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.
The government house outside the fort did not fail to receive the attention of the hilarious patriots and in it Isaac Johnson's men found and pried open a strong box, the chief item being the six thousand pesos which Captain Piernas had brought on from Pensacola to pay the garrison. His Excellency had evidently "forgotten" to distribute the coin or he had some other reason for withholding pay from those under him. The finders cheered their discovery but delivered the money to "Gin'ral" Thomas who had it counted in the presence of captured Spanish officers.
Diligent search was made for the governor's secretary, Captain Raphael Croker, but the searchers soon discovered that that hated official had vanished. Don Pedro Favrot, in a letter to the Marquis de Someruelos, Captain General at Cuba, in which he described in detail the taking of the fort and the death of de Grand Pré, gave his views as to what caused the revolt [this letter, together with testimony of Spanish soldiers, and manuscripts of those taking part in the assault, was used as a basis for my description of the actual taking of the fort in the preceding chapter. S. C. A.] Wrote Favrot: "Don Carlos de Lassus, who was in his lodgings outside the fort, at the sound of firing, ran to the fort calling to Rafael 'El Famoso' Croker to follow him. But the secretary made a half turn to the right and abandoned his commander, ran to the river bank, where finding a skiff he crossed to the other side of the Mississippi, made his way to the residence of an Acadian, rented a horse, and at full speed arrived at the house of his father-in‑law about 12 leagues away." Doña Croker, left behind and alone, later complained that the patriots had harassed her while searching the house for her husband for, in spite of her denials, they believed he was concealed there — under the bed or somewhere else.
The Cura Francisco Lennán was another who slipped out of Baton Rouge during the excitement. He reached the home of Captain Celestino de Saint Maxent at Manchac, then crossed the river to Croker's father-in‑law's plantation on the American side of the Mississippi, then made his way to New Orleans, and wound up at Pensacola. Don Tomaso Estevan, the erstwhile commandant of the Bayou Sarah region, in spite of his "illness," also succeeded in eluding the patriots and reaching the American side of the Mississippi river, galloped fearfully to father-in‑law Muller's plantation, a favorite rendezvous of former Spanish masters.
As soon after he was in possession of the fort, Philemon Thomas issued a formal order to the inhabitants of the village demanding they deliver their arms. As posted it read:
"By Philemon Thomas, Esqr., Colonel Commander and of the Militia of this Jurisdiction and of the Fort of Baton Rouge, a Proclamation:
p110 "All the inhabitants of the village adjacent to the Fort are required to deliver to me all firearms and other offensive weapons which may be in their possession without delay, on which condition they will be allowed to remain in quiet possession of their property and will be protected in the enjoyment of all privileges to which they may be entitled by the laws of the country and the ordinances of the Convention.
"Given under my hand at head quarters in the fort of Baton Rouge this 23rd day of September 1810.
Coll Comindant of the Jurisdiction of
the force of Baton Rouge."
All the regular Spanish soldiers had not succeeded in getting to the safety of the American side of the Mississippi river in the darkness and more than a score were imprisoned in the fort as quickly as they were apprehended and disarmed. They were later released and the majority found their way to Pensacola via New Orleans. The members of the militia who had remained loyal to the Spanish cause were stripped of their firearms and confined to their homes. Their late ruler, Don Carlos de Lassus, fuming and quite apprehensive as to his fate, was lodged in the juzgado, or as we would now say it, "in the hoosegow."
The Convention delegates soon gathered to consider what was best for them to do in the new position of authority and responsibility thrust upon them so suddenly, and gave attention to official reports from the commander of the forces that had successfully stormed the fort, and James Nelson, who made an inventory of the arms, munitions, and stores taken. Taken from the original document, Thomas' report read:
"Headquarters Fort of Baton Rouge Septr 24th 1810
"In obedience to the order of the Convention Bearing date of the 22d inst I directed Major Johnson to assemble such of the Cavalry as might be ready at hand, and marched immediately for the Fort of Baton Rouge. I then proceeded to Springfield where I found forty four of the Grenadier Company commanded by Coll Ballenger awaiting the orders of the Convention; at one oclock in the morning of the 23d we joined Major Johnson and Captn Griffith, with 21 of the Bayou Sarah Cavalry, and five or six other patriotic Gentelmen joined us on our march. At four oclock the same morning we made the attack. My orders were not to fire, till we received a shot from the Garrison, and to cry out in French and English 'Ground your arms and you shall not be hurt;' this order was strictly attended to by the Volunteers, till we received a fire of Musketry from the guard House where the Governor was, which was briskly returned by the Volunteers. We received no Damage on our part. Of the Governor's Troops Lieutt Grand Pré was mortally wounded. Lieut. J. B. Metzinger, comt. of Artillery was also wounded, 1 private killed and four badly wounded, we took twenty-one prisoners among who is Coll Delassus. The rest of the Garrison escaped by flight; the Magazines &c. found on the Garrison have been reported to you by James Neilson, Esq., who was appointed for that purpose.
p111 "The various and complicated Duties devolving on me from the pressing circumstances of the moment, forbid a more particular communication.
"The firmness and moderation of the Volunteers who made the attack, was fully equal to the best Disciplined Troops. Whole Companys are flocking to our standard daily, and the Harmony and Patriotism that prevails in the Garrison, must be highly gratifying to every friend of the Country.
Accept Sir for yourself & your Body assurances of my high Esteem & Regard —
(Signed) Philn Thomas
Commander in Chief
of the Fort of Baton Rouge and its Dependencies."
"The Honble John Rhea
President of the Convention."
While the members of the Convention were busy with their plans for governing the now freed jurisdiction, the rank and file of patriots in the fort prepared an address, advising the delegates of the people of their loyalty to the cause. They assured conventionalists:
"To the Honorable the Representatives of the free people of West Florida in Convention Assembled:
"The Volunteers now occupying the Fort of Baton Rouge are highly gratified at the presence of your honorable body, whom we recognize as the legitimate organs of the Sovereign People —
"We acknowledge your honors as the Rulers of the Country. We acknowledge no others unless they derive authority from you.
"We have on a former occasion expressed our Confidence & Tendered you our Support and recent events have no doubt fully Proved the reality of our professions — and we again, in the most solemn manner, on the honor of soldiers — renew that pledge.
"Peace is desirable to all on honorable & safe principles. But when Goaded by oppression, Borne down by Subaltern Tyrants, Insulted & Betrayed; and an infernal Machine at work to Rivet on us Eternal chains — we flew to arms in obedience to your orders, and we Trust your Honorable body will never allow the sword to be sheathed till the work of Regeneration is complete, & the rights, Liberties, and properties of our citizens secured by a free Representative Government and Equal law.
Signed at Head Quarters, fort of Baton Rouge
Sept 25th 1810
Philn. Thomas, Col. Comdt.
Wm. Kirkland, Colo.
