, with a man named Milfort, among the Creek Indians in an endeavor to help out France's plan to limit the western boundaries of the United States to the Appalachian mountains rather than by the Mississippi river. In August of 1804 we find Fulton in West Florida where, with the assistance of Armand Duplantier and George Dupassau, he assembled a force of some 150 men from among the settlers in the Amite and Comite region to balk the Kemper brothers in their revolt, attempt to take over the Baton Rouge fort, and make Governor de Grand Pré a prisoner.
That same summer Sam Fulton had been appointed by Governor Claiborne as "a discreet person" to open the mail bags passing through the Spanish territory on their way to New Orleans and distribute the letters in them directed to persons living in West Florida. The appointment was made by the American governor, strange as it seems, upon the advice of President Madison. The two natural postal routes to New Orleans had to pass through Spanish West Florida, one route being from Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee via Natchez, Fort Adams, Saint Francisville, and Baton Rouge. The alternate road was from Muscle Shoals to Mobile, thence to the north of the Pascagoula, and by water through lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain to Bayou Saint John and into New Orleans. In either case, for a bag of mail to reach the Crescent City where the American executive governed, the Spaniards controlled an important part of both routes. A "discreet person" to open the mail bags was necessary.
In spite of his duties as Spanish adjutant general of West Florida militia, we find among President Madison's private papers a communication from Samuel Fulton, written during the early part of 1810, wherein Fulton confided to Madison his belief that Spain would yield to Bonaparte and that this would so change conditions in West Florida as to bring about British intervention. Consequently if the American government desired to take possession before the British Lion put its paw on the territory, he, Fulton, might be able to render the United States "effective assistance" and would be only too glad to do so.
p42 It can therefore be understood that as the adjutant general of the West Florida militia, which de Lassus would have to depend upon in case of armed revolt, Sam Fulton's defection could seriously embarrass the régime of de Lassus and Spain.
When the petitioners filed out of Sam Fulton's house, July 8, they had named their five delegates to the convention called for by the planters of Feliciana. Those who were to represent the Baton Rouge district were: Philip Hicky, Thomas Lilley, John Morgan, Manuel Lopez, and Edmund Hawes.
The convention idea was not welcomed by everyone in West Florida. The commandant and alcalde in the Ste. Helena district, Shepherd Brown by name,4 was one of the objectors. He had been receiving rumors of the movement and the desire "for a new order of things" which included the taking over of the reins of government, therefore he was, to say the least, astounded to receive from the governor a written permit to allow the inhabitants of Ste. Helena and Chifoncté to meet and select delegates. Suspicioning that de Lassus had been forced to issue the permits because he was not strong enough to forbid such gatherings or to punish those behind the movement, Brown sent one of his trusted lieutenants, Joseph Thomas, to Baton Rouge to learn from the governor's own lips whether or not he had voluntarily issued the permits or whether they had been extorted.
If the governor was not acting on his "own free will and his course was designed to preserve intact this part of the kingdom and of our loved and worthy sovereign, Don Ferdinand VII, and to sustain his government and wise laws," and the right to meet in convention assembled "had been extorted by fear," then Shepherd Brown declared that the Ste. Helena district which he commanded did not desire a change of any kind, and, if the governor needed help, he, Brown, "could muster in a few hours more than five hundred men ready and willing to sacrifice their lives for the honour of the Spanish flag, and who would obey his word!"
The author of these bombastic words was an American-born individual who settled in the West Florida section soon after John McDonough arrived in Louisiana to begin his work of amassing a fortune in the New Orleans trade and in cypress swamps along the Iberville, Amite and Comite rivers. In this latter endeavor McDonough was ably assisted by his confidential agent in West Florida, Shepherd Brown. It was Brown who greased Spanish palms to secure these "worthless" lands for the notorious spendthrift of the Crescent City. No small wonder then that Shepherd Brown did not look with friendly eye on any move for any kind of government.
