This is the third and last series of the Historical Lectures on Louisiana, embracing a period which extends from its discovery to 1769, when it was finally transferred by the French to the Spaniards, in virtue of the Fontainebleau treaty signed in November, 1763. This work is, as far as I could make it so, a detailed and accurate history of Louisiana, as a French colony.
The four lectures which I delivered on the "Poetry or Romance of the History of Louisiana," and which are reproduced in the preceding volume as an introduction to a composition of a more grave nature,a I looked upon at the time as nugae seriae, to which I attached no more importance, than a child does to the soap bubbles which he puffs through the tube of the tiny reed, picked up by him for the amusement of the passing hour. But struck with the interest which I had excited, I examined with more sober thoughts the flowery field in which I had sported, almost with the buoyancy of a school-boy. Checking the freaks of my imagination, that boon companion with whom I had been gamboling, I took to the plough, broke the ground, and turned myself to a more serious and useful occupation. This is, I think, clearly observed in the second p14 series of Lectures. In the third and last series, which I now venture to lay before the public, a change of tone and manner, corresponding with the authenticity and growing importance of the events which I had to record, will be still more perceptible.
Should the continuation of life and the enjoyment of leisure permit me to gratify my wishes, I purpose to write the history of the Spanish domination in Louisiana, from 1769 to 1803, when was effected the almost simultaneous cession of that province, by Spain to France, and by France to the United States of America. Embracing an entirely distinct period of history, it will be a different work from the preceding, as much perhaps in point of style and the other elements of composition, as with regard to the characteristic features of the new lords of the land.
Whatever may be the defects of this work (and they are numerous), their exposure cannot give me pain by defeating me in the pursuit of what I never aimed at — literary reputation. But notwithstanding their existence, I may be permitted to congratulate myself upon having thrown some light and interest on a subject, so far very little known — the history of the land of my birth; I rest satisfied with having been an humble pioneer, and with having erected in the wilderness the modest wooden structure, which, I hope, will soon give way to more stately edifices, showing the elegant proportions of a more classical architecture.
I beg leave, in conclusion, to refer those who think that the history of Louisiana which I have submitted to the public, is indebted to my imagination for many of its romantic incidents, and who may be willing to test the accuracy of my historical statements, to works, not of recent date, the authorship of which is attributed to Bossu, Perrin du Lac, Charlevoix, Pittman, Dumont, Le Page du Pratz, Hennepin, Lahontan, Baudry des Lozières, Laharpe, and Laval:b and I also refer to voluminous manuscripts copied from p15 the archives of France and Spain, and which have become the property of the State. These are my vouchers, and I have nothing to fear from their examination, however minute and critical it may be, with regard to the detection of any intentional errors on my part, conscious as I am, that, in the composition of this work, I have been animated with the same feelings which must glow in the breast of a devoted son, who attempts truthfully and scrupulously to reproduce and to perpetuate, with the painter's art, the perishing features of a cherished mother.
Baton Rouge, July 15th, 1851.
These headings of the author's are used here as local links to text on this webpage.
Administration of the Marquis of Vaudreuil, as Governor of Louisiana — Anecdotes Illustrating his Character — The Chickasaws sue for Peace — Vaudreuil's Answer — Ordinance concerning Levees — Effects of the Paper Currency in the Colony — Monopoly of Trade granted to Déruisseau — Discoveries of mines of Lead, Copper and Iron — Negotiations with the Indians — Depredations Committed by the Chickasaws — Population of New Orleans in 1745, Situation of the Colony — Misunderstandings between Commissary Lenormant and Governor Vaudreuil — Outrage committed by Red Shoe — Reports on the Mouths and Sand-bars of the Mississippi — Means of Defence adopted to protect Louisiana against Invasion — Terrible Hurricane — Finances of the Colony — Paper Money and Stock-Jobbing — Civil War among the Choctaws — A Party of them attack the German Coast — Great Alarm — Assassination of Red Shoe — Increase of the Indian Disturbances — Daring of the Choctaws — Cowardice of Tixerant — Heroism of two Negroes — Desperate resistance of Baby, the Dancing Master, when attacked by the Choctaws — Commerce of the Colony — Encouragement given to Agriculture — Yield of the Wax Tree — The Creoles declared fittest Men to wage War against the Indians — Crushing blow given by Grand-Pré to the Choctaws — His treaty of Peace with that Nation — Large forces sent to Louisiana — Counterfeiting of the Paper Money of the Colony by a Colored Man — His Punishment — Grand-Préºmade a Knight of St. Louis — Origin of the Grand-Pré Family in Louisiana — Quarrels between Vaudreuil and the Commissary Michel de la Rouvilliere, the Successor of Lenormant — Sugar Canes sent to the Jesuits of Louisiana — Arrival of Sixty Girls — Manner in which they were Settled in the Colony — Fruitless Expedition of Vaudreuil against the Chickasaws — Anecdote of the Colapissa Father — Death of La Rouvilliere — He is succeeded by D'Auberville — Vaudreuil sent to Canada — Kerlerec, Governor of Louisiana in February, 1753.
The appointment of the Marquis of Vaudreuil as Governor of Louisiana, in the place of Bienville, produced p18 a favorable impression on the colonists, and gave rise to flattering hopes. It was known that the Marquis was the son of a distinguished officer who had been Governor-general of Canada, and that he belonged to an influential family at the French court. His nomination was received as a token that the government intended to make serious efforts to put the colony on a more respectable footing, and it was presumed that the Marquis would not have accepted the post of a petty governor in so insignificant a colony, if he had not received promises that the province over which he had been called to rule, would soon be destined, under the powerful patronage of the mother country, to acquire more importance than it had so far possessed. His arrival in the colony was therefore hailed with joy, as the harbinger of better days. That joy rested also on the knowledge of the hereditary reputation of all the Vaudreuils for kindness and liberality. With respect to these qualifications, the present Governor of Louisiana was no unworthy representative of his ancestors. A few anecdotes related of him will fully illustrate his character.
It happened that one of his servants acted with insolence towards an officer of the garrison in New Orleans, who had come to pay his respects to the governor on one of his reception days. The Marchioness having been informed of the fact, brought it to the knowledge of her husband, and insisted on the culprit being dismissed. De Vaudreuil acquiesced in a demand which he thought just, and consented to part with that servant, although a favorite one. He sent for his privy purse, and after having paid the wages due to the servant, he added a bounty of three hundred livres. His wife expostulated with him on this strange piece of p19 liberality, and observed that it was offering a reward to impertinence. Unmoved, and without returning an answer, the Marquis threw again three hundred livres to the lacquey, and seeing the flush of anger rising on his wife's brow: "Madam," said he, with great composure, "I do not reward him for his insolence, but for his former fidelity, and if you show too much displeasure to the poor devil, I will give him the whole purse, to indemnify him for having incurred the mortification which you now inflict upon him."
An officer of the garrison wrote against him to the minister of marine. The minister transmitted the letter to De Vaudreuil. One day, the same officer was addressing some gross flattery to the Marquis, who stood it for a while, but the dose becoming too nauseating, "What conduct is this?" exclaimed the Marquis, "How dare you thus give the lie to your own written assertions? Is it possible that you should so soon have forgotten a certain letter which you have written against me?" "A letter against you, General, and from me?" "Yes, sir." "I swear that nothing can be more false." "Beware, sir; do not force me to look for that letter, for if you compel me to take that trouble, I will immediately have your commission taken away from you." The officer did not reply, and never, from that moment, did the Marquis open his lips on the subject, or show by any act that he remembered the circumstance.
It also happened that a menial in his household had lost or mislaid a valuable piece of plate. The Marquis was at table when the offence was discovered, the guilty one, trembling with emotion, and overwhelmed, with shame at his being accused of so much negligence, and perhaps of theft, was brought up to his presence. The Marquis, at first, looked at him with p20 some severity of countenance, but his face soon resumed its usual benevolent expression, and turning to his butler, he said: "Get a bottle of my best wine, and give it to this poor fellow to cure him of his fright." This is enough; no more can be wanted to give the measure of De Vaudreuil's heart.
Bienville, on his departure from the colony, had left it at war with the Chickasaws. These Indians, on their being informed that a new governor had arrived, sent to him four of their chiefs, with a Frenchman, their prisoner, named Carignan, to sue for peace. Vaudreuil answered that he would not treat with them, except it were in concert with his allies, the Choctaws, to whom they should make ample amends for all the injuries they had inflicted upon them at the instigation of the English, and except they should drive away from their villages the English traders, who, he said, were the authors of all their misfortunes. The Chickasaws took time to consider these conditions.
The necessity of providing against the ever threatening overflows of the Mississippi had struck De Vaudreuil, and jointly with Salmon, the king's commissary, he published, on the 18th of October, an ordinance which commanded the planters to have their levees made, or in a safe condition, by the 1st of January, 1744, under the penalty of forfeiting their lands to the crown. Evidently, this penalty was sufficiently stringent to secure the execution of the ordinance. Thus closed the year 1743, during which the expenses of the administration of the colony amounted to 348,528 livres.