Benja. P. Thomas, B. Inft.
John Ballinger, Capt., in behalf of himself & Company.
Robt. McCausland, Maj.
Robert Young, Major.
Llewellyn C. Griffith, Captn. dragoons, for self and Company.
L. Z. Foochtell, Capt. Batonrugº Company, for him Self and ¾ of the Company.
David T. W. Cook, Capt. P. T. of 3 Regmt., New Feliciana.
John Dorch, Capt. P. T. of 3 Regmt., New Feliciana.
p112 M. L. T. Caynie, Surgeon General for the Surgical Department and Commander of the Provost Guard."
At the first sitting, the delegates decided upon a preliminary proclamation or resolution declaring West Florida a Free and Independent State. Several handwritten copies were made, and one of them, together with a letter to the American governor of the Mississippi Territory was dispatched to Natchez by Abner L. Duncan. This first liberty resolution, read:
"By the Representatives of the People of West-Florida, in Convention Assembled.
"The several districts of West-Florida having been declared a Free and Independent State, by a solemn act of this convention, made and published this day, we hasten to congratulate our fellow-citizens on this fortunate event, and to assure them that nothing shall be wanting on our part, in order to secure to our constituents and to our country, the blessings of liberty and equal rights, and to establish those rights on the most permanent foundation. In the mean time the laws heretofore observed in the administration of justice, and the determining the right of property, remain in full force as far as the situation of the country will permit. The ordinances and resolutions adopted by the Convention, with the concurrence of the Governor, on 22d day August last, are considered as law, agreeably to the proclamation of that date, excepting only that the powers vested in the Governor, by that ordnance, shall be exercised by this Convention, for the time being, and until some permanent regulations be made for the better government of this commonwealth.
"Done in Convention, at the town of Baton Rouge, on Wednesday the 26th day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ten, and the independence of Florida, the first.
John Rhea, President."
The other letter, which Duncan placed in Governor Holmes' hands, read:
"To his Excellency David Holmes Governor of the Mississippi Territory:
"We have been abandoned and betrayed by our Gov. Delassus who is now anxiously awaiting the arrival of Gov. Folch and avowedly with the determination of coöperating with him in any manner he may direct. Folch is beyond all doubt on his march toward Baton Rouge and not without support. The enclosed Resolution and order taken on it will best show our situation and determination to resist oppression. We cannot but cherish the hope that our neighboring brethren will be put in motion to our succor, indeed we all feel that the faith of our mother country stands pledged for our protection and support. In a day or two we calculate opening the pleas and of forwarding to your Excellency an unqualified declaration of Independence with such an appeal to our parent country as will at once free them from any fear of being [word undecipherable] and prove our unalterable determination to p113assert our rights as an integral part of the United States. Any body of Militia put immediately in motion even under the pretext of preserving the tranquility of your own territory could not fail to favor our cause, it would give a check to the Spanish and serve to animate the honest though timid Americans. If the gun battery could be prevailed upon to drop down to the neighborhood of Baton Rouge the Dons would be paralized.
"The term 'a Confederation' fixed to the cause will explain our schemes and wants more fully.
John Rhea, President."
While the foregoing appeal was being hurried "above the line" to Governor Holmes, the members of the Convention finally decided upon the wording of their formal declaration of independence. Finished to their satisfaction, it was signed, September 26, 1810, by John Rhea, as president, Andrew Steele, as secretary of the Convention, and the other members of the Convention, all save Bill Cooper and Benjamin O. Williams. On Saturday, the day before the taking of the fort, Williams had sent John Rhea his resignation as a delegate from Ste. Helena, the gist of what he said in his letter was that his "local situation not permitting my longer attendance as a representative for this District, in the Convention."
Finally signed and sealed, the Declaration of Independence of the people of West Florida was given to the world. It meant as much to these liberty-loving folk of the South as did a similar document signed and sealed in the city of Philadelphia on that historic fourth day of July, 1776. While it was not as long as the avowal written in the Quaker City, but it was to the point, as you can read for yourself:
"By the Representatives of the People of West-Florida, in Convention Assembled.
"It is known to the world with how much fidelity the good people of the Territory have professed and maintained allegiance to their legitimate Sovereign, while any hope remained of receiving from him protection for their property and their lives.
"Without making any unnecessary innovation in the established principalsº of the Government, we had voluntarily adopted certain regulations, in concert with our First Magistrate, for the express purpose of preserving this Territory, and showing our attachment to the Government which had heretofore protected us. This compact, which was entered into with good faith on our part, will forever remain an honorable testimony of our upright intentions and inviolable fidelity to our King and parent country, while so much as a shadow of legitimate authority remained to be exercised over us. We sought only a speedy remedy for such evils as seemed to endanger our existence and prosperity, and were encouraged by our Governor with solemn promises of assistance and cooperation. But those measures which were intended for our preservation he has endeavored to pervert into an engine of destruction, by encouraging, p114in the most perfidious manner, the violation of ordinances sanctioned and established by himself as the law of the land.
"Being thus left without any hope of protection from the mother country, betrayed by a magistrate whose duty it was to have provided for the safety and tranquility of the people and Government committed to his charge, and exposed to all the evils of a state of anarchy, which we have long endeavoured to avert, it becomes our duty to provide for our own security, as a free and independent State, absolved from all allegiance to a Government which no longer protects us.
"We, therefore, the Representatives aforesaid, appealing to the Supreme Ruler of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do solemnly publish and declare the several and distinct districts comprising this Territory of West Florida to be a free and independent State; that they have a right to institute for themselves such form of government as they may think conducive to their safety and happiness; to form treaties; to establish commerce; to provide for their common defense; and to do all acts which may, of right, be done by a sovereign and independent nation; at the same time declaring all acts within the said Territory of West Florida, after this date, by any tribunals or authorities not deriving their power from the people, agreeably to the provisions established by this Convention, to be null and void; and calling upon all foreign nations to respect this our declaration, acknowledging our independence, and giving us such aid as may be consistent with the laws and usages of nations."
With utmost dispatch this formal declaration was enclosed in letters addressed to the governors of the Orleans and Mississippi territories. Read the letter to Claiborne:
"To His Excely the Governor of the Orleans Territory:
"We, the Delegates of the People of this State have the honor to enclose to you an official copy of their Act of Independence requesting that it may be forthwith transmitted by you to the President of the United States with the expression of their most confident and most ardent hope, that it may accord with the policy of the Government, as it does with the safety and happiness of the people of the United States, to take the present Government and People of this State under their immediate and special protection as an integral and inalienable portion of the United States.
"The Convention and their constituents of the State of Florida rest in the firm persuasion that the blood which flows in the veins of their constituents will remind the Government and People of the United States that they are their children, that they have been acknowledged as such by the most solemn act of the Congress of the United States, and that so long as Independence and the Rights of Man shall be maintained and cherished by the American Union, the good people of this State cannot be abandoned, or exposed, to the violence of force of any foreign or domestic foe.
