These headings of the author's are used here as local links to text on this webpage.
Bienville appointed Governor of Louisiana for the second time, in the place of L'Epinay — Foundation of New Orleans — Expedition of St. Denis, Beaulieu, and others to Mexico — Adventures of St. Denis — Land Concessions — Slave-trade — Taking of Pensacola by the French — The Spaniards retake it, and besiege Dauphine Island — Pensacola again taken by the French — Situation of the Country as described by Bienville — The Chevalier des Grieux and Manon Lescaut — Changes in the Organization of the Judiciary — Edict in Relation to Commerce — Adventures of the Princess Charlotte of Brunswick, of Belle isle, and others — Seat of Government transferred to New Orleans — Miscellaneous Facts and Events from 1718 to 1722.
In the last lecture, we examined the effects produced in France by the creation of the Mississippi Company, and by the operations of Law's gigantic system of finances. Let us now proceed to ascertain what influence they had on the prosperity and destinies of Louisiana, and to record the series of events accompanying the colonization of the country.
I have already said that Law, who was the director-general of the Royal Bank of France, was also appointed director-general of the Mississippi Company. The other directors were, D'Artaguette, receiver-general of the finances of Auch; Duché, receiver-general of the finances of La Rochelle; Moreau, deputy representative of the merchants of St. Malo; Piou, also the commercial representative and deputy of Nantes; Castaignes and Mouchard, merchants of La Rochelle.
The company, being thus organized, sent three vessels to Louisiana, with three companies of infantry and sixty-nine colonists, who landed on the 9th of March, 1718, p234 and who, by their presence and the information they brought, revived the hope of better days. The office of Governor of Louisiana was definitively, and for the second time, granted to Bienville, as successor to L'Epinay, who exercised his powers only for a few months, during which he made himself very unpopular, by prohibiting the sale of spirituous liquors to the Indians. The humanity of this provision did not seem to strike the colonists as forcibly as their ruler, and failed to outweigh other considerations. They complained of the want of policy displayed in that ordinance, and they represented, no doubt with truth, that the selling of French brandy was the most profitable article of commerce which they could command, and their most powerful source of influence over the Indian nations. It was, therefore, with great satisfaction, that the colonists learned the nomination of Bienville. Besides, he had passed nineteen years in the colony, of which he was one of the founders: and familiar with all its resources and wants, he had endeared himself to all the inhabitants, every one of whom he knew personally.
The first act of Bienville's new administration was an important one. It was to select the most favorable place on the banks of the Mississippi for the location of the principal establishment of the colony. He chose the spot where now stands the city of New Orleans, and he there left a detachment of fifty men to prepare the ground and erect barracks or sheds. The geography of the country shows it to have been the most judicious choice, and the present importance of New Orleans testifies to the sagacity of Bienville. In so doing, he showed not only foresight and perspicacity, but also great firmness and independence: because he dared to act against the predilections of his government, which had a strong leaning for Manchac, where a natural communication p235 was open with the lakes through bayou Manchac and the river Amite.
The space now occupied by New Orleans was then entirely covered with one of those primitive forests with which we are so familiar. Owing to the annual inundations of the river, it was swampy and marshy, and cut up with a thousand small ravines, ruts, and pools of stagnant waters when the river was low. The site was not inviting to the physical eye, but Bienville looked at it with the mind's vision. His intellect hovered over the whole country, from his native valleys of Canada, down the Mississippi, in the footsteps of La Salle, through those boundless regions whose commercial emporium he foresaw that New Orleans was destined to be. Were I a painter, I would delight in delineating and fixing on living canvas the scene which my imagination conjures up.
Bienville had arrived with his sturdy companions on the preceding evening; and now the sun is peeping through his eastern curtains, and flings a glow of radiancy over the dawning beauty of the morning landscape. In obedience to the command received, fifty axes have, in concert, struck fifty gigantic sons of the forest. With folded arms and abstracted look, Bienville stands on the bank of the river, and seems, from the expression of his face, to be wrapped up in the contemplation of some soul-stirring fancies. Perhaps he had glimpses of the rapid growth of the city of his creation, and was blessed with the revealed prospect of its future grandeur. Far aloft, above his head, the American eagle might have been observed towering with repeated gyrations, and uttering loud shrieks which sounded like tones of command. Of the Indian race only one representative was there. It was an old sibyl-looking woman, who had the wild glance of insanity p236 or of divination; and with the solemn gesticulations of prophetic inspiration, she kept singing an uncouth sort of chant, in which she said that the time of which she had been warned by the Great Spirit had come at last: that her death-hour was approaching, which was to be on the day when white men were to take possession of the spot where she had dwelt during a hundred summers and winters, and when they would cut down the oak, under the shade of which she had indulged so long her solitary musings. "The Spirit tells me," so she sang, "that the time will come, when between the river and the lake there will be as many dwellings for the white man as there are trees standing now. The haunts of the red man are doomed, and faint recollections and traditions concerning the very existence of his race will float dimly over the memory of his successors, as unsubstantial, as vague and obscure as the mist which shrouds, on a winter morning, the bed of the father of rivers."
I said before, that, on the return of St. Denis to Mobile, in 1716, after his adventures in Mexico, a vain attempt had been made by Crozat to open commercial relations with the Spanish provinces of North America, and that he had dispatched, with that object in view, three Canadians named Deléry, Lafrénière, and Beaulieu. They were hardly on their way to accomplish their mission, when they were joined by the indefatigable and persevering St. Denis. At Natchitochesº they procured mules and horses, and with them continued their march onward. When they reached the first village of the Assinais, where it became necessary for them to rest awhile, and to lay in a stock of provisions, St. Denis, who, it will be remembered, had lately left his wife at the Presidio del Norte shortly after his marriage, and who had reluctantly torn himself from her p237 embraces to discharge the duty of rendering to the French governor at Mobile an account of his expedition, could not brook any further delay, and leaving abruptly his traveling companions, continued to move forward with a small retinue of followers, but with a considerable number of bales of merchandise. The gallant knight, the lately appointed captain in the French army, had assumed the garb and the occupation of a merchant, and thought himself fully adequate to the fulfillment of the duties incumbent on such a combination of characters.
When Beaulieu, Deléry, and Lafrénière arrived at the Presidio, they were informed of the seizure of the goods and merchandise of St. Denis by the Spanish authorities, and of his departure for Mexico in the hope of obtaining the restoration of his property. Dismayed at such a piece of intelligence, and afraid of the seizure of their own goods, they intrusted them for safe keeping to some monks who did not scruple to turn an honest penny by granting their protection to the helpless, and they at last succeeded in selling on credit every thing they had on hand to certain merchants of Bocca de Leon. They were patiently waiting for payment, when they heard the unwelcome news that St. Denis had been imprisoned at Mexico. Deléry, Beaulieu, and Lafrénière no longer thought of securing the payment of the money to which they were entitled, but of saving their persons from the tender mercies of a Spanish jailer. Carrying away paper recognizances and bonds which were never paid, they departed with the utmost precipitation, and had the good luck to arrive in safety at Mobile in 1718, after an absence of nearly two years, and after having encountered all the fatigues and accidents of a long and perilous journey.
Let us now accompany St. Denis to Mexico. He is p238 one of those men whom it is pleasant for the historian to keep in sight. Unfortunately for him, when he entered the gates of that city, he had no longer to deal with the Duke of Linares, who had treated him formerly with such extraordinary kindness. The successor of the duke was the Marquis of Valero, whose dispositions did not prove to be so favorable. For some time, however, St. Denis entertained the hope that he would obtain an order setting aside the seizure of his goods. But it so happened that he had traversed the province of Texas without presenting his respects to the governor, Don Martin de Alacorne, and without endeavoring to propitiate his favor. This Spanish functionary, who was very punctilious in all matters of etiquette, construed St. Denis' haste, forgetfulness, or want of ceremony into a slight on his dignity and authority; and drawing the inference that a man so deficient in manners and knightly courtesy could not be but some low-born desperado, he wrote to his government that St. Denis was a suspicious character, fraught with hostile and dangerous designs. This was enough to awaken the jealous susceptibilities of the viceroy, when the settled policy of Spain, as it is well known, was so averse to the introduction of strangers into her colonies. Don Martin's denunciation was believed, and St. Denis was thrown into prison. There he pined for a whole month, but his friends and his wife's relations were active on his behalf, and not only was he released, but he obtained possession of his goods, which were sold very advantageously. They were not only sold, but paid for. This was sunshine at last, but a cloud intervened in the shape of a roguish agent who received the money, and who, thinking it convenient to keep for his own uses what belonged to another, absconded to unknown parts.
p239 St. Denis was a gentleman by birth, a soldier by profession, and a merchant by accident, otherwise he would have been more used to such untoward events, and he would have been less indignant at the gentle, easy, soft and ordinary process of fattening one's purse at the expense of another's. But, exasperated by the series of mishaps which had befallen him, he gave loud vent to his complaints of Spanish treachery and tyranny, and had the imprudence to boast of the desolation he could bring on the frontier provinces of Mexico, if he chose to use the influence he had acquired on the Indians of those regions. The threats of St. Denis were not disregarded, and the government ordered him to be arrested. Fortunately he was advised in time of what was coming, and the numerous relatives of his wife remaining true to him, he was supplied with the means of escape. His flight from Mexico to the Presidio del Norte, with his infinite disguises, his countless adventures, his romantic concealments, his turnings and windings from his pursuers, through the endless length of so many hundred miles of a wild and almost impervious country, would furnish a prolific subject to any driver of the quill who might be in quest of materials. Suffice it for me to say, that leaving the Presidio with his wife, he reached Mobile in safety, and rendered to the company his accounts of the second expedition which he had undertaken under Crozat.
