These headings of the author's are used here as local links to text on this webpage.
A State Trial in 1769, and one in 1851 — Indictment and arguments presented by the Attorney-General Don Felix del Rey against Lafrénière and the other conspirators — Their Defence — Reflections on the right which the Colonists had to resist the Cession — Quotations from Vattel's Law of Nations — Judgment against the accused — Some of them are sentenced to the Gallows, and others to imprisonment — Vain efforts to obtain a Respite from O'Reilly — O'Reilly disposed to connive at the Flight of Noyan, who refuses to avail himself of this favorable circumstance — Want of a White Hangman in the colony — Anecdote of the Black, Jeannot, to whom these functions were tendered — For want of a White Man, as Public Executioner, the accused, who were sentenced to be Hung, are Shot — The Memorial of the Planters, Merchants and other Inhabitants of Louisiana on the event of the 29th of October, 1768, is burnt on the public square — The son of Masan goes to Spain, and throws himself at the feet of the King — He obtains the Pardon of his Father and of the other Prisoners — Aubry, on his Return to France, is Shipwrecked and Lost — Anecdotes of the slaves Artus and Cupidonº — Their heroic Answer to O'Reilly — O'Reilly's Despatch to Grimaldi, in relation to the Trial, the Judgment and the Execution — Aubry's Letter on the same subject — Reflections on the course pursued by O'Reilly — An Anecdote of Cardinal Richelieu and De Thou, applied to O'Reilly — Sequestration and Confiscation of the Property of the Culprits — Cost of the Trial — Inventory of said Property — Description of the Furniture of the wealthiest houses in Louisiana, 1769 — Spartan Simplicity — Description of the Dwellings, Manners and Customs of the Colonists at the time — Census of the Colony — Its Commerce, Agriculture and Finances — Final Reflections.
If twelve among the most distinguished citizens of Louisiana were now brought to trial for high treason, as they were in 1769,º it would require no effort of the imagination to conceive and portray the scenes that would be the natural consequences of such an event. What an excitement there would be through the vast length and p315breadth of the land! What an array of friends, family connexions, wealth, talent and social influence, rushing to the rescue! What passionate discussions in every place of public resort, and in the sanctuary of every man's household! Could that queen of the mind, to whom none so high as not to do her reverence, and none so low as to be beyond the reach of her care and power, could the press remain impassive, when subjected to the thousand currents of electricity that would play upon her! Would she not, like a mirror, be compelled to reflect the passions of the multitude around, and be exposed, under the pressure of the moment, to be broken and divided into fragments, representing perhaps the antagonistical images of prosecution and defence? Would she not, on one side, echo the hue and cry of hatred or prejudice, and, on the other, would she not repeat the pathetic or argumentative language of justification? Or, if soaring above the fields of contention, she rose up to the pure atmosphere of impartiality, would she not, like the eagle, look down with eager impatience at her quarry, and could she suppress the shrill cry of exultation at sight of the rich food prepared for her craving appetite? But, whatever might be the scenes acted and the persons in play, it would be on the broad theatre of the most unlimited freedom, in the cheering and illuminating light of the glorious sun of publicity, and under the scrutinizing eye of the whole civilized world.
Now comes the day of trial. Look at that vast room where stands the seat of judgment. All the doors are open, and within and without the palace of justice are to be seen the serried ranks of an eager crowd. From far and wide, perhaps from the most distant parts of the great American confederacy, men and women have come to share in the emotions of the famous trial which p316occupies the attention of all, and the preliminaries of which have, for months past, with our modern means of conveying intelligence, been made as familiar to the dweller in the remotest village of Maine, as to the immediate neighbors of the accused. The sheriff has proclaimed the court to be in session; the judge, a man sprung from the loins of the people, and appointed by the people to expound and apply the laws which they themselves have framed, is on the bench; the accused have made their appearance at the bar, and are ready to meet the award of their country. Near them, for their protection and defence, stand some of the most learned and eloquent advocates that ever adorned their profession — some who, their national reputation, have been invited from north and south, from east and west, to assist the talent and genius of the State — some, whose will rules senates, and directs the destinies of one of the most powerful nations of the earth — whose thunders of eloquence rise not only over the boundless plains, over the huge range of mountains, and along the innumerable rivers and lakes of the whole continent of America, but also ride the Atlantic wave, and reach with undiminished power and majesty the old European shore. By the side of those whom the law threatens with her uplifted sword, such champions, interposing their shields, and ready to do battle for presumed innocence; and what is perhaps more cheering and more gladdening to the hearts of the accused, is the presence of their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and other relations, with numerous friends who throng the hall, and whose sorrow-stricken countenances are calculated to make such an impression on the theoretically immovable judges!
It is beautiful to see the fortifications and outposts p317which the law has thrown around the life of the meanest citizen of our country, and which must be carried before it can be forfeited. First, a Grand Jury of his fellow-citizens is to determine whether there are sufficient grounds to put him on his trial; then it is his sacred privilege to be tried by his peers, by a petty jury of the vicinage, drawn by lot. He is furnished, in time to be duly examined and considered by him, with a list of the jury, and with a copy of the indictment found against him; he has the right of peremptory challenge, and of challenge for cause. These are some of the advantages secured to him, and of which a more minute enumeration would be out of place. In such a case as the one I have mentioned, it would probably take many a day to empanel a jury, on account of the difficulty of finding men, who, from the public or private reports, and from the very nature of our institutions, would not, in spite of themselves as it were, have formed an opinion on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Yet the jury is sworn at last! The Attorney-General has stated the grounds on which rests the prosecution, and the witnesses for the State are brought to the stand to substantiate them, and are put face to face with the accused. Then come the skirmishes and partial actions between the belligerents, on incidental matters of debate. The examination and cross-examination of witnesses are conducted with most exquisite skill; the questions of evidence are minutely sifted and elaborately argued; every inch of ground is disputed with unwavering energy. When the witnesses for the defence are presented in their turn, the same keen encounter of wits, of science, of dialectics and of elocution is reacted. During all the while, faithful reports of the proceedings have been conveyed to the expecting millions, through the daily columns of the p318press. After many days of manoeuvrings and counter manoeuvrings, and a display of judicial tactics, infinite in variety, the evidence on both sides is closed, and the field of argument is open. Now comes the sublimest of all spectacles — the struggle of intellect against intellect, clad in the gorgeous armor of eloquence. It sheds no blood, but only the divine effulgence of mind, brought into sparkling collision with mind in the sacred discharge of duty. It is the battle of spirits of the air, of archangels fighting, as the bard saw them, with heavenly weapons. But the storm is over, and all the artillery of argument, of logic, of passion and of art has exhausted its missiles. Now is heard the clear and unimpassioned voice of the judge addressing the jury; he analyses the evidence, he sums up the arguments, he confutes sophistry, he expounds the law, and recommends its impartial application. The verdict of the jury closes the solemn scene.