The governor reassured Brown's messenger, wrote the alcalde of Ste. Helena, that he had not been "forced" to permit the meeting, that all who had asked to hold them had done "so with proper respect", that he believed the people not only well disposed towards him but to Spain and their sovereign Ferdinand, and the "real meaning of the coming convention is merely an endeavor on the part of the inhabitants to prove p43 their loyalty to Spain." Which either means de Lassus was a fool, or that he was ready to make a corrupt bargain with the leaders, or that he was craftily playing for time to recruit a sufficiently large force to crush the revolt at one paralyzing blow. Events seem to prove the third suspicion.
Reassured that the governor was not acting under force, Brown issued the call in his district for popular gatherings to elect delegates to the greatly feared convention. As it would be impossible to secure one convenient common meeting place, he divided it into three sections (Ste. Helena at that time took in what is now that parish and Livingston, bounded on the west by the Tickfaw and on the east by the "Chifoncté"), two delegates to be chosen from one section, and one from each of the remaining two precincts. Those "elected" were Joseph Thomas, Shepherd Brown's trusted and confidential lieutenant; John W. Leonard, son of Don Gilberto de Leonardo5 (the father served under de Lassus as Ministro Interventor y Tesorero, which means he was the comptroller and treasurer, but when Don Gilberto left the Emerald Isle he was plain Gilbert Leonard and, even when he learned to speak Spanish, he spoke it with a thick Irish brogue); William Spiller and Benjamin O. Williams were the two selected from the outlying precincts of St. Helena. The Chifoncté, or Tanchipaho region sent one delegate only, he was William Cooper, a former "North Carolina Tory" now an adherent of Shepherd Brown.
The date set for the meeting of the convention of delegates was set for July 25, and the designated spot, a plantation on Saints John Plains, or "The Plains," sometimes designated as "Buhler's Plains," but usually written "St. John's Plains." The place was noted for its many massive live oaks about the house and was on the right hand side of the road leading from Baton Rouge to Jackson, La., near the Presbyterian or "Plains" church. According to most accounts it was the home of Richard Devall, although one record states it was the home of Thomas Lilley; their places were not far apart.
While awaiting the action of the other districts the Feliciana ringleaders were not inactive. They gathered at "Troy" plantation and drew up a tentative code, or constitution, a sort of declaration of purpose to acquaint the people in general as to their aims. Those concerned in confecting this proclamation, as it may best be termed, included John H. Johnson, William Barrow, Judge Rhea, John Mills, Lewis Stirling, et al., but most of the evidence at hand seems to prove that this "constitution" was wholly written by Edward Randolph of Pinckneyville, a partner of Daniel Clark of New Orleans.
Word of the activities and intentions of the Feliciana patriots filtered into New Orleans and were the subject of conversation in the streets and were also noticed by items in the daily press. In its issue of June 18 the "Louisiana Gazette" published, under the heading "Extract of a letter from Bayou Sarah, received this day's mail":
p44 "Since my last to you we have had a general convention of the inhabitants of this district (New-Feliciana) and one sentiment appearing to prevail throughout the whole; the convention proceeded to elect four men to represent this district in a convention held at Buller's Plains, for the purpose of redressing the evils attendant on a state which certainly may with propriety be called anarchy. Dispatches have been forwarded to the other districts of this province, inviting them to concur with us; and when they shall have chose their representatives, the whole will meet together, not as a Legislative body, but rather as a Committee of Safety. They are to propose such measures to the Governor, as they may deem most proper for the welfare of the country, for the preservation of harmony and good order, and for the execution of impartial justice to all men. It is presumed they will insist on the judiciary powers being separated from that of the Executive, and something of trial by jury. Should this be agreed to, the Spanish laws will most probably be continued in force; but if the Governor objects to the arrangement and denies the power of the people (which I think he in honor to himself must do) then the people will consider themselves at liberty, and in duty to themselves, bound to act. In addition to a Committee of Safety a Legislative body may be chosen, and it will follow of course, a new Executive and Judiciary.