The only benefit which France derived from these daring attempts consisted in the acquisition of correct information concerning the Spanish settlements which existed in the neighborhood of Louisiana. No commonplace man was he who, in those days, could journey twice from Mobile to Mexico, and come back through the same avenue of besetting dangers of every description. He must have been gifted with a singular combination p240 of physical, moral, and intellectual energies. A strong mind endowed with persevering volition, sinews that could command any fatigue, a constitution unconquerable by disease, a heart ignorant of fear — such were the elements of the organization of St. Denis, who was one of the most remarkable characters of the early history of Louisiana. On his last return from Mexico, he remained ever after in Louisiana, where he became the founder of one of our most respectable families.
Crozat had made vain efforts to trade with the Mexican provinces, and to discover gold and silver mines. The company wisely abstained, for the moment, from committing the same error, and turned its attention to matters which promised better results. It was evident that the monopoly of commerce which had been granted to the company, with a province of an immense extent, it is true, but which had hardly any other inhabitants than Indian tribes, could not, after all, be very profitable; because it is impossible that commerce, whose very breath of life requires the two opposite and equiponderant lungs of exportation and importation, should exist on a large scale, where the wants of civilization are not felt. Agriculture, therefore, was one of the first things to be encouraged in the colony; and the company thought that the most effectual mode of producing such a result, was to make large concessions of lands to some of the most wealthy and most powerful personages of the kingdom. Thus, a concession of •twelve square miles on Arkansas River, was granted to Law, who, as we have seen, was at that time growing daily upon the favor of the Regent. There were other grants on Yazoo River to a private company, composed of Le Blanc, Secretary of State, the Count de Belleville, the Marquis d'Auleck, and of Le Blond, who, at a later p241 period, came to Louisiana as commander-in‑chief of the engineers of the province. Near Natchez, the company made concession to Hubert, the king's commissary, or commissaire ordonnateur, and to a company of merchants of St. Malo; at Natchitoches on Red River, to Bernard de la Harpe;a at Tunicas, to St. Reine; at Pointe Coupée, to de Meuse. The spot where the town of Baton Rouge is now situated, was conceded to Diron d'Artaguette; that part of the right bank of the Mississippi which is opposite Bayou Manchac, to Paris Duvernay; the Tchoupitoulas lands to de Muys; the Oumas, to the Marquis d'Ancenis; the Cannes Brûlées, or Burnt Canes, to the Marquis d'Artagnac; the opposite bank of the river to de Guiche, de La Houssaye and de La Houpe; the bay of St. Louis, to Mme. de Mézières, and Pascagoulas Bay to Mme. de Chaumont.
It had been stipulated between the company and Law, that he should settle a colony of fifteen hundred Germans on the lands which had been granted to him, and that he should keep up, at his own expense, a body of infantry and cavalry sufficient to protect that infant colony against the Indians. The condition of all the other grants of lands was also that the grantees should, within a fixed time, colonize these lands with a certain number of emigrants, in proportion to the extent of the grants. This experiment proved abortive in most cases; many of the landholders whom I have named, occupied such a high position in France, that they had no inducement to emigrate, and they contented themselves with sending some scores of destitute peasants to improve their new estates in America. The climate soon swept most of them into early graves, and the rest, not being placed under the immediate supervision of their patrons, who had remained abroad, and whose agents generally turned out to be unfaithful, careless or incapable, became p242 discouraged, and abandoned themselves to habits of idleness and dissipation.
As it was impossible, however, to promote agriculture without hands to cultivate the soil, the company was driven into the necessity of turning its attention to the slave-trade, and to rely chiefly upon its supplies to do all the field-work in Louisiana. It was represented that slave labor would be cheaper than free labor, and would be within the command of the company on easier terms. The profits of the trade itself were a matter of no trifling consideration. Vessels were, therefore, sent to Africa, and from Africa to Louisiana, with their black cargoes. According to rules established by the company, slaves were to be sold to the old inhabitants (so were called those who had been two years in the colony), on these terms: one half cash, and the balance on one year's credit. The new inhabitants (that is, those who had been less than two years in the colony) had one and two years' credit granted to them.
In the month of June, 1718, colonists, convicts and troops, in all eight hundred souls, arrived in three vessels. By the order of the company, the colonists were distributed in the following manner: 148 at Natchitoches, under the command of De Laire, Bernard de la Harpe and Brossard; on the Yazoo lands, Mess. Scouvion de la Houssaye and their followers, numbering 82. The balance, amounting to 68, were settled at New Orleans.
From a communication addressed to the company by Bienville, on the 25th of September, it is to be inferred that he was not very well satisfied with the qualifications of all the colonists who had been transported to Louisiana. "There are among them," says he, "very few carpenters and plowmen. The consequence is, that mechanics and journeymen exact wages of ten and fifteen livres a day. This is what retards our improvements, p243 and is a source of enormous expense to the company."
Thus closed the year 1718, without any thing else worth recording. In the month of April, 1719, two ships of the company arrived from France, and brought the exciting news that war had broke out between France and Spain. At the same time, Bienville received from the company a dispatch, by which he was advised to avail himself of the opportunity which that war offered, to take possession of Pensacola.
Bienville acted on this occasion with commendable rapidity. He had received the authorization, on the 20th of April, to attack Pensacola, and all his preparations were completed in a few days. On the 13th of May, his brother, Serigny, who was employed by the French government in making a survey of the coasts of Louisiana, embarked with one hundred and fifty soldiers, on board the Philippe, the Comte de Toulouse, and the Maréchal de Villars, commanded by M. Méchin and the Chevalier des Grieux, and set sail from Dauphine Island. Bienville, on the same day, followed in a sloop with eighty men. On the 14th, they were before Pensacola, when at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the Spanish governor surrendered, without having attempted any defense. The command of Pensacola was given to Chateaugué, a brother of Bienville. In conformity with the capitulation, in which it was stipulated that the garrison should be sent to the nearest Spanish fort, the Spaniards embarked in the Comte de Toulouse and the Maréchal de Villars, to be transported to Havana.
Bienville, who had left Pensacola under the command of Chateaugué, felt great uneasiness, produced by his apprehensions of not being able to retain his conquest. What had been so easily acquired might be as easily lost. Pensacola was but slenderly fortified; — p244 the French who composed the garrison were but few in number, and not very select men. It was evident that an overpowering force might be sent from Havana, before any means could be taken by the company to secure its new acquisition. The fears of Bienville were soon realized, and Pensacola only remained about two months in the hands of the French. When the two French vessels, the Comte de Toulouse and the Maréchal de Villars, entered the port of Havana, with the garrison of Pensacola, the captain-general of the island of Cuba, disregarding the articles of the capitulation, and little heeding the laws of nations, made himself guilty of a breach of faith, and took possession of the Comte de Toulouse and the Maréchal de Villars. He put on board Spanish soldiers and equipages, and sent them back to retake Pensacola, with three ships of the line, nine brigantines, and landing forces amounting to eighteen hundred men.
The Spanish fleet hove in sight of Pensacola on the 6th of August, and the landing took place the next day, — of the two French vessels which were in port, one was burned, and the other captured. Fifty French soldiers deserted immediately to join the Spaniards, and informed them that the rest of their companions were ready to deliver up the forts. Elated by this intelligence, the Spaniards summoned Chateaugué to surrender. The French commander, discovering that he was abandoned by his troops, capitulated on condition that he should come out of Pensacola with the honors of war, and be transported to old Spain with the French garrison. Immediately after the surrender of Pensacola, the commander of the Spanish fleet put a heavy force on board of three brigantines, and sent them to take possession of Dauphine Island, and of the French vessel, the Philippe, which was anchored there. p245 Serigny was in command of Dauphine Island, and on his being summoned to yield to the superior forces that would attack him, he answered in the negative, and added that he had prepared a warm reception for the visitors, when they should think proper to come.
As soon as it was night, two of the brigantines entered the bay of Mobile, and stopping half-way between Mobile and Dauphine Island, landed thirty-five men to plunder and to burn certain establishments there existing. The owner of these premises was asleep, and little dreamed of the danger which was at his doors. Suddenly, the invaders, confident of success, and secure of their coveted booty, uttered three cheers, and rushed forward, intent on their meditated work of destruction. But what was their dismay, when they were answered with the unexpected and terrific war-whoop of Indians! Before they could recover from their surprise, they were assailed by sixty Indians and some Frenchmen, who, by the order of Bienville, were marching to the relief of Serigny, the commander of Dauphine Island. They had arrived at the midway house, between Mobile and Dauphine Island, just in time to save it from ruin. Five of the enemy were killed and scalped by the Indians; six were drowned in attempting to gain their boats, and eighteen were made prisoners: only six escaped to carry away the melancholy tale of that night's disaster. Several of the French deserters were among the prisoners, and but short shrift was allowed them. As there was no hangman at hand, they were shot.