"The Convention beg you to receive for yourself and to assure the President of their high respect and consideration.
John Rhea, President."
p115 Governor Holmes promptly acknowledged receipt of the Convention's communications but all he permitted himself to say was that the declaration would be promptly sent on to Washington. No reply was received from Claiborne, because that executive was then in the capital of the United States. Replied Holmes:
"Town of Washington
30th Sept. 1810
"I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 26th inst. inclosing a copy of the Declaration of Independence by the Convention of West Florida. You and your colleagues may rest assured that no time will be lost by me in forwarding these important documents to the President of the United States. In the meantime let me be early informed of every occurrence that may take place interesting to the Inhabitants of your Government, whether they arise from internal or external sources. I shall leave this place on Thursday next for the county of Wilkinson. On Saturday I shall be at the General Headqts near the Court House. After that day address your communications to me at this place. I have the honor to be with great respect for you and your colleagues,
"John Rhea, Esq.,
"President of the Convention of West Florida, Baton Rouge."
The Mississippi executive, it will be noticed, did not reply to the plea that United States troops be sent into the district. His letter, written from the "Town of Washington", was penned at the village of that name a few miles from Natchez, then the capital of the Mississippi territory. Holmes, however, did order out the American soldiers. Regulars under Colonel Thomas P. Cushing were sent to the border to protect American interests in the neighborhood of Pinckneyville and the territorial militia was ordered to be in readiness for any emergency.
The day after the capture of the fort, the mortally wounded Don Louis de Grand Pré died in the arms of Philogene Favrot. A romantic idyl regarding this young Louisianian and his lovely betrothed, remains to be told. At four in the morning, the very time that the fort was taken by the patriots, Joséphine Favrot awoke everyone in her father's home by her screams. Hastening to her bedroom, her father, mother, and brothers found her pacing up and down her bedroom shivering in terror and hysterically declaring that she had seen, in a vivid vision, men on horseback entering the fort, Louis de Grand Pré covered with blood defending his post, and calling for her!
The members of the family unsuccessfully endeavored to quiet her, and when daylight came, in answer to her pleas that she must go to Baton Rouge because her lover was calling her, her father and brother Philogene agreed to take her there so she could be convinced her dream was only a dream.
As they approached the fort in their skiff, Don Pedro Favrot and his son were astonished to see that a strange blue flag with a single p116white star had replaced the Spanish banner. Hurrying ashore the Favrots learned of the happenings of the night, of Don Louis' plight, and that Joséphine's uncanny vision had been more than a figment of her imagination.
Louis de Grand Pré lived until two in the morning on Monday. His childhood sweetheart was sobbing at his side as the young soldier, supported by the arms of his chum, Philogene Favrot, breathed his last. The victors of the battle buried their brave foeman with full military honors just outside the fort he had vainly tried to defend.
A touching eulogy from the pen of Don Pedro Favrot on the intrepid Creole who had given his life to prove his father had not been a traitor to the Spanish cause later appeared in the New Orleans newspapers. Said the "Louisiana Courier" October 29:
"One of the inhabitants of this country, in sending us a few verses composed to honor the memory of his young and generous friend, asks us to pay a tribute to those virtues, which even his enemies took pleasure in according to him: as we would only weaken the expression, noble and touching, of the regrets and of his profound sorrow . . . we think it impossible to make a more complete eulogy than did his true friend . . . we therefore publish a part of his letter and likewise the piece of poetry that he was kind enough to send to us:
"M. Louis de Grand Pré, has just met his death, victim of his devotion to the Spanish cause, and of military bravery. He died . . . due to the many wounds received in the defense of Baton Rouge. He died with the calm and serenity of a great soul, and his last moments placed the seal to the nobleness of his character. So deeply ensconced in his generous heart was the memory of the atrocious persecutions which his honored father had recently suffered at the hands of the Spanish Service, that he actually seemed to forget that this fact had poisoned and doubtlessly shortened his days; he would not heed the words of honor, and this valorous Creole wanted to prove that those of his blood had never known intrigue or treachery . . . but that they knew to pardon, or to die, having fought, for the cause to which they had pledged themselves . . . This martyr, or better still this example of honor was but 23 years old, he breathed his last September 24, at two in the morning, in the arms of my eldest son, midst the regrets and lamentations of his family and numerous friends . . . The loss of this man was even regretted by his enemies, who gave testimonies of veneration by funeral honors, characterized by sadness and mourning."
The verse signed by a friend of Louis de Grand Pré, in testimony of the deep regret that his death caused him, in French follows:a
"Un seul trépas ternit votre victoire
En y mêlant la plus juste douleur:
Louis de Grandpré guidé par sa valeur,
De blessures courbé, tombe couvert de gloire.
Jeune héros, que ce beau dévouement
Jette d'éclat sur ton dernier moment!
Au milieu des regrets qu'on donne à ta mémoire,
p117 On ne peut s'empêcher d'envier ton trépas,
Modèle de l'honneur tu vivras dans l'histoire
Entre Jumonville et d'Assas."
Or in English:
"A lone death held all your victory
Mingling with it the most just of pain
Louis de Grand Pré, guided by his valor,
Covered with wound, fell, covered with glory,
A hero . . . to whom such devotion gave eclat
To his last moments!
Amidst regrets which one lavishes on your memory
One cannot but envy your death;
Model of Honor . . . you will live in history
Between Jumonville and d'Assas."
Joséphine Favrot never married, she remained true to her dead lover, and throughout a long life was wedded only to her art, her brush and pencil depicting the lovely flowers that grew in profusion all about the Favrot plantation.
The action of the West Florida patriots in throwing off the yoke of Spain was applauded everywhere above and below "the line." The Natchez newsprints devoted considerable space to the happenings, while the New Orleans dailies set in type all the news obtainable. One or two of the articles appearing in the "Louisiana Gazette" are of interest, if for no other reason than to show how "hot news" was handled in those far-off days.
The first information that New Orleans had of the uprising, aside from the buzzing that went on in the coffee-houses and on street corners, was found in the "Louisiana Gazette", Wednesday, Sept. 26:
"A rumor was afloat this morning, that the inhabitants of Bayou Sarah had marched down to Baton Rouge in hostile array . . . that Col. Lassus has opposed them, but was overpowered after several being killed and wounded . . . that Col. Lassus was in close confinement . . . that the American flag was displayed over the fort, &c., &c.
"We are fearful the rumor is nearly true. Letters we are told are in the city which state the whole affair. Tomorrow, perhaps, we shall be able to give correct information. . . . Reports say, that a son of the late Governor Grand Pré, has been wounded."