In 1769, far different proceedings took place, the judges descended into the cell of the accused, and forced them to answer minutely all the questions they deemed proper to propound. The prisoners never saw the witnesses who were brought against them, and never knew who they were. These witnesses were examined in secret; and, with the same secrecy, the rest of the evidence was taken and weighed. It must be said, however, that, with regard to the facts on which the trial was to turn, they were abundantly and clearly proved. Indeed they had been of so public a nature that they could not be denied. Therefore, the accused themselves admitted most of them to be true, and confessed the respective parts they had acted in the last insurrection. But they rested their defence on the following grounds: The King of Spain, they said, had never taken possession p319of Louisiana, and Ulloa, who alleged that he was commissioned to that effect, having never shown his powers and credentials, the colonists were not bound to receive him as the representative of his Catholic Majesty, but had the right to consider him as an intruder and an imposter, and to dismiss him from the Province as they did. Not only had the Spaniards never been in possession of Louisiana, but also the colonists had never taken the oath of allegiance to the King of Spain. Therefore, the Province not having become Spanish, it followed that it remained French. Aubry had never ceased to be its governor, and the colonists had not been released from their oath of fealty to the King of France. If the Province had become Spanish, how could Aubry still continue to govern it in the name the French King? How could justice be administered by the same royal authority? On the other side, if it had remained French, what right had Ulloa, on his introducing himself to French subjects, to be believed, on his word, to be the representative of the Majesty of Spain? What right had he, without exhibiting any credentials, either from Louis XV, or from Charles III, to assume any powers in the colony? And when he did so, was it not the duty of the colonists for their protection, in vindication of their dignity, and in conformity with what was due to their legitimate sovereign of France, to eject the foreign trespasser? But, admitting that the taking possession of the colony by the Spaniards, or something tantamount to it, had been effected, or that said formal ceremony of taking possession was not absolutely necessary to establish in Louisiana the Spanish domination, still it could not be pretended that the French laws had ever been repealed, and therefore, they, the accused, were to be tried and judged according to the principles, p320forms and usages of French jurisprudence, and by those French tribunals and authorities that were competent to take cognizance of their pretended offences, at the time they were alleged to have been committed. In consequence of this reasoning, they protested against the application of Spanish laws to their case, when those laws had never been extended over the colony.
The Licenciate Don Felix del Rey, a practitioner before the Royal Courts of St. Domingo and Mexico, who had been appointed the prosecuting Attorney-General on behalf of the King against the authors of the insurrection of the 28th of October, 1768, presented to the Court, on the 20th of October, 1769, (all Spanish judicial proceedings being in writing,) a long document, in which he reviewed with great ability all the evidence that had been introduced, together with the laws applicable to the case; and he came to the conclusion that the accused had committed the crime of rebellion, wherefore he begged that they be condemned, each and severally, according to their respective degree of guilt, to undergo the penalty they had deserved. He commented with severity on the acts of the prisoners, and particularly on those of Lafrénière and Villeré. The latter being dead, was called "An attorney to his memory," un avocat à sa mémoire.
"Lafrénière," said Don Felix del Rey, "who was clothed with the character of the King's attorney-general, did not only advise the presentation to the Superior Council of the petition of the planters, merchants and other colonists of Louisiana, but also maintained with obstinacy that the Council was competent to act upon it, whilst he knew that its real object was, to resist the orders of their Most Christian and Catholic Majesties in p321relation to the cession and possession of the colony and to many other points which it enumerated, when they could be decided only by the two kings, and were entirely beyond the contracted sphere of the Council. This conduct on the part of Lafrénière is that of an unfaithful officer, and makes him guilty of a crime of the gravest and most inexcusable nature, when, at the same time, it proves facts which he has denied. Thus, although being the King's attorney-general, and therefore the person who is supposed to be the organ of the throne, who ought to vindicate the royal authority and jurisdiction, who, by the very tenure of his office, is in duty bound, and more so than any body else, to labor efficaciously to carry into execution the decrees of the King, his master, and who ought to have been the most zealous of all in maintaining public tranquillity, yet he, Lafrénière, far from having been the real interpreter of the King's sentiments in the Council, far from having defended the authority and jurisdiction of his master, caused this same authority and jurisdiction to be usurped by the Council, by his attributing to said Council the power of taking cognizance of a matter far beyond its competency, and enabling that body to counteract the will of the King and the reasons of State which had induced his Most Christian Majesty to make the cession of Louisiana. On the contrary, his plain duty was, instead of supporting this usurpation of the rights of his Majesty, to maintain with firmness that the subject submitted to the Council did not come within its jurisdiction, and ought to be referred to the two kings.
"Such proceedings leave no room to doubt, that the accused did all he could to secure the success of the conspiracy; and, in order to be convinced of it, it is only necessary to cast a glance at the conclusions of his p322address to the Council, which breathe hatred and indignation, and in which he is not satisfied with approving and affirming all the allegations of the petition of the colonists, but also permits himself to indulge in the most violent expressions, in order to influence the members of the Council, and to insure the success of the rebellion.
"Such was the deportment of Lafrénière, who thus abused his office of attorney-general, and showed himself the chief instigator of the conspiracy, whilst, in conformity with the obligations of his official character, far from being on the side of sedition, he ought to have been more careful than ever to discharge the duties of a faithful and obedient servant, as did Aubry on that occasion, who sought, with the greatest zeal and activity, to check the conspiracy, to tranquillize the inhabitants, and to keep them in due submission. Had Lafrénière followed such an example of loyalty, I have no doubt but that it would have been possible to recall the public mind to its usual calm, because he was the most considerable personage in the Council, the one who, on account of his office, exercised the most powerful influence over the people, and because he was the head of a numerous family. Had he joined Aubry, and had he, like this officer, protested, as he ought to have done, against the pretensions of the Council and its decree, the rebels would have been obliged to change their sentiments, and the members of the Council would have been constrained to do the like. What, above all, gives a darker hue to Lafrénière's guilt is, that at the very moment when he was driving his fellow-citizens into rebellion, he, in his capacity of attorney-general, was receiving his salary from the King of Spain's treasury.
"With regard to Villeré, who was a man of atrocious p323dispositions, and remarkable for his pride and violence, he was, undoubtedly, one of the most conspicuous movers in the conspiracy, and signalized himself by deeds of the most striking character. He it was who stirred up to rebellion the Germans, of whom he was the commander; he it was who made them sign the petition requesting the expulsion of Ulloa and all the other Spaniards. He it was who led them to New Orleans, to incorporate them with the other rebels, and to strengthen the insurrection, as every body must be aware, since, on that day, he was at their head and commanded them. These facts are proved, in every particular, by the depositions of witnesses which are on record. It is he who had the temerity to order the arrest of Maxent at the German Coast, and to take possession of the money which was destined to the Germans by Ulloa, for the payment of the grain which had been bought from them."
In relation to Petit, who was of a very diminutive size, Don Felix del Rey indulged in a vein of caustic humor, and said in the sneering language of contempt: "It has been proved that he participated in all that was done by the conspirators, and that, several days before the insurrection, he had declared, with great parade of his importance, that, ere long the people would be rid of that devil, Ulloa, because he, Petit, had taken all the necessary measures to drive him off. On the day of the insurrection, he appeared among the rebels, giving orders, and assuming to be one of the leaders and chief actors, so much so, that he had the insolence to cast off with his own hands, when Ulloa was expelled, the line which made fast to the shore the vessel in which that officer had embarked, because he felt impatient at the tardiness of the sailors in executing that operation. It was also p324proved that, on his being informed of the arrival of his Excellency, General O'Reilly, at the Balize, he said: that there ought to be a general turn out against the Spaniards, and that he would blow out the brains of the coward who should act differently. These are the most atrocious offences which could be committed by a personage of so much insignificance. Notwithstanding his fury and the gigantic proportions of his pretensions, it was not possible for him to do more. Thus, considering only what he did, there is no reason to doubt, however, that he was one of the most obstinately violent actors among the rebels, and that he would have taken his share in offences still more serious, if his intellectual capacity and the contexture of his physical organization had furnished him with better means of conception and execution."
Don Felix del Rey thus reviewed all that had been proved against every one of the accused, and presented it to the court under its most striking colors. After having related all the events of the revolution, and analysed all the evidence on record, he proceeded to an examination of the laws which he thought applicable to the case.
"Although," said he, "according to the strict letter of the law, the crime of high treason or rebellion embraces equally all those who have any share in its enormities, yet our sovereign, the most clement of kings, willing, in order to preserve the people against greater misfortunes, that punishment be inflicted only on a few, with the view of making it an example to others, had ordered by his royal schedule (H.) annexed to the record, that only the chief authors of the revolution and their principal accomplices be brought to trial, and punished in accordance with the degree of their guilt. There is no doubt but that the fact of conspiring, in a seditious p325manner, against the State, renders the chief authors of this crime and their accomplices equally guilty, although it may not have had for its main object the royal Majesty itself, because, if it be not directed against the person of the prince, it is nevertheless, by its nature, and in its very essence, an act of high treason, and, consequently, it must be followed, on conviction, by the application of the pain of death and by the confiscation of property.