Two days after this event, the whole Spanish fleet appeared before Dauphine Island, which was defended only by one hundred and sixty Frenchmen and two hundred Indians, under the command of Serigny. Of the 160 Frenchmen, 80 were soldiers, and no more to p246 be relied on than those who had deserted from Pensacola. Serigny had ordered the French ship, the Philippe, to anchor within pistol-shot of the shore, and her fire was supported by a powerful barbet battery constructed on the island. These means of defense appeared so formidable, that the Spaniards dared not come to a close attack, but keeping out of the reach of the French projectiles, amused themselves, during fourteen days, with a vain and empty cannonading. Although they did not venture to bear down direct upon the village itself, which was so well fortified, they made more than one attempt to land on several other parts of the island; but they were met and foiled at every point. In these several attempts at landing, their losses proved to be very great. Disheartened by these repeated failures, the Spaniards abandoned the siege of Dauphine Island on the 26th of August, and returned to Pensacola. Considering the disparity of forces, the defense of Dauphine Island by Serigny was a very gallant deed.
The Spanish sails had hardly vanished from the horizon of Dauphine Island, when three French ships of the line, under the command of the Comte de Champmeslin, with two vessels of the company, which they had convoyed across the Atlantic, loomed in sight on the 1st of September. This apparition put to flight two Spanish brigantines which had been left to cut off communication between Dauphine Island and Mobile. Bienville and Serigny his brother went on board of the admiral's ship as soon as they could, and at their request a council of war was immediately convened, in which it was determined to attack the two forts of Pensacola, and the Spanish fleet which was in the bay. On the 14th, half of the cargoes being discharged, the ships having taken in a new supply of provisions, water, p247 and wood, and Bienville having had time to gather, equip, and organize a small army of Indians, the expedition departed for Pensacola. Two hundred and fifty soldiers had been embarked on board of the ships, and Bienville went in boats to Perdido River, with such regulars and volunteers as he could bring together. There he found, agreeably to his instructions, five hundred Indians, headed by M. de La Longueville. Without loss of time, he proceeded to invest what was called the Great Fort, situated on the main land, so as effectually to prevent all ingress or egress. On the 17th, M. de Champmeslin entered the bay, and attacked the Small Fort, which was on the point of the island of St. Rose, and the four ships and five brigantines which were anchored under the protection of the land fortifications. The fort and the fleet surrendered after a severe fight which lasted two hours. The larger fort, which was besieged by Bienville, no longer thought of further resistance, and opened its gates to the French, who made fifteen hundred prisoners. "The Indians," says Bienville in his dispatch, "were frightened at the number of the forts they had dared to encounter and had contributed to conquer, and could hardly believe the evidence of their own senses. It is clear that they are vividly impressed with the conviction of the irresistible power of our arms and of French valor." The fact is, that it was a glorious victory which elated the whole colony, and for many years what was called the Pensacola war, remained a favorite topic of conversation, and a subject of proud recollection which furnished the theme of more than one tale of valor and military achievements.
On board of the captured Spanish ships thirty-five of the French deserters from Pensacola were found. On their being tried, twelve were sentenced to be p248 hung, and the rest to work for life on the galleys of France.
Bienville availed himself of this opportunity to complain, with great force and truth, of the materials which were put at his disposal to colonize Louisiana. "The Council of State," says he, "will permit me to represent that it is exceedingly painful for an officer, who is intrusted with the destinies of a colony, to have nothing better to defend her than a band of deserters, of smugglers, and of rogues, who are ever ready, not only to abandon their flag, but to turn their arms against their country. Are not most of the people I receive here sent by force? What attachment can they conceive for a colony which they look upon in the light of a prison, and which they can not leave at will? Can it be imagined that they will not use every effort to escape from a position which is odious to them? And is it not known that they can do so with great facility in a country so open as this, and when they can so readily find refuge with the Spaniards or the English? It seems to me absolutely necessary, if it be wished to preserve this colony to the king, to send to it none but those who are willing, and to make life here more attractive than it is for the present. In the first place, in order to accomplish this object, I would recommend to transport here a sufficient number of cattle to supply the colony with fresh meat, and then to transmit provisions of every kind with more regularity and in greater quantity than for the past. If not, the people here will continue to be exceedingly miserable. It must also be taken into consideration that the population and the military forces are so scattered, that in a case of sudden emergency, I have to rely, as means of defense, only on the Indian nations. For the present, I am even deprived of this resource on account of the want of provisions and merchandise p249 to secure their support. But, backed by them, we could resist all the efforts of the Spaniards, although they could act powerfully against us, on account of the proximity of Havana and Vera Cruz. It is to be feared, however, that by cruising with large vessels on our coast, they may cut off our supplies from France. We know this to be their intention, from what we have learned from the French deserters we have retaken. In that case, it would be impossible to preserve the colony."
Thus ended the second expedition against Pensacola. De Lisle, one of the lieutenants of the ships of the line, was put by the French admiral in command of the place, somewhat to the mortification of Bienville, who thought that the disposal of this appointment ought to have been left to him as governor of the colony.
I have spoken of the Chevalier de Grieux or des Grieux, who commanded the Maréchal de Villars in the first expedition against Pensacola. Perhaps he was connected by blood as well as by name with the hero of a beautiful novel well known in the literary world, under the title of Manon Lescaut, and written by an abbé of the name of Prevost. Manon Lescaut was one of those frail creatures who, in such capitals as Paris and London, run a sinful career of alternate splendor and misery. She had become celebrated by the duels and ruinous extravagances of those who had worshiped at her shrine, and who, to use the expression of Demosthenes, had "purchased repentance too dear."
"Ah, vice! how soft are thy voluptuous ways!
While boyish blood is mantling, who can 'scape
The fascination of thy magic gaze!
A cherub hydra round us dost thou gape,
And mold to every taste thy dear delusive shape."
p250 Spite, jealousy, revenge, or the desire of protecting youthful inexperience against Manon's fascinations, designated her to the arbitrary hand of power, and she was seized by those agents of the government who were recruiting for the colonization of Louisiana. Torn from the lascivious chambers of luxury, she was thrown into a common cart with a promiscuous company of female wretches, and hurried to a seaport. All the way from Paris to Havre, a young man of distinguished birth, but forgetful of what was due to himself, to his family, and to society, followed on foot the vehicle which contained the being whom he loved with that intensity of feeling which produces madness. To have stolen interviews with his mistress, he had given all the money and all the trinkets he had in his possession to the ruthless soldiery who composed her escort. When he had nothing left him with which he could hope to soften the obduracy of the guards, he attempted to touch them by making passionate appeals to what latent sensibility might remain in their breast. He bore patiently with their cruel rebukes and coarse gibes; his meek despair might have disarmed hatred itself. Pale and haggard, this effeminate-looking child of wealth and aristocracy tottered along on the muddy roads, keeping pace with closely-muffled vehicle which carried away the object of his affection. The frenzy of love sustained him against fatigues, hardships, and contumelies to which he was unused. The soul had absorbed the body and magnetized it into a state of feverish somnambulism. Physical wants became unknown to him, or were not attended to. In that journey, how he appeased hunger and thirst, and tasted of the sweets of sleep, none saw or knew. He seemed to be unconscious of the cold rains of winter which poured down upon his head, or of the snow which stiffened his garments. p251 All the pitiless elements of an inclement atmosphere pelted him as if in derision, and he heeded them not!
At last, he arrived at Havre, and on his offering to embark as a colonist, his proposition was accepted. On board of a ship, on the broad bosom of the ocean, he found himself reunited to his mistress. Alas! that guilty love should know such transports! What cared des Grieux for the roaring of the winds, for the gathering fury of the waves, and for the black wrath of the coming storm! What cared he for the lurid obscurity of the tempestuous night! Sunshine, the sunshine of paradise, was in his soul. The deep anguish of a mother, the malediction of a father, the blasted hopes of a noble and useful career, — all was forgotten in the bliss of the hour. That bliss, whatever it was, whether perfect in its ecstasy, or whether disturbed by the stings of conscience, whether "it brought with it airs from heaven, or blasts from hell," was not of long duration. Soon after her arrival at New Orleans, Manon Lescaut died a repentant Magdalen, and with her dying breath recommended to des Grieux to return to the path of virtue from which she had induced him to stray but too long. With his own hands, des Grieux dug the grave to which he consigned the body of Manon, and then, with a lock of her hair forever to be worn on his breast, and with her memory indelibly impressed on his soul, he departed for France,
"In helpless — hopeless — brokenness of heart."
But let us turn from the field of sentiment to a dryer one, where the facts to be collected by the historian, although no doubt more deserving of record, are of a less captivating nature: and let us not lose sight of the details of the administration of affairs in Louisiana.
The directors having called the attention of the government p252 to the changes which new circumstances required in the organization of the colony, the Superior Council of the province was modified by a royal edict promulgated in the month of September, 1719. It was decreed that the new council should be composed ex officio of such directors of the company as might happen to be in the colony, of the governor, the two "Lieutenants de Roi," or lieutenant-governors, the king's attorney-general, and four other persons. In all civil suits, the quorum was fixed at three, and at five in criminal affairs. In case no quorum could be formed, on account of absence or disease, the members present could complete the number required, out of the ranks of the most respectable persons of the colony. In judicial matters, the jurisdiction of the council was to be only an appellate one, and it was bound to meet at least once in every month. Formerly, the Superior Council had been the only tribunal in the country, and had been clothed with original jurisdiction: but population having increased considerably, it was found necessary to establish inferior courts, and to appoint as judges the directors of the company, or their agents in the several localities where they might reside. Every one of them, with two of the chief men of the vicinage, might take cognizance of any civil affair, and also of criminal matters, with the assistance of four inhabitants having the qualifications required to sit in civil affairs. From their judgment there lay an appeal to the Superior Council. It is to be remarked that, by a special and a very liberal disposition of the royal edict, justice was to be administered without costs to the parties.