In the beginning of 1744, the Chickasaws informed De Vaudreuil that they would accept his conditions, and dismiss the English traders from their villages, if the p21 French could supply them with all the goods, merchandise and ammunition, of which they stood in need. This De Vaudreuil could not do, nor could he promise to do, without exposing himself to a breach of faith; and with no small degree of concern did he learn that the Chickasaws were negotiating with the Choctaws, to conclude a treaty of peace with them, without including the French. On this state of things, he wrote to his government: "I will do my best to defeat these negotiations, which, if successful, would be ruinous to the colony. We must not forget that we are in a state of the utmost destitution, that our warehouses are empty, and that, between us, who can only make fair promises, and the English, who can give, the Indians cannot hesitate in their choice. Many of them have already carried their furs to the English, and this example will be contagious. All that I can do is, to insinuate to the Choctaws that the Chickasaws are not in good faith in their proposals for peace, and that probably their only object is to lull their enemies into unguarded security, and to strike an unexpected blow upon them, or perhaps that they seek, under cover of their pretended negotiations for peace, to keep the Choctaws in a state of inaction, and in the mean time quietly to get in their harvests." The Marquis concluded his despatch by endeavoring to impress upon the government his conviction of the necessity of forwarding to him, as soon as possible, an ample supply of goods and merchandise.
Vaudreuil had found the colony in a deplorable financial condition. It will be recollected that the government had, in 1735, contrary to the advice of Bienville and Salmon, called in the depreciated paper money of the India Company, and had replaced it by pasteboard notes, (billets de cartes) which, it was said, p22 offered an infinitely better security than the preceding one, because the king's paper was not to be weighed in the same scale with the Company's paper. But hardly had nine years elapsed, when this royal paper was as much depreciated as its more modest predecessor. The depreciation was such, that it was necessary to give three hundred livres in paper for what might have been got for one hundred livres in coin. On the 27th of April, the council of state declared that it considered this condition of things as prejudicial to the finances of the government, the welfare of the colony, and the progress of commerce, and that it had resolved to put an end to such disorders. It, therefore, determined to call in all pasteboard notes, and to pay one hundred livres for every two hundred and fifty livres worth of paper. Such was the rate established, and the mode of payment was not in specie, but consisted in giving drafts on the treasury in France. On these drafts the holders had again to lose a discount. It was also decreed, that all the pasteboard notes which should not be brought in within two months after the promulgation of this edict, should become null and void. In support of the justice of this high-handed and arbitrary measure, it was stated that the government did not feel under the obligation to take up those notes at par, because they had been given to meet expenses and claims which had been raised in proportion to the actual or expected depreciation of the currency in which these were to be paid. Such was the impotent apology offered by the government for its shameless breach of faith, and the poor, helpless colonists had to be satisfied with it. They had found out, too late, that the King's paper, although it went by a more lofty name, was as much of a worthless rag as the Company's paper.
p23 Unfortunately, the Marquis of Vaudreuil marked the beginning of his administration by following the old nefarious custom of granting monopolies. On the 8th of August, he conceded to a man named Déruisseau, the exclusive right of trading in all the country watered by the Missouri and the streams falling into that river. This privilege was for a term a little exceeding five years, beginning on the 1st of January, 1745, to terminate on the 20th of May, 1750. To this grant several conditions were annexed, among which were these:— Déruisseau bound himself to finish the fort established on the Missouri territory, to keep in it a sufficient stock of merchandise to satisfy the wants of the Indians, to maintain, at his own expense, the several Indian tribes of that district in a state of amity among themselves and with the French, to supply the garrison of the fort with the necessary means of subsistence, to pay to its commander an annual bounty of one hundred pistoles, and to transport to the fort, without charge, all the provisions and effects of that commander. It was stipulated by the governor, that he reserved to himself the right to modify, change, or alter any of the conditions of the grant, according to circumstances, and in the way which the prosperity of the country might require.
In rendering an account of what he had done, De Vaudreuil said, in a despatch of the 6th of December, that one of his reasons for granting to Déruisseau the monopoly of trade in the Illinois district was, to deprive the colonists in that region of all means of carrying on any kind of commerce with the Indians, and thus to force them into the cultivation of the soil. He added: "It would be proper to prohibit the introduction of p24 negroes into that part of country, in order to correct the indolent habits of the colonists, and to oblige them to work themselves. Moreover, negroes would be more productive in the lower part of the colony. It would not be expedient to allow negroes to be taken up to the Illinois, except when the white inhabitants should be weaned from their life of wandering and plunder, and when, having assumed sedentary habits, they should at least be occupied in causing their negroes to cultivate their lands. I send samples from the mines of lead and copper which we continue to discover in Illinois. To work these mines, it would be necessary to send convicts."
The discovery and working of mines had always been the favorite object which the French government had kept in view, and De Vaudreuil encouraged the same delusion. It is difficult to imagine how the working of those mines could have been carried out with success in those days. The colony could not subsist on its own resources, and provisions had to be sent from the mother country. So scarce were those provisions, that, if all the despatches of the governors are to be taken to the letter as true, the inhabitants, since the very first day of the settlement of the colony, had always been on the eve of starvation. De Vaudreuil himself, in a letter of the 28th of October, 1744, wrote: "If flour had not arrived by the Elephant, the troops would have revolted on account of the want of food." In such circumstances how could several hundreds of workmen have been supported in the mines of Arkansas, or of Illinois? How difficult would it not have been to furnish them with all the necessaries for their mining operations? What returns would have indemnified the government for its enormous p25 outlays? It is astonishing that these considerations should not have precluded the very conception of any project of the kind.
It will be recollected that, shortly after the arrival of the Marquis of Vaudreuil in the colony, the Chickasaws had made proposals for peace, but the Marquis had answered that he would not treat with them separately from his allies, the Choctaws; and when the Choctaws showed themselves favorably disposed towards the Chickasaws, he, under some pretext or other, postponed the consideration of the peace negotiations which had been opened by the Chickasaws, and succeeded at last in reviving the old hatred of these two tribes, and in renewing their acts of hostility, which had been temporarily suspended. Red Shoe, whose intrigues and tamperings with the English had so long been a source of uneasiness to the French, had even been gained over by the diplomacy of the Marquis. The fact is that the policy of the French was to keep the Indian tribes at war with each other, in order to waste away their strength and power. The Indians were not so simple as not to be fully aware of the game that was played upon them. But, by the contact of the civilization of a superior race, they had been inspired with wants which they could not shake off, and had by this means been put under the complete dependency of these two European nations, the French and the English, on which they had now to rely for the gratification of their newly acquired tastes and vices. The nature of the Indian was not such as to enable him to resist the tempting baits constantly thrown in his way by the two great rivals who, with mutual jealousy, were ever struggling for mastery over his tribes; and those ignorant children of the forest were, almost without interruption, driven into p26 some acts leading rapidly to their destruction. Divided among themselves, they were to meet the fate which had befallen, under such circumstances, other far more powerful and more enlightened nations, and they certainly were entirely destitute of the necessary means to oppose an efficient obstacle to the wave of foreign invasion which was gradually gaining ground upon them. They were doomed!
On the 2d of January, 1745, the Marquis of Vaudreuil announced to his government the discovery of an iron mine in the Mobile district, and other mines of the same metal in Illinois; but these discoveries did not lead to any practical results, and prove only one thing — that the experience of forty-five years had not convinced the French of the inutility of these fruitless and expensive researches.
During the whole of the year 1745, the Chickasaws proved very troublesome, and committed depredations which carried desolation and alarm throughout the colony. Red Shoe, with his accustomed versatility, had again become the ally of the English, and had even seduced his old rival, Alibamon Mengo, the hitherto constant friend of the French. But, although the French had thus lost the favor of the Caesar and of the Pompey of the Choctaws, they still retained numerous friends among them, and the French and English factions, as they were called, became so excited that they nearly resorted to blows. On the 28th of October, the Marquis of Vaudreuil wrote to his government: "The Chickasaws, in spite of our efforts to rouse the hostility of all the other Indian nations against them, cannot be destroyed, except it be through another French expedition. Delay increases the difficulties, because these people become every day more familiar with the art of war, and p27 they are gradually enlisting the sympathies of the Cherokees, who are powerful auxiliaries. All expeditions of this nature have been so unsuccessful, that I well conceive the reluctance of the government to renew the attempt. But the roads being now better known, we can accomplish more, and at less expense. Two hundred recruits, in addition to the regulars and militia we already have here, would be all that is wanted. To avoid exposing our men, we would, in attacking the strongholds of the Chickasaws, have recourse to trenching and mining. In having them partially attacked and harassed, we have to spend much in presents to our Indian auxiliaries. It would be better to make short work of it, and to bring this matter to a conclusion." The Marquis closed his despatch by complaining of being entirely destitute of provisions, merchandise and ammunition, and informed his government that the Choctaws were tired of their war against the Chickasaws.
De Loubois, who was one of the oldest and most influential officers of the colony, advocated the same course which the Marquis of Vaudreuil was recommending, and, in a despatch of the 6th of November, strenuously insisted on the importance of forcing the Chickasaws to drive away the English, who, he said, had avowed territorial pretensions extending to the left bank of the Mississippi. For this reason, he agreed with De Vaudreuil in the conclusion, that another expedition against the Chickasaws was necessary.