"I do not intend to descend into the abyss of that multitude of laws which I might summon to the support of the conclusions to which I have come. I shall content myself with establishing my position on the unshakable foundation of a few laws which bear directly on this case, and which are decisive against the accused. The first law which I shall quote is that which declares: that any seditious or factious individual who shall cause an insurrection, and under the pretext or semblance of defending his liberty or rights, shall take up arms, and excite others to do the same, shall be punished with death, as being guilty of high treason. This law is clear in itself, and its exact application to this case is equally evident, considering that the accused induced the inhabitants of this province to take up arms, in order to support against Don Antonio de Ulloa the rights which they had set forth in their petition to the Council. It is said in another law that: if any one produces disturbances or revolts in the kingdom, by causing cities to confederate, or people to assemble in arms, against the peace and dignity of the King or kingdom, he shall be punished with death, and be deprived of all that he may possess. Another law comes in support of this one, and declares: that those who shall cause such disturbances shall be traitors, and be punished with death and the loss of their property. The same declaration is repeated in another p326law of the Recopilacion. In a word, there is no lack of laws, defining with precision, and punishing with uniform severity, the offence to which our attention is called.
"In the present case, it is evident that the accused are seditious men, who conspired against the kingdom by endeavoring to wrest this colony from the Spanish domination. They also outraged the Spanish legislation, government and nation by the most insulting and opprobrious language, and by their demonstrations of hatred against his Majesty; and this last law which I have quoted, speaks also of this crime. Through their hatred of the king and kingdom, they took up arms under the pretext of defending their liberty and their rights, as they unanimously confess, and finally, they caused a prejudice to the kingdom, in destroying by their rebellion what the government and treasure of Spain had done, for several years past, in order to increase and improve the resources of this colony. Besides, their conspiracy was the cause of the expenses of fitting out the considerable expedition which became necessary to reduce them to submission and confirm the possession of his Catholic Majesty; so, by applying the letter and spirit of the aforesaid laws, it is apparent that the accused are guilty, and deserve to lose their lives and their property. There is also another law, which subjects them to the same penalties by declaring: that he who labors by deed or word to induce any people, or any provinces under the domination of the King, to rise against his Majesty, is a traitor. The application of this law is so striking that it requires no comment, as it is proved that the accused caused the insurrection of the Germans and Acadians, who were living in quiet submission to his Majesty.
"Such are the laws according to which his Majesty ordered, in his royal Schedule, that those found guilty p327in this affair be punished; and these laws are consistent with the laws of nations, and particularly with the jurisprudence of every monarchy. The fact is, that there is not perhaps a nation, by which laws of the same nature have not been enacted, and are not put in force against those, who, seditiously and tumultuously, conspire against the State, since the only means of securing the preservation and tranquillity of a kingdom, is to make use of this kind of punishment against those who have the audacity to raise disturbances; and it is impossible to question the legitimate application of these same laws to the crime committed in Louisiana against his Majesty of Spain, when it is taken into consideration, that, on the breaking out of the insurrection of the 28th of October, the sovereignty of the King over Louisiana was established, as much by the possession taken by Don Antonio de Ulloa in the name of his Catholic Majesty, as by the right which the King had acquired over that colony, by virtue of the act of cession made by his Most Christian Majesty, which was published in the colony by the order of said Majesty.
"It is idle, on the part of the accused, to say that Ulloa having never shown his credentials, and having never taken possession of Louisiana, they never were under the domination of Spain, and therefore cannot be guilty of the crime of rebellion against her. It is true that the vain pageantry of pulling down the French flag and of raising the standard of Spain was not exhibited in the public square at New Orleans. But did not Aubry, the representative of the King of France, receive Ulloa as the representative of the King of Spain? Was he not acknowledged as such by the militia, by all the ecclesiastical, military and political corps of the colony? Was not immediate and complete possession of the colony p328tendered to Ulloa, and even pressed upon him with persevering earnestness? Was it not declined by him on account of an unforeseen circumstance — the refusal of the French troops to serve the King of Spain according to the promise and engagement of their sovereign, and because Ulloa found himself without sufficient forces to occupy all the posts? But did he not take possession of the Balize and of all the posts which are the keys of the province? It is true that the flag of France continued to wave alongside of that of Spain, but it was as the flag of an ally, whose assistance was necessary, and not because the province remained French. Aubry himself retained his authority, only at the request of Ulloa, and, therefore, was only the Spanish governor's delegate — and a mere agent and trustee for the crown of Spain — exercising powers ad interim, on the invitation, with the consent, and for the benefit of his Catholic Majesty.
"Ulloa never was in possession of Louisiana! Then, by what right was the Spanish flag floating from the Balize to the Illinois? How came all the expenses of the colony to be paid out of the Spanish treasury from March, 1766 to October, 1768, when the insurrection broke loose? How came Aubry to promulgate decrees issued by Ulloa? How came the Superior Council to register them? Was not the financial, commercial and military administration of the colony entirely under the direction of Ulloa? Who granted passports to the merchants? Was it not Ulloa? Was it not with his consent and approbation that Noyan was at the head of the Acadians, and Villeré in command of the Germans? Whence did the chief conspirator, Lafrénière, derive his salary as Attorney-General? Was it not from the p329Spanish treasury? Was he not in the pay of Spain when he turned upon her? Was it not treason? Who supplied the needy Acadians and Germans with their necessaries? Who drove away famine by furnishing the colonists with the provisions they required? Who paid the Clergy? Who repaired the churches? Who gave permission to the planters to export their crops, and to purchase the negroes whom their agricultural pursuits demanded? Was it not Ulloa? And the members of the Council themselves, did they not frequently submit to his approbation the judgments which they had rendered? How came his authority to be thus recognized in the sanctuary of justice? If Ulloa, in the opinion of the colonists, was not clothed with legitimate authority, how came they, during two years, to be daily invoking that authority, and plying him with constant applications for the grant of protection, privileges and favors, and for the redress of wrongs? And, after having thus acted, how can they be so graceless as to turn round, and contradict themselves by saying that he never had any authority? How is it that no vessel was allowed to sail from France to Louisiana, unless she had a passport granted by the Spanish authorities residing in that kingdom? Is it not clear, then, that the Louisiana was a Spanish province in the eye of France? And if so for France, how could it be otherwise for the colonists? All these facts which I have enumerated, are proved beyond doubt or cavil. Do they not constitute possession? And could they have come to pass, had there not been previous and effectual possession to all intents and purposes? This ground of defence is, therefore, not tenable.
"As to the plea of the want of credentials, and of their not having been duly registered in the archives of the province, why did not the colonists raise that objection p330at the threshold, and refuse entrance to Ulloa into their territory, unless he exhibited the authority under which he pretended to act? But, after having so long dispensed with the production of these credentials, after having recognized him as the representative of the King of Spain, after having allowed him, during two years, to exercise all the powers that he did, can they be permitted to argue, from the circumstance of Ulloa's refusal to exhibit his credentials and to have them registered, that they were not bound to obey him as the authorized ministerial embodiment of Spain in the colony, and, therefore, that they did not and could not commit rebellion against our gracious sovereign? If this plea could ever have been good, they have precluded themselves from its use by their own acts, and it is now too late to present it to this court as a shield to rebellious traitors. These acts demonstrate that Ulloa had taken possession of the colony, and that the King of Spain was exercising therein all the powers of sovereignty when the insurrection of 1768 took place.