The next morning the "Gazette" concluded the news was important enough to justify a one-column head. Said the issue of Sept. 27:
"In confirmation of the rumor of yesterday we are informed that letters in the city from Baton Rouge state, that the attack was made on the fort, between two and three oclock on Sunday morning last, that General Philemon Thomas, commanded the militia who made the attack . . . that at eight oclock the American flag was hoisted. The information does not say, whether the General summoned the fort to surrender before he commenced attack or not."
It was not until Friday, the 28th, that the "Louisiana Courier" realized the importance of the news for tucked away in one column was:
p118 Private letters from Baton Rouge announce that 50 inhabitants of Bayou Sarah had left that place in the night and had taken possession of the fort of the port. It is feared that this event will be attended with serious consequences; two or three persons have been wounded, and amongst the number the son of the late governor; De Lassus, the actual governor, is, it said, imprisoned in the fort."
For several days following these first publications the New Orleans newsprints were devoid of any mention of the startling events that had taken place up the river, but on Wednesday, October 3, the "Gazette" said:
"We find the rumor of last week, (as it relates to the taking of the fort at Baton Rouge) to be true. Young Mr. Grand Pré died of the wounds he received a short time after the affair. Gen. Thomas commands, and we are informed, is at the head of the executive, Gov. Lassus being in close confinement. The greater part of the Spaniards made their escape, and numbers have arrived in this city. At first there was danger apprehended from the people of the Amite and Comite, but when the mail passed everything was tranquil, and active preparations were being made for defense. The convention, under whose orders Gen. Thomas has acted and continues to act, are determined on supporting their independence.
"We are not able to state with accuracy the reasons why the convention deposed Gov. Lassus. It is said it was in consequence of his procrastination of some executive acts, and that he intended to impede the progress of the new system until he could receive force from Gov. Folch to destroy it in toto.
"It is strongly impressed on the minds of the foreigners in this city, both Spaniards and French, that the United States government are at the bottom of this revolution. We are not in the cabinet secrets, nor at headquarters, but as Americans, and judging from our own feelings, we have no hesitation in saying, that the impressions are wrong and without any foundation, and have originated from jealousy alone.
Meanwhile, at the seat of trouble, the members of the Convention were kept active arranging for a defense of the territory just won at the point of the sword. Fears of reprisals by Folch and his columns of marching men were uppermost and a flood of wild rumors and a decided lack of extra information kept these new masters of West Florida in constant apprehension.
News of the success of the patriot force in storming the Baton Rouge fort in the dead of morning, the raising of an independent flag, and the general hip‑hip-hurrah welling in every American's heart over the coup, sent men of all classes flocking to the fort to support "the American cause" by enlisting "under the Star." So depleted were many families on the United States' side of the border of their "men folks" that pleas were hurried to the Mississippi executive to furnish them with protection in case there might be "another San Domingo" uprising of negroes. The rather lawless character of many of the men rushing to Baton Rouge to join in the contemplated onslaught against the Dons in p119the rest of the province was a matter of serious apprehension, for many were deserters from the U. S. army and navy, or had other good and sufficient reasons for fleeing American courts of justice.
Substantiated rumors were to the effect that Alcalde Shepherd Brown, and "that damned old Tory" Captain Michael Jones, were actively recruiting settlers still favorable to the Spanish regime so that they could act in concert with Governor Folch and his regulars coming from Pensacola. The very day the Spanish Governor of West Florida received word of the fall of the Baton Rouge fort and the imprisonment of Governor de Lassus, Brown wrote him that he and his "fellow loyalists" were determined to oppose the "rebels" until Folch would arrive and, so said Brown, if Folch would come in person, he "would find 500 loyal settlers to help him reestablish the royal authority."
While Folch planned an early relief of de Lassus, as a matter of fact he never left Pensacola. He asked Cuba for men and money for the purpose but so delayed from day to day holding long-winded councils-of‑war and juntas that by the time he was ready to start westward other events convinced him that such a relief expedition would be useless, and that West Florida, from the Pearl to the Mississippi at least, was gone from Spain forever. However, the patriots in Baton Rouge did not know this; what they did know was that Shepherd Brown and Michael Jones were arming and defying and flouting the new authority, and such news was not received with good grace by the members of the force guarding the captured fort. They had won one battle and yearned for more worlds to conquer; wouldn't the Convention do something about it? To spur the delegates into action, the patriot soldiers formed themselves into a body, designated Colonel Bill Kirkland president, and Captain John Ballinger, as clerk, and then confected an address. If the Convention delegates could write addresses, proclamations, ordinances, codes, and such, what was to prevent the fighting men from doing the same. Not a thing! So this is what they wrote:
"To the Honorable the Representatives of the People West Florida, in convention assembled:
"The officers in the fort of Baton Rouge have appointed Genl. P. Thomas to wait on your honors to consult the most proper measures for restoring tranquility in St. Helena. He is in possession of the views of the officers, and the information necessary for effecting the object must belong to your body. We are uninformed and forbear to make remarks.
"Done at headquarters, Fort of Baton Rouge, September 29, 1810.
Wm. Kirkland, Colo., President.
J. Ballinger, Capt. Inft., Clerk."
The prayers for orders to capture Shepherd Brown, Bill Cooper, and Michael Jones and scatter the forces they were forming to resist the new masters of West Florida were quickly given. On the first day of October the punitive expedition set forth in the direction of Ste. Helena. In the van were the Feliciana Dragoons, led by Major Isaac Johnson and Captain Llewellyn Colville Griffith. The Springfield grenadiers were under the command of Major Robert McCausland, while Colonel Kimball p120headed another detachment of foot soldiers. Exactly what was done on this expedition to "quiet matters" in the eastern section of the new republic, and how Shepherd Brown and Michael Jones were tamed is set forth in General Thomas' report:
"Head Quarters fort of Baton Rouge
Octr 9th 1810
"Pursuant to the orders I received from your honors, I commenced my march for the District of St. Helena on the first day of October. On the third I crossed the Amite at Major Curtains at the Head of about four Hundred men. I had previously wrote to Michael Jones Requesting an interview with him, he met me at Well's six miles East of the Amite, and tendered a proposition for a Union between the several Districts, signed by himself and others. But his conduct was such as to preclude an Idea of Negociation. However on the Same Evening he surrendered his men at discretion & signed the Declaration of Independence. The same evening I dispatched an advanced guard under Major Johnson of the Cavalry & Major McCastlandº of the Infantry to endeavour by a forced march to surprise Brown & Cooper in their fort at Springfield. But the fort was evacuated ten Hours before their arrival. On the 5th I dispatched a considerable force to the Tansapaho & Chefuncta under the Command of Colo Kimball from him I have received no dispatches But expect intelligence which when Recd will be communicated without delay.