In a document presented to the French government in 1744, the white population of New Orleans was put down at eight hundred souls, not including two hundred soldiers and the women and children. The black population did not exceed three hundred. A few of the houses were of brick, and the greater portion p28 were wooden buildings, or were bricked up between posts.
"There are," said the author of a census of the colony at the time, "twenty-five inhabitants whose property may be worth from one hundred thousand to three hundred thousand livres. Almost all the colonists are married. The most considerable of them is Mr. Dubreuil, who owns five hundred negroes, several plantations, brick kilns, and silk manufactories."
"At the German Coast there are one hundred white inhabitants and two hundred negroes. Occupations: gardening and grazing."
"Pointe Coupée two hundred whites, four hundred negroes. Occupation: the cultivation of tobacco and the raising of provisions."
"Natchitoches,º sixty whites and two hundred blacks. Productions: cattle, rice, corn, tobacco."
|White inhabitants (male).||Blacks of both sexes.|
|At the Balize,||troops only, no settlers,||80|
|Women and children about||1500|
p29 The old and the new Biloxi, the Pass Christian, and the Bay of St. Louis, where the first French settlements had been made, seem to have been entirely forgotten in this table, and yet they must certainly have retained some of the early settlers or their descendants. Taking into consideration omissions of this kind, and putting down the colonial population at 3500, it shows a remarkable decrease since 1731, when Louisiana was retroceded to the king by the India Company, at which time its population was estimated at 5000. This was a very discouraging proof of an absolute failure, so far, in the work of colonization, and yet the annual expenses of administration had been gradually increased, and now exceeded 500,000 livres.
Salmon, who had been for many years the King's commissary in the colony, had been succeeded by Lenormant, who had hardly entered upon the duties of his office, when he began to quarrel with the Marquis of Vaudreuil. The governor, in a despatch of the 6th of January, 1746, informed his government that the commissary retained for his private use, all the merchandise which he ought to have delivered as presents to the Indians, and that he had them retailed by his clerk to the inhabitants. By which operation, the Marquis pretended that Lenormant realized enormous profits. On the 9th of March, De Vaudreuil reiterated his complaints against Lenormant, whom he accused of starving the troops and of failing to supply the different settlements in the colony with the necessary provisions, and the Indians with the merchandise that they had a right to expect. "By his fault," said he, "I am placed in a very difficult position, being destitute of the means of paying for scalps and of remunerating our Indian friends and allies."
p30 On the 22d of March, De Vaudreuil arrived at Mobile, where twelve hundred Chickasaws had long been waiting for him, and for the usual distribution of presents by which the French used to secure their services. The celebrated Red Shoe had remained at home, and during the absence of the chiefs most favorable to the French, was intriguing to bring about a peace between the Choctaws and Chickasaws. But the chiefs who had gone to Mobile, arrived in time to defeat his machinations. In his anger at being thus foiled, he killed a French officer named the Chevalier de Verbois, and two French traders, who then happened to be among to Choctaws, and whose goods he plundered. On being informed of this outrage, De Vaudreuil immediately sent an officer to demand satisfaction, and obtained the promise that it would be granted.
Towards the end of the year 1745, the engineer Devergèsc had presented to the French government a memorial on the mouths of the Mississippi. "The bars," said he, "which are to be found at the mouths of the river, are so many serious obstructions. The pass which is the deepest, and which has been the only practicable one since 1722, when it was examined and became thoroughly known, is that of the Balize, where ships drawing •from thirteen to fifteen feet water, have been able to run through with more or less facility, in proportion to the depth of the water on the bar; and it has ever since been observed that it has varied •from eleven feet to fourteen feet and a half, so that it was but seldom that vessels drawing from thirteen to fifteen feet water could pass without standing, and without making use of the warp, even after having been lightened of half their cargoes. This pass measures in width •from thirty to forty fathoms, and the current is very rapid."
p31 On the 24th of November, 1746, the Marquis of Vaudreuil wrote to his government: "On being apprised of the declaration of war, I visited the mouths of the Mississippi. From the mobility of the passes, and from the want of solidity in the land bordering on those passes, it is nearly impossible to think of erecting fortifications there. It is only necessary to preserve the fort which already exists at the Balize, less on account of its being effective as a means of defence, than because it serves as a place of depot for our commerce with the Spaniards. Besides, it is useful to maintain a post there, from which we can keep watch over the sea coast, and get timely information as to what may be going on in the gulf."
France being at war, it became necessary to provide for the defence of Louisiana. The spot which, on the Mississippi, seemed the most eligible for the construction of fortifications, was the Plaquemine Turn, then considered as being •thirty-three miles from the Balize. It was the first solid ground to be met with on coming from the sea, and on that account had been selected by Commissary Lenormant. "This reason appeared to me," said De Vaudreuil, in one of his despatches, "to be a good one, and I agreed to it, because fortifications erected at that spot would have protected that considerable portion of the country lying between New Orleans and Plaquemine Turn. But on reflection, I observed (and the same observation struck with equal force both the engineer and the port-master), that the situation of that Turn presented no obstacles to ships, which being once under weigh, could run up beyond it by the help of the same wind which had enabled them to come through the pass. It would be impossible to stop them with the ten eighteen-pounders which are the only pieces of artillery p32 we can set up on each side of the river, because, availing themselves of a fresh breeze, the ships would have but one discharge to stand, and would be out of the reach of our guns before they could be fired at a second time. To command that passage, it would be necessary to have at least three batteries of twenty heavy guns on each side of the river, close to each other, and this would cost immense sums."
De Vaudreuil also stated, that the distance from that spot to New Orleans was another objection, because, if fortifications were constructed there, they would require a permanent garrison, which, in time of need, would not receive with sufficient promptitude the assistance it might want from New Orleans.
"Besides," continues De Vaudreuil, "it has struck me that the only spot on the river which we could use to advantage, with our twenty eighteen-pounders, is the English Turn, which is •fifteen miles distant from New Orleans, and is a natural fortification against ships that are stopped there by the same east and south-east winds which had been so favorable to come up so far. Ships cannot turn round that point without the south-west wind, which but seldom blows from July to January, the very time when the conquest of the country is to be undertaken with better chances of success, because the river is low. But supposing that the ships of the enemy should be favored with a south-west wind, they would hardly get round the Turn and ascend •four miles and a half, when this very wind would become unfavorable, and they would be obliged to wait for an easterly wind to move on. Moreover, it must be observed that there are between the plantations established at the Turn, large wooded tracts of land, thick with intertwined briers, brambles and canes, forming impenetrable jungles p33 which terminate in swamps, cut up with deep water courses and leading to quagmires. Through such a country, protected by good intrenchments and defended by some troops, it would be the height of temerity to penetrate.
"Another advantage would be, the great facility to concentrate there all our forces. These were my reasons for not hesitating in giving the preference to that spot. Therefore I have determined to establish on each side of the river, at those points where ships must come to catch the south-west winds, a fort made up of mud and fascines, with epaulements, the shelving sides of which are to be fenced and secured with hurdles, according to the plans and drawings of Devergès. For the construction of these fortifications, I have ordered, jointly with Mr. Lenormant, the inhabitants of New Orleans and of the neighboring country to send the fifth of their negroes during six weeks. I hope that, in ten days, there will be a battery of ten eighteen-pounders in each fort. It would be proper to send sixteen twenty‑four-pounders with their balls, and fourteen eighteen-pounders, to fill all the embrasures which overlook the river. The intrenchments on the land side would be sufficiently fortified with the four ten-pounders we have at New Orleans. With this additional supply, the colony would be susceptible of defence."
It will be recollected that Bienville had been of opinion that fortifications could be erected at the Balize; and that he had, in 1741, contracted with Dubreuil for the partial construction of fortifications, for which he had agreed to pay 297,382 livres. The engineer Devergès had also decided in favor of the possibility of erecting effective fortifications at the Balize, and had estimated their cost at 532,408 livres. The Marquis of Vaudreuil p34 entertained, as it is seen, a different view of the question, and preferred the English Turn; but modern engineers have declared in favor of the site chosen by Lenormant, the Plaquemine Turn, where now stand the fortifications called Forts Jackson and St. Philip.
On the 26th of November, the Marquis wrote to the French government: "I received, in November last, the letter of the 6th of May, in which I was informed that three ships of the line and one frigate had left England in the month of April, under the command of Admiral Knowles, who was to stop at Antigua and then at Jamaica. It is supposed that this armament is destined to operate against Louisiana. I have also been informed that General Oglethorpe was to return shortly to Georgia with additional troops, and that perhaps Admiral Knowles would combine with him in Florida. I gave information of it to the Governors of Pensacola, St. Marc and St. Augustin.