"But admitting, for the sake of argument, that Ulloa never took possession of Louisiana, is it to be inferred from this fact, that the province remained French? Certainly not. The treaty of cession made it a Spanish domain, from the moment it was signed and approved by all the parties. The proof of it is to be found in the French King's letter to D'Abbadie, in which this officer was informed, that it was his Majesty's intention to abdicate all his rights in and to the colony, from the very moment of the cession. Another proof is, that, in this very same document, his Most Christian Majesty designates the colonists of Louisiana, as the new subjects of his Catholic Majesty; and a third proof is, that France gave effectual information to her officers in the colony, p331that, from the day of Ulloa's arrival at New Orleans, she would cease to be responsible for the expenses of the colonial administration. Clearly, then, the colony was no longer French. What was it, what could it be, if not Spanish? It is indeed ludicrous to maintain the contrary.
"But, say the accused: we had not taken the oath of allegiance to King of Spain, and therefore we cannot be guilty of the crime of rebellion and high treason against him. This is the weakest kind of sophistry, and its refutation is easy. If the accused were not the subjects of his Catholic Majesty, they were, at least, residents in his domain; and it is a legal doctrine, well settled long ago, that those who are domiciliated in a foreign country, or who are mere travellers therein, although they are aliens and the subjects of another power, and have not taken the oath of allegiance to the sovereign of the country in which they happen to be, are bound, during their residence in it, either perpetual or temporary, to be true and obedient to that sovereign, in return for the protection and security which is extended over them; and that they may be as much guilty of rebellion and high treasure against him as his natural born subjects. It has even been determined that foreign ambassadors were obliged to abstain from doing anything derogatory to the respect due to the sovereign in whose court they were sent to reside, and could be dismissed for any act done in violation of his rights, of his royal dignity and of the laws of his kingdom; and, if certain immunities on that ground have been granted to them, it is a matter of national courtesy and not of right, and should ambassadors proceed to any overt acts of violence against the sovereign, they would be liable to be punished according to the laws of the land.
"My preceding observations are sufficient to remove p332all the doubts which may have been raised by the allegations of the accused: that Ulloa had not taken possession of the colony at the time when the crimes with which they are charged were alleged to have been committed; that they had not sworn fealty to the King of Spain; and that they had remained bound by their oath to the King of France, until they were absolved from it by the solemn ceremony which took place shortly after General O'Reilly's arrival.
"The true statement of the case may be summed up in a very few words. After the treaty of cession, Louisiana had, for more than two years, been a Spanish province in the eyes of the world, and the colonists themselves, during all that time, had quietly submitted to the Spanish rule, when some factious, perverse and ambitious individuals, not satisfied with Ulloa's administration, and regretting the loss of their former importance, seduced the rest of the people under false pretexts and by circulating the most infamous calumnies, and availed themselves of the irritation produced by a commercial decree unpalatable to the merchants of New Orleans, to bring on the insurrection of the 29th of October, 1768, under the delusive hope that they would thus disgust Spain with the new acquisition which had been tendered to her, and force France to take them back upon her bosom, in order to prevent their throwing themselves into the arms of England. The laws applicable to these criminal acts have been quoted and commented upon; the facts of the case are so authentically proved, the defence of the accused is so futile, and the laws, whose majesty is to be vindicated, speak a language so positive, so commanding and here, that what remains for me to do, is only to require, in the King's name, the judgment of the Court."
p333 Don Felix del Rey took no notice of that part of the defence which rested on the ground, that the French laws having never been repealed, and the Spanish laws having never been put in force, the accused were to be tried and judged according to the principles, forms and usages of French jurisprudence, and by those French authorities and tribunals that were competent to take cognizance of their pretended offences, at the time they were alleged to have been committed. It was thought, no doubt, that the King had finally predecided this point, by sending a tribunal, ready formed, from Spain, with all the necessary instructions and powers to try the authors of the insurrection of 1768. It was not for the members of this tribunal to set aside those instructions, on the ground of their illegality, and to question the authority with which, for a special purpose, they had been clothed by the sovereign, and to listen to arguments against their jurisdiction. This was a matter for the consideration of him from whom their powers originated. But, if Don Felix del Rey had not considered it useless to enter into the discussion of this plea, set up by the accused, he might have answered: that a distinction must be made between the civil and political laws those which regulate the relations of citizens among themselves, and those which are established for the protection and security of the State. When a territory is acquired by a nation, the civil laws which existed there at the time, must undoubtedly continue in vigor, until they are abrogated, or modified by the new sovereign. But with regard to political and fundamental laws, as they are inherent in sovereignty, they follow, ipso facto, its extension wherever it is carried, and are in force at the very moment when that sovereignty is established. Thus, when in 1803, Governor Claiborne took possession p334of Louisiana in the name of the United States of America, the civil laws of that province were not altered by this fact. But suppose the inhabitants of the country, as they did in 1786, had taken up arms, and violently resisted and expelled Governor Claiborne. This would have constituted the crime of rebellion or high treason against the United States. Would the trials which might have been the consequences of such deeds of violence, have been conducted according to the forms, rules, customs and laws of France, or Spain, or in conformity with the laws of the United States, as applicable to such cases? Clearly in accordance with the last, which, almost as a component part of the flag of the United States, would have followed it into the province, and have been in force by the mere fact of possession, without requiring any special promulgation: and all outrages, such as acts of rebellion or high treason, against the collective sovereignty of the United States, would have been repressed, tried and punished according to the laws of these States, and by the tribunals of their own creation, and not according to the laws and by the tribunals established for the protection of the sovereignties of Spain and France. This distinction between civil and political laws is essentially required by their very nature. Thus it seems that the plea set up by the accused in 1769, and on which I do not think it out of place to venture these few remarks, although Don Felix del Rey deemed it unworthy of notice, did not, in reality, rest on any solid foundation.
Be it as it may, it is certain that, if the colonists, instead of having accepted for two years the Spanish domination, had resisted it in the beginning, on the ground that they were no herd of cattle, and could not be transferred without their consent, they would have presented p335a more plausible justification, by relying on the following passage of Vattel's laws of nations.1
"If the nation has conferred the full sovereignty to its conductor, if it has intrusted to him the care, and, without reserve, given him the right, of treating and contracting with other States, it is considered as having invested him with all the powers necessary to make a valid contract. The prince is then the organ of the nation; what he does is considered as the act of the nation itself; and though he is not the owner of the public property, his alienations of it are valid, as being duly authorized.
"The question becomes more distinct, when it relates, not to the alienation of some parts of the public property, but to the dismemberment of the nation or State itself — the cession of a town or a province that constitutes a part of it. This question, however, admits of a sound decision on the same principles. A nation ought to preserve itself — it ought to preserve all its members — it cannot abandon them; and it is under an engagement to support them in their rank as members of the nation. It has not, then, a right to traffic with their rank and liberty, on account of any advantages it may expect to deriveº from such a negotiation. They have joined the society for the purpose of being members of it — they submit to the authority of the State, for the purpose of promoting in concert their common welfare and safety, and not of being at its disposal, like a farm or herd of cattle. But the nation may lawfully abandon them in a case of extreme necessity; and she has the right to cut them off from the body, if the public safety requires it. When, therefore, in such a case, the State p336gives up a town or a province to a neighbor, or to a powerful enemy, the cession ought to remain valid as to the State, since she has a right to make it; nor can she any longer lay claim to the town or province thus alienated, since she has relinquished every right she could have over them.
"But the province or town thus abandoned and dismembered from the State, is not obliged to receive the new master whom the State attempts to set over it. Being separated from the society of which it was a member, it resumes all its original rights; and if it be capable of defending its liberty against the prince who would subject it to his authority, it may lawfully resist him. Francis I having engaged, by the treaty of Madrid, to cede the Duchy of Burgundy to the emperor Charles V, the states of that province declared, 'That, having never been subject but to the crown of France, they would die subject to it; and that, if the King abandoned them, they would take up arms and endeavor to set themselves at liberty, rather than pass into a new state of subjection.' It is true, subjects are seldom able to make resistance on such occasions; and, in general, their wisest plan will be to submit to their new master, and endeavor to obtain the best terms they can."
This, indeed, would have been the wisest course which the colonists, weak as they were, could have pursued, and it is much to be regretted that they did not do so. Blood would not have been uselessly shed in an enterprise in which success was materially impossible.