"I continued at Springfield the 5th & 6th in order to intercept straggling Parties of Brown's men & to see & inform the people of the principles and Wish of the Convention. Everything appears Tranquil & the great Body of the People really disposed to defend our Cause, a company of Volunteers is formed at Springfield. They have elected Samuel Baldwin their Capt which appointment together with the Lieuts which may be hereafter elected I wish confirmed. I returned by way of Brown's plantation & the Spanish settlements — they all appeared friendly.
(Signed) Philn Thomas, B. D. General.
"The honorable president of the Convention."
Shepherd Brown, failing to raise his boasted "500" and very apprehensive of his own skin, advised his few, about 80, followers to disperse and save themselves, when he was apprised of the coming of General Thomas and his force of four hundred men. Brown set the "loyalists" a good example by fleeing on a boat bound for New Orleans. He was overtaken before he could get into neutral territory and sent to the fort at Baton Rouge to keep de Lassus company.
When the Lone Star patriots appeared before the fort on the Nictalbany, the defenders fled before the rapid approach of the Feliciana Dragoons. Although Brown had slipped away, William Cooper was captured, and later the patriots destroyed his stock and other property; the animus they displayed against him was twofold, his record as a former and notorious Tory back in North Carolina, and his desertion of the proceeding of the Convention after being elected as the lone delegate of the Chifoncté district. Before the punitive returned to Baton Rouge, Cooper was killed trying to escape.
p121 With William Cooper dead, Michael Jones, a penitent convert to the cause of independence, and Shepherd Brown locked up in the fort with his former superior, all opposition to the Convention came to an abrupt end in Ste. Helena. Captain Samuel Baldwin, who had been designated by General Thomas as a sort of peace officer, recruited and equipped a considerable force and ruled with a rigid hand, and slapped irons on all men in the district who would not sign the Convention's declaration of independence.
With insurrection smothered the Convention could now get down to the business of creating a new nation. At Pensacola the Spanish authorities believed that they could soon retake the lost territory on the Mississippi River when the inhabitants of the jurisdiction learned they had become tax-payers under the ordinances of the Convention. This was something the Spanish regime had not required for the money to run the government came from the Crown and the officials secured their extra money in other ways. Evidently there was some such thought in the master minds of the Convention for on October 5, when General Thomas was sending Shepherd Brown scuttling through the cypress swamps like a frightened rabbit, the ordinances adopted in August, which fixed taxes in slaves imported into the district, were repealed and the taxes on lands reduced, as witness the text of these important resolutions are:
"In the Convention of the State of Florida, at the town of Baton Rouge assembled, October 5th, 1810.
"On motion, Resolved, That so much of the ordinance of this Convention, of the 22d of August last, as relates to the tax on slaves imported into the commonwealth, be repealed, and the same is hereby repealed accordingly. And all persons residing within this commonwealth, or allowed by the said ordinance to obtain permission of residence within the same, shall be allowed to import into this commonwealth, all slaves belonging to them, without paying any tax or duty therefore,º whatever, anything contained in said ordinance to the contrary notwithstanding.
"On motion, Resolved, That so much of the ordinance of this Convention, of the 22d of August last, as relates to the tax on lands, be amended in such manner that all lands within this commonwealth being reduced to three classes, those of the first quality be subject to a tax of six rials per hundred arpents; those of the second four rials; and those of the third quality, two rials per hundred arpents. And it shall be the duty of the several Alcaldes, each for the division in which he resides, to estimate the quality of the lands subject to taxation within his division, both of residents and non-residents, and to express the quality of each tract, on the return made by him of taxable property, to the commandant of the district, who shall make his return in the same manner to the clerk of the Superior Court. And it shall be the duty of the Alcaldes aforesaid, each for the division in which he resides, to make a return of the landsof non-residents, at the same times, and in the same manner, classing them accordingly to quality, as the lands of the inhabitants of the country.
"By order of the Convention
John Rhea, President".
However, there was another important matter for the Conventionalists to consider: Would they continue as an independent republic or fly to the bosom of the United States, be received by that great republic as one of its own children and as such receive protection? While sentiment in the Baton Rouge jurisdiction was overwhelmingly for annexation to the United States, the proponents of such a move were divided as to the terms upon which it should be brought about. Finally, on October 10, John Rhea attached his signature to a letter sent Secretary of State Robert Smith for transmissal to President Madison; in it he established the contentions of the convention for annexation.
"The Convention of the State of Florida have already transmitted official copy of their act of independence, through His Excellency Governor Holmes, to the President of the United States, accompanied with the expression of their hope and desire that this Commonwealth may be immediately acknowledged and protected by the Government of the United States, as an integral part of the American Union. On a subject so interesting to the community represented by us, it is necessary that we should have the most direct and unequivocal assurances of the views and wishes of the American Government without delay, since our weak and unprotected situation will oblige us to look for some foreign Government for support, should it be refused to us by the country which we have considered as our parent State.
"We therefore make this direct appeal through you to the President and General Government of the American States, to solicit that immediate protection to which we consider ourselves entitled; and, to obtain a speedy and favorable decision, we offer the following considerations:
"1st. — The Government of the United States, in their instructions to the Envoys Extraordinary at Paris in March, 1806, authorized the purchase of West Florida, directing them at the same time to engage France to intercede with the Cabinet of Spain to relinquish any claim to the Territory which now forms this Commonwealth.
2nd. — In all diplomatic correspondence with American ministers abroad, the Government of the United States have spoken of West Florida as a part of the Louisiana cession. They have legislated for the country as part of their own territory, and have deferred to take positionº of it, in expectation that Spain might be induced to relinquish her claim by amicable negotiation.
"3rd. — The American Government has already refused to accredit any minister from the Spanish Junta, which body was certainly more legally organized as the representative of the sovereignty, than that now called the Regency of Spain. Therefore, the United States cannot but regard any force or authority emanating from them, with an intention to subjugate us, as they would an invasion of their territory by a foreign enemy.
"4th. — The Emperor of France has invited Spanish Americans to declare their independence rather than to remain in subjection to the old Spanish Government; therefore, an acknowledgement of our independence by the United States could not be complained of by France, or p123involve the American Government in any contest with that power.
"5th. — Neither can it afford any just cause of complaint to Great Britain, although she be the ally of Spain, that the United States should acknowledge and support our independence, as this measure was necessary to save the country from falling into the hands of the French exiles from the island of Cuba, and other Partisans of Bonaparte, who are now the eternal enemies of Great Britain.
"Should the United States be induced by these, or any other considerations, to acknowledge our claims to their protection as an integral part of their territory, or otherwise, we feel it our duty to claim for our constituents an immediate admission into the Union as an independent State, or as a Territory of the United States, with permission to establish our own form of government, or be united with one of the neighboring Territories, or a part of one of them, in such manner as to form a State. Should it be thought proper to annex us to one of the neighboring Territories or a part of one of them, the inhabitants of the Commonwealth would prefer being annexed to the Island of Orleans; and, in the meanwhile, until a State government should be established, that they should be governed by the ordinances already enacted by this Convention, and by further regulations hereafter.