"Something of this kind seems indispensably necessary. The credit of the place, as you well know, is ruined abroad; each individual suffers at home, and, the whole arises from the want of justice, and of men to execute it. Who could expect otherwise? When a man has been so often bribed as to consider justice on either, or neither side of the question; it must be hard for him after a few years, to know on which side it really does belong. This seems to be the case with some of our officers. But we hope to find men who are not so completely blind, and who still know something of probity. The four men chosen for this district, are Captain John H. Johnson, Captain William Barrow, John Ray, and John Mills.
"Since the election the public mind appears to be more tranquil, but the spirit of independence is still gaining ground. The support of the mother country being cut off, and the fact being known that Bonaparte now claims this province, will rouse the minds of many who have been heretofore asleep, or scarcely dared to think for themselves. If the United States still pretend any claim on this place they must not refuse it when it is offered."
The next day's issue contained the following paragraph:
"All the information we have received from West Florida, corroborate the extract of a letter which we published yesterday, from Bayou Sarah. Deputies have been named at Baton Rouge, who are gone up to join the general convention or congress at Buller's Plains. It is generally understood that the Governor of Baton Rouge is favorable to the views of the people. We also find that the people continue to place much dependence on the United States for protection, at least that part of Florida which has been claimed by them; they ought not to be too sanguine on this score, the United States will be (as they have been) very guarded in giving offence to any of the European powers."
Ten days before the delegates gathered in convention, assembled as representatives of the people of West Florida, the "Natchez Chronicle", July 17, published in full the tentative constitution or declaration, "code" would be a better word, that Edward Randolph, Johnson, Barrow, Rhea, Mills, Stirling and other Feliciana planters had put to paper in advance of the meeting. Said the "Chronicle", which sent one of its editors to the meeting to report what eventuated:
"The following constitution has been circulated in West Florida, and it is said to be well received in the neighborhood of Baton Rouge. In New-Feliciana, much the most populous, wealthy and important district in the province, we are informed there is considerable diversity of opinion; some of the inhabitants favor the idea of an independent government; a strong party is yet in favor of Ferdinand 7th, while the mass of the inhabitants are desirous of coming under the protection of the United States. From St. Hellena, Tanchipao and Christianne, we have not yet heard, but presume they would prefer the protection of the United States.
On July 25, the "Louisiana Gazette" republished the Natchez paper's account so that the people of New Orleans would know the aims of the patriots; the "National Intelligencer" picked up the story for the information of the whole nation, and later a clipping sent to England was republished in Yorke's "Weekly Political Review."
If Thomas Jefferson is to be regarded the author of America's famous "declaration," so must Edward Randolph be entitled to a like fame as the author of the first West Florida declaration. Although it was not either the declaration or the constitution finally adopted by the conventionalists, it should be again reprinted in full:
"When the Sovereignty and Independence of a nation have been destroyed by treachery or violence, the political ties which unite its different members are dissolved.
"Distant provinces no longer cherished or protected by the mother country, have a right to institute for themselves such forms of government as they may think conducive to their safety and happiness.
"The lawful Sovereign of Spain, together with his hereditary kingdom in Europe, having fallen under the dominion of a foreign tyrant, by means of treachery and lawless power, the right naturally devolves on the people of the different provinces of that kingdom, placed by nature beyond the grasp of the usurper, to provide for their own security: the allegiance which they owed and preserved with so much fidelity to their lawful sovereign, can never be transferred to the destroyer of their country's independence.