The first Superior Council, as formed in conformity with this edict, was composed of Bienville, as governor, of Boisbriant and Chateaugué, as lieutenant-governors, or lieutenants de roi, of Hubert, the king's commissary, p253 or commissaire ordonnateur, who was appointed senior member of the council, and as such with priority of rank over his puisne colleagues: the other members were L'Archambault, Villardo and Legas, agents of the company, and the king's attorney-general, Cartier de Baune. Couture was appointed clerk to the council.
Although the governor occupied the seat of honor at the council board, yet the senior councilor was the actual president of that body. By collecting the votes, he ascertained the sense of the tribunal, and he pronounced its judgments. In all preliminary proceedings, such as the affixing of seals, inventories, and other acts of the like nature, he discharged the duties of a judge of the first instance.
It was the wish of Bienville to transfer the seat of government to New Orleans, on the banks of the Mississippi. But he met with great opposition from his associates in power. When the matter was under discussion, it happened that there was an overflow of the river, which laid the infant city of New Orleans under water. This circumstance gave additional strength to the opposition. It was argued that the company could not, for the present, command the means of erecting the necessary embankments to prevent the annual inundations with which that settlement would be threatened. Hubert, the king's commissary, pleaded strongly in favor of Natchez, but as he owned large tracts of land in that locality, he arguments were little heeded, because it was supposed that they were prompted by self-interest. L'Archambault, Villardo, and Legas, who were agents of the company, thought that the commercial views of those they represented would be better promoted by keeping the seat of government on the sea-shore. Their opinion prevailed, and according to their wishes, a detachment of soldiers and of mechanics p254 was sent to the east side of the Bay of Biloxi, where houses and barracks were ordered to be constructed. That place was called New Biloxi, in contradistinction to the first settlement which was made in that bay, and which was ever after known as Old Biloxi.
The time had come at last when the colony was beginning to assume the shape of definite existence. It was still very weak, it is true, but it gave stronger signs of vitality than it had done so far. The extreme fertility of the soil had invited the plow and the spade, and had been found admirably adapted to the cultivation of rice, indigo, tobacco, and cotton. It was almost impossible, however, to induce Europeans to attend to the labors of the field, on account of the heat of the climate, and of the diseases which were produced by exposure. The whole agricultural pursuits of the country were therefore carried on, at that time, by one thousand blacks, whom the company had caused to be transported from Africa to Louisiana. It is to be regretted that agriculture and commerce did not solely engross the attention of the directors. But the experience which had been acquired during the twenty preceding years since the foundation of the colony, and which had acted as a check on the wild hopes of some of the directors, had not brought to the minds of all the conviction that it was wiser to abandon altogether the costly and time-losing researches which had been made for mines of precious metals. Hence the renewal of similar attempts, which proved equally abortive.
On the 26th of November, a royal edict was issued in conformity with the charter granting to the company the privilege of exclusive commerce with Louisiana. That edict declared to the world that any other vessels than those of the company would, on their resorting to the colony for the purposes of trade, incur forfeiture p255 and confiscation. Such were the events of 1719, among which the most considerable was the conquest of Pensacola.
The opening of the year 1720 was signalized by a proclamation of a remarkable nature, issued throughout the colony in the name of the company. That proclamation informed the inhabitants of Louisiana that they might obtain from the stores of the company at Mobile, Dauphine Island, and Pensacola, all the merchandises and provisions necessary to their wants. In case the colonists should make it a condition of their purchase, that those provisions and merchandises should be delivered at New Orleans, they were to pay in addition a premium of five per cent; — ten per cent if the delivered at Natchez; — thirteen per cent at the Yazoo; fifty per cent at the Missouri and Illinois settlements. It was made obligatory upon the colonists to send to New Orleans, to Biloxi, to Ship Island, and to Mobile, the produce of their labor, which the company engaged to purchase at the following prices: silk, according to its quality, from 7½ livres to 10 livres; tobacco, first quality, at 25 livres the hundred pounds; rice, 20 livres; superfine wheat flour, 15 livres; rye, 10 livres; barley and oats, 90 cents; deer skins, from 15 to 20 cents per skin; if dressed and without the head and tail, 30 cents; hides, 8 cents the pound.
It is evident that the colony could not prosper under the system adopted by its rulers. What inducements could any set of men have to emigrate to a country, where they had not only to encounter the dangers of a sickly climate and of savage warfare, but where they were sure to associate with the dregs of the population of the mother country, and to be kept in a state of the most oppressive servitude? They could purchase nothing except from the company, at the prices p256 fixed by it: they could sell to none except to the company, and at the prices which suited its convenience: and they could not go out of the colony without its permission. Was it not servitude — a disguised servitude, not in name but in fact — and much worse than the open and barefaced servitude of the blacks? Where was the difference between the white slaves transported from Europe, and the black ones dragged from Africa by the emissaries of the company? If the blacks worked only for the benefit of their white masters, both blacks and whites labored only for the uses and purposes of the almighty company.b
Common sense and experience pointed to a different course of action. When in the never-ceasing wars of Europe, a city happened to be depopulated and razed to the ground, what was the policy often pursued by the prince within whose territory it was situated? It was one which never failed to be successful. The sovereign would solemnly declare that all those who should come to rebuild the ruined city should, for a considerable number of years, be exempted from taxes, from paying war contributions in money and in men, and should enjoy the benefit of self-government, together with other franchises, immunities and tempting liberties of every kind. There was such vitality in this system, that the destroyed city would rise in a short time from its ashes with more splendor than it had ever possessed. Then, it is true, would the royal eagle, tired of his long abstinence, flap his wings in triumph, and the human cattle upon whose flesh he claimed the right to feed, would perceive too late that they had been allowed to grow fat for other purposes than their own gratification. Nevertheless, the correctness of the policy was not the less demonstrated, and if applied to Louisiana would have produced similar results. p257 All that she wanted was air for her expanding young lungs — franchises and immunities of every sort instead of the shackles of monopoly and of the fetters of absolute government — freedom of conscience — of thought — of action — every liberty of which man is susceptible in a state of civilization. There would have been a rush to Louisiana from every part of the world, and the population would have increased accordingly. This would have been to the interest of the colony, undoubtedly, but it is not so clear that it would have served the selfish and narrow-minded views of the company. Unfortunately, the colony, instead of being fostered by such liberal policy, was kept in leading-strings so tight, that she gasped for breath, and was restrained from developing her energies. The great mistake was, that the company said to the colonists, "Work for me," instead of saying, "Work for your own benefit."
Peace having been concluded between France and Spain, on the 17th of February, 1720, the Mississippi Company made another attempt to establish commercial relations between Louisiana and the Spanish provinces of Mexico, and even endeavored to push on its settlements in that direction. With this object in view, Bernard de la Harpe was sent to Texas, and constructed, in latitude 33°25′, at the distance of •about two hundred and fifty miles from Natchitoches, a small fort, with the assistance of the Indians, who hated the Spaniards. His next step was to send a messenger with his compliments to Don Martin de Alacorne, governor of Texas, to whom he made propositions relative to the trade which might be carried on between the two nations. Don Martin made a courteous reply, but at the same time expressed his astonishment at the determination taken by the French to settle in a province which was a part of the territory of Mexico. He, therefore, requested p258 La Harpe to inform the governor of Louisiana, by whose authority he acted, that if the French did not voluntarily retire, he would resort to force to compel them to keep within their limits. In answer to the astonishment manifested by Don Martin de Alacorne, Bernard de la Harpe declared that he was equally astonished at the pretensions of the Spanish government, considering that France had always looked upon Texas as a part of Louisiana, since La Salle had taken possession of that country, which still retained his mortal remains. He added, that the French government would not admit that the pretensions of Spain could legitimately go beyond the Rio Bravo, because all the rivers which discharge themselves into the Mississippi, and all the lands which they water, ought indisputably to be considered as belonging to France.
It is worthy of remark, that the French government supported La Harpe in the position he had taken, and that the company, with the express authorization of the king, ordered that possession be taken of the Bay of St. Bernard. This order was executed in 1722: but, after a short trial, the French were obliged to give up the settlement which they had established, on account of the implacable hostility of the Indians, whom they could not resist successfully, because their new possession was too far from their chief establishments in Louisiana, to admit of ready relief. It is not the less true that France always called in question the rights which Spain pretended, with so much tenacity, to have to Texas.
Knowing the activity, the energy, and the other qualifications of St. Denis, the company intrusted him with the command of Natchitoches. The rising prosperity of that settlement had excited the jealousy of the Spaniards, and it was believed that they were meditating its destruction.
p259 The company seemed to have taken to heart the obligation to stock Louisiana with the population of which it stood so much in need, and during the year 1720, more than one thousand Europeans, and about five hundred negroes, were transported to that colony. Of the emigrants, about three hundred were to be located at Natchez, sixty on the concessions of De Guiche, one hundred and sixty were destined for the grant of St. Reine, at the Tunicas, two hundred and fifty for the concession of Le Blanc; and the rest were to settle at the Yazoos.