"I am prepared for any event that may occur. I have the strong will to be equal to the emergency, whatever it may be, but I am sadly deficient in means to back this will. I have nothing wherewith to defend the East Pass, where a new channel has formed itself in the parts nearest to the Balize. This channel is •from fifteen to sixteen feet deep on the bar at low water, and measures in length •two hundred fathoms, through the battures which advance most into the sea, in the shape of a horse-shoe. This channel is divided into three outlets, or mouths. Two of these outlets are •from ten to twenty-five fathoms in width each, and the third •from thirty to forty, and they are separated from each other by battures and mounds of loam, or unctuous, slimy and adhesive earth emerging from the sea. The largest of these outlets is on the right as you come in. We have labored p35 to fortify this new pass with the help of the planters, who would have coöperated with more efficiency and readiness, if Mr. Lenormant had treated them differently. But he has even refused to supply them with the necessary tools, with provisions for subsistence of their negroes, and with means of transportation. Latterly he went so far as to undertake to force them to complete the fortifications, to the injury of their crops. It was an unjust pretension which was beginning to irritate the planters. I thought it proper, therefore, not to allow him to push the thing further.
"With regard to the forces of the colony, I can dispose of four hundred white men, five or six hundred Indians belonging to the small nations, and from two to three hundred negroes who are to be relied upon. But we are wanting in arms and ammunition."
This was Louisiana in 1746. We have had its substitute under our eye in 1846. What a transformation! What a tale of wonder! It beggars comment!
Miserable as it was, the colony's situation was made still worse by a hurricane, as terrible as those which had committed such damage in 1740. A portion of the crops was destroyed, and the lower part of Louisiana would have been exposed to famine, if assistance had not promptly come from the Illinois district, which annually supplied New Orleans with a great quantity of flour. The boats from Illinois used to arrive at that town towards the end of December, and to depart in January. In those days, it is certain that hurricanes were more frequent than in ours. Nor is it to be wondered at, since it is well known that the physical laws which rule a wilderness are greatly modified, in proportion as it is gradually converted into the abode of civilization. It seems that, as a reward for the p36 patient and persevering labor of man, nature disrobes herself of her primitive rudeness, and that the elements, ceasing their old struggles, are soothed into gentleness.d
Lenormant, whose province it was, in his capacity of intendant commissary, to preside over the finances of the colony, made on them a report, in which he said: "As soon as the paper money began to lose its value, there was an eager demand for dollars, which were bought at higher or lower prices, in proportion to the wants of purchasers, and the cupidity or speculating avidity of sellers. Hence the origin of all the jobbing which took place in the colony, in relation to bills of exchange and dollars. It increased considerably during the years 1741, 1742 and 1743, but it would be difficult to convey an accurate idea of the ferment which sprung up in the colony on that occasion, of the number of transactions incidental thereto, and of the skill with which several individuals availed themselves of these circumstances, to the detriment of the interests of the King and the welfare of the colony.
"With regard to the question, whether it would be proper to venture on another emission of paper money, I think that it would be attended with considerable difficulties, inasmuch as the quantity of paper to be emitted cannot be known in advance, no more than the expenses of the colony, to which it is to be proportioned.
"Everything is to be feared from the avidity of the inhabitants of this colony, and from their disposition to stock-jobbing. Their industry, of which a better use might have been made, has, at all times, taken this bad direction; for, although jobbing on the paper currency of the colony, on dollars and bills of exchange, began only in 1737, jobbing on the merchandise in the king's p37 warehouses, and on everything which was susceptible of it, as always been a favorite occupation in the colony. It may be said that it is the only pursuit to which the inhabitants have steadily adhered, much to the prejudice of the nobler one of improving the lands, and in utter disregard of other resources, which, if attended to, would put the colony in a flourishing condition.
"I admit that another emission of paper money will afford relief to the treasury of the marine department at home; but a relief which would only be temporary, and would not exceed the duration of one year, would not counterbalance the risks which are inseparable from the introduction and existence of this kind of currency in the country."
Thus Lenormant wrote in anticipation, a century ago, the history of the deleterious effects of a system, which we lately saw stretched to its fullest extent, until its apparently strong texture snapped under the hands by which it had been woven. But the hotch-potch of corruption, of financial gambling, of frantic stock-jobbing and of thieving speculation, the mushroom wealth of the few amidst the sudden ruin of the many, and the mass of lasting depravation and misery which appalled our sight, from the year 1835 to 1843, threw into the shade all the foregone calamities which paper money, ill advised and more foolishly applied, had entailed upon the colony since its foundation. The historical records of the world teem with the similarity of causes and effects through the long avenue of ages, on which the eye of study looks back with distinct vision, but it may be more than doubted whether, from the observation of past events and its deductions, any practical lesson has ever been derived for the benefit of mankind.
On the 11th of May, in the year 1747, the Marquis of p38 Vaudreuil, to put an end to the doubts which had arisen as to the precise extent of the New Orleans district, decreed that it began at the mouth of the Mississippi, including both banks up to the German Settlement exclusively, above New Orleans, and that it embraced also Bayou St. John, and that part of the country, back of the town, which was originally called Chantilly, from the princely seat of the Condés in France; but which, in our days, is known under the appellation of Gentilly, into which Chantilly has been gradually corrupted.
The fear of being attacked by the English still haunted the Marquis of Vaudreuil, and, in a despatch of the 15th of May, he communicated to his government the precautionary measures of defence which he had taken. There being but •seven or eight feet water over the Balize bar, which was rapidly filling up, he removed the guns from the fort which defended this mouth of the Mississippi, and withdrew two-thirds of the garrison, leaving but one eight-pounder and two four-pounders, with a detachment of fifteen soldiers and one pilot, to fire signal guns when necessary, for the benefit of the French ships. The officer who had the command of this detachment was instructed to be on the look-out, and to abandon his post and run up to New Orleans with his men, whenever he should descry together several ships of the enemy. De Vaudreuil considered that the East Pass was the one through which the English were likely to come, as it was •seventeen feet deep, and the French ship, the Camel, had lately got over the bar with the greatest facility. "I send," wrote De Vaudreuil, "two plans and estimates for two forts, one of which is to be at the Plaquemine Turn, a situation which Lenormant still continues to extol. In addition to the reasons which I have already given against selecting that spot, I must say that the p39 ground is only •two feet and a half above the lowest water-mark, and is covered with •one foot water when the river overflows. Moreover, it is probable that the ground is not sufficiently solid to sustain works of fortification, and such is the opinion of the engineer Duvergès, whose knowledge is matured by long experience. At the English turn, the ground is raised •nine or ten feet about the lowest water-mark, and can bear the weight of any kind of work. It is urgent to determine, as soon as possible, on the choice of the site which is to be fortified."
Thus the French government had the unpleasant prospect of a large amount of additional expenses to be incurred for the protection of Louisiana, when the current expenses of the colony, for 1747, had already, before the expiration of the year, exceeded those of the preceding ones, and had risen to 500,445 livres.
When the year 1748 dawned upon the colony, the apprehension of British invasion had not abated, and the insecurity of the colonists was made greater by the feeling of enmity against the French which had been gradually instilled into a considerable portion of the Choctaw nation. It will be recollected that, in 1746, Red Shoe had murdered the Chevalier de Verbois and several traders, for which deed no satisfaction had as yet been given, in spite of the repeated demands and exertions of the Marquis of Vaudreuil. At the beginning of 1748, the animosity between the French and the English party among the Choctaws ran so high, that it broke into a civil war. The Choctaws of the English party were in the minority, and were therefore called rebels. They divided into small bands to make excursions against the French, and they proved exceedingly troublesome. One of these bands attacked the German Settlement above p40 New Orleans, on the left bank of the river, killed a white man, wounded his wife, and made his daughter a prisoner. They also carried away three black men and two black women. This attack spread such consternation, that most of the planters abandoned their houses, and came down to New Orleans with their negroes. To send them back, it was necessary to use threats, and to give them, as a guarantee of protection, a strong detachment of troops to escort them to their deserted homes. But, when after a short stay, the detachment returned to New Orleans, rumors of danger began to be so rife again, that most of the planters on the German Coast, who were on the left side of the river, crossed over to the right side, where they had to go through the laborious operation of clearing the ground of its timber and wild cane, whilst they abandoned, through exaggerated apprehensions, well cultivated lands, comfortable dwellings, and a considerable number of cattle; but their fear of the Indians had overcome all other considerations. Such was the alarm which prevailed, at that time, even in the very vicinity of New Orleans!