"We, therefore, the people of West Florida, exercising the right which incontestibly devolves upon us, declare, that we owe no allegiance to the present ruler of the French nation, or to any King, Prince or Sovereign who may be placed by him on the throne of Spain, and that we will always, and by all means in our power, resist any p46 tyrannical usurpation over us of whatever kind, or by whomsoever the same may be attempted to be exercised for this purpose, and in order more effectually to preserve domestic tranquility, and to secure to ourselves the blessings of peace, liberty and impartial administration of justice, we do ordain and establish the following:
"Article 1. The laws, usages and custom heretofore observed in the administration of justice, and in determining the right of property, shall remain in full force, as far as the situation of the country will allow, until altered or abolished in the manner hereafter provided.
"Article 2. All lawful contracts heretofore made and entered into, shall be binding on the parties according to the true intent and meaning thereof.
Article 3. The officers of the Militia shall retain their commissions, and the Alcaldes and Syndics of the several divisions shall continue to hold and exercise the duties of their respective offices, having the same jurisdiction as heretofore, until otherwise provided by lawful authority.
"Article 4. One Governor, one Secretary, and three Counsellors of State, shall be immediately chosen by the people, who shall enter upon the duties of their respective offices on the ––––– day of ––––– of this present year 1810, after having in the presence of each other taken an oath faithfully to discharge the duties of their respective offices, and to exercise the powers herein granted to them to the best of their judgment for the good of the people.
"Article 5. The supreme executive powers shall be vested in the Governor, who shall also be the commander in chief of all the military force of the Commonwealth, and shall cause the laws to be faithfully and impartially executed, he shall, by and with the consent of the three counsellors of state, or a majority of them, have the power to appoint and commission all officers, civil and military, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided, and to revoke the commissions of inferior magistrates now in office, or hereafter commissioned by him at pleasure.
"Article 6. The legislative power shall be vested in the three counsellors of state or a majority of them, but no act or resolution passed by them, shall have the force or authority of a law, without being first approved by the Governor.
"Article 7. The legislative council shall meet on their own adjournments, but the Governor shall have the power to convene them at any other time when he thinks it expedient, and they shall cause to be published from time to time, such laws and regulations as may be made for the better Government of the Commonwealth.
"Article 8. The three counsellors of the state shall be conservators of the peace throughout the Commonwealth, and to decide all cases and prosecutions, civil and criminal, which may be instituted by individuals, or on behalf of the Commonwealth, and submitted to their decision. For this purpose, they, or a majority of them, shall hold court four times in every year, at such times, and in such places as shall be provided by law; they shall have, p47 and exercise when in session for that purpose the same jurisdiction, both original and appellate as has been heretofore exercised by the highest authority in the kingdom, and their judgment shall be final.
"Article 9. The Governor, by, and with the advice of the Legislative Council, or a majority of them, shall have power to declare war, levy taxes, regulate commerce, dispose of public lands, grant permissions of residence to emigrants, establish rules for the naturalization of foreigners, form treaties, or enter into confederacy with other states, establish inferior tribunals of justice, provide for the common defense and common welfare, and in general do all acts, and establish such laws and regulations as may be necessary and conducive to the safety and prosperity of the Commonwealth. Provided Always, that no law shall be made to have a retrospective effect, or any way to affect the obligation of contracts, and provided, that no man shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without an impartial trial, in which he shall be allowed to examine all the witnesses against him, and produce witnesses in his defence.
"Article 10. It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State, to keep and preserve the acts and laws passed by the Legislature, and the proceedings of the Governor, in his executive department. He shall keep all public records, as well as those now in being, as hereafter to be made, and the seal of the Commonwealth, and shall furnish copies of all public records under the seal of the Commonwealth when required.
"Article 11. The governor and legislative council shall at any time when they think it expedient, not more distant than three years from the time of entering upon the duties of their respective offices, cause a convention of delegates, chosen by the people in such manner as they shall prescribe by law, to be held at Baton Rouge, which said convention shall have full powers to form a constitution for the better government of this Commonwealth, to establish the future seat of government, and to declare at what time the powers herein granted shall cease, and determine, till what time the seat of government shall remain at Baton Rouge.