Until now, the colonists had hardly met with any hostility from the Indians, except from the Natchez, as we have seen, under the administration of Cadillac, when Bienville was sent up the river by that governor to demand satisfaction for the murder of several Frenchmen. But moment was come when their friendship or indifference was to be changed into an animosity productive of ruinous and disastrous wars to the colonists. So long as the colony had remained so weak that she seemed destined to perish prematurely from the radical vices of her imperfect organization, her neighbors, the English, had not thought proper to hasten the work of destruction. But they took umbrage at the more vigorous administration of the company, which, in spite of all its errors of policy, was employing its capital in efforts calculated, if persisted in, to make of Louisiana an important colonial possession to France. England never sleeps when her interest is at stake: and she began to take active but secret steps to check the progress of French colonization on the banks of the Mississippi. Besides, the French and English traders used to meet everywhere among the Indians, and their opposition or competition in commerce soon produced a deep feeling of hostility. Hence originated frequent and partial collisions, in which the Indians p260 always took part, and in which they never failed to be divided among themselves: one nation, or one part of a nation, assisting the English, while the French, on their side, were not lacking in the same kind of support.
This state of things gave rise to repeated murders, the recital of which would be but a bloody and uniform catalogue, producing much excitement at the time, but of very little interest in our days. Thus, this year 1720 was marked by a war of the French with the Chickasaws, who were under British influence. Their first act of hostility was to assassinate a French officer named Sorvidal, who had been stationed among them by Bienville, as a spy and an agent of the company. After long negotiations, backed by fair promises of remuneration in merchandise, Bienville succeeded in opposing the Choctaws to the Chickasaws. These, and the Natchez, were the three most powerful nations with which the colony had to deal, and we shall see what a conspicuous part they were destined to play in its history. The other smaller Indian tribes remained in a state of neutrality.
By a royal ordinance, the military forces of Louisiana were fixed at twenty companies of fifty men each. Such were, with the few colonists scattered over an immense territory, the only means of resistance which Bienville had to oppose to the Indians, and to the other foes who might threaten the colony.
There were two causes of complaint on the part of the inhabitants of Louisiana, which the French government attempted to remedy. The first, that there was not in the colony a sufficient number of women; and the second, that the people who were sent to colonize the country were of a character which made them dangerous or contaminating associates for such men of peaceful p261 habits and honest principles as had voluntarily come to better their fortunes in the colony. Wishing to redress these grievances, the French government authorized three nuns, Sister Gertrude, and under her Sister Louise and Sister Bergère, to conduct to Louisiana a certain number of girls who were taken from the hospital-general of Paris, on their consenting to emigrate. They were placed under the special supervision of Sister Gertrude, and could not marry without her consent. It was also ordered by the king that convicts and vagabonds should no longer be transported to Louisiana, because "the king is convinced," said the edict, "that their presence is a contagious source of corruption, not only for the Europeans, but also for the aborigines, who are kind-hearted, honest, industrious, and well-disposed toward the French."
On the 3d of January, 1721, a ship of the company arrived with three hundred colonists, who were destined for the lands granted to Mme. de Chaumont, at Pascagoulas, and in February, eighty girls, who had been taken from a house of correction in Paris, called La Salpétrière, were landed in Louisiana. It would seem that dissolute women were not looked upon as being included in the recent royal edict which prohibited the transportation to Louisiana of vagabonds or persons of bad morals; or it may be that this edict, as it is frequently the case with such things, had been issued merely to stand on paper for some particular purpose, but not to be executed.
Good or bad, however, the population of Louisiana was fast increasing, and the French government thought it sound policy that no agricultural produce should be raised in the colony, which might compete with that of the mother country, and issued accordingly an ordinance which prohibited in Louisiana the cultivation of p262 the vine, hemp, flax, &c. &c. Such was the despotic, selfish, and short-sighted policy of what was then called the colonial system.
In spite of all the efforts made by the company, what contributed still more powerfully to retard the progress of the colony was the never-ceasing misunderstanding which had existed among its officers since its foundation. They were incessantly counteracting anyone by reciprocal opposition. Between their pulling backward and forward, and the struggle of their contention, the distracted colony staggered in its feeble march, and could hardly keep its ground. The reports made by the agents of the company on the situation of its affairs were of the gloomiest character. The disbursements were enormous, and no gains had hitherto accrued to the stockholders, whose dissatisfaction was loudly expressed. The direction was reproached with having made unwise and uncalled-for expenses, which would never be productive, and with having selected officers more solicitous about their own interests than those of the company. The fall of Law, and the crisis which followed, brought down still lower the share of the stockholders in the Mississippi Company, and their disappointment became excited into clamorous rage. Frightened by the general burst of indignation which assailed them, the directors wrote to Bienville that the Regent had complained of the paucity and inefficacy of his services; that they had excused him with his royal highness on the ground that the very agents of the company had checked or weakened the execution of all his plans; that they would, in consequence, change those agents, and substitute for them such as would be entirely his subordinates; that he would then have a fair opportunity to show what he could do, when left to his own judgment, and to deserve rewards which p263 would be commensurate with the merit of his deeds; that none but real services would gain for him the grade of brigadier-general, at which he aimed, and the great cross of St. Louis, which was the object of his wishes, and which the Regent had promised to bestow upon him when deserved. The directors thus hoped to stimulate the ambition of Bienville into the adoption and the carrying on of a system of administration in the colony, which might prove more advantageous to the company than all the plans which had hitherto been pursued without success.
In the month of March, two hundred German emigrants arrived in the colony. They were sent by Law to settle on his Arkansas concessions, and they had departed from France on the eve of his flight from that kingdom. They were soon followed by five hundred negroes transported from Africa by the company. This was a valuable addition to the population of Louisiana, but the time when it came did not happen to be opportune, on account of the great scarcity of provisions under which the country was then suffering. With these German emigrants there was a woman whose destinies, if they be true as related, bid defiance to the inventions of the wildest romance.
Let us go back to 1712. At that time, the Duke of Brunswick Wolfenbuttel had a daughter named Charlotte, who was a paragon of beauty, of virtue, and of talent. Who would not have loved such a being? And so she was — by every inhabitant of that little duchy. What could be more auspicious than the beginning of such a life! But at that time also, it happened that Peter the Great had a son named Alexis, who, although heir-apparent to the crown, and the future ruler of millions of men, was so steeped in vice, so coated over with stupidity, and so thoroughly imbued p264 with wickedness, that his father, as more than one father has done in such cases, sent him on his travels, perhaps in the hope that he would either mend his nature by accidental circumstances, by a change of air or of sights, by a better knowledge of the world and a more extensive acquaintance with mankind, or that he would break his neck on the public roads. In his peregrinations, the Muscovite prince stumbled on the Lilliputian court of Brunswick, and savagely brutish as he was, he felt the charm which the Princess Charlotte exercised on all that appertained to the human creation. The Tzar Peter heard with surprise of the new and strange impression which had been produced on Alexis, and he was led to think that his son was not altogether deprived (a thing which he had always held in doubt) of that organ which is called the heart. Seizing the occasion by the forelock, he ordered the hopeful heir to the Russian throne to marry the German princess. He considered that the bright rays emanating from the perfections of the wife might penetrate into the dark abyss where the imperfections of the husband were pandering to each other, and that the spirit of good might, to some degree, control the spirit of evil, if linked together.
The poor Duke of Brunswick did not venture to give a denial to the demand made by the haughty and powerful despot of the North. But deep was the gloom which, on that occasion, settled over the whole territory of that little duchy, and the marriage ceremony looked more like a funeral than a wedding. Why not? It was the consecration of the union of the dead with the living — nay, something worse — the hideous conjunction of the putrefaction of the charnel with the ambrosial purity of heaven. Amid the general desolation, there was one heart, above all, that was riven asunder, as if p265 a wedge had been forced into its very core. Look at that pale face sicklied over with grief! What agony is there not in those eyes fixed on that altar, and on that bride, so lovely and so sad! How fearfully the soul works on the human frame, and how indelibly it writes a tale of woe on that expressive and plastic tablet — the forehead of man! He, whose quivering lips denoted the fearful struggle within, was the Chevalier d'Aubant, a young Frenchman, who was attached to the court of Brunswick, as an officer in the Duke's household. Alas! a common one his fate had been since the creation of woman. He had so gazed on the star of beauty — that he had become mad — mad with love!
Now the Princess Charlotte is on her way to St. Petersburg, and fast travelers are those horses of the Ukraine, the wild Mazeppa horses that are speeding away with her! A fast traveler is the Russian bear, who is carrying to his den the prize he has won, but the real merit of which he no more values, than a turkey would know the worth of the diamond picked up by chance, for want of a brickbat, and swallowed to aid its digestion. Among the wild-looking escort of Cossacks who surrounded the princess there was one, however, who seemed fully to appreciate his new sovereign. With his shaggy bonnet pulled down to his eyebrows, and his tartar cloak closely muffled up to his ears, he rode close to the carriage door, with watchful care, and seeming to scan minutely the dangers of the roads. Day and night, he was at his post. Whenever the horses of the vehicle which carried the prince and his bride threatened to become unruly, his hand was always the first to interfere and to check them; and all other services that chance threw in his way, he would render with meek and unobtrusive eagerness; but silent p266 he was as the tomb. Whenever the princess alighted, deeper and more reverential was his obeisance than that of any of his companions. Once, on such an occasion, no doubt as an honorable reward for his submissive behavior and faithful attendance, the princess beckoned to him to lend the help of his arm to come down the steps of her carriage. Slight was the touch of that tiny hand; light was the weight of that sylph-like form: and yet the rough Cossack trembled like aspen leaf, and staggered under the convulsive effort which shook his bold frame.