"The claim which we have to the soil or unlocated lands within this Commonwealth will not, it is presumed, be contested by the United States, as they have tacticallyº acquiesced in the claim of France, or Spain, for seven years; and the restrictions of the several embargo and non-intercourse laws might fairly be construed, if not as a relinquishment of their claim, yet as at least sufficient to entitle the people of this Commonwealth (who have wrested the Government and country from Spain at the risk of their lives and fortunes) to all the unlocated lands. It will strike the American Government that the moneys arising from the sales of these lands, applied as they will be to improving the internal communications of the country, opening canals, etc., will, in fact, be adding to the prosperity and strength of the Federal Union. To fulfill with good faith our promises and engagements to the inhabitants of this country, it will be our duty to stipulate for an unqualified pardon for all deserters now residing within this Commonwealth, together with an exemption from further service in the army or navy of the United States."
The delegates decided, for the present, not to change the frame of the government they had prepared with their set of ordinances with the exception that the Convention as a whole would assume the powers granted to the deposed Governor de Lassus. Anxiously they awaited a response to their appeals to President Madison for annexation to the United States. It was also decided that the present force of five to six hundred armed men was too large to maintain, so they; reduced the force to one hundred and four regular soldiers to keep order at the fort under the command of Captain John Ballinger.
A committee of "Publick Safety" was appointed, John H. Johnson, Edmund Hawes, and John W. Leonard, and given the power to draft a p124new constitution while the rest of the members were in recess. The convention at that time consisted of: from Feliciana, John Rhea, John Hunter Johnson, John Mills and William Barrow; from Baton Rouge, Philip Hicky, Thomas Lilley, John Morgan and Edmund Hawes; from Ste. Helena, John W. Leonard and Joseph Thomas were the only representatives, for Benjamin O. William, evidently getting what is known today as "cold feet", sent the Convention his resignation on Saturday, the eve of the capture of the fort.
However, on the date of their adjournment, October 10, the members of the convention issued an address to the people inhabiting the Mobile and Pensacola district, still held by the Spanish, and first calling attention to the fact that distance had prevented them calling the citizens of this section of West Florida into the common deliberation, announced that they had appointed as commissioners Reuben Kemper and Joseph White "to bring about united action with their brethren" and, although they had not "yet ventured to legislate for these unrepresented districts, the object of the Convention was to secure the liberty and happiness of the people of West Florida." Therefore, it was requested that the citizens of Mobile and Pensacola authorize the Convention to act for them or send their own deputies to join that body. The request ended with the promise of good faith in all measures that would serve the common good.
Reuben Kemper spoiling to get even with the Spanish, for he hated them as much as any man is capable of hatred, immediately repaired to the eastern country along the gulf with the promise that "The Star would rise and shine" with his coming. His mission failed, as has already been related in my "The Story of the Kemper Brothers," and it was not until years later that the section east of Mobile fell under the domination of the United States.
The Convention was not due to go into session until the 24th of October to receive the report of John H. Johnson and his two co-delegates on the progress they had made in preparing a constitution of the new Republic of West Florida. Before the delegates gathered again a number of things happened. The most important was an attempt to release former Governor de Lassus and Shepherd Brown from their confinement in the Baton Rouge fort. The attempt was engineered by Captain David T. W. Cook, who commanded the third regiment from Feliciana.
Said the "Louisiana Gazette" of this frustrated attempt to free de Lassus:
"On the night of the 16th inst. a mutiny was discovered in the fort at Baton Rouge. A newly appointed captain, who calls himself Cook, had it in contemplation to liberate Col. Lassus, and take possession of the fort. The Convention got information of it and ordered down the dragoons from Bayou Sarah, who arrived in time to save the fort. Captain Cook and two of his subaltronsº were cashiered and ordered out of Florida, and everything is now tranquil."
p125 From above the line, where close watch was kept on all transpiring within the new republic, letters were sent to New Orleans to apprise the citizens there of the state of affairs. Below is a typical expression from Pinckneyville, printed in the "Gazette" of October 20th:
"On my return from Baton Rouge I found your letter, and would willingly answer all your interrogations could I possess the facts. In a summary way let me tell you that the people of West Florida have done right in throwing off all allegiance to a Prince that could not give them any relief. The double dealing of Col. Lassus and Shepherd Brown, convinced the members of the Convention they had nothing to depend on from them, on the contrary it is pretty well ascertained that a plan was laying to secretly seize the most influential members of the Convention and carry them off to Pensacola, and perhaps to Havana.
"I have seen and conversed with almost all the best informed men, and they appear to have great confidence in the government of the United States, and I do most sincerely wish they may not be disappointed; but I have many doubts on that subject. The timid, temporizing disposition of our executive, give but little reason to suppose they would risk anything even to protect our own rights; and in this case, to give offense to the great Emperor, would be a serious thing. Could our executive obtain his permission, most probably they would give those people succour.
"The Convention has enlisted two complete companies for six months, who are stationed in the fort at Baton Rouge, and the military are all ordered home."
Others seized their pens, either to lampoon the Spanish defenders, or to extravagantly praise the captors. No more interesting recital of what occurred during those strenuous September and October days was ever set to paper than a parody of Biblical narratives written by one Jonathan Longworth. This young man at the time of the disturbances was teaching school in the house of Thomas Lilley, at the Saints John Plains, and in all probability, was an eyewitness to the deliberations of the original Convention. In a paper dedicated to Philip Hicky, who long owned the original, devoted to the Grand Sanhedrine ["Great Sanhedrin", an ancient Jewish assembly or council of 71 members] the young schoolmaster wrote:
"The Book of the Chronicles of the Grand Sanhedrine of the verdant country bordering on the Great Father of Rivers, to the eastward, and extending even into the Tanchepaho, as thou goest towards the sunrising.
"1. And it came to pass, Charles the Gawlite [Chas. de Hault de Lassus] was Governor of the verdant country, and Stephen, the lawyer [Don Thomas Estevan, commandant at Bayou Sarah], had charge of the fertile land of Sarah, that the people were sorely oppressed for want of upright judges and just judgements.
"2. And they spake, one unto another, in this wise: 'go to, let us assemble together as one man, and enquire from whence this great evil proceedeth,' and they did so.
p126 "3. And the people of the land of Sarah said, let us appoint some of our Elders and fathers of the people to meet the Elders and fathers of our brethren from the South and from the East, at the House of Richard the Albionite [Richard Devall], who dwelleth in the plain country.
"4. So they appointed John [Rhea] the President, John the Hunter, [John Hunter Johnson], John the Millwright [John Mills], and William the Barrowthite [Wm. Barrow], members of the Grand Sanhedrine.
