I have endeavored, in the two preceding chapters, to relate with fidelity, and with as much condensation as the nature of the subject would admit, all the transactions relative to Louisiana, which, in 1802 and 1803, had occurred in the United States, France and Spain. I shall now call the attention of the reader to the events which, in the meantime, had happened in the colony itself, and those which were the result of the transactions I have recorded. Thus, on the 26th of November, 1802, the Marquis de Casa Irujo, the Minister of Spain at Washington, had written to the Intendant, Morales, and represented to him the fatal consequences of his having closed the port of New Orleans to the Americans as a place of deposit, and of his having refused them the free navigation of the Mississippi, "giving," said the Minister, "to the citizens1 of the United States good cause for claiming indemnities in return for the serious damages which their commerce will inevitably suffer." On the 15th of January, 1803, Morales answered with some tartness: "That the orders alluded to by the p577Minister emanated solely from the Intendancy, and had been issued notwithstanding the opposition of the Governor, with whom he, the Intendant, had, in consequence thereof, had some difficulties; and that he assumed the whole responsibility of the measure, the object of which had been to strike at the root of the infinite irregularities and abuses, which were the result of the right of deposit granted to the Americans at New Orleans."2
It appears from a despatch of the same officer, that the revenue accruing to the King's treasury, from every source in the colony, amounted, in 1802, to $121,041. "The revenue," observed the Intendant, "would have been much more considerable, if it had not been for the contraband trade carried on by the flatboats which come down the river."
On the first day of March, says Judge Martin in his History of Louisiana, the King disapproved of the order of Morales, prohibiting the introduction and deposit of goods, wares and merchandise from the United States in the port of New Orleans, and ordered that the United States should continue to enjoy their right of deposit in New Orleans, without prejudice of his right to substitute some other spot on the banks of the Mississippi.
On the 23rd of the same month, the Cabildo had completed all the preparations necessary the receive and supply with provisions the large body of troops expected with General Victor. On the next day, by the arrival of a vessel from Havre, the colonists were put in possession of the documents which gave them information of the new form of government intended for Louisiana. Its principal officers were: a Captain-General, with a salary of 70,000 francs; a Lieutenant-Captain-General, p578who was to command in Upper Louisiana, with a salary of 20,000 francs; two Brigadier-Generals, each with 15,000 francs a year, and two Adjutant-Commandants, with 9,000 francs each. The Colonial Prefect had a salary of 50,000 francs. Next to the Colonial Prefect in the civil department, came the Commissary of Justice.
"The captain-General3 was commander-in‑chief of the land and naval forces, and had the care of the exterior and interior defence of the colony. He provisorily filled vacancies in military offices, according to the order of advancement, as far as the grade of chief of division or squadron (chef de division ou d'escadre), and proposed to the Minister proper persons to fill higher grades. He delivered passports, regulated the bearing of arms, and corresponded with the governors of other colonies, whether belonging to allies, neutrals or enemies. With the Colonial Prefect he regulated the works to be done on the fortifications, and the new roads to be opened; and, finally, exercised all the powers formerly granted to governors-general. He was forbidden to interfere with the attributions of the Colonial Prefect, or of the Commissary of Justice; but was authorized to require from either of them information on any matter relative to the service. Power was given him to suspend provisorily the execution of laws, in whole or in part, on his responsibility, after having consulted the Colonial Prefect, or the Commissary of Justice, according to the nature of the case.
"Copies of every deliberation were to be sent yearly to the Minister.
"Vacant lands were to be granted by the Captain-General and Colonial Prefect; but, in case of disagreement, the opinion of the former was to prevail.
p579 "Vacancies in the departments of the Colonial Prefect and Commissary of Justice were to be filled by the Captain-General on their nomination; but no appointment was final until confirmed by the First Consul.
"In case of the absence of the Captain-General, he was to be represented by the Colonial Prefect, or by the highest military officer.
"The Colonial Prefect's powers extended to the administration of the finances, the general accountability and destination of all officers of administration. He was exclusively charged with the police of the colony, including all that related to taxes, receipts and expenditures, the Custom House, the pay of the troops, the public stores, agriculture, navigation, commerce, the census, the suppression of contraband trade, the police of slaves, highways, levees, public instruction and worship, the press, and generally all the powers formerly exercised by Intendants and ordaining Commissaries (Commissaires ordonnateurs). In the assessment of taxes he was to consult three merchants and three planters. In case of absence, he was to be represented by the officer of administration next in rank.
"The Commissary of Justice has the superintendence of all the courts of justice and their ministerial officers; he was to have an eye to the regular administration of justice, the safety and salubrity of jails as well as the conduct of officers and clerks, and was intrusted with the police of vagrants. He might preside and vote in any court of justice, he was to require monthly statements of every case tried from the President and clerks of each court, and he communicated them to the Captain-General. He was authorized to make rules for the administration of justice, and, with the consent of the Captain-General, to order them to be observed. Agents of government were not suable for any matter relating to their offices, p580nor could any citizen in the public service be arrested without the Commissary's fiat, and said Commissary was to give an account of his proceedings in this respect to the Minister. He was to prepare a civil and criminal code, and submit it to the Captain-General and Colonial Prefect for their examination, and transmit it, with the procès-verbal of their deliberations thereon, to the Minister." Such were the principal outlines of a government which was destined to be never carried into execution.