"Article 12. The governor shall receive an annual salary of ––––– for his services, and each of the three counsellors an annual salary of ––––– for their services, the secretary of state shall receive an annual salary of ––––– together with such fees of office as may be allowed and provided by law. The compensation of all inferior officers shall be ascertained and fixed by legislature, and no officer of this government shall hold any office under, or receive title or pension from any foreign state.
"Article 13. When the present declaration or ordinance shall have been approved and signed by a majority of all the inhabitants within ––––– it shall have complete effect and operation within the said district, and together with the laws and regulations made in conformity to it, shall be the supreme law of the land. It shall also be extended to any other district or places in West or East Florida, in which it shall be approved and signed by a majority of the people, and to give immediate operation and effect to the same, the following gentlemen are hereby designated to the different offices respectively, and fully p48 authorized and required to exercise the powers, and perform the duties thereof, viz.:
"We the people, do hereby approve and confirm the foregoing declaration and ordinance, in all its parts, and to support it we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor."
While this tentative "code" was never adopted by the convention of the people, it does, however, give us an insight into the desires and intentions of those planning the orderly uprising that ended in a rough and tumble fight.
A Flag that never flew over Feliciana
The tricolor of Republican France and Napoleon Bonaparte's Empire, first raised in 1794 in France, flew for only 20 days over New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana, but never over West Florida. This flag was designed after the banner of the Netherlands, which had red at the hoist instead of blue.c
1 The "twin-starred" flag of the ill-fated Kemper rebellion of 1804, when the three Kemper brothers tried to wrest West Florida from Spain, is worth notice. This banner was first raised at Saint Francisville and had seven alternating stripes of blue and white, the union was red and had two white stars. Why the Kempers selected such a flag is not known nor is it certain what the two stars stood for. Did they mean a star for West Florida and another for East Florida? Did the seven blue and white stripes stand for the seven districts in the Spanish provinces? Quien Sabe!
3 The letter "by a gentleman from Pointe Coupée" was first published in the Baton Rouge Advocate.
4 Shepherd Brown, like his friend and business associate John McDonogh, came to New Orleans from Baltimore, and the two formed a co-partnership and did an extensive business under the name of "John McDonogh, Jr. & Co." In December of 1815 this partnership was dissolved, Shepherd Brown dying soon thereafter.
5 Although documents first examined appeared to identify John W. Leonard as the son of Gilbert Leonard, later information proves he was not the Juan Leonardo, son of the civil commandant at baton Rouge, but that he belonged to a Tory family of New York and Massachusetts. John West Leonard came to Louisiana early in 1800 and lived first at New Orleans. In 1805 he removed to the St. Helena district and soon became intimate with the Spanish authorities and was in their confidence when the uprising began. Leonard was selected by Shepherd Brown as one who would remain loyal to the Spanish but after the first meeting of the delegates Manuel Lopez suspected he was double-dealing and so reported to Don Carlos de Lassus. Other members of the convention were playing the same game with the Spanish masters. As evidence of John W. Leonard's standing among the patriots is his selection as president pro tempore of the first and only senate of the Tom Thumb Republic. He died in 1818 without issue.
a I've carefully proofread this list of thirteen names; I don't know whether in "fourteen in all" we merely have a typo, or whether the author omitted someone.
b So the printed text; several words appear to have been swallowed up in a line skip or a garble. The sense must be something like "The government of the United States will not, cannot withhold their protection over the territory over which their claim extends . . ."
c It may well be true that the flag of the French Republic was influenced by the Dutch flag: Dutch émigrés had gone to Paris to foment revolution slightly before 1789 and do seem to have been involved in the councils of the French revolutionaries and in the design of the flag, even if later the republican colors were taken to stand for those of Paris with a white median stripe. The Dutch flag cannot be said, however, to have had "red at the hoist", since its stripes were horizontal.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
S. C. Arthur:
West Florida Rebellion
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 11 Jul 13