Now the cannon booms, the bells ring merrily, the people shout, drums beat, and a thousand other military instruments strain their brazen throats — the bride of Alexis has come, and enters the imperial palace. On the evening of that very day, a confidential servant slipped into the hand of the Cossack, with whom we have become acquainted, a small sealed bundle, containing two pieces of paper. One was a letter; it ran thus:—
"Your disguise was not one for me. It could not deceive my heart. Now that I am the wife of another, know for the first time my long kept secret — I love you. Such a confession is a declaration that we must never meet again. The mercy of God be upon us both!
The other paper was a passport signed by the emperor himself, and giving to the Chevalier d'Aubant permission to leave the empire at his convenience. Before the sun was up, next morning, the princess' wish had been complied with, and d'Aubant was already journeying far away from St. Petersburg.
Whither he went, no one knew, but in 1718, he arrived in Louisiana with the grade of captain in the p267 colonial troops. Shortly after, he was stationed at New Orleans, where, beyond the discharge of his duties, he shunned the contact of his brother officers, and lived in the utmost solitude. No fault was found with his want of sociability, because although his physiognomy was calm and placid, yet there was in it that indescribable expression which indicated that under it lurked such sorrow as commanded respect and sympathy.
On the bank of Bayou, or river St. John, on the land known in our days as Allard's plantation, and on the very site where now stands the large and airy house which we see, there was a small village of friendly Indians. From the bank opposite the village, beginning where at a much later period was to be erected the bridge which spans the Bayou, a winding path made by the Indians, and subsequently enlarged into Bayou Road by the European settlers, ran through a thick forest, and connected the Indian village with the French settlement of New Orleans. With the consent of the Indians, in order the better to indulge in his solitary mood, d'Aubant had there formed a rural retreat, where he spent most of the time he could spare from his military avocations. Plain and rude was the soldier's dwelling; but it contained, as ornament, a full length and admirable portrait of a female surpassingly beautiful, in the contemplation of which d'Aubant would frequently remain absorbed as in a trance. There was in this painting a remarkable feature, no doubt allegorical. Near the figure represented, stood a table on which lay a crown, resting not on a cushion, as usual, but on a heart which it crushed with its weight, and at which the lady gazed with intense melancholy. This painting attracted, of course, a good deal of observation, but no one dared to allude to it. By intuition, p268 every one felt that it was sacred ground on which inquiry ought not to tread.
Where was all the while the Princess Charlotte, the gilded victim of imperial misery? Was she beloved as she deserved by her lord and master, Alexis Petrowitz, the stupid son of Peter the Great? No! the brute had been true to his groveling nature; the swine had gone back to his sty; the gross and sensual appetite of the man, who knew naught beyond the gratification of lustful passion, had turned away from the ethereal charms of the goddess; the prince had bestowed his affections, such as they could be, on one of the female scullions of his kitchens, — a Cossack maid, — a she bear worthy of her mate. One day, entering his wife's apartments, in a state of half-inebriation, he insisted upon her receiving his paramour into her household among her maids of honor. Mild was her negative answer, but decisive and dignified in its tone. Heated by the fumes of his deep potations, fiercely impetuous by the nature which he inherited from his father, and which education had not modified, excited by such contradiction as he was not used to meet, the barbarian prince gradually worked himself into a paroxysm of furious rage, foamed at the mouth like an infuriated dog, and with the wild gestures and terrific shrieks of a maniac, rushed upon his wife, whom, with repeated blows, he laid prostrate on the floor, senseless and cold in apparent death. Of the bystanders none dared to interfere to protect the victim of brutality; for although dignified with the names of noblemen and gentlemen, they were slaves, and their master a despot. But the justice of heaven was not asleep; and when, not many years after, Alexis the brute showed an undoubted and immutable determination to arrest, when power should be his, the civilization which Peter the p269 Great was imparting to Russia, Europe stood aghast on witnessing a father butchering his own son.
But the princess has recovered from her swoon, and she is left alone, with her friend and bosom companion, the Countess of Koenigsmark. Long did they converse together in subdued tones, and what they said none ever knew. But if one had, with indiscreet eye, observed the expression of their faces and the nervous contraction of their whispering lips, he would have conceived that these feeble beings had been roused into the commission of some deed of desperate energy. It was evident that the cup of bitterness had overflowed; that enough had been meekly, patiently borne with; that the limits of human endurance had been passed; and in those flashing eyes, although they were those of women, there could be seen the deep-seated resolve, the stern decree of immutable fate. That very night, the Countess of Koenigsmark entered secretly the princess' room, and there was reacted that scene where Friar Lawrence says to Juliet:
Take thou this phial, being then in bed,
And this distilled liquor drink thou off:
When, presently, through all thy veins shall run
A cold and drowsy humor, which shall seize
Each vital spirit; for no pulse shall keep
His natural progress, but surcease to beat.
No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou liv'st;
The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade
To paly ashes; thy eyes' windows fall,
Like death, when he shuts up the day of life;
Each part deprived of supple government,
Shall stiff, and stark, and cold, appear like death;
And in this borrowed likeness of shrunk death
Thou shalt remain full two-and‑forty hours,
And then awake as from a pleasant sleep.
Now when the bridegroom in the morning comes
To rouse thee from thy because, there art thou dead.
Then, (as the manner of our country is,)
In thy best robes uncovered on the bier,
Thou shalt be borne to that same ancient vault,
Where all the kindred of the Capulets lie."
p270 The imperial funeral took place, and according to the plan which had been laid, the whole of Europe was deceived. The Princess Charlotte of Brunswick Wolfenbuttel, the wife of Alexis Petrowitz, was no more, but the woman was not dead — the Juliet that loved a Romeo had burst out of her tomb — poor indeed, unknown, without rank, without family, without menial attendance, but free, with the whole world before her, and with Love and Hope for her handmaids. That was enough!
With the two hundred emigrants who had arrived in March, 1721, there had come, as I have already said, a woman who, by her beauty and by that nameless thing which marks a superior being or extraordinary destinies, had, on her landing at New Orleans, attracted public attention. She immediately inquired for the Chevalier d'Aubant, to whom she pretended to be recommended. She was informed that he was at his retreat on the Bayou St. John, and that he would be sent for. But she eagerly opposed it, and begged that a guide should conduct her to d'Aubant's rural dwelling.
It was on a vernal evening, and the last rays of the sun were lingering in the west. Seated in front of the portrait which we know, d'Aubant, with his eyes rooted to the ground, seemed to be plunged in deep reverie. Suddenly he looked up — gracious heaven! it was no longer a mere inanimate representation of fictitious life which he saw — it was flesh and blood — the dead was alive again — and confronting him with a smile so sweet and sad — with eyes moist with rapturous tears — and with such an expression of concentrated love as can only be borrowed from the abode of bliss above. "O God!" exclaimed d'Aubant, starting up and convulsively pressing his forehead with his hands, "what phantasy of a fevered brain is this! Mercy on me! — I p271 am mad!" But soon he felt that the being who nestled in his bosom, that the arms folded round his neck, were not creations of a delirious imagination. What pen could do justice to this scene? Away then with description! What need should there be of any effort of the mind to paint what the heart can so easily conceive! Suffice it to say that, on the next day, the Chevalier d'Aubant was married to the mysterious stranger, who gave no other name to the inquiring priest than that of Charlotte. In commemoration of this event, they planted those two oaks, which, looking like twins and interlocking their leafy arms, are, to this day, to be seen standing side by side on the bank of the St. John, and bathing their feet in the stream, a little to the right of the bridge, as you cross it, in front of Allard's plantation.
It is strange how the most secret events will transpire! With the fluidity of gas, they evaporate through thick walls of stone, and are scattered over the whole world. For instance, what gave currency at the time to the circumstances which I have related? By what concealed agency events are known with astonishingly minute precision in distant places, long before they could be carried there by any physical process? Is it second sight, magnetic perception, supernatural intuition, or the electric traveling of the mind? Are there mysterious carriers of news through heaven and earth? Certain it is, that although d'Aubant and his wife kept their own secret and lived in almost monastic retirement, rumors about their wonderful history were so rife in the colony, and the attention of which they became the objects, subjected them to so much uneasiness, that d'Aubant contrived to leave the country soon after, and went to Paris, where his wife having met the Marshal of Saxe in the garden of the Tuileries, p272 and being recognized by him, escaped detection with the greatest difficulty. D'Aubant departed with the grade of major for the Island of Bourbon, where he resided for a considerable time. In 1754, on his death, his widow returned to Paris with a daughter, the only offspring of her union with d'Aubant, and in 1771, she died in a state bordering on destitution. The particulars of this adventure are found in many memoirs of the epoch, and in the notes and papers of Duclos: but Lévesque, in his history of Russia, Grimm, in his correspondence, and the sceptic Voltaire, in a letter which he published on the 19th February, 1781, deny the truth of the story as being too improbable. However, the experience of centuries teaches us that nothing is more probable than improbabilities: and must it not be inferred that there was some foundation for the romantic incidents I have recorded, when they assumed such a substantial shape as to become a subject of serious controversy with men of the highest distinction?