The Choctaw who, at the head of a small band, had attacked the German settlement, was, on his return to his village, killed by his own brother and chief, who belonged to the French party; and a brother of Red Shoe, who had been sent to Carolina to claim assistance from the English, was assailed at the Kaouitas and lost eight men. On the 14th of July, the Choctaws of the French party surprised a village of the English party and killed thirteen men, among whom were some distinguished chiefs. The Choctaws friendly to the English, being determined to have their revenge, attacked in their turn, on the 16th of August, a village of the opposite faction. The fight was more obstinate than is generally the case in Indian p41 warfare, and the losses were very heavy on both sides, but the allies of the English were obliged to give way, and were hotly pursued a distance of •nine miles. It was estimated that they left on the ground eighty men killed, and that their wounded, of whom several died subsequently, amounted at least to the same number. Several other battles, in which the French party always had the advantage, speedily followed; and the Choctaws, being made cooler and wiser by such copious and repeated bleedings, began to discover that they were annihilating their own nation for the ultimate benefit of the English and of the French, who were goading them on with mutual emulation and satisfaction. Their wise men held several councils, and it was at last determined to make away with Red Shoe, who was the chief obstacle to the restoration of peace. In consequence of this determination, this celebrated warrior was killed, as he was returning to his village with a convoy of English merchandise. This blow might have proved effective, if the goods and their English owners had also been destroyed with Red Shoe; but such was not the case, and the English, availing themselves of the means they had on hand to bribe the Indians, gathered a goodly number of partisans, at the head of whom they placed a brother of Red Shoe; and succeeded in thus keeping up the civil war. The French establishments were again attacked, and some persons were killed. The English took advantage of the renewal of hostilities to give more extension to their commerce. But Grand‑Pré, who commanded at Tombecbee, having been informed that five English traders were preparing to depart from some of the Chickasaw villages, with sixty horses loaded with furs, posted himself in ambuscade with thirteen friendly Indians, and attacked the English, whom he completely defeated. p42 One of them was killed, but the rest escaped, leaving all the horses of the convoy, with their rich loads, in the hands of Grand‑Pré.
Whilst the French were obtaining these advantages on the Choctaw territory, they were exposed to great danger among the Illinois, who had been gained over by the English, and who had resolved to rise upon the French. Fortunately, the conspiracy was discovered in time; and the Chevalier de Berthel, who commanded in that district, acted with an energy which put a stop to the intended hostilities of the Indians. The Marquis of Vaudreuil, in transmitting to his government an account of all these disturbances among the Indians, said that they were to be attributed to the contempt which the red nations had conceived for the French, from seeing the smallness of their forces at their different settlements, and to the belief which had been impressed upon them by the English, that the King of France had no more ships to transport his warriors to Louisiana.
From this cause, or from another, the audacity of the Indians was daily on the increase. Some Frenchmen, who had gone in pursuit of game in the vicinity of New Orleans, were killed by some of those red marauders, and the Mobile settlement was thrown into such a state of alarm, that the Marquis of Vaudreuil thought it requisite to quiet those apprehensions by his presence, and paid a visit to that place. Whilst at Mobile, he caused every house to be fortified with palisades, and stationed all the neighboring small nations on the avenues to the town, to guard it against surprise.
It was during the absence of Vaudreuil, that the sportsmen of whom I have spoken were murdered near New Orleans. Noyan, whom Vaudreuil had left in command during his absence, sent fifty men, one half of the line p43 and the other half of the militia, to scour the country in search of the marauders. This detachment, commanded by Tixerant, met a party of Choctaw hunters, whom the French took to be the enemy they were looking after, and two men were sent to reconnoitre. But they were discovered by three Choctaws who were on the march, and who uttered their customary shrieks to give warning to the rest of their party. The two Frenchmen took immediately to their heels, and, having joined their countrymen, communicated to them the panic with which they had been seized. The whole detachment retreated in haste, and did not think themselves safe, until they had put a bayou between them and what they supposed to be the enemy. Not satisfied with this natural protection, they set to work to fortify themselves. When the Indians saw the French retreat in a manner which resembled a flight, they, in the excitement of the moment, fired a few shots, which killed one soldier and wounded two. But the French and the Indians having come to a parley, the chief of the Indians apologized for what had taken place, and affirmed that the shots had been fired, not by his men, but by some runaway negroes whom he offered to deliver up to the French. Thus ended this affray; but the Marquis of Vaudreuil, having heard of it, was highly incensed at the want of firmness exhibited by the French. He complained bitterly to his government of the conduct of Tixerant, their commander, whom he called a drunkard; and this officer was ignominiously dismissed from the army.
At no time since its foundation had the colony been more harassed by the incursions of the Indians. Those attacks followed close on the heels of each other, and left little breathing time to the colonists. Thus, a short time after the happening of the events which I have related, p44 a party of Indians, making their appearance on the plantation of a man called Cheval, at the German Coast, seized the arms of a number of Frenchmen and blacks who were working in the fields, and who, finding themselves destitute of all means of defence, fled to their boats and crossed the Mississippi, with the exception of two white men, named Bouchereau and Rousseau, who remained with two negroes, and who had the hardihood to attempt to drive the Indians out of a house which they were plundering. The two Frenchmen were soon killed, and the Indians sallied out to scalp them, but the two negroes fought so stoutly for the protection of the bodies of their masters, that they killed two Indians and drove the rest back into the house. The negroes clung to the battle-field, near the corpses, which, with touching fidelity, they were loath to abandon, until one of them was killed by a shot from the house, and the other had received several flesh wounds. It was only then that this brave man thought of retreat, and slowly moving towards the river, he plunged into the turbid stream. In spite of the loss of blood, he had swum more than half way across the Mississippi, when he was picked up by a boat.
The Indians, having no further resistance to overcome, issued out of their stronghold, and were going from one plantation to another in search of plunder, when they met a well known dancing master of New Orleans, named Baby. He was hyperbolically tall, thin and sallow; his sunken cheeks almost kissed each other under the arch of his curved nose, and his small twinkling grey eyes, under their shaggy and bushy brows, looked out with a melancholy expression, and squinted right and left, in an opposite direction to each other, as if they were both, each on its own account, anxiously in search of the lost p45 substance belonging to the body of which they formed a part. The eccentricities of Baby's mind, as well as those of his physical organization, had made him famous in the colony, and the doleful mien with which he used to give his lessons, had gained him the appellation of the Don Quixote of dancing. Baby, when spied by the Indians, was mounted on a small creole donkey, as lean and uncouth as himself, and on which he held himself up as majestically erect as if he stood ready to dance the court minuet; the head was protected against the rays of the sun by a grey beaver as large as an umbrella; the heels of his long legs, armed with •seven‑inch Mexican rowels, were almost sweeping the ground, so that it seemed as if both man and beast were walking together, and it was doubtful which one carried the other, if carrying there was. The Indians, who are not prone to laughter, were, however, moved to it by this strange apparition, and resolved to take alive the quadruped and the biped. With eager competition and with deafening shouts they rushed upon poor Baby, under the impression that he would be an easy prey, but they were soon undeceived. Baby had no other weapon than a hunting knife, but his long arm brandished it with so fearful a rapidity of action, his long and muscular legs gave such kicks, his elongated dagger-like spurs made such gashes, and his crane-like throat emitted such a variety of unearthly sounds, that the Indians shrank back in astonishment and affright, and Baby had time to take refuge, with his faithful donkey, in a house in which a young man, named Guillaume, had barricaded himself, with ten or twelve black boys and girls whom he had gathered together, and who had been forgotten when the white and black population had fled across the river. The house was strongly built, and Guillaume and Baby, although p46 they had but one gun and little ammunition, defended themselves with such effect against the attacks of the Indians, that they drove them away, after having wounded one of them dangerously. But Baby received in the neck a mortal wound, of which he died, the next day, in the Charity Hospital of New Orleans, whither he had been transported.
De Vaudreuil, on being informed of this attack, sent immediately several detachments of regulars, militia, and friendly Indians, in all the directions which the retreating enemy was likely to take. The French met the Choctaws on the Bayou St. John, where a sharp encounter took place. All the booty, ammunition, provisions, boats and prisoners of the Indians fell into the possession of the French; and two only of these marauders, who dashed into the swamps and were lots sight of, could make their escape. "This is," writes the Marquis of Vaudreuil, with some degree of contempt, "what has caused so much alarm! If the inhabitants of the German Settlement and those of New Orleans were to be believed, that troop of Indians was composed of two hundred of the most intrepid of the Choctaw warriors. But I have always thought that there were, at most, no more than from twelve to fifteen vagabonds, who, knowing the timidity of the Germans, had come to steal some of their negroes with the intention of selling them to the English."
The Marquis went on saying that a black woman, who had been made prisoner by these Indians, informed him that they were thirteen in number, as he had always presumed; and he complained of the want of energy showed by the Chevalier D'Arensbourg, who commanded at the German Coast, and who, with a force of one hundred and twenty to one hundred and thirty men p47 whom he had under his orders, could not act in time to check the depredations of a handful of Indians, or intercept their flight. Thus closed the year 1748. It proved a very unquiet and onerous one to the colony, the expenses of which amounted to 539,265 livres.
On the 2d of January, 1749, Maurepas, who was then at the head of the government in France, framed some instructions relative to the commerce of the colony, and addressed them to the Marquis of Vaudreuil, and to Michel de la Rouvillière, who had succeeded Lenormant as Intendant Commissary. "I request you," wrote the minister, "to prevent, with great care, the carrying on between Louisiana and the English colonies of any contraband trade, which may enable the colonists, to the detriment of the King's interests, to sell their indigo to the English, and to receive in train other merchandise, negroes or money. Let it be your special duty to prevent this; and it requires the more care and attention on your part, from the fact that English smugglers have for some time past found their way into the colony. I have even been informed that ships have been fitted out in Louisiana for Carolina. Should there be no end put to this state of things, the taste for this fraudulent trade would strike deep roots in the colony. The will of the King is, that you should strictly prohibit all trading between Louisiana and the English. You must not, under any pretext, receive in the colony any of their ships, and those that attempt to penetrate into any of her ports must be confiscated. In a word, you must neither tolerate, nor allow to go on without punishment, any kind of trading with the English, and his majesty would admit of no excuse on your part. This applies also to trading with the Dutch."