On the 24th of October, the Court found the prisoners guilty, and O'Reilly, as its president, pronounced and signed the judgment, which read thus:
"In the criminal trial instituted by the order of the King, our Sovereign, to discover and punish the chiefs p337and authors of the conspiracy which broke out in this colony, on the 29th of October of the last year, (1768,) against its Governor Don Antonio de Ulloa, all the ground of the accusation having been substantially investigated, according to the due forms of law, between the parties, — on one side, the Licentiate Don Felix del Rey, a practising advocate before the royal courts of St. Domingo and Mexico, here acting in his capacity of Attorney-General appointed by me for the King, according to the royal authority vested in me, — and on the other, Nicholas Chauvin de Lafrénière, ex‑Attorney-General for the King of France and the senior member of the Superior Council, Jean Baptiste Noyan, his son-in‑law, Pierre Caresse, Pierre Marquis, Joseph Milhet, an attorney to the memory of Joseph Villeré, on account of this culprit's demise in prison, Joseph Petit, Balthasar Masan, Julien Jerome Doucet,º Pierre Hardy de Boisblanc, Jean Milhet and Pierre Poupet, accused of having participated in the aforesaid crime and in the subsequent seditions which broke out against the Spanish government and nation; having perused the information, depositions and other documents inserted in the procès verbal of this case; having compared the confessions of the accused with the papers found in the possession of some of them, and by them acknowledged as theirs; the accused being heard in their defence, and the charges brought against them being accompanied by their respective proofs; having heard the conclusions of the Attorney-General in his bill of indictment; all being examined and considered, either in point of fact or of law, in a case replete with circumstances so grave and so extraordinary; and taking into consideration all that results from said trial, to which I refer, I have to declare and I declare, that the aforesaid Attorney-General has completely proved p338what he had to prove, and that the accused have not proved and established the allegations set up in their defence; that they have made out no exception which frees them from the crime imputed to them, and still less saves them from the penalties which, according to our laws, they have incurred for their respective shares in the excesses which have been enumerated by the Attorney-General Don Felix del Rey; so that, from the present, I have to condemn and I do condemn the aforesaid Nicholas Chauvin de Lafrénière, Jean Baptiste Noyan, Pierre Caresse, Pierre Marquis and Joseph Milhet, the chiefs and principal movers of the aforesaid conspiracy, to the ordinary pain of the gallows, which they have deserved by the infamy of their conduct, and ipso jure, by their participation in so horrible a crime, and to be led to the place of execution, mounted on asses, andº each one with a rope round his neck, to be then and there hung until death ensue, and to remain suspended to the gallows until further orders; it being hereby given to be understood that any one having the temerity of carrying away their bodies without leave, or of contravening, in whole or in part, the execution of this very same sentence, shall suffer death. And, as it results also from said trial, and from the declarations of the aforesaid Attorney-General, that the late Joseph Villeré stands convicted, likewise, of having been one of the most obstinate promoters of the aforesaid conspiracy, I condemn, in the same manner, his memory to be held and reputed for ever infamous; and, doing equal justice to the other accused, after having taken into consideration the enormity of their crime, as proved by the trial, I condemn the aforesaid Petit to perpetual imprisonment in such a castle or fortress at it may please his Majesty to designate; the aforesaid Balthasar Masan and Julien p339Jerome Doucet, to ten years' imprisonment; and Pierre Hardy de Boisblanc, Jean Milhet and Pierre Poupet to six years' imprisonment; with the understanding that none of them shall ever be permitted to live in any one of the dominions of his Catholic Majesty, reserving to myself the care to have every one of these sentences provisionally executed, and to cause to be gathered up together and burnt by the hand of the common hangman all the printed copies of the document entitled 'Memorial of the planters, merchants and other inhabitants of Louisiana on the event of the 29th of October, 1768,' and that all other publications relative to said conspiracy be dealt with in the same manner; and I have further to decree, and I do decree, in conformity with the same laws, that the property of every one of the accused be confiscated to the profit of the King's treasury; and judging definitively, I pronounce this judgment, with the advice of Doctor Don Manuel Jose de Urrutia, Auditor of war and of the navy for the harbor and city of Havana, and the special assessor named by me for this cause under the royal authority; and his fees, as well as those of the officers employed in this trial, shall be paid out of the confiscated property in the manner prescribed by law.
Signed, Alexandro O'Reilly
When this sentence was known, the effects which it produced can easily be conceived. The most strenuous efforts were made to obtain from O'Reilly that its execution be suspended until an appeal be made to the royal clemency of Charles III. With the same gentleness of manner which characterized all his acts, but with the marked expression of unshakable determination, he replied: p340"That the Court had given its decision, and that it was final; that he had merely presided over the Court, but that, according to his plighted faith and well-known assurances, he had acted no other part in the trial than that of taking care that the accused be as favorably treated as possible; that he had strictly and honorably kept his word; that he could do no more; that he had instructions which he could not disregard, and which he had communicated to Aubry, to the accused and to their friends; that those instructions ordered him to proceed to an immediate execution of the sentence of the Court, whatever it might be, and that he would do so, in conformity with his duty, however painful it might be to his feelings." Some of those French ladies whose husbands, fathers or brothers had remained faithful to the Spanish cause, thought that, owing to this circumstance, they might perhaps exercise some influence over General O'Reilly; and, finding their way to him, they made a passionate appeal in favor of the condemned — such an appeal as the female heart alone can inspire. There were more than one Lady Margaret and one Miss Edith Bellenden, who, with frames trembling with anxiety, poured out their souls in supplications to O'Reilly. Like Graham of Claverhouse, whose character bore considerable affinity to his own, he resisted their intercessions with the most exquisite politeness, but with an inexorable temper, although he was, at that time, hardly more than thirty-four years old, therefore in the prime of life, and still at that age when the soul of man is not yet to be supposed steeled against the ears of woman and the soft emotions of pity and generosity. It is said that some of the Spanish officers, and particularly Loyola, Gayarre and Navarro, acting under the influence of their own feelings, and the promptings of those friends, p341whom, during a residence of nearly three years in the colony, they had made to themselves among the French population, advised O'Reilly to assume the responsibility of suspending the execution of the Court's judgment, until further orders be received from Spain; but all their applications remained fruitless, and it was soon ascertained that the doom of the accused was sealed. The sentence had been rendered on the 24th of October, and it became known that those who were condemned to death, would be executed on the next day.
If tradition is to be believed, O'Reilly, although inflexible in appearance, was secretly moved to compassion in favor of Noyan, the son-in‑law of Lafrénière. This gentleman had lately been married, and his youth, his inexperience and other circumstances, pleaded as strongly in his favor as the numerous friends who left no means untried to save him. Certain words which dropped from the General's mouth gave it to be understood that the escape of this prisoner would be connived at. But Noyan, on being informed of it, heroically refused to avail himself of this favorable circumstance, and said that he would live or die with his associates.
Dumont, who wrote a work on Louisiana in 1753, relates that, when the Province was under the administration of the great India Company, it was found out that, in a civilized government, it was necessary that the office of hangman be regularly and permanently filled; and that this office was tendered, with all its privileges and perquisites, to a slave of the company, named Jeannot. The grant of his freedom was to be the reward of his acceptance. But Jeannot was a high-spirited black, and peremptorily refused the favor. Yet, when he saw that the French were determined to force him to act in that capacity, he appeared to consent at last, and only p342begged that he might be permitted to go to his cot. There, seizing a hatchet, he struck off his right arm; then returning to the place where he was waited for to act as a hangman, he showed to the assembled multitude the impossibility in which he was, to perform the functions assigned to him. The French were struck with admiration, and Jeannot was appointed overseer of all the negroes belonging to the company. Since that time a negro (for all the men of that race were not as nobly-minded as Jeannot) had always acted as hangman in the colony.