On the 5th of September, a council of administration for the affairs of the company in Louisiana was organized, and composed as follows:— the governor, the lieutenant de roi, or lieutenant-governor, the directeur ordonnateur, or commissary director, the chief director, and sub-director of accounts. This council was to meet every day at New Biloxi, where its members were bound to reside, with the exception of Bienville, the governor, who was permitted to reside at New Orleans. The deliberations of the council were to be faithfully recorded: of which journal, copies were to be sent to France, and it is to be regretted that this record has not been transmitted to us.
It was ordered, by a decree, that the merchandise of the company should be sold at New Orleans, Biloxi, and Mobile, at fifty per cent profit on their original p273 cost in France; at Natchez and Yazoo, seventy per cent; at Arkansas, at one hundred per cent; and at the Alibamons, at fifty per cent, on account, as it was expressed, of the competition arising from the proximity of British settlements. On the 27th of the same month, it was determined that negroes should, on an average, be sold to the inhabitants for 660 livres, for which their notes were to be furnished, on three years' credit, payable by equal instalments, either in tobacco or in rice, according to agreement. When two terms became due, if the purchaser could not pay one third of the amount, the negroes were resold, after due publication, and after notice given of the sale to the public. When the result of the sale was not such as to pay the company, and to meet all other expenses, the debtor was liable to imprisonment.
Tobacco, en feuilles, or leaf tobacco, fair quality, was to be received in payment of negroes, at the rate of twenty-five cents per hundred pounds, and rice at twelve cents, when delivered at the company's warehouses at New Orleans, New Biloxi, or Mobile. Wine was to be sold by the company at 120 livres per cask, and brandy at the same price for a quarter of a cask.
Louisiana was divided into nine territorial districts, such as New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, Alibamons, Natchez, Yazoo, Natchitoches, Arkansas and Illinois. There were to be for each district a commander or governor, and a judge from whose decisions appeals could be taken to the Superior Council, sitting at New Biloxi. This order of things was established, as stated in the decree, to put justice, with greater ease, within reach of the colonists.
In the month of June of the year 1721, there remained in the colony six hundred negroes, and four hundred out of the five hundred colonists who were in p274 the country, when Crozat had given up his charter. Seven thousand and twenty individuals had been transported by the company in forty-three vessels specially employed for that purpose, from the 25th of October, 1717, to May, 1721. But of this number about 2000 having died, deserted, or returned to France by permission, the remaining white population did not exceed 5420 souls. The expenses of administration, however, although the territory was so thinly peopled, proved very considerable, and amounted, this year, to 474,274 livres.
A ship of the company had left France in 1718, with troops and one hundred convicts, but had never been heard of. Toward the close of the year 1721, there arrived in Louisiana, a French officer who gave some account of the ill-fated vessel. It appears that her captain had mistaken the mouth of the Mississippi, and had entered, by the 29th degree of latitude, into a large bay, where he at last, but too late, discovered his error. Hardly had the ship anchored, when a contagious epidemic broke out among the convicts, and produced such dreadful havoc, that five of the officers, named Belleisle, Allard, De Lisle, Legendre and Corlat, thought that it would be less dangerous for them to land, well provided with arms and with eight days' provisions, than to remain on board in a pestiferous atmosphere. Their hope was to meet with some friendly Indian who could guide them to the French settlements, which they conjectured to be not far off. In the mean time, the ship sailed away, and of her there never was any further tidings. For several days the five adventurers wandered in every direction without discovering any habitation, or meeting any human being. They exhausted their provisions and ammunition, and had to rely altogether on the scanty supply of food they could procure. Unused to the climate, broken down by privations of p275 every kind, Allard was the first to perish; — De Lisle followed; — soon after Legendre dropped into the grave which Corlat and Belleisle dug for him. Then these two men looked at each other with mute despair in that boundless wilderness by which they were encompassed, and they seemed to scrutinize each other's face to ascertain which of the two would bury the other one. A few days had hardly elapsed, when Corlat bade a last farewell to Belleisle, and yielded the ghost. Belleisle covered his companion's corpse with dry leaves, branches and bushes, and then threw himself on the ground with the determination to die. But the love of life is strong in man's breast, and at last he braced up his energies to escape from the death he had but lately coveted. He sought the sea-shore, where he lived on the contents of shells, on fish, and on roots, anxious passing many a weary day in studying the broad expanse of the Gulf of Mexico, with the hope that some vessel might heave in sight.
Months elapsed — and there was no prospect of relief. His tattered clothes had dropped from his limbs: exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather, living on unwholesome food, sometimes deprived of any, worn out by mental anxiety as well as by bodily sufferings, he was reduced to a frightful state of emaciation; — and with his overgrown shaggy hair and beard, he looked more like a wild beast than a man. His strength was gradually failing, he felt that life was fast ebbing away, and that a slow, lingering death — the death of starvation — was staring him in the face. One day that he was lying on the ground, incapable, as he thought, of motion, and with his feeble vision scanning the horizon which seemed to dance around him, as it receded and faded away from his swimming sight, he fancied he saw a light grayish smoke rising slowly above the distant p276 trees, in the heart of the forest. Oh! how his heart leaped within his breast! — he shaded his eyes with his tremulous hands, and looked again with fearful doubt and agonizing anxiety. Yes! — it was a smoke! And the gladful conviction flashing on his soul, drew a flood of tears down his wasted and hollow cheeks. He raised his skeleton hands toward heaven, and with a full heart thanked the Almighty. Then up to his feet he sprang — but he staggered back and fell. Good God! will the miserable remnant of his physical powers, although so powerfully stimulated by the prospect of relief, fail him entirely when most needed — at such a critical moment! Making a desperate effort, he rose again and reeled forward to some distance. Then, he crept along like a snake — now panting with exertion and fatigue — now resting awhile — now again dragging himself painfully, with his eyes stretched and riveted on the merrily curling smoke. Oh! how he trembled that it should suddenly disappear! His excitement grew more intense as he drew nearer, and at last he thought that he was within hearing distance. He shouted, or thought he shouted; but his parched throat emitted no sound which reached his own ears.
Three Indians were quietly seated round a brisk fire and roasting luscious venison, the juice of which falling on the live embers produced a grateful hissing sound, and emitted a savory smell, when a slight cracking — the snapping of a dry twig, caught their attention and awoke their suspicion. With one simultaneous bound they sprung — one with uplifted tomahawk — the other two with raised bows ready to fling their deadly arrows. But they dropped their weapons, when they ascertained what object stood before them. It was Belleisle who, with imploring gesticulations, made appeals to their pity. The Indians looked at each other wonderingly, p277 and as it were, in rapid consultation, when one of them beckoned to Belleisle, inviting have to approach the fire and partake of their fare. There they remained encamped until he could walk, and then they took him to their village, where he was kept in a state of servitude during eighteen months. He swept the cabins of his masters, cleaned their weapons, planted their corn, cooked their victuals, and performed all the other services of a menial. A severe trial he had of it — the half-starved drudge! — the overtasked hewer of wood and drawer of water to barbarian tyrants! At last an Indian of the tribe where he was held in captivity, stole from him a small tin box which his masters had permitted him to retain, and which contained his commission as an officer, and other papers. The thief sold the box to a member of the Assinais tribe. These Indians lived in Texas, not far from the French settlement of Natchitoches, with which they had frequent intercourse. The new owner of the box, thinking that it might be valuable to his white neighbors, and that he might sell it to them with advantage, carried it to that market, where, of course, it attracted attention, and was exhibited to St. Denis, the commander of Natchitoches. It gave rise to inquiry, and St. Denis, being informed of the melancholy situation of one of his countrymen, dispatched some Indians to treat for the ransom of Belleisle, who was safely conducted by them to Natchitoches.
Such were all the remarkable events which occurred in 1721.
In the year 1722, on the 12th of March, the company issued an ordinance which prohibited the inhabitants of Louisiana from selling their negroes, for transportation out of the colony, to the Spaniards, or to any other subjects of a foreign nation, under the penalty p278 of a fine of one thousand livres and confiscation of the negroes.
On the 20th of April, Bienville wrote from Fort St. Louis at Mobile, to the French government, an interesting communication on the difficulties attending the unloading of vessels on the shores of Biloxi, on account of the shallowness of the water; which difficulties he represented as not existing in the Mississippi. "I have had the honor," said he, "to send to the council in my last letter detailed information on the mouths of the Mississippi, and to give the assurance that vessels not drawing more than •thirteen feet water could go over the bar with all sail set, without risk of stranding. It would not be difficult to render the pass practicable for larger ships, because the bottom consists of soft and moving mud. I would have already done so, if the engineers who are intrusted with the execution of the public works had shared my opinion. But their attention is engrossed by the improvements which have been attempted at Biloxi, and which I think will have to be abandoned. Should the company persist in sending their vessels to Biloxi, it will materially retard the progress of the colony, and will expose us to considerable expenses. The vessels are forced to stop at Ship Island, which is •fifteen miles from the main land where our settlement is situated. To unload these vessels, we are obliged to send to Ship Island packet-boats, which, in their turn, can not approach Biloxi nearer than •two miles and a half. Then, other small boats are sent to unload the packet-boats, and these boats, small as they are, strand at a distance of carbine-shot from the shore. This statement of facts ought to be sufficient to convince the council of the importance of ordering all vessels coming from France to enter the Mississippi, where they would discharge their cargoes in two p279 days. I assumed the responsibility of sending thither two flutes (small vessels), which crossed the bar with all sails set. I would have done the same with the other vessels, which have just arrived, if we had not received the precise order of unloading them at Biloxi."