"5. Now, when Philip the Troublesome [Philip A. Gray, an alcalde of the Ste. Helena district] heard of these things, he was filled with indignation, and saddled his horse, and journeyed into the South country to give an account thereof to Charles the Gawlite, if, peradventure, he might prevent the meeting of the Grand Sanhedrine.
"6. But Philip spoke not the words of truth and soberness; he endeavored to influence the wrath of Charles the Gawlite against the Elders and wise men of the land of Sarah — for he was thought to be malicious.
"7. Now, when Charles, the Gawlite, [probably meant for "Gaulite", a native of ancient Gaul, or France], heard these things, he was grieved in spirit, and sent forth George the Bald [Geo. Mather], and Philip the Amiable [Philip Hicky], into the land of Sarah, to enquire and see if these things were so, and bring him word again.
"8. And it came to pass when George the Bald, and Philip the Amiable, came to the land of Sarah, they were smitten with the just complaints of people against Stephen the Lawyer, and his scribe, John the Murdockite [John Murdock], forasmuch as they loved filthy lucre more than justice and just judgement.
"9. Therefore, they returned, and told Charles the Gawlite of those things which they had seen and heard, and he said, 'My bowels dothº yearn with compassion for this people; let the Sanhedrine assemble, and I will assist them in doing justice and establishing sound judgement.' Howbeit, he dissembled unto them.
"10. Then he gave commandment, and the people of the South assembled, and appointed Philip the Amiable, Thomas the Lilly of the Vale, [Thomas Lilley], Manuel the Iberian [Manuel Lopez], Edmund the Hawthite [Edmund Hawes], and John the Morganite [John Morgan], to be members of the Grand Sanhedrine.
"11. Charles the Gawlite, also sent to the Brown Shepherd [Shepherd Brown], to whom he had given command of the country of Helenites, to assemble the people entrusted in his care, that they might appoint deputies to attend the Grand Sanhedrine; but the Shepherd obeyed him not.
"12. Now, the Brown Shepherd was a man of proud and haughty spirit; great in his own conceit, and mighty in his own eyes, fond of filthy lucre, and fearful if justice and sound judgement prevailed, they might extend to his own government, weaken his power, and deprive him of some of the honor and profit he thought due unto himself alone.
"13. He, therefore, sent a writing unto Charles the Gawlite, in this wise: 'The Brown Shepherd unto Charles the Gawlite, greetings, and at such a time. Be it known unto the most noble Charles, that my heart is with thy heart; if what thou hast written unto me be of thy own free will, I will most assuredly obey thee; but if thou hast writ to me in this wise for fear of the people, I will come and assist thee with five hundred men, and compel them to submit unto thee.'
"14. Then Charles the Gawlite, returned him an answer: 'What I have written, I have written.' On which the Brown Shepherd gave commandment to Helenites, and they assembled together, and appointed Joseph the Thomasite [Joseph Thomas], John of Leon [John W. Leonard], William the Spillhite [William Spiller], and Benjamin the Willhite [Benjamin O. Williams] to attend the Grand Sanhedrine.
p127 "15. Now, the Tanchepaholites likewise assembled, by the commandment of Charles the Gawlite, and appointed William the Belialite [William Cooper], their representative in the Sanhedrine. Now, William was a great man among the sons of Belial, and had, for a long time, been a man of renown in evil deeds.
"16. Now, it came to pass, when the Grand Sanhedrine, attended by Andrew the Scribe [Dr. Andrew Steele], and George the Recorder [Geo. Mather], met and conferred together, they found much cause for complaint against the officers which Charles the Gawlite had set over the people; therefore, they removed them, and appointed others to rule the people in their stead.
"17. They also made several new laws and ordinances, for the better government of the people, to all which proceedings Charles the Gawlite gave his assent, and signed his name, but in all these things he dissembled for his heart was full of guile.
"18. Now, when Vincent the Folchite [Gov. Folch of Pensacola], who abided in a stronghold in the East, in the country of the Pensacolians, heard these things, he waxed exceeding wroth, and swore, in his anger, to destroy the whole Sanhedrine; but not having men of war wherewith to accomplish it, he sent to Charles the Gawlite six thousand pieces of silver, to the end that he might have men wherewith to destroy the whole of them together, with their laws and ordinances.
"19. And William the Belialite, and Michael the Thunder [Michael Jones], and the Brown Shepherd, made a league with each other, and gathered unto themselves a host of sons of Belial, and set their faces to oppose the Grand Sanhedrine; they also sent a message to Charles the Gawlite, full of high-sounding words, promising to make the Grand Sanhedrines all captives, and deliver them bound into his hands, for such and such a portion of the six thousand pieces of silver.
"20. But when the Grand Sanhedrine discovered the malice of their enemies, and the great evil against them, they gave the commandment unto Philemon, the chief captain of their host [Philemon Thomas], gathered together a few lion-like men, and traveled all that night. A little before the dawn of day, they came to the stronghold on the back of the Father of the Rivers, where Charles the Gawlite lay entrenched with his men, thinking himself secure.
"21. Then Philemon, the chief captain, together with the captains and men of war that were with him, broke into the stronghold, and took Charles the Gawlite, with a number of his men, captives; of the residue, some they slew, some they wounded, and the rest escaped by flight."
It was the 24th of October before the members of the Convention again gathered a report from Johnson, Hawes and Leonard, who had been instructed to draw up the new constitution. The result of their labors was one frankly based upon that of the United States which was to go into force the following month.º The convention thereupon appointed an executive committee of five consisting of John H. Johnson, John Mills, William Barrow, from Feliciana, and Philip Hicky and John Morgan of Baton Rouge to conduct the affairs of the new nation, for no news was forthcoming from Washington in reply to their plea to Jimmy Madison that the United States adopt them.
The new steering committee selected St. Francisville as the seat of government and from this capital issued orders. Captain John Ballinger was ordered to keep safe all "state prisoners", maintain strict p128discipline amongst the 115 soldiers guarding the fort, and was cautioned to be on guard against any surprise attack. He was instructed to salute all American gunboats passing up and down the Mississippi, but at the same time to transfer six pieces of artillery, 200 muskets, and necessary munitions to the new capital city.
On October 26 the Convention issued another declaration of independence, and on the following day adopted a constitution. It provided for a "governor" to be elected by a general assembly biennially, and the government of the republic to be divided into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. The legislature to consist of a senate and house of representatives, with the representatives seem to be chosen annually; and the senators, triennially. The new state was divided into five districts — "Baton Rouge, New Feliciana, St. Helena, St. Ferdinand, and Mobile." Each district was entitled to one senator and three representatives, with the exception of Feliciana, which was allowed a single senator and four representatives. Said the proclamation: "The first general assembly shall meet at St. Francisville on the third Monday of November next, and shall choose a governor on the second day after a quorum of both houses shall be formed."
On the tenth day of November Feliciana made its selection and designated John Rhea as senator, and selected John H. Johnson, William Barrow, Llewellyn C. Griffith, and John Scott the representatives.