It is evident that this system was not calculated to p48 relieve the distresses and the necessities of the colony, nor to promote its commercial prosperity. In our days, on the exuberantly fertile soil of Louisiana, teeming with every sort of produce, in her noble city of New Orleans, that Cybele of the western waters, rising in pride with her shining crescent of ships, if not with her tiara of towers, commerce is king, but a king who began with being the veriest of slaves. May, for the benefit of all nations, the shattered fetters forever remain at the feet of the enfranchised sovereign, and may the trident of Neptune be for ever the sceptre of peace, extended throughout the world over the elements of discord!
If the government acted with short-sighted illiberality with regard to commerce, it seemed disposed to show more favor to the agricultural interest; and, in order to give more extension to the production of wax from the Candleberry tree (Cyrea myrifica), it authorized the Marquis of Vaudreuil to purchase the whole crop of this kind of wax, for the account of the king, at the rate of ten to twelve livres a pound.
During the year 1749, no change happened for the better in the affairs of the colony, which continued to suffer greatly from the hostilities of the Indians. The Marquis of Vaudreuil, in a despatch of the 22d of September, speaks of incessant attacks made by the several Indian nations throughout the extensive territory of the colony, and describes the general alarm which existed from Natchez to New Orleans. "To destroy entirely the Indians," said he, "there could be nothing so effective as a force composed of the creoles of the country. They alone are able to scour the woods, and to make war after the fashion of these barbarians. But unfortunately there is not a sufficient number of them."
The year 1750 brought some relief to the colony. p49 The struggle which had continued so long among the Indians, between the partisans of the French and those of the English, seemed to be drawing to a close, and the ascendency of the French had prevailed. Of the thirty-two Choctaw villages then occupied by that nation, only two remained in the possession of the English party, and even in these two villages some of the warriors were wavering, and disposed to abandon their chiefs to make peace on their own account. The English party, however, showed a great deal of energy, and in the beginning of June, in a desperate fight in which they engaged, they lost one hundred and thirty scalps. This was a crushing blow; and one still more effectual was struck, in September, by Grand‑Pré, who, at the head of a party of the Choctaws attached to the French, entirely subdued the English party, and forced them to sue for peace, which was granted to them on the following conditions:— 1st. That capital punishment should be inflicted on any Choctaw, be he a chief or a common warrior, who should kill a Frenchman; and that, if the friends or kinsmen of that chief or warrior should oppose the infliction of the penalty, then that the whole nation should take up arms, and make these men share the fate of the culprit they had attempted to protect. 2d. That death should be the penalty incurred by any Choctaw, be he a chief or a common warrior, who should introduce an Englishman into his village; and that revenge for his death should never be sought by any one of the nation; and further, that the Englishman thus introduced be put to death. 3d. That the whole Choctaw nation should continue to make war upon the Chickasaws, and should never cease to strike at that perfidious race (so called in the language of the treaty) as long as there should be any portion of it remaining. 4th. That in the villages p50 of the rebels (as were designated the Choctaws of the English party), all the forts should be destroyed as speedily as possible, and that, on both sides, the prisoners and the slaves taken during the war should be restored. This was called the "Grand‑Pré Treaty," and was intended as a curb and a bridle sufficiently strong to manage the Choctaws for the future.
Thus tranquillity was at last re-established in the colony. A detachment of troops was stationed at the German Coast, and another at the Tunicas, where, at the request of that nation, a fort was built by the French. Those Indians had long since prayed for the construction of a fort, to protect their women and children when their warriors were gone on war expeditions. With regard to the Chickasaws, they also, exhausted by their long struggle against the French and Choctaws, had sued for peace; and in token of their desire to bury the hatchet of war, and as the interpreter of their sentiments, they had sent to the Marquis of Vaudreuil a French woman and some children, whom they had, in the course of the preceding year, made prisoners at the Arkansas. The Marquis answered that he would take their petition into consideration, but that if they wished to obtain peace, it was necessary that they should behave better than they had done so far. The truth is that the French wanted no peace with the Chickasaws, who had been their implacable enemies since the foundation of the colony, and that they had resolved on their entire destruction. With them, for the accomplishment of this purpose, it was merely a question of time. On this subject, De Vaudreuil wrote to his government: "With regard to the Chickasaws, we must wait patiently, and postpone all action until we are able to undertake another expedition against p51 them. From the unsuccessful expeditions which took place from 1736 to 1740, the Indians have drawn the inference that we are not able to destroy or to subdue the red men. Until we have returned full retaliation for the failure of our past operations, and until the impression produced by that failure be entirely wiped off, we shall always be in an extremely critical situation."
It will be remembered that, in 1747, the Intendant Commissary, Lenormant, had opposed a new emission of paper money; but his successor, Michel de la Rouvillière, pursued a very different course. The expenses of the colony had greatly increased; its scanty resources had diminished; and with almost a total absence of help from the mother country, it was very difficult for De Vaudreuil and Michel de la Rouvillière to carry on the colonial government. To relieve their necessities, and perhaps also to gratify the wishes of many, who looked with delight at the prospect ever offered to the greedy by the manufacturing and throwing in the market of a quantity of paper money, these two high functionaries issued a joint ordinance creating notes of twenty to thirty livres, and of greater value if necessary. These notes were to be given in payment of all the King's expenses and debts, and to be exchanged for all other papers, obligations, and bonds, so that they should speedily become the only currency of the colony.
The French government received with astonishment the news that such a measure had been adopted, and expressed its disapprobation of it in very explicit terms. De Vaudreuil and Michel de la Rouvillière were energetically censured for having exercised a power which had never been delegated to them; they were ordered to withdraw all the paper they had issued, and to exchange these obligations for drafts on the treasurers-general p52 of the Crown in France. The ministerial despatch on this subject contained these words: "The experiment which was made in Louisiana as to paper currency ought to inspire great circumspection in so delicate a matter, and it cannot be doubted but that the Governor's recent ordinance would soon produce the same disorders which were formerly the result of measures of the same kind." Such was the view taken of the subject by the French government, and De Vaudreuil and Michel de la Rouvillière were plainly told that their conduct, on that occasion, was without a shadow of excuse.
If the Marquis of Vaudreuil had the mortification of incurring the displeasure of his government in this particular act of his administration, he had the satisfaction, on the other hand, of succeeding, at last, in the application which he had made, during so many years, for the increase of the military forces of the colony. The King decreed that, for the future, there should be kept up in the colony thirty-seven companies of fifty men each, exclusive of officers. It was also decreed that the Governor could discharge, annually, two soldiers from each company, on condition that they should settle in the colony; and that, to all persons coming to establish themselves in Louisiana, there should be granted a supply of corn and rice for eighteen months, with the necessary implements to improve the lands that would be conceded to them. By the same royal ordinance, to mechanics settling in cities a supply of provisions for six months was allowed, with the instruments required for their trade. But the Governor was instructed to take special care that the liberality of the King should not be turned to improper and unprofitable uses; that the lands conceded should lie close to each other, and be p53 well selected; and that the formation of villages be encouraged.
On the 12th of October, Livaudais, the chief pilot and harbor-master, made an interesting report on the mouth of the Mississippi. The attention of the French government had always been fixed on this important subject, on which, from time to time, all the information which could be collected from careful observation was solicited, and filed in the archives of France.1
Towards the close of the year (1750), the colony was thrown into a state of excitement by the discovery that a great deal of the paper currency of the country was counterfeited, and therefore entirely valueless. It gave rise to strict investigations, and a colored man, named Joseph, was tried and convicted as one of the perpetrators of this crime. He was sentenced to be whipped by the public executioner, to have the mark of the flower-de‑luceº branded on his shoulder with hot iron, and to be transported for sale to one of the French West India islands.
On the 12th of January, 1751, the Marquis of Vaudreuil wrote to his government to obtain the Cross of St. Louis for De Grand‑Pré, as a reward for all the services which this distinguished officer had rendered in the wars with the Indians. The name of Grand‑Pré, so well known in the oldest annals of chivalry, awakens stirring recollections of past, and recalls to mind the enlivening associations of history and poetry. What says Shakspeare (King Henry V)?
Messenger.— My Lord High Constable, the English lie within fifteen hundred paces of your tent.
High Constable of France.— Who hath measured the ground?
Messenger.— The Lord Grand‑Pré.
The Grand-Prés of Louisiana descend from Pierre Boucher, who was Governor of Trois Rivières in Canada in 1653, and who published an interesting work on that country, then generally named New France. The title of the work is: "Histoire naturelle et veritable des moeurs et productions du pays de la Nouvelle France, vulgairement dite le Canada."