It is really astonishing that, in spite of the judicious and self-evident representations of Bienville, backed by the physical structure of the country, the French government should have so obstinately and for so many years clung to the bleak and worthless shores of Biloxi, as the chief settlement of Louisiana, and its most important commercial emporium. But there is very little common sense to be discovered in the administration of most colonies by the mother country, and particularly in that of Louisiana under the French domination.
On the 20th of May, it was decreed that there should be in the Superior Council, five councilors instead of four, and those councilors were, Bruslé, Fazende, Perry, Guilhet and Masclary.
On the 4th of June, a vessel of the company arrived with another band of two hundred and fifty Germans, commanded by the Chevalier d'Arensbourg, a Swedish officer, who had so distinguished himself at the battle of Pultawa, that he had been presented by Charles the XIIth with a sword, which is still in the hands of his descendants in Louisiana. This vessel brought back to the colony Marigny de Mandeville, who, in 1709, it will be remembered, had joined in the systematic opposition made to Bienville by the commissary La Salle and the Curate de la Vente. Marigny had obtained in France the cross of St. Louis and the command of Fort Condé at Mobile.
With this vessel came the confirmation of the utter discomfiture of Law, and of the ruin and desolation which his plans and banking operations had generated p280 in France. It produced a great sensation in the colony, because the inhabitants were afraid of being left to their own resources, and of being lost sight of, on account of the general distress which reigned in France, and which was sufficient to absorb all the attention and resources of the government. Their apprehensions, however, were not immediately realized to the extent which they anticipated, and they continued, through part of the year, to receive some further supplies and assistance. On the 15th of July, Duvergier, who had been appointed directeur ordonnateur et commandant de la marine, landed at Pensacola, bearing crosses of St. Louis to Boisbriant, to St. Denis, and to Chateaugué, who, it will be remembered, had been made prisoner at Pensacola by the Spaniards, when they retook that place, and who had lately been exchanged.
Although, as it has been shown in the course of these lectures, many importations of females had been made, the want of them continued to be sensibly felt, and to be a subject of complaint on the part of the colonists. As a specimen of the tone and manners of the time, I think it is not out of place to record here an extract from a letter addressed on that subject to one of the king's ministers in France, by one M. de Chassin. It bears a stamp of originality which is quite characteristic. "You see, my Lord," said he, "that to assure the solidity of our establishment in Louisiana, there is but one thing wanting — a sufficient number of women. However, woman is a piece of furniture which many repent of having introduced into their household, and without which I shall contrive to get along until, as I have had already the honor to inform you, the company shall think proper to send us girls having at least some appearance of virtue. If, by chance, there should be among your female acquaintances one disposed to p281 risk the voyage for my sake, I should certainly be greatly under her obligation, and would most assuredly do my best to give her proofs of my gratitude."
This M. de Chassin, who presumed to write in such a style of familiarity to one of the king's ministers, has left no other trace of his passage in Louisiana than this jocose application for a wife. It is likely, from his name, from the lightness of his tone, and from the perfect ease with which he addresses one of the great dignitaries of the kingdom, that he was a scion of nobility, who had been invited to travel to, and to stay in Louisiana, until his morals or his purse should have recovered from the effect of the commission of youthful follies.
Toward the close of the year, the supplies which used to be sent from France became more scanty on account of the disorderly state into which the affairs of the company were falling. Famine made again its appearance in the colony, as it had frequently done before, and it became necessary, from the want of provisions, to quarter some of the troops, in small squads, among the Indians, and to scatter the rest on the banks of rivers, where they lived as they could, on fish and game. Twenty-six soldiers who constituted the garrison of Fort Toulouse among the Alibamons, being reduced to very short allowance, and suffering too acutely and too long from their wants, butchered their captain, Marchand, and with their arms and baggage departed for South Carolina. Villemont, their lieutenant, who, when the murder of Marchand took place at the fort, happened to be absent, and whose life was saved by that circumstance, on hearing of what had occurred, made an appeal to the Indians as friends of his government, and persuaded them to pursue with him the rebellious deserters. They soon overtook the fugitives, p282 who, knowing the fate they had to expect if they surrendered, fought with desperation, and were killed almost to a man.
Fortunately, toward the latter part of September, the colony was relieved by the arrival of a vessel well stocked with provisions and ammunition. It brought the information that the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, had intrusted the direction of the affairs of the company to three Commissaries, Ferrand, Faget and Machinet.
The distress of the colony was increased by a hurricane which produced the most extensive damage, and De l'Orme, one of the principal agents of the company, who, in a letter of the 30th of October, renders an account of the effects of that hurricane, speaks of continual desertions among the soldiers, mechanics and sailors, and recommends, as a remedy to the demoralizing influence of such derelictions of duty, to allow, in all the vessels of the company, free passage to those persons who might be disposed to return to France.
The paper currency of the colony had been reduced to such a state of discredit, that it had ceased to pass and to answer its purposes. Hence a complete cessation of business. It was necessary to meet that evil, and the company had recourse to a process which was not deficient in ingeniousness, whatever may be said of its want of good faith. The paper currency to which I allude, consisted in notes signed and issued by the directors of the company in France, or by its commanders, officers, or chief agents in the colony. It was decreed that all these notes should be converted into cards, to which some fair promises and additional privileges were attached to give them value, and that all the notes which should not be presented at certain places to certain agents, and within a time remarkably short, to be p283 converted into cards, as desired, should become null and void in the hands of the bearers. These notes being scattered through an immense extent of country, many could not be brought back, partly through want of time and partly through carelessness or indifference, and became thereby extinct according to the decree. In this way a considerable portion of the company's debt was liquidated at once.c
Sheep, mild as they are, will bleat obstreperously when they are sheared too close by the shepherd; and the inhabitants of Louisiana, following this example, complained so loudly that, by an ordinance issued on the 28th of December, they were authorized to send an agent with full powers who would advocate and defend their interests before the Council of State, by which the affairs of the company were to be taken into consideration and adjudicated upon. On the 8th of the same month, the Council of State had dispatched Saunoy and de la Chaise to Louisiana, to force the agents of the company to render an account of the merchandise sent by the company, and of the goods which had been delivered to those agents by the clerks of Crozat, when the company was substituted for him in the government of the province. They were instructed to depart with the utmost secrecy and speed, to show their powers to the Superior Council on their arrival in Louisiana, then immediately to repair to the company's warehouses, to take possession of them, and to put the seals on all the papers of the agents.
Thus it is seen that the situation of affairs was gloomy enough. To make it worse, the Natchez recommenced war against the French. They murdered three of their traders, and attacked the Kolly Plantation, which was situated in the neighborhood of their villages, and p284 where they killed a man and destroyed a considerable number of cattle.
The three commissaries, Faget, Machinet, and Ferrand, who had been selected by the Regent to assume the direction of the affairs of the company, had certainly been appointed to no sinecure. They had to cope with the discouragements of the colonists, who were constantly attempting to run away from their miseries — with the desertion, the insubordination, and rebellious disposition of the troops — with a depreciated paper currency, heavy debts, hurricanes, and other calamities — with unfaithful and roguish agents — with the spirit of discord, which had always existed among the officers of the colony; — and now, in addition to these numerous perplexities, they were threatened with a war from the Natchez.
The three new commissaries who had assumed the direction of the affairs of the company, of which they were now the sole administrators, sanctioned the execution of two projects which, for a long while, had been favorite conceptions with Bienville, but which he had never been permitted to carry into operation. He was authorized to transfer the seat of government to New Orleans, and to make at the Arkansas a settlement, the chief object of which was to establish a connecting point between the Illinois and the lower part of the colony, and to facilitate the introduction of horses, mules, and cattle from the Spanish provinces. Bienville, as soon as he received the desired authority, ordered La Harpe, with a detachment of sixteen men, to ascend the Arkansas River as far up as possible, to make an accurate survey of the country, to look for mines, and to inform the Spaniards he might meet, that all the territory watered by the Arkansas River, from its source down p285 to its mouth, was regarded by France as belonging to her, in consequence of the possession taken of it by La Salle when he descended the Mississippi.
Thus closed the year 1722.
a Properly, Jean-Baptiste Bénard (not "Bernard") de la Harpe; he is apparently the author of a Journal historique, so widely considered unreliable that some historians have even cast doubt on its authenticity, all the more so that it was first published only in 1831, a century after his death. Gayarré himself will explicitly refer to the Journal only once (Series II, Lecture 4) — with the caveat, "If La Harpe's statement be true".
b The company store and its iniquities is a recurring theme in American history. The logical solution to working and supplying an isolated territory, such monopoly systems were nonetheless almost inevitably ripe to be abused. We see the same situation in the 19c company stores in the Western mining and railroad settlements, and in coal mining districts as late as the 20c: see for example the testimony of a pioneer settler in Jenkins, Kentucky (and elsewhere thruout that book, although you may have to read between the lines a bit).
c The habits of rapacious governments die very slowly: the same stratagem was regularly — and rather notoriously — relied on by France in the late 20c, among the many means it used to improve its finances at the expense of foreign tourists. French banknotes were frequently changed, the old bills to be unredeemable after a relatively short period: while this didn't affect French residents, tourists who returned to France after an absence of three years would find that the French money they had kept, knowing they would revisit the country, would discover, on arriving, that it was worthless. (When the franc and the other national currencies were supplanted by the euro, however, the European Union, to its credit, provided for bills denominated in them to be exchangeable until 2011.)
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