But it was thought that it would be too great an outrage against the feelings of the community, and, at the same time, a very impolitic act, considering the peculiar elements of the population of Louisiana, to have some of its most distinguished citizens hung by a negro. It was therefore necessary to find out a white man, who might be willing to discharge these functions. None, however, although a high reward was offered, presented himself to claim it. Consequently, the Attorney-General Don Felix del Rey laid before O'Reilly, on the morning of the 25th, a petition in which he informed him of this fact, and begged him, on account of the impossibility of executing the original sentence of the Court, to have the prisoners shot, but without removing the infamy which would have resulted from their suffering death on the gallows. O'Reilly assented to this request, and Francisco Xavier Rodriguez, the clerk of the Court, drew a procès verbal of the execution, which took place in his presence, at three o'clock in the afternoon. It appears by this procès verbal that Nicolasº Chauvin de Lafrénière, Pierre Marquis, Joseph Milhet, Jean Baptiste Noyan and Pierre Caresse, being taken out of prison, and with their arms well pinioned, were conducted, under a heavy escort p343of grenadiers, to the place of execution, which was occupied by a large body of Spanish troops forming a square. The prisoners being introduced into the middle of this square, Rodriguez, the clerk of the Court, read to them their sentence in Spanish, and it was then repeated to them in French by Henry Garderat, assisted by two other interpreters, Jean Baptiste Garic, and the Lieutenant of artillery, Juan Kely, who had all been specially appointed by O'Reilly to act as interpreters on the trial. Then a copy of the sentence was delivered into the hands of the public crier, who went round, and read it to all the troops and to the people in a loud and intelligible voice. After these preliminaries were over, the last act of the drama was performed, and the well directed fire of a platoon of grenadiers ended the lives of those unfortunate men. It is said that they met their fate with unshaken fortitude.
On the next day, the 26th of October, the same Rodriguez caused to be burnt, on the public square, all the copies of the "Memorial of the planters, merchants and other inhabitants of Louisiana," which had been discovered and gathered up together.
Masan and his companions were immediately transported to Havana, and imprisoned in fort Moro. It may be as well to state now that the son of Mazan went to Madrid, threw himself at the feet of the King, and begged that his father be pardoned, or that he be permitted to take that father's place. The prayer of this generous young man, which was warmly supported by the French ambassador, touched the King, who granted a full pardon, not only to Masan, but also to Doucet, Boisblanc, Milhet, Poupet and Petit. None of them returned to Louisiana, and it is believed that they went to reside at the Cap Français in St. Domingo.
p344 Aubry left Louisiana for Bordeaux in the brigantine called the Père de Famille. This vessel had entered the river Garonne, when she met a heavy storm and went down near the Tower of Cordouan,a with all on board save the captain, a physician, a sergeant and two sailors, who succeeded in reaching the land in safety. The King, in order to show how much he appreciated the services of Aubry, granted a pension to the brother and to the sister of that officer. Aubry, before his departure from Louisiana, had been offered a high grade in the Spanish army, as a token of satisfaction at the liberal course which he had pursued towards that nation in the colony, but he refused, on the ground that he intended to devote the remnant of his days to the service of his native country. Some there were who thought that if those whom they loved so dearly had been unjustly treated, it was mostly in consequence of the imprudent denunciations of that officer and of his servility to O'Reilly and the Spaniards. By them his melancholy end was looked upon as an act of the retributive justice of Heaven.
It is related that, among the confiscated slaves of Lafrénière, there was one named Artus, who had the reputation of being an admirable cook. O'Reilly sent for Artus, and said to him. "You are now the King of Spain's property. Until you are sold, you will be my cook." "You had better change your mind," answered the negro. "I would poison him who ordered my master to be killed." It is also reported that one of Caresse's slaves, whose name was Cupidon, and who was an excellent house servant, refused peremptorily to perform these functions for O'Reilly, because, as he boldly said, "he would not serve his master's assassin." O'Reilly seemed to appreciate the noble sentiment which actuated these p345faithful slaves and dismissed them without resenting the determination which they had both so fearlessly expressed. If these anecdotes are true, they show that negroes are capable of heroic attachment for those that hold them in bondage, and that O'Reilly was not a man of an unamiable disposition.
The bloody execution which took place in Louisiana caused a good deal of excitement in France, and it seems that the French government instructed its agents in Spain, to ascertain what effect it had produced on the Spaniard themselves. I have under my eye a letter written to one of the French ministers by a Mr. Depuyabre, a French agent at Cadix, in answer to the inquiries which had been addressed to him, and in which he says: "All the relations of that event which were sent from Louisiana to Havana, agree in blaming the rigor with which General O'Reilly punished the most distinguished citizens of Louisiana. The Spaniards here, and many foreigners, whatever nation they belong to, have expressed their detestation of such an act. You know better than any body else what were the orders of which O'Reilly was the bearer, and you can thereby judge whether that officer kept himself, or not, within the sphere of his powers."
It must be recollected that the Marquis of Grimaldi, on the departure of O'Reilly from Spain for Louisiana, had sent to the Count of Fuentes, the Spanish ambassador at the Court of Versailles, a despatch which was intended to be laid before the French ministry, and in which he had said: "It seemed proper to invest Don Alexandro O'Reilly with these extensive powers, on account of the distance at which we are from that country. But, as the King, whose character is well known, is always inclined to be mild and clement, he has ordered p346O'Reilly to be informed that his will was, that a lenient course be pursued in the colony, and that expulsion from it be the only punishment inflicted on those who have deserved a more severe one."
It would seem from this document, that O'Reilly should have contented himself with having expelled from the colony those who had deserved a severer punishment — for instance the pain of death. But were the instructions shown to the Court of France and those really given to O'Reilly of the same nature? That is the question. If O'Reilly received the instructions which are mentioned in the despatch of the Marquis of Grimaldi, would he have dared to disobey them, and would he, when such strong appeals were made to him to save the lives of Lafrénière and his companions, have had the unblushing effrontery, on refusing that boon, to plead the orders of the King, and thus falsely, to throw upon his sovereign the odium of a measure, which was contrary to the expressed will of that very sovereign? Had he assumed this responsibility, on account of some unforeseen circumstances or reasons, would he not have accounted for those circumstances or reasons in his despatches to his government? But, far from using the language of apology or exculpation for having acted with severity, in violation of his positive instructions, he, on the contrary, applauds himself for the extreme lenity of the course he pursued. This is demonstrated by the despatch which he sent to the Marquis of Grimaldi, to give an account of the closing of the trial and of the execution of the sentence of the Court:
"The trial which began here," said he, "against the twelve chiefs, movers and accomplices of the insurrection which took place in this province, is at an end. Six of them, having deserved death, were sentenced to be hung; p347but one of these culprits died in prison, five only were executed, and, as there is no executioner here, they were shot on the 25th of this month (October), at three o'clock of the afternoon. The six others were sentenced to be imprisoned in one of the King's castles, that is, one for life, two for ten years and three for six years, and the property of the twelve was confiscated.
"The six who were sentenced to be imprisoned will be sent to‑day to one of the forts at Havana. I transmit to the Captain-General of that place a copy of the judgment, in order that he may proceed to carry it into execution.
"The property of these prisoners had been sequestrated from the beginning of their trial. I have just given the necessary orders for the liquidation of said property in accordance with the laws, in order that what belongs to the widows and other creditors may be given to them, and the balance be delivered up into the King's treasury.
"This judgment wipes off entirely the insult offered to the dignity and authority of the King in this province, and checks the effects of the bad example which had been given to the subjects of his Majesty. Every body acknowledges the necessity, the justice, and the clemency of this judgment, which sets up an example ever to be remembered. What renders it still more effectual, is the diligence with which this affair was conducted, and the incontestible nature of the evidence on which this judgment was founded.
"I will treat, for the future, with marked gentleness, all those who signed the representations addressed to the Council, and it will be a great consolation to the public to know that I shall leave in this colony no painful recollection of that audacious outrage. I will conciliate and p348tranquillize the public mind by all the means in my power, and nothing will be more conducive to this end than to let the people know, that all past occurrences shall be forgotten, and that every one shall receive from the government the protection and favor which he may deserve."