Of the most remarkable men whose deeds will have to be recorded, when the history of Canada shall be written as it deserves to be, Pierre Boucher is to be ranked among the first. The study of his character shows a mixture, delightful to contemplate, of Spartan heroism and of Christian meekness, of the fiery enthusiasm of the knight and the ardent faith of the martyr, of womanly tenderness, unshaken fortitude, worldly shrewdness and almost virgin artlessness, combined with a turn of mind productive of the energetic virtues of the feudal times — a baron and a saint — a man of aristocratic conceptions and bearing, with the utmost liberality of disposition, and the watchfulness of a sister of charity for destitution, sickness and affliction. De Muys, who was appointed Governor of Louisiana in 1707, and who died in Havana on his way to that French colony, was his son-in‑law. Pierre Boucher left a large family which divided itself into two branches. One of them, the Grand-Prés, has taken root in Louisiana, and the other, under the name of Boucherville, flourishes to this day in high social condition in Canada.
On the 18th of February, the Marquis of Vaudreuil and Michel de la Rouvillière published regulations of police, which, as forcible illustrations of the administration p55 of the colony, and of the manners, ideas, customs and morals then prevailing, are given in the appendix to this work. These regulations are also an evidence of the legislation which was, at that time, thought most appropriate to the state of the country. Hard labor for life, on the King's galleys, was inflicted for offences which, in our days, would hardly be visited with the penalty of a few hours' imprisonment.
There is no doubt that Louisiana, under the arbitrary legislation of the despotic government of France, was frequently a sort of state prison or Bastile, to which were sent the victims of those orders of arrest, so well known under the name of Lettres de Cachet. In connexion with the exercise of this kind of authority, there is a curious despatch of the Marquis of Vaudreuil, dated on the 15th of May, 1751, in which he writes to the Minister in France: "The situation of the Lady of Ste. Hermine, who came to this colony, thirty years since, by virtue of a Lettre de Cachet, obliges me to represent to you that this lady is at present unable to maintain herself here any longer, on account of the extreme destitution to which she is reduced by the death of Mr. de Loubois, with whom she had always lived. I beg permission to send her back, gratis, to France, in one of the King's ships. Moreover, the Lettre de Cachet has expired, and the lady is very old." Under these cold lines there lies perhaps a tale of deep woe and passion; and who knows how many such have passed by, unnoticed, on the far distant banks of the Mississippi, and in the discreet solitude of the boundless domains of the Father of Rivers!
During the year 1751, the colony found itself in a better state of protection than it had ever been. This evidently proves the power of the Marquis at court; for p56 more had been done for him than for any of his predecessors. His salary was greater than that of any of the preceding governors; and he had under his orders two thousand regulars — a larger force than had ever been seen in Louisiana. The distribution of these troops throughout the colony, was as follows:
|District of||New Orleans,||900 French,||75 Swiss,||975|
|"||Mobile,||400 French,||75 Swiss,||475|
This increase of troops and expenses was received as a demonstration that the French government intended to push on the work of colonization with more energy than it had previously done, and with the expectation of better results. But it was soon discovered that it was a mere transient effort; that it had not originated in any deep laid and settled plan, or any firm resolve in a persevering course of action; and that it was, either the offspring of accidental and ephemeral determination from those in power, or of personal considerations and favoritism. Whatever may have been the cause of this unusual grant of protection to Louisiana, the events which followed in a few years, prove it to have been one of those fitful, apparent revivals of strength and health, which frequently precede the last agonies of death.
Governor Vaudreuil and the Intendant-Commissary Lenormant had quarrelled, according to the good old custom prevailing in the colony since its foundation; and although the Marquis and Michel de la Rouvillière, p57 the successor of Lenormant, had, at first, been on good terms, and had agreed on the issuing of paper money, which measure the French government had disapproved, they soon disagreed on every other act of administration. Hence followed, as usual, bickerings, recriminations and mutual accusations, which disturbed the colony. These two high functionaries soon became more intent upon counteracting each other, than upon devising plans for the benefit of the colony; and the opposition which they made to each other cramped and impeded the operations of their respective departments. On the 15th of May, 1751, Michel de la Rouvillière wrote to the French government:
"At the English Turn, Mr. de Vaudreuil has stationed the Ensign Duplessy, who is a raw recruit, without either capacity or experience. This officer, being drunk, ill-treated the store-keeper Carrière. But the Governor sided with the officer; for, who says officer says all. When the west officer is uttered, the world must quake. Hence, when one of those gentlemen has any misunderstanding with a private citizen, he never fails to exclaim: 'Are you aware that you are speaking to an officer?' And if, by chance, the affair comes before me, the defence of the officer against whom the complaint is brought, may be summed up in these words, which he utters in a tone of astonishment: 'What! Sir! he dares thus speak to, or thus act toward an officer!' and although the officer may be in the wrong, judgment is always given against his adversary, because the military influence is predominant in the Council, through the Governor, the Major, and the Governor's flatterers.
"No justice is to be expected from Mr. De Vaudreuil; he is too lazy, too negligent; his wife is too malicious, too passionate, and has too strong interests in all the p58 settlements, and in the town of New Orleans, not to prevail upon him to keep on fair, and even on servile terms, with the body of officers, and with others.
"He was to destroy the abuses which sprung into existence during the sway of the India Company, but he has carefully abstained from doing so. Those abuses are too flattering to his vanity, since he is the absolute master of every thing, and they are too favorable to his interests to be eradicated. The army and the old members of the council find their advantage in this state of things, since they vex the public with impunity, as they have always done, through the protection they obtain from the Governor by their servile courting of that functionary."
The Marquis of Vaudreuil, in his turn, did not, in his despatches, treat the Intendant Commissary Michel de la Rouvillière with more lenity. In a communication of the 20th of July, he complained that the Commissary did not furnish the several military posts in the colony with the supplies of which they stood in need, and that it produced the worst effects on the troops and provoked desertion. He said that the Choctaws were impatient at not receiving their customary presents; that this delay was much to be regretted, and might have the most fatal consequences; that he was even aware that they had had some conferences with the English, and that Michel de la Rouvillière was only intent on gratifying his self-love and his taste for despotism. On the very same day, Michel de la Rouvillière was also scribbling away denunciations against De Vaudreuil. He complained of the manner in which the King's merchandise was wasted, and declared that De Vaudreuil distributed it capriciously to his favorites at the different stations where they commanded, and that the Choctaws, p59 through bad management, were a source of enormous expense to the government.
"There is no question," says he to the Minister, "but that the Governor is interested, for one-third in the profits made at the post of Tombecbee, where De Grand‑Pré commands, and that he has the same interests in all the other posts. Nobody doubts it here. Lenormant, my predecessor, must have proved it to you in his memorials, and informed you that Mr. De Vaudreuil had gone security for the commanders at their respective posts, and for the traders who had taken on lease the privilege of trafficking with the Indians. The Marquis is too proud to have thus behaved, if he had not been prompted to it by self-interest. The commanders at the posts are all Canadians, who are his creatures, or who are kinsmen or relations of his own or of his wife.
"Mr. de Pontalba, the only one who does not belong to this gang, holds the government of Pointe Coupée, solely because he shares his profits with the Governor's lady. I have it from his own mouth, and, surely, he will not be called upon to draw lots with his brother officers, when the time shall come for the distribution of the troops which are to garrison our posts. There will be some pretext found to keep him where he is, and as specious a one will no doubt be discovered in favor of Mr. de Grand‑Pré, who commands at Tombecbee, and who will not cast lots. In the meantime, the command of the English Turn has been withheld from Mr. de la Houssaye, who has given himself a great deal of trouble for the welfare of the new settlers at that point. As usual, flour was lately sent to Tombecbee for the garrison; but it was sold, also as usual, and corn was given for food to the soldiers, of whom eight have deserted.
"Mr. Delino, an ensign, who is a kinsman of Mr. de p60 Vaudreuil's and who commands at the Arkansas, having heard that new troops had arrived, and that the officers of the colony were to cast lots for the distribution of the several posts among them, and being anxious to make sure of his own, which is one of the best in the colony, abandoned it without permission, leaving a corporal in command. He arrived here to the great astonishment of everybody. Mr. de Vaudreuil, who felt the consequence of such an act of insubordination, sent him back within forty-eight hours, but inflicted no punishment. On his return to the Arkansas, Mr. Delino found that the corporal and the rest of the garrison had swept everything clean and had deserted, carrying away all that could be carried. Such are the causes which increase the expenses beyond the Intendant Commissary's control.
"There is no discipline; the most indulgent toleration is granted to the soldiers, provided they drink their money at the licensed liquor shop, (cantine), where they are given drugs which ruin their health; for several months, there has never been less than a hundred of them at the hospital.
"There are here at least sixty officers, who hardly do duty once in fifty days. Not one of them is required to visit the barracks, which are kept in the most filthy and disgusting manner; the soldiers are allowed to do what they please, provided they drink at the liquor shop designated to them; and they carry out of it wine and spirits, which they re-sell to the negroes and to the Indians. This has been proved ten times for one; everybody knows it, and yet the abuse is not stopped. I frequently spoke to Mr. de Vaudreuil on this subject. But this nefarious practice, instead of being checked, has grown more active. It is Mr. de Belleisle, the aid-major, p61 who has the lease and administration of the liquor shop, and who gives for it a certain sum to the Major — others say to the Governor's lady. What is positive is, that Mr. de Vaudreuil has drawn upon the treasury for ten thousand livres of his salary as Governor, which he has given to Mr. de Belleisle, and it is with these funds that the supplies of the liquor shop have been bought.