On the 12th of November orders were given General Thomas to organize a force of 618 militia to perform service in any part of the territory and to proceed, when ready, to capture Mobile and hoist the Lone Star over that gulf port. That accomplished, Thomas and his army were to reduce Pensacola. Not all of the delegates were favorable to this campaign along the gulf, they preferred to await the action of President Madison upon their request for annexation to the United States.
On the day set, Monday, November 19, the infant government met in the new state capital. The senators and delegates were faced with a new situation, for on that very day word came from Natchez that the United States was about to take action: "We understand from a source that may be relied upon, that orders have been received by the commanding officer at the Cantonment Washington, near this place, Natchez, to hold the army in readiness to march at a moment's warning. The order, we learn, enters into such details, as to indicate a speedy movement", read the New Orleans "Gazette's" story.
When met, the senators made John W. Leonard president pro tempore of the upper house, while Dudley L. Avery was selected as speaker of the House of Representatives, these two evidently the selection of the Baton Rouge and Ste. Helena districts. On the following day, the 20th, Fulwar Skipwith was elected by the whole assembly as "governor of the State."
Philemon Thomas was placed in command of the army; C. M. Audibert, Samuel Baldwin, and John Mills were appointed navy agents; a p129committee of safety, with John H. Johnson, as chairman, was also designated, and an expedition of 400 effective men, to join forces with the regular forces of the state, under the command of Colonel William Kirkland, was ordered to reduce the forts at Mobile and Pensacola.
Fulwar Skipwith, who maintained his elevation to supreme command was not of his seeking, said that he supported the West Florida declaration of independence from principle and because he believed that this was the best way to turn the captured province over to the United States. He accepted the governorship, not from vanity, but because he hoped with the aid of the others in the movement to avoid anarchy and confusion until annexation could be consummated. In his inaugural address Skipwith advised the legislative assembly to adopt a better judicial system, an improved militia establishment, a more just system of representation, and apportionment of taxes. He told the members of the legislature they had a natural right to independence, and gave it as his belief that neither gain nor the implied promise of protection had led them to take the momentous step they had taken.
"Whenever the voice of justice and humanity can be heard, our declaration and our just rights will be respected. But the blood that flows in our veins like the tributary streams which form and sustain the Father of Rivers encircling our delightful country will return, if not impeded, to the heart of our parent country. The genius of Washington, the immortal founder of the liberties of America, stimulates that return, and would frown upon our cause should we attempt to change its course."
During the first weeks of his government, Skipwith personally directed the preparations for the dispatch of the patriot force to wrest the remainder of West Florida from the Dons. There was great excitement prevailing at Saint Francisville and Baton Rouge as volunteers were recruited and marched away to join the regular forces to be assembled at John Stuart's plantation preparatory to going overland to raise the Lone Star over the fortifications along the gulf.
To understand the spirit that animated these "sons of liberty" one needs only listen to the song they sang as they marched away from Baton Rouge, leaving Lieutenant Charles Grandpré Johnson, (brother of John, Isaac, and Joseph) in charge of the fort with a garrison of twenty-five men.
The song that the patriotic gun-toters sang carried a French title and, in consequence, the pronunciation of "Vive la" should be given as "Vive-a‑lay" to fit the meter and rime correctly. Now, you sing the stirring march-tune:
West Floriday was once invaded.
Gen'ral Thomas set it free.
With powder an' ball he skeered 'em all,
When he planted the flag of liberty.
Vive la the new convention.
Vive la the rights of man.
Vive la West Floriday.
The new convention is the plan.
Michael Jones, that damn'd old tory
Unto our gen'ral thus did say —
Gen'ral Thomas I respect you
And with your troops I'd like to stay.
Lissenº to our answer —
We all know how black's your heart.
We all know you are a traitor.
Mount your horse and do depart.
Shepherd Brown, that great commander,
Thought to fright our troops away.
But he turned his face to the cypress swamp
When he heard the shouts of Vive la.
Houra, brave boys don't make wry faces
The Tickfaw boys they all have fled.
Colonel Kimball made them tremble
And he sheathed his sword in a tory's bed.
West Floriday, that lovely nation,
Free from king and tyranny,
Thru' the world shall be respected
For her true love of Liberty.
We can drink and not get drunk.
We can fight and not be slain.
We can go to Pensacola
And can be welcomed back again.
But the West Floridian army was not destined to come to grips with the Spanish soldiers along the gulf. In Washington, with Governor Claiborne at his very elbow, President James Madison at last was prepared to act. Dispatch riders flying over the Natchez trace had carried word to him of the coup of the Feliciana patriots, the fall of the fort at Baton Rouge, and the copies of the acts of the Convention and their ringing declarations of independence. Jimmy Madison determined not to await the action of Congress and lay the matter before that body, because five weeks must intervene before the nation's lawmakers would go into session. He determined to act at once to prevent foreign intervention as well as to maintain order.
Therefore, on October 27, while the Floridians were still wrestling with their plans for self-government, Madison issued his proclamation p131declaring that West Florida formed a part of the Louisiana Purchase! After a wait of seven long years, the United States had tardily claimed its own!
The president ordered Governor Claiborne to return forthwith to the scene of action, take possession of West Florida, invite the people to respect him, obey the laws of the United States, and to preserve order. To do the latter Claiborne would have the backing of the United States army.
Another new day was about to dawn for Feliciana and the rest of the West Florida.
a The poem is a sonnet missing a first stanza, with a standard rhyme scheme — (abba) abba ccd ede — slightly faulty in one minor respect (rhyme e the same as rhyme a) and in another, more serious: the third line has eleven syllables and thus doesn't scan. I've corrected the slight typos, surely due to a typesetter with no French, and added some missing accents.
The translation is even more seriously defective: the first line refers to the convention troops, not to Grand Pré (forms of vous relate to a plural, forms of tu to a singular); que in the fifth line was misunderstood by Arthur. Corrected,
"A single death dims your victory, mingling with it a pain most deserved [a very awkward phrasing in the original: the idea is that the people who killed him feel bad about it, and deserve to]: Louis de Grand Pré, guided by his valor, bent over with wounds, falls covered with glory. Young hero, how your splendid devotion casts lustre on your last moment! For all the regrets proffered to your memory one cannot but envy your death; a model of honor, you will live in history between Jumonville and d'Assas."
Joseph Coulon de Jumonville was a French officer killed by British troops under George Washington in 1754: his death was one of the proximate causes of the French and Indian War. Nicolas-Louis d'Assas was killed by the British in that same war, in 1760: the received version is that suddenly surrounded by enemy scouts he was ordered to keep quiet else he would be killed — whereupon he is reported to have shouted to his troops that the enemy was there: he was bayoneted to death.
Images with borders lead to more information.
S. C. Arthur:
West Florida Rebellion
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 11 Sep 10