This candid exposition which O'Reilly made of his sentiments proves, that he thought himself entitled to much credit for the lenity of his acts. Everybody, says he with exultation, acknowledges the necessity, the justice and the clemency of this judgment, which sets an example ever to be remembered. And it must not be forgotten that Governor Aubry, writing to his own government, takes the same view of the course of action adopted by O'Reilly. I have the honor, said he to the French minister, of sending a list of the small number of those whom the general was indispensably obliged to have arrested. This proves his generosity and the kindness of his heart, considering that there are many others, whose criminal conduct would have justified their being treated in the same manner.
To judge fairly of the feelings and ideas of these men, we must transport ourselves back to the days in which they lived, we must adopt the turn of mind which education, habits and associations had given them, and we must become impregnated with the political, social and moral atmosphere in which they had been born. In this age, the treatment which was inflicted on Lafrénière and his companions may be looked upon as tinged with cruelty, if appreciated with our modern feelings of humanity, and with those notions of right and wrong, which now prevail throughout the civilized world. In 1851, Lafrénière and his accomplices would not, probably, have been condemned to an ignominious death, for p349doing what they did in 1768. They had resisted the exercise of powers which they thought oppressive to them, and which were wielded by an officer whom they believed to be clothed with dubious authority; they had resorted to every means, even violence, not to be severed from that kingdom to which the colony was indebted for its birth. But they had shed no blood; and when experience demonstrated to them that their schemes of being re-annexed to France, or to set up for themselves under an independent government, were visionary; when O'Reilly arrived with such forces as it would have been madness to cope with, they tendered, at once, their full and entire submission to the government of Spain. It must be recollected, however, that a century ago, the slightest attempt against royal authority was considered as one of the most heinous crimes that could be committed, and was punished with a severity which now would not be tolerated by public opinion; and that offences which then were deemed to deserve death, would not now be the cause even of putting a man on his trial. It is not astonishing therefore that both Aubry and O'Reilly should have honestly thought that, to pick out of the rebellious colonists twelve leaders only, six of whom should be shot, and six imprisoned for a greater or lesser period of time, and to grant a full and unconditional pardon to the rest, was an extremely merciful act. Besides, there is no doubt but that O'Reilly was moved by considerations of policy. As Spain did not intend to keep up a large military force in Louisiana, it was necessary to produce such an impression on its inhabitants as to prevent the repetition of what had occurred; and above all, it was expedient to set a salutary example before the other colonies, to deter them from similar enterprises, and to show, in the p350language used by the Duke of Alba, in the written opinion on the affairs of Louisiana which he presented to the king as a member of his cabinet: that the king knew how, and was able, to repress any attempt whatever, derogatory to the respect due to the royal authority.
Some there are who accuse O'Reilly of treachery and duplicity, on account of the interpretation which they put on the marked civilities which he proffered to the leaders of the insurrection, when they were introduced to him, and on the exceedingly courteous language which he addressed to them. They believe that these men had a right to infer from O'Reilly's deportment, that their past deeds were forgotten, and that they would not be brought to trial; it is said that O'Reilly lulled them into security, in order to keep them within his reach, and to prevent them from seeking their safety in flight, until he should be ready to arrest, at the same time, all the chiefs of the late revolution whom he had singled out. These suppositions derive some strength, it is true, from the opinion expressed by Bouligny, himself a Spanish officer, who was present at the interview between the delegates of the colonists and O'Reilly at the Balize, and who said: that the general sent them back with good hopes that their past faults should be forgotten. It is not astonishing therefore that Lafrénière, Marquis and Milhet, should have shared with Bouligny such flattering impressions. The secret intentions of deceit attributed to O'Reilly may have been true, but still, in justice to him, it must be remarked that the extreme courtesy of his language and of his deportment is not sufficient, of itself, to warrant the conclusion that it was dictated by duplicity. It was, on the like occasions, the natural tone of the high bred gentlemen of the time, although it may sound to us as smacking of dissimulation, p351or affectation. Numerous other instances might be cited of the wrong interpretations to be given to the actions and language of the men of past ages, if, as I have already observed, we judge of them according to the criterion of our present usages and customs. I will, in illustration of my assertion, select one instance only, which is striking.
The Cardinal Richelieu had been, for many years, presiding as prime minister over the destinies of France, and had defeated more than one conspiracy against his life and power, formed by the highest nobility, by the mother and the brother of the king, who hated the state of insignificance to which that master mind had reduced them, and often by the king himself, who used to become their secret accomplice, whenever in one of his fits of disgust at the thraldom in which he was kept by his proud and domineering minister. Now that the cardinal was broken down by disease and fast approaching his grave, his enemies again lost patience, and gathered under the leadership of young Cinq-Mars, who had become the favorite of the weak king. Hardly had the conspiracy been set on foot, when the wily cardinal had become acquainted with all its workings. Determined to strike a last blow, which would be so crushing that it would, for the future, put an end to such enterprises, he appeared to be wrapped up in fancied security, waiting patiently, for two years, with the self-confidence of genius, until the fruit of his revenge be ripe, before he plucked it. Only on the eve of the breaking out of the conspiracy was it, that, although in a dying condition, he came forth in his strength of mind, if not of body, and with one single thrust of his crippled and gouty foot, demolished instantaneously the structure which had been so laboriously erected against him. He terrified p352the king out of his little wits, brought down almost to his knees the king's vile brother, Gaston D'Orleans, to ask pardon for his share in the conspiracy, and annihilated all those of his enemies whom he thought worthy of his notice. Cinq-Mars and De Thou were those he had particularly singled out for his vengeance. De Thou, being in prison at Tarascon, where the infirm cardinal caused himself to be transported, was ordered to the presence of his mortal enemy, to be by him interrogated. The manner in which they met is remarkable. Let it be remembered that both were aware of the relative positions in which they stood to each other. The Cardinal had made up his mind to have De Thou's head cut off; De Thou knew it, and the Cardinal was conscious that his intentions were no secret for the prisoner. Therefore there could be no attempt, and there could be no wish to deceive each other. Yet, see how they behave when face to face. The Cardinal, who was in bed and propped up by cushions, when De Thou was ushered into the room by the guards, greeted him with a gentle salute, and, inviting him to be seated by the bed on which he, the Cardinal, was reposing, said, with the utmost suavity of manner; "Sir, I beg of you to excuse me for having given you the trouble of coming here." "My Lord," answered De Thou, "I consider the invitation as a favor and an honor." The rest of the interview was in the same style. Was it deceit, irony, affectation or dissimulation? Neither the one nor the other. It was the customary tone of exquisite politeness familiar to two men, who were equally mindful of their respective rank and character, and whose minds were so framed, that they never lost sight, for one moment, of the old adage: that a gentleman is the peer of another. Times have changed, and the highest in the land, were he p353brought before a Justice of the Peace, not for a matter of life and death, but on charge of petty trespass, would probably be interrogated in a more commanding tone. But is it to be inferred that, on the occasion I have related, Cardinal Armand Du Plessis, Duke of Richelieu, and the real king of France, acted with hypocrisy towards De Thou?