"Moreover, Madam de Vaudreuil is capable of carrying on a still baser kind of trade. She deals here with everybody, and she forces merchants and other individuals to take charge of her merchandise, and to sell it at the price which she fixes. She keeps in her own house every sort of drugs, which are sold by her steward, and, in his absence, she does not scruple to descend, herself, to the occupation of measurement, and to betake herself to the ell. The husband is not ignorant of this. He draws from it a handsome revenue, to obtain which is his sole wish and aim.
"The first use which has been made of your Excellency's order to put a cadet in each company, was to bestow these favors on new-born children. There are some, between fifteen months and six years old, who come in for the distribution of provisions."
Michel de la Rouvillière enters into further details, as to the abusive acts of authority committed by the officers, and complains of the boundless power which they possess, through the protection of the Marquis of Vaudreuil and of the Council, wherefore many inhabitants are obliged to leave the colony, to avoid vexations. He complains, also, of the bad conduct of the Attorney-General Fleuriau, whom he accuses of presumption, ignorance and passion. But, from the tone of his letters, it cannot be inferred that he, himself, who p62 reproaches Fleuriau for his passionate disposition, was free from a similar fault. His breast certainly does not seem to overflow with the milk of human kindness towards his brothers in authority, at whom he bites with the bitterest tooth of scurrility. If half of what he says be true, the colony must have been in a truly deplorable moral condition; for there prevailed in it the most shameful venality, and the stream of corruption originated in and ran down from the upper regions of society. It must have been a miniature copy of what was then going on in France. These low, but graphic details which have been given here, will not, I hope, be deemed unworthy of being known, for they are the best illustrations of manners; nor is it to be forgotten that history, being the embodiment of human nature in its past actions and feelings, is to be studied with more effect in the unguarded privacies of her bed-chamber, than in her stately halls of reception, where she appears only in her robes of dignity.
In 1732, a royal ordinance had exempted from the payment of duty, during ten years, all the merchandise and good imported from France into the colony, and also the productions of the colony exported to France. In 1741, this ordinance had been renewed for ten years; and now, on the 30th of November, 1751, it was made known that the same privilege should continue in force until 1762. This was persevering in the right path; but the adoption of one liberal measure was not sufficient to establish the prosperity of the colony on a solid basis; — it would have been necessary to co‑ordinate, or to link together, a whole enlightened system of colonization, and to have put it into operation with steadiness, honesty and ability.
It was in this year, 1751, that two ships, which were p63 transporting two hundred regulars to Louisiana, stopped at Hispaniola. The Jesuits of that island obtained permission to put on board of those ships, and to send to the Jesuits of Louisiana, some sugar canes, and some negroes who were used to the cultivation of this plant. The canes were put under ground, according to the directions given, on the plantation of the reverend fathers, which was immediately above Canal street, on a portion of the space now occupied by the Second Municipality of the city of New Orleans. But it seems that the experiment proved abortive, and it was only in 1795 that the cultivation of the cane, and the manufacturing of sugar, was successfully introduced in Louisiana, and demonstrated to be practicable. It was then that this precious reed was really naturalized in the colony, and began to be a source of evergrowing wealth.
On board of the same ships there came sixty girls, who were transported to Louisiana at the expense of the King. It was the last emigration of the kind. These girls were married to such soldiers as had distinguished themselves for their good conduct, and who, in consideration of their marriage, were discharged from service. Concessions of land were made to each happy pair, with one cow and its calf, one cock and five hens, one gun, one axe, and one spade. During the first three years of their settlement, they were to receive rations of provisions, and a small quantity of powder, shot, grains, and seeds of all sorts.
Such is the humble origin of many of our most respectable and wealthy families, and well may they be proud of a social position which is due to the honest industry and hereditary virtues of several generations, whilst some of patrician extraction, crushed under the weight of vices, or made inert by sloth, or labor-contemning p64 pride, and degenerating from pure gold into vile dross, have been swept away, and have sunk into the dregs and sewers of the commonwealth. Thus in Louisiana, the high and the low, although the country has never suffered from any political or civil convulsions, seem to have, in the course of one century, frequently exchanged with one another their respective positions, much to the philosopher's edification.
In 1752, the Chickasaws having renewed their depredations at the instigation of the English, the Marquis of Vaudreuil put himself at the head of seven hundred regulars, and a large number of Indians, with whom he marched against the enemy. But this expedition was not more successful than those undertaken by Bienville. The Chickasaws shut themselves up in some forts which the English had helped them to construct, and which proved impregnable. Contenting himself with setting on fire some deserted villages, and destroying the crops and the cattle of the Chickasaws, the Marquis returned to New Orleans, after having considerably increased the fortifications at Tombecbee, where he left a stronger garrison.
During this year, 1752, a Choctaw, happening to quarrel with a Colapissa, told him that he and all his tribe were no better than the fawning and mean-spirited dogs of the French. Whereupon, the Colapissa, resenting the insult, shot the Choctaw, and fled to New Orleans. The family of the dead claimed the fugitive, to have capital punishment inflicted upon him. The Marquis attempted in vain to persuade the Choctaws to receive presents in exchange for the blood they demanded, and found himself constrained to order that the fugitive be arrested. But nowhere could he be discovered. Whilst the search for him was on foot, his father went to the Choctaws, p65 and offered to die for his son. His proposition was accepted, and his head, shattered by one blow of the revengeful tomahawk, redeemed the life for which he had so willingly forfeited his own. This event became the subject of a tragedy, composed by an officer named Leblanc de Villeneuve. It was one of the first literary productions of the colony.
On the 23d of September, the Intendant Commissary, Michel de la Rouvillière, made a favorable report on the state of agriculture in Louisiana. "The cultivation of the wax tree," says he, "has succeeded admirably. Mr. Dubreuil alone, has made six thousand pounds of wax. Others have obtained as handsome results, in proportion to their forces; some went to the sea-shore, where the wax tree grows wild, in order to use it in its natural state. It is the only luminary used here by the inhabitants, and it is exported to other parts of America and to France. We stand in need of tillers of the ground, and of negroes. The colony prospers rapidly from its own impulse, and requires only gentle stimulation. In the last three years, forty-five brick houses were erected in New Orleans, and several fine new plantations were established."
A short time after writing this dispatch, Michel de la Rouvillière died, and was succeeded by d'Auberville. Under the administration of the Marquis of Vaudreuil, the expenses of the colony kept steadily increasing, and amounted, for the year 1752, to 930,767 livres.
On the 9th of February, 1753, Kerlerec took possession of the government of Louisiana, the Marquis of Vaudreuil having been appointed Governor of Canada, where he distinguished himself, in 1756, by the skill and courage with which he resisted the invasion of the English.
p66 The administration of the Marquis of Vaudreuil was long and fondly remembered in Louisiana, as an epoch of unusual brilliancy, but which was followed up by corresponding gloom. His administration, if small things may be compared with great ones, was for Louisiana, with regard to splendor, luxury, military display, and expenses of every kind, what the reign of Louis XIV had been for France. He was a man of patrician birth and high breeding, who liked to live in a manner worthy of his rank. Remarkable for his personal graces and comeliness, for the dignity of his bearing and the fascination of his address, he was fond of pomp, show and pleasure; surrounded by a host of brilliant officers, of whom he was the idol, he loved to keep up a miniature court, in distant imitation of that of Versailles; and long after he had departed, old people were fond of talking of the exquisitely refined manners, the magnificent balls, the splendidly uniformed troops, the high-born young officers, and many other unparalleled things they had seen in the days of the Great Marquis.
a Gayarré refers to the First Series; the "composition of a more grave nature" is the Second Series. It certainly looks like his readers gave him their feedback on the sea of conjecture, emotionalism and purple prose he gushed out in those earlier pages: he was wise enough to scale back and I'm glad he did. The romantic toccata on the naval battle in which Bienville was wounded — the known facts may be stated in a paragraph — that opens the Second Lecture in Series I, was so dreadful that I stopped typing and scouted forward to see whether Gayarré would keep this up throughout — determined that if he did, the Web would be poorer one book.
b I am no expert on the early sources for the history of Louisiana; but Laharpe, at least, is now considered suspect: see my note in II.2. For Bossu, see Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 3, pp190‑209 and my note there — noting that Gayarré himself (III.6) will impugn his veracity. It seems likely also that Father Charlevoix was not above outright fabrication: see "The Attack on Norridgewock, 1724" (NEQ 7:547‑552).
c Elsewhere (II.1, passim) Gayarré — or his typesetter — will spell the name with no accent; and once, (II.2) Devergés with an acute accent. I've been unable to find the correct spelling; I would plump for Devergès.
d It is worth noting here that on this point Gayarré is firmly in the mainstream of the thought of his time: Nature is made better by being "subdued" by Man; see among many examples the concluding passage of The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon. In our own time we're less certain of it; but the view, ultimately derived from the Bible, was a powerful force in the exploration and settlement of North America that, in 1851 when Gayarré wrote, was still in the future.
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