On the 26th of March, the Colonial Prefect Laussat arrived at New Orleans, and was received with the customary honors on such occasions, by the Spanish Governor and Intendant, round whom had assembled, for the reception of the French Dignitary, all the Clergy of New Orleans, and the principal officers of the regular troops, of the militia, and of the civil administration. The circumstance called for an address from the new ruler of the land, and he expressed those conciliating sentiments which were expected to flow of course from his lips. The French Government,4 he said, would have but one object in view, which was the prosperity of the colony; this had been the sole aim of the French Consul in making this important acquisition; order was to be rigidly maintained; laws and customs were to be respected; treaties with the Indian nations were to be observed; and no change was intended in the public worship and in the organization of the clergy, over which the most liberal protection was to be extended. Notwithstanding the suavity of these promises, a good deal of excitement prevailed in the province, and some there were, who, considering the course pursued by the French in St. Domingo, entertained considerable fears p581as to the security of the tenure of a certain kind of property. Those fears were made more keen by the discovery of a conspiracy among the colored population, at the instigation and under the leadership of an American, named Sopper. This fact is related, and the name thus spelt, in a despatch from Morales, of the 29th of March, to the Spanish government.
"The Louisianians," says Barbé Marbois in his History of Louisiana, "had reason to fear for themselves the calamities which had been, for many years, ruining the other colonies of France. St. Domingo was the most agitated and unfortunate of all. The colonists repeated with horror, at New Orleans, these words which the First Consul had caused to be proclaimed, in his name, in the revolted colony, and which were addressed to all classes. "Inhabitants of St. Domingo, whatever may be your color or your origin, you are all free; all equal in the eyes of God and the Republic." General Leclerc, on his arrival in the colony, had said: "I promise liberty to all the inhabitants."
[. . .]
"Some of the refugee colonists of St. Domingo had brought a part of their negroes to Louisiana, and were therefore, secretly, far from desiring another removal, or participating in the views of those who had lost every thing. They easily made the Louisianians acquainted with the danger that they would incur, in case the French Republic, as the supreme Legislative power, should one day proclaim manumission and freedom in this colony [. . .] From all those disasters the Louisianians expected to be preserved, if the sovereignty of the Catholic King was not transferred to the French Republic."
If these facts had been taken into due consideration, an eye-witness, speaking of the sentiments which were p582manifested on the arrival and reception of Laussat, would not have been as much surprised as he was.
"Every one," said he,5 "will be astonished to learn, that a people of French descent have received without emotion and without any apparent interest a French magistrate, who comes to us, accompanied by his young and beautiful family, and preceded by the public esteem. Nothing has been able to diminish the alarms which his mission causes. His proclamations have been heard by some with sadness, and by the greater part of the inhabitants with the same indifference as the beat of the drum is listened to, when it announces the escape of a slave or a sale at auction."
One of Laussat's first cares was to examine the fortifications which, eleven years before, had been erected by the Baron de Carondelet, and this is the description which he gave of them to the minister Decrès:
"The fortifications have never been kept up, and are falling into decay; the ditches are filling up; the terraces are crumbling down; the palisades are wanting, or rotten; the bridges have given way, or consist only of one or two beams; the gates are off their hinges, and are lying on the ground. It had lately been proposed to the King of Spain to raze or at least greatly to reduce these works, as being useless and even mischievous, because the fevers which every year carry off the most valuable portion of the population of this city, date from the time when were dug round it those ditches which are always full of stagnating water. The precarious condition in which the Spanish government found itself has alone prevented it from deciding on this matter, which is now left to the consideration of the French Government.
"With regard to public edifices, those which we find p583here are the same which had been left by the French. The Spaniards have not made any solid and permanent constructions. They contented themselves with renting, or, when compelled to do so, with erecting wooden edifices, which are of no value. A rich Spaniard, however, (Andres Almonaster) has built up with brick and mortar a charity hospital, a town hall, and a church."
As to the administration of justice under the Spanish government, Laussat thus expressed his opinion in a despatch of the 24th of May:
"I will now proceed to say how justice is administered here, which is worse than in Turkey.
"All judgments are given in the name of the Governor, except in matters appertaining to the revenue, in which the authority of the Intendant is supreme.
"The Governor signs his name as a mere formality, his signature is a matter of course and entitles him to a fee, and this is one of the branches of the contingent salary allowed to his office.
"But at the elbow of the Governor is what is called an auditor, who is a sort of Lieutenant-Governor, and the Governor cannot decide on any thing, except in military matters, before having taken the advice of this individual, who is, in fact, the sole judge both in civil and in criminal cases. Assessors are not even required to act with him as assistants or adjuncts. A power which a justice of the peace in France could not exercise in relation to an amount of twenty dollars, is allowed to the auditor in New Orleans as to any amount. For these reasons, his judgments are not relied on, and command no respect. Whether they be correct or not, they never fail to be the object of the most shameful suspicions.
"At times, it is a capital accusation, the character of which is suddenly changed, or which, after having been permitted to be kept aside and forgotten for months, p584disappears for ever from the docket. Frequently, there is to be no end to a lawsuit, and it is destined to be eternal, because the auditor has got possession of all the papers, and will never give them up.
"Besides, suits are so expensive, that a good many individuals prefer to sacrifice their interests, however considerable they might be, than to maintain them at law.
"The right of appeal to Cuba and to Madrid, is a slow and ruinous remedy, &c., &c.
Laussat's statement is unfortunately confirmed by a communication from Daniel Clark, the United States' consul at New Orleans, addressed in 1803 to the Department of State at Washington: "The auditor of war," said he, "and the assessors of government and intendancy, have always been corrupt; and to them only may be attributed the mal-administration of justice, as the Governor and other judges, who are unacquainted with law, seldom dare to act contrary to the opinions they give. Hence, when the auditor, or assessor, was bribed, suitors had to complain of delays and infamous decisions. All the officers plunder when the opportunity offers; they are all venal. A bargain can be made with the governor, intendant, judge, or collector, down to the constable; and if ever an officer be displeased at an offer of money, it is not at the offer or offerer, but because imperious circumstances compel him to refuse, and the offerer acquires a degree of favor which encourages him to make a second offer, when a better opportunity is presented." This is a frightful picture. That there were but too many cases of corruption seems to be true, but that it should have been systematically carried of the extent here described by Laussat and Daniel Clark, is somewhat rebutted by other testimony, and not confirmed by living witnesses of great respectability.
Immediately after his arrival, Laussat obtained from p585the Intendant, that French vessels, on their coming into the colony and on their going out, be put exactly on the same footing with Spanish vessels.
On the right of deposit which had been granted by the Spaniards to the Americans, Laussat said, in a despatch to his Government: "The consequence of this privilege is, that the Anglo-Americans can keep their goods and effects in deposit at New Orleans, without paying anything else than storage. So far, this deposit has been effected on the single declaration of the owners of the goods when putting them in the stores of individuals, whereby the profits of the storage accrued only to the merchants in whose hands the merchandise was placed. But the Government made nothing by it, because in an open city and in an open province like these, every sort of fraudulent importation may be safely carried on. To remedy this evil, all that is necessary is, that the goods of the Americans be deposited in the stores of the Government, out of which they would not be taken without its knowledge; or, in conformity with the right reserved by Spain to establish the place of deposit elsewhere after the expiration of a certain time, should it be required by her interests, it would be proper to designate, instead of New Orleans, the Balize, or some other untenable spot." It appears by this document that the French Prefect, Laussat, was quite as hostile to the continuation of this privilege in favor of the Americans, as the Spanish Intendant, Morales.
Struck with the necessity of increasing as soon as possible the population of the boundless province he had been sent to govern, Laussat hastened to write to Chaptal, the Minister of the Interior, that it was of the utmost importance to transmit annually to Louisiana, at least from one thousand to twelve hundred families, from the departments contiguous to Switzerland, the Rhine, or the p586Low Countries, "because," said he, "the emigrants from the southern provinces are good for nothing."
A few days after his arrival, Laussat had issued a proclamation in the name of the French Republic.
This document begins, says Judge Martin, in his History of Louisiana, "by stating that the separation of Louisiana from France marked in the annals of the latter one of the most shameful eras under a weak and corrupt Government, after an ignominious war and dishonorable peace. With this unnatural abandonment by the mother country, the love, loyalty, and heroic courage of the people of Louisiana formed a noble contrast, with which every heart in France was now moved, and would long preserve the remembrance of. The French still remembered that a portion of the inhabitants of Louisiana were their descendants, with the same blood running in their veins. As soon as France, by a prodigious succession of triumphs in the late revolution, had recovered her own freedom and glory, she turned her eyes towards Louisiana, the retrocession of which signalized her first peace. But the period was not yet arrived — it was necessary that a man, who is a stranger to nothing that is national, great, magnanimous or just; who, to the most distinguished talent for conquering, adds the rare one of obtaining for his conquests the happiest results, and who, by the ascendency of his character, at once strikes terror into his enemies and inspires his allies with confidence — whose expansive mind discovered at once the true interests of his country, and was bent on restoring to France her pristine grandeur and her lost possessions — should accomplish this important work.
"This man," said the Prefect, "presides over the destinies of France and Louisiana, to insure their felicity. In the latter nothing more is necessary than to improve p587the advantages of which nature has been so prodigal towards her.
"He observed that it was the intention of the Government to live in peace and amity with the neighboring Indians, and to protect the commerce of the colony, encourage its agriculture, people its deserts, promote labor and industry, respect property, opinions, and habits, protect public worship, preserve the empire of the laws, amend them slowly and with the light of experience only, maintain a regular police, introduce permanent order and economy in every branch of the administration, and tighten the bonds which a common origin and a similarity of manners had already established between the colony and the mother country.
"After a short eulogy of the two high magistrates with whom he was associated, and of the officers who had hitherto governed the colony under the authority of Spain, whom he said that the French officers would endeavor to imitate, he concluded with the assurance that the devotion of the people of Louisiana to the French Republic, their gratitude for those by whom they were reunited to it, and the spectacle of their prosperity, were the rewards which he aspired to, and should endeavor to deserve by a zeal which would know no limits in the fulfilment of his duties."
These were honied words indeed — promising halcyon days; but not many changes of the moon had happened since they were uttered, when the magnanimous, just and powerful government of Bonaparte, after a prodigious succession of triumphs, and after having recovered for France her freedom and glory, did exactly what had been done by the shameful, weak and corrupt government of Louis XV, after an ignominious war and dishonorable peace. Bonaparte had been as anxious to sell p588what he could not keep, as Louis had been to give what was an expensive encumbrance to him. There is no doubt that France, when ceding Louisiana to the United States, acted wisely for herself and beneficially for that province. But it is not the less true, that the similarity of the policy which she was compelled to pursue, with that which her representative had so bitterly censured, shows the imprudence of vituperation, particularly in connexion with any thing dependent on the political mutability of human affairs.
A large number of planters, among whom were A. Trouard, De Pain, Manuel Andry, Jacques de la Groue, Noel Perret, P. St. Martin, Louis Foucher, Charles Perret, &c., replied to Laussat's proclamation by a spirited address, in which they declared that their most ardent wish had always been to resume the glorious name of Frenchmen, and that the proclamation which announced to them that their long cherished hope was gratified had filled their souls with the delirium of extreme felicity. "But," said they, "we should be unworthy of what is to us a subject of so much pride, if we did not imitate you in the example you have given us by your expressing such generous sentiments, and if we did not acknowledge that we have no cause of complaint against the Spanish Government. We have never groaned under the iron yoke of an oppressive despotism. It is true that the time was, when our unfortunate kinsmen reddened with their blood the soil which they wished to preserve for France. A weak and unfeeling Government aimed at depriving us of that cherished possession. But the calamities which were inflicted upon us were due to the atrocious soul of a foreigner (the Irishman O'Reilly) and to an extreme breach of faith. O plaintive shades, if you still haunt the spot which witnessed your martyrdom, forget your sorrows! Your descendants, your p589friends, are called back to the bosom of their beloved mother. Their grateful tears will wash out the traces of the blood you have shed. Long ago, we proved to the Spaniards, in the plains of Baton Rouge, of Mobile, and Pensacola, that we did not consider them as the accomplices of those atrocities. We have become bound together by family connexions and by the bonds of friendship. Let them have the untrammelled enjoyment of all the property they may own on the soil which has become the land of freedom, and let us share with them, like brothers, the blessings of our new position."
The inhabitants of New Orleans presented also an address to Laussat. It was signed by M. Fortier, Cavalier Sr., Etienne Boré, Labatut, M. Lefebvre, G. Debuys, J. Livaudais, P. Derbigny, N. Brouin, St. Avid, E. Plauché, L. Chabot, B. Durel, A. Garidel, F. Blache, S. Hiriart, J. B. Verret, R. Ducros, and many others. It read thus:
"Citizen Prefect, — France has done justice to our sentiments, when believing in the unalterable attachment we have preserved for her. Thirty-four years of foreign domination have not weakened in our hearts the sacred love of country, and our joy in returning to our national flag is equal in intensity to the grief we felt when we were forcibly separated from it. Happy are the colonists of Louisiana who have lived long enough to see their reunion to France, which they had never ceased to desire, and which now satisfies their utmost wishes!
"In an age so fruitful in astonishing events, it is unquestionable that some have occurred, which are greater, more imposing and more memorable, but perhaps none offer a spectacle as interesting and as affecting as that of victorious and triumphant France holding out a protecting hand to her children cast away, of old, from her bosom, in consequence of the weakness and prevarication p590of a pusillanimous government, and calling them to a share in the fruits of a glorious peace, which has terminated in so brilliant a manner the most bloody and terrible revolution.
"You have signalized, Citizen Prefect, the return of the French Government, by strikingly authenticating its beneficent views. Your proclamation, in announcing them to us, has filled us with gratitude for the parental care of France. The blessings of our union with the French Republic begin already to be felt. The fortunate selection of the patriotic chiefs whom she has designated to govern us, and whose honorable reputation has already reached the colony, the choice troops she sends for our protection, are sure pledges of the prosperity which she has in store for us. In return we tender her our zeal, obedience and love, and we swear to prove ourselves ever worthy of being incorporated with her.
"Perhaps France would attach less value to the homage of our fidelity, if she saw us relinquishing without any regret our allegiance to the sovereign who has loaded us with favors, during all the time he has reigned over us. Such culpable indifference is not to be found in our hearts, in which our regret at our separating from him occupies as much space as our joy in securing the nationality we had lost, and it is by keeping up an eternal recollection of his favors, that we intend to show ourselves worthy of the parental attachment and of the benefits which we expect from the French Government."
These two addresses are very remarkable testimonials in favor of the Spanish administration in Louisiana. It is not often that departing power is greeted with such hosannas, and that the incense of public worship is offered to the setting sun.
On the 10th of April, Sebastian de Casa Calvo de la Puerta y O'Faril, Marquis de Casa Calvo, who, it will p591be recollected, had acted formerly as military governor of Louisiana after the death of Gayoso de Lemos, arrived from Havana, he and Salcedo having been made joint commissioners to deliver the province to France. On the 18th of May, they issued a proclamation,6 in which they announced the intention of their sovereign to surrender the province to the French Republic, and declared that his Majesty, retaining as ever the same affection for the inhabitants of Louisiana, and desiring to continue to them the same protection which they had enjoyed, had determined:
"That the cession of the colony and island of New Orleans should be on the same terms as those of the cession made by his most Christian to his Catholic Majesty; and that, consequently, the limits on both sides of the river St. Louis, or Mississippi, should continue as they remained by the 5th article of the definitive treaty of peace concluded at Paris on the 10th of December, 1763, and accordingly, the settlements from the Bayou Manchac to the line of separation between the dominions of Spain and those of the United States, should remain a part of the monarchy of Spain and be annexed to the province of West Florida.
"Every individual, employed in any branch of the King's service, and wishing to remain under his government, might proceed to Havana or any other part of his dominions, unless he preferred entering into the service of the French Republic, which he was permitted to do; but if any just reason prevented his immediate departure, he might urge it in proper time.
"The King's generosity induced him to continue to widows and others their respective provisions, and he would make known in due time, in what manner he wished they should avail themselves of this favor.
p592 "They declared it to be the expectation of the King, their master, that, from the sincere friendship and alliance which existed between him and the French Republic, orders would be given to the governors and other officers employed by France in Louisiana, to the effect that the clergy and the other religious institutions should be permitted to remain in the discharge of their offices within their respective curacies and missions, and enjoy their former emoluments, privileges and exemptions — that the tribunals established for the administration of justice should be allowed to continue to administer it according to the former laws and usages of the province — the inhabitants maintained in the peaceable possession of their property, and all grants made to them by the former governors confirmed, even when not ratified by the King — and finally, that the French Government should continue to the people of Louisiana the favor and protection they had enjoyed under Spain."
In relation to the effect produced by his arrival and by the news of the cession of Louisiana by Spain to France, Laussat wrote to Decrès, the minister of marine, a confidential despatch, in which he said:
"My arrival and my proclamation excited the enthusiasm of the colonists.7 On all sides, I received addressed to the First Consul containing the most ardent wishes for the arrival of the coming expedition, and the most energetic expression of devoted attachment to France.8 I kept up as much as I could those sentiments, which were of good omen for the future. Unfortunately, everything seems, successively, to have conspired to destroy them.
"But the soul of the government is a certain Don Andres Lopez de Armesto, a sort of half lettered fellow, who has grown old in the office of secretary of the government, which office is given by the king of Spain. This man has seen in turn a series of governors filing off before him, and knows in all their details the corrupt practices prevalent in the colony for the last twenty years. To a great deal of natural arrogance he joins an inexhaustible fund of ready compliance and suppleness towards his superiors. In every district he has his creatures and tools, who warmly espouse his interests, and who have very good cause for so doing.
"The judge, who is called here the auditor, and who is the governor's right arm in civil matters, is a cunning old dog who sells almost publicly his decisions, and who is the sole authority to pass judgment over the most important civil and criminal cases. After all, venality is a common sin, which is openly committed. The intendant is the only one who is not suspected of it.
"The Marquis de Somoruelos,º Captain-General of Cuba, of whose government this province is a dependency, felt, no doubt, that old Salcedo was not presentable to the French, and could not be permitted to act alone in the delivery of the colony to them. But whether the measure originated with him, or whether it emanated from Madrid, the Marquis de Casa Calvo arrived at New Orleans five weeks after me, with the title of royal commissioner, authorized to act jointly with the Governor in delivering over the colony to us. Then it was that the aspect of things changed materially.
"The Marquis de Casa Calvo, who is allied to O'Reilly, and whose niece, besides, has married the son and heir of that general, accompanied him to this place as a cadet p594or page, in 1769, and was eighteen years old when he witnessed the execution of the six Frenchmen whom O'Reilly put to death without necessity and from sheer cruelty, in compliance with an erring policy, and to gratify his personal ambition.
"The same Marquis de Casa Calvo was, in January, 1793, and during the following months, in command of Fort Dauphin at St. Domingo, and was at the head of his troops drawn up in battle array, when the blacks, led by Jean François, massacred seventy-seven defenceless Frenchmen, who were relying on the faith of treaties. The colonists of St. Domingo still speak of this fact with feelings of horror; and the English newspapers, which misspelt the name of the Marquis and called him Caracola,a related this event, at the time, with indignation.
"Four years ago, the office of the Governor of Louisiana having become vacant by the death of the incumbent, the Captain-General of the Island of Cuba sent to this colony the Marquis de Casa Calvo to take the military command of it ad interim. This officer exercised those functions eighteen months, probably on account of the state of war then existing. He left in the province the reputation of a man of violent temper, who hated the French. By what fatality is this very same individual, precisely on an occasion of this kind, intrusted with the mission of offering them the welcome to which they are entitled, of delivering to them a colony which the Spaniards therein living and those in Cuba regret to part with, and of settling with us so many interesting and important questions in which we shall have to doubt his good dispositions.
"Hardly had the Marquis set foot in this province, when he summoned all the military officers (and thanks to the militia system there is scarcely an inhabitant of any consequence whatever, who is not reputed a military officer) p595to come to his lodging, and declare by yea or nay, whether they intended to remain in the service of the King of Spain. Please to observe, Citizen Minister, that the fortune and the pensions of many of them depended altogether on the nature of their answer. The Marquis went so far as to exact a declaration in the affirmative from two companies of men of color in New Orleans, which were composed of all the mechanics that city possesses. Two of those mulattoes complained to me of their having been detained twenty-four hours in prison, to force them to utter the fatal yea which was desired of them.
"To Terre aux Boeufs, where there exists a precious class of small farmers, who were transported thither from the Canary Islands, a priest has been sent, who induced those simple-minded men to promise that they would follow the Spaniards.
"Orders have been given to the commandants at the several posts, to subject the inhabitants and the curates to the same ordeal. The whole clergy had to go through it.
"And the expedition does not arrive! And I see these things without daring to take exception, for fear of making them worse!
"The Spanish authorities have shown themselves exceedingly reserved, more captious, and even almost haughty towards me. Our correspondence gradually becomes sharp, at first about trifles, and on account of their ill-mannered proceedings, which insensibly acquired a more decided character. In the beginning, the men in office, next the Spaniards, then all their adherents, and at last the vulgar crew of what may be called the timid part of the population, have feared to come near me; and now, to do so, would be looked upon almost as a crime. To every one of my demands or applications p596the Government has an evasive answer already prepared. It shuns, isolates and watches me. It takes umbrage at the least of my steps or proceedings, and even at my language, however insignificant it may be. It is afraid of complying with my plainest requests. Firmness and dignity are all that I have to oppose to their prejudices and unreasonableness. But, frequently, I am obliged to keep pent up within my breast my feelings of vexation, because the Spanish authorities might take offence at them and revenge themselves, without my being able to prevent it, on the friends of the French.
"The Attakapas are peopled with French families who could not refrain from expressing their joy at our return. A native of Bordeaux, named St. Julien, who is an honest planter and much esteemed, had the imprudence to head some of his letters with the word Citizen. Thereupon, a great conspiracy was suspected, and the Spanish Government ordered this individual to be made a prisoner and conducted here. In the meantime, whilst he was airing himself on his gallery at night, two shots were fired at him, one of which killed his wife.9 He defended himself; and his assailants, breaking six of his ribs, left him lying down apparently dead. What followed? He was accused of being a rogue and an assassin, who had murdered his own wife, and who had voluntarily put himself in a dying condition. The commandant of that post, M. De Blanc, a military officer full of honor, and the descendant of St. Denis, the founder of Natchitoches,º was in New Orleans when that occurrence took place; but, as he is well known for his devotion to the French, he was deprived of his command and ordered p597to remain at New Orleans, until further notice. In his place was put a M. Duralde, a tool of the Secretary of the Government, who makes a great parade of his exclusive and blind zeal for Spain, and who, to prove his sincerity, is the declared persecutor of all those who in his district have any sympathies for the French. People shoot at each other, and civil war has begun. The authorities here conceal these facts with sedulous care, and are anxious to keep me in complete ignorance of what is going on.
"The planters who still preserve their attachment for us, inquired of me secretly, whether they must give it up.
"That wretched Burthe10 has, also, too long contributed by his indiscreet and intemperate language to cause the arrival of our troops to be apprehended, and, by his outbreaks against me, has assisted in discrediting the influence of our government.
"The Anglo-Americans have spread the rumor that there will be no cession, or that, should there be one, it would only be as a preliminary to a second cession in favor of the United States.
[. . .]
"At all events, it behooves the honor of the French nation to take care that none shall suffer for having shown attachment to France."
The ill-humor displayed in this despatch was the result of the awkward position in which Laussat found himself. The fact is, that he had discovered the ground on which he stood to be beset with difficulties, which seemed to thicken upon him as he attempted to push his way through them. The Spaniards and their adherents had no cause to be disposed to favor him and his Government, and there was a great deal of discontent p598among the natives of Louisiana, and even among the French, some of whom feared the doctrines of which he was supposed to be the representative, whilst others thought that he was not sufficiently progressive.11 Besides, a furious conflict of authority had sprung up between him and the Adjutant-General Burthe, and was carried on with such animosity as to betray both parties into disgraceful acts and expressions. For instance, the Prefect Laussat, having been invited to dinner by the Marquis de Casa Calvo, and finding, on entering the saloon of the Marquis, that Burthe was one of the guests, retired abruptly, much to the astonishment and mortification of the punctilious Spaniard, who even took some offence at the Frenchman's unceremonious retreat. In illustration of General Casa Calvo's habits, turn of mind, and extreme courtesy, it may not be improper to relate here the following anecdote. One day when, in company with his private secretary, he was sauntering in the streets of New Orleans, a negro having bowed to him, he took off his hat with as much respectful courtesy as if he had been saluting an equal. Being under the impression that this had been done from sheer absence of mind, his secretary remarked with a smile; "Your Excellency did not observe that it was a negro." — "On the contrary, Sir," was the reply, "but did you think I p599would permit myself to be excelled in politeness by a negro!"b
On the 28th of July, Laussat wrote to the French Government, that the rumor of a cession of Louisiana to the United States was still gaining ground in the colony, but that he had treated it as a calumnious report. But hardly had his despatch been sealed and sent, when, by the arrival of a vessel from Bordeaux, he discovered that the supposed calumny was an authentic and undeniable truth. On the 6th of June, the First Consul had appointed Laussat Commissioner on the part of France, to receive possession of the province of Louisiana and deliver it to the Commissioners to be appointed on behalf of the United States.
On the 30th of November, in consequence of the orders received, Casa Calvo, Salcedo, and Laussat, accompanied by a large retinue of the clergy and of all the civil and military officers in the employ of France and Spain, and of many other persons of distinction, met in the City Hall, where Laussat exhibited to the Spanish Commissioners an order from the King of Spain for the delivery of the colony, and his credentials from the French Government to receive it. Whereupon, the keys of New Orleans were handed to Laussat; and Salcedo and Casa Calvo declared that from this moment, according to the powers vested in them, they put the French Commissioner in possession of Louisiana and its dependencies, in all their extent, such as they were ceded by France to Spain, and such as they remained under the successive treaties made between his Catholic Majesty and other Powers. They further declared that they absolved from their oath of fidelity and allegiance to the crown of Spain, such of his Catholic Majesty's subjects in Louisiana as might choose to live under the authority of the French Republic. A record was made of these proceedings in p600French and Spanish,12 and the three commissioners walked to the main balcony, when the Spanish flag was saluted by a discharge of artillery on its descent from a pole erected on the public square in front of the City Hall, and that of the French Republic greeted in the same manner on its ascent. The square was occupied by the Spanish troops and some of the militia of the colony. It was remarked that the militia had mustered up with difficulty, and did not exceed one hundred and fifty men. It was the indication of an unfavorable feeling, which had been daily gaining strength, and which Laussat attributed in his despatches to the intrigues of the Spanish authorities. Although the weather had been tempestuous in the preceding night and in the morning, and continued to be threatening, the crowd round the public square was immense, and even the very tops of the neighboring houses.
On the same day, Laussat issued this proclamation:
"The mission which brought me among you across the sea, through a distance of seven thousand and five hundred miles, that mission on which I had long rested so many fond hopes, and so many ardent wishes for your happiness, is now totally changed; and the one with which I am now charged, less gratifying, but still equally flattering to me, offers me one source of consolation — which springs from the reflection, that it will, in its results, be more advantageous to you.
"The Commissioners of his Catholic Majesty, in conformity with the powers and orders which they and I have respectively received, have just delivered me possession p601of the province. You see the flag of the French Republic now displayed, and you hear the repeated detonations of her guns, announcing to you, to‑day, on all sides, the return of French domination. It will be for an instant only, Louisianians, and I am on the eve of transferring the possession of this colony to the Commissioners of the United States. They are near at hand — I expect them soon.
"The approaching struggles of a war begun under the most sanguinary and terrible auspices, and threatening the safety of the four quarters of the world, had induced the French Government to turn its attention towards Louisiana, and to reflect on her destinies. Considerations of prudence and humanity, connecting themselves with those of a more vast and durable policy — worthy, in one word, of the man whose genius weighs, at this very hour, in its scales, the fates of so many great nations, have given a new direction to the beneficent intentions of France towards Louisiana. She has ceded it to the United States of America.
"Preserve thus, Louisianians, the precious pledge of the friendship which cannot fail to grow, from day to day, between the two republics, and which must so powerfully contribute to their common repose and their common prosperity.
"The article 3d, of the treaty of cession, cannot escape your attention. It says: 'that the inhabitants of the ceded territories shall be incorporated into the Union of the United States, and admitted, as soon as possible, according to the principles of the Federal Constitution, to the enjoyment of all the advantages and immunities of the citizens of the United States; and that, in the meantime, they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberties and property, and in the unrestrained exercise of the religion they profess.'
p602 "Thus are you, Louisianians, suddenly invested with the rights and privileges appertaining to a free Constitution and Government, secured and guaranteed by the force of arms, cemented by treaties, and tested by time and experience.
"You will be incorporated with a nation already numerous and powerful, renowned besides for its industry, its patriotism, and the degree of civilization and knowledge it possesses, and which by its rapid progress seems destined to the most brilliant rank that a people ever enjoyed on the face of the earth.
"It has been happily blessed with such a position, that its successes and its splendor cannot, at least for a long time, interfere with its felicity.
"However beneficent and pure may be the intentions of a mother country, you must be aware that an immense distance between the two secures impunity to oppressions and exactions, and prevents the correction of abuses. The facility and the certitude of concealing them have even a frequent tendency to corrupt the man who, at first, looked upon them with aversion and fear.
"From this day forth, you cease to be exposed to this fatal and dangerous disadvantage.
"By the nature of the Government of the United States, and of the privileges upon the enjoyment of which you immediately enter, you will have, even under a provisional government, popular rulers, whose acts you will be at liberty to censure, or to protest against with impunity, and who will be permanently in need of your esteem, your suffrages and your affection.
"The public affairs and interests, far from being interdicted to your consideration, will be your own affairs and interests, on which the opinions of wise and impartial men will be sure to exercise, in the long run, a preponderating influence, and to which you could not even p603remain indifferent without exposing yourselves to bitter repentance.
"The time will soon come when you will establish for yourselves a form of government, which, although respecting the sacred principles consecrated in the social pact of the Federal Union, will be adapted to your manners, your usages, your climate, your soil and your peculiar localities.
"It will not be long before you shall feel the advantages of an upright, impartial, and incorruptible administration of justice, in which the invariable forms and the publicity of judicial proceedings, together with the restraints carefully imposed over an arbitrary application of the laws, will co‑operate with the moral and national character of the Judges and Jurors, in affording to the citizens the most effective security for their persons and property.
"The principles and legislation of the American people, the encouragements which they have given to the interests of agriculture and commerce, and the progress which they have made in those two departments of industry, are well known to you, Louisianians, particularly from the many advantages you have derived from them for some years past.
"There is not and there cannot be a metropolitan Government, which will not establish a more or less exclusive colonial monopoly. On the contrary, from the United States you have to expect a boundless freedom of exportation, and only such duties on your imports as may be required by your public wants and the necessity of protecting your home industry. The result of unlimited competition will be to cause you to buy cheap whilst selling dear, and your country will become an immense warehouse or place of deposit, affording you countless profits. The Nile of America, the Mississippi, which p604flows, not through parched deserts of sand, but through the most extensive and the most fertile plains of the new world, will soon see its bosom darkened with a thousand ships belonging to all the nations of the earth, and mooring at the quays of another Alexandria.
"Among them your eyes will, I hope, Louisianians, always distinguish with complacency the French flag, and your hearts will never cease to rejoice at the sight of its glorious folds. This we firmly hope. I solemnly profess it here in the name of my country and government.
"Bonaparte, in stipulating by the 7th Article of the treaty of cession, that French shall be permitted, during twelve years, to trade in this province without paying higher duties than the citizens of the United States, and exactly on the same footing, had, as one of his principal aims, that of giving to the ancient relations existing between the French of Louisiana and the French of Europe sufficient opportunity and time, for renewing, strengthening and perpetuating themselves. A new bond of union will be formed between us from one continent to the other, the more satisfactory and durable from the fact that it will be entirely founded on a constant reciprocity of sentiments, services and advantages. Your children, Louisianians, will be our children, and our children will be yours. You will send yours to perfect their education and their talents among us, and we will send ours to you, to increase your forces, and, by contributing their share to your labors and industry, assist you in wresting from an unsubdued wilderness its reluctant tributes.
"It has been gratifying to me thus to describe, somewhat at length, the advantages which are secured to you, in order to soothe your complaints of being forsaken, and the affectionate regrets which a sincere attachment p605for the country of your ancestors has caused so many of you to express. France and her Government will hear of it with gratitude and with corresponding love. But you will be convinced ere long, that, by the treaty of cession, she has conferred upon you the most eminent and the most memorable of blessings.
"The French Republic is thus the first to give to modern times the example of voluntarily emancipating a colony, in imitation of the liberal policy pursued towards those colonies, whose existence we love to recall in our memory, as constituting one of the most brilliant periods of the days of antiquity. Thus may, now and for the future, a Frenchman and a Louisianian never meet, in any part of the world, without a mutual feeling of tender emotion, and without exchanging the affectionate appellation of 'brothers!' May this word hereafter be the only one sufficiently expressive to convey an adequate idea of their eternal friendship and reciprocal reliance!"
On that same day (30th November), the Prefect issued several decrees in relation to the organization of the government of the province. M. Garland was appointed, provisionally, Administrator-General and Director of the Custom-house, and Navailles, Treasurer. For the Spanish Cabildo were substituted a Mayor, two Adjuncts, and a Municipal Council composed of ten members. By order, the following list of officers was immediately published: Etienne Boré, Mayor; Pierre Derbigny, Secretary; Destréhan, First Adjunct; Sauvé, Second Adjunct; Livaudais, Petit Cavelier, Villeré, Johns, Fortier, Donaldson, Faurie, Allard, Tureaud, and John Watkins, members of the Municipal Council