The inventories made of the property of the twelve gentlemen whom the decree of the Spanish tribunal had convicted of rebellion, afford interesting proofs of the Spartan simplicity which existed in the colony. Thus the furniture of the bedroom of Madam Villeré, who was the wife of one of the most distinguished citizens of Louisiana, and the grand-daughter of De Lachaise, who came to the colony, in 1723, as ordaining commissary, was described as consisting of a cypress bedstead, •three feet wide by six in length, with a mattress of corn shucks and one of feathers on the top, a bolster of corn shucks, and a coarse cotton counterpane or quilt, manufactured probably by the lady herself, or by her servants; six chairs of cypress wood, with straw bottoms; some candlesticks with candles made of the common green wax of the country, etc., etc. The rest of the house was not more splendidly furnished, and the house itself, as described in the inventory, must have looked very much like one of those modest and unpainted little wood structures which are, to this day, to be seen in many parts of the banks of the river Mississippi, and in the Attakapas and Opelousas parishes. They are the tenements of the small planters who own only a few slaves, and they retain the appellation of Maisons d'Acadiens, or Acadian houses. Villeré's plantation, situated at the German Coast, was not large, and the whole of his slaves, of both sexes and of all ages, did not exceed thirty-two. His p354friends and brother conspirators, who were among the first gentlemen in the land, did not live with more ostentation. All the sequestrated property being sold, it was found that, after having distributed among the widows and other creditors what they were entitled to, and after paying the costs of the trial and inventories, the royal treasury had nothing or very little to receive. These costs, however, were moderate, for they amounted only to 782 livres, or about $157, for each of the persons convicted.
There were but humble dwellings in Louisiana in 1769, and he who had drawn his inferences from their outward appearance would have thought that they were occupied by mere peasants; but had he passed their thresholds, he would have been amazed at being welcomed with such manners as were habitual in the most polished court of Europe, and entertained by men and women wearing with the utmost ease and grace the elegant and rich costume of the reign of Louis XV. There, the powdered head, the silk and gold flowered coat, the lace and frills, the red-heeled shoe, the steel-handled sword, the silver knee buckles, the high and courteous bearing of the gentleman, the hoop petticoat, the brocaded gown, the rich head-dress, the stately bow, the slightly rouged cheeks, the artificially graceful deportment, and the aristocratic features of the lady, formed a strange contrast with the roughness of surrounding objects. It struck one with as much astonishment as if diamonds had been found capriciously set by some unknown hand in one of the wild trees of the forest, or it reminded the imagination of those fairy tales in which a princess is found asleep in a solitude, where none but beasts of prey were expected to roam.
"One of the first acts of O'Reilly's administration," says Judge Martin in his history of Louisiana, "was an p355order for a census of the inhabitants of New Orleans. It was executed with great accuracy. It appeared that the aggregate population amounted to three thousand one hundred and ninety souls. The number of free persons was nineteen hundred and two; thirty-one of whom were black, and sixty-eight of mixed blood. There were twelve hundred and twenty-five slaves, and sixty domiciliated Indians. The number of houses was four hundred and sixty-eight. The greatest part of them were in the third and fourth streets from the river, and principally in the latter.
"No census was taken in the rest of the province, but, from a reference to the preceding and succeeding years, the following statement is believed to be correct:
|New Orleans, as before,||3,190|
|From the Balize to the town,||570|
|Bayou St. John and Gentilly,||307|
|St. John the Baptist,||544|
|St. Louis (Illinois),||891|
About half the population was white.
"The exports of the province, during the last year of its subjection to France," says the same author, "were as follows:
|p356 Naval stores,||12,000|
|Rice, peas and beans,||4,000|
|An interlope trade with the Spanish colonies took away goods worth||60,000|
|The colonial treasury gave bills on government in France for||360,000|
|So that the province afforded means of remittance for||$670,000|
"Few merchant vessels came from France; but the Island of Hispaniola carried on a brisk trade with New Orleans, and some vessels came from Martinique. King's vessels brought whatever was necessary for the troops, and goods for the Indian trade.
"The indigo of Louisiana was greatly inferior to that of Hispaniola; the planters being quite unskillful and inattentive in the manufacture of it. That of sugar had been abandoned, but some planters near New Orleans raised a few canes for the market."
Such was the embryo colony which France had created, and which she had possessed seventy years. Although ceded to Spain in 1762, it was not under the entire control of that power before the 18th of August, 1769, when O'Reilly took formal possession of the country. It had been much curtailed from its original territorial proportions, but still, from the Balize to its contested limits with the Mexican provinces, and to that almost unknown region which extended far beyond St. Louis, towards the sources of the Mississippi, it contained space enough for an immense population; and a better administration than that of France, conducted on far different principles, might have obtained results more favorable than those which had crowned her efforts. It is not a high estimate to suppose that Louisiana, from 1699, the date of its colonization, to 1769, when it was p357finally delivered over to Spain, must have cost, directly and indirectly, from fifteen to twenty millions of dollars disbursed by Crozat, the India Company, and France, who never got any returns for this very large expenditure. Of all the great powers of Europe, France, with her spirit of enterprise, her brave and intelligent population, and her vast resources, had been the least successful in her attempts at establishing colonies; and, after an infinite wastage of courage and perseverance, of hardy labor, of blood and of treasure, she had lost at last almost every inch of her once boundless possessions on the continent of America. Spain and England had divided the shred of that gorgeous mantle which adorned her shoulders, but which she had allowed to drop as a heavy incumbrance.
The preceding pages have been written to very little purpose, if they have not made apparent to the reader the causes which checked the prosperity of Louisiana, and rendered her a worthless possession in the hands of France. Those causes lie on the surface of the history itself which I have sketched, and it requires no depth of research, nor any recondite analysis to discover them and appreciate their nature. To one of them, however, I must, in concluding this work, make a passing allusion, because it is still in existence, and exercises a fatal influence over the destinies of Louisiana to this present day. It is, that those who came to her, never considered that they had found a home in her bosom. With the exception perhaps of the Acadians, and of the Germans whom Law had sent to the colony in 1722, those whom she received in her lap were not grateful for the hospitality, and deemed themselves to be miserable exiles. All the military officers and other persons employed by the government had but one object in view, that of availing p358themselves, to obtain promotion, of their services in that distant country, and of the reputation of perils which they were really exposed to, or were supposed to have encountered; and they also bethought themselves of nothing else than making money by fair or foul means, according to their different dispositions, in order to return with increased honors, or with ampler means of enjoyment, to their cherished native country, to the beautiful France, which they could not forget. With regard to that part of the population which was not composed of officials, a good many had been transported to Louisiana by force, and detested a country which they looked upon as a prison. Others, whose coming had been the result of their own volition, had been deceived by wild hopes, by unrealized promises, and by exaggerated representations of what they were to expect in the land to which their emigration had been solicited. They smarted under the anguish of disappointment, and if they labored at all, it was to acquire the means to go back, before closing their career, to their birth-place in Europe, and they had even impregnated their offspring with these notions. Unfortunately, Louisiana was a mere place of transient and temporary sojourn, nothing better than a hostelry, a caravansary, but no home for any one. How could it be loved, improved and beautified? There were none of those associations, not a link of that mystic chain connecting the present with the past and the future, which produce an attachment to locality. The waters of patriotism had not yet gushed from their spring, to fertilize the land. There were Frenchmen in Louisiana, but no Louisianians.
Now a change had come in her progressive destinies, and she found herself a portion of the Spanish monarchy. But neither under the flag of France, nor under that of p359Spain was it, that Louisiana could have had the faintest conception of her future prosperity, and of the development of those immense resources, which, to unfold themselves, required the touch of a mighty magician, whose incantations a quick ear might perhaps, even at that time, have heard from afar. It was not when a poor colony, and when given away like a farm by a friend to another, royal though they were, it was not when miserably clad with the tattered livery of her colonial bondage, that she could foresee her glorious dismemberment into sovereignties, the least of which occupies so proud a position in the eye of the world. This miracles was to be the consequence of the apparition of a banner, which was not in existence at the time, which was to be the labarum of the advent of liberty, the harbinger of the regeneration of nations, and which was to form so important an era in the history of the rights of mankind.
a The Cordouan lighthouse, dating in its present form to the late 16c, is the oldest currently operational lighthouse in France. On a reef at the mouth of the Gironde, it may be visited; see these pages, and photos, at Littoral33. It is only by long-standing French custom that it can be said to be in the Garonne, and even then it would have been better to write that Aubry's ship had entered the Gironde, the name traditionally given to the very wide salt-water estuary of the Garonne: for practical purposes they were on the open sea.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
History of Louisiana
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 7 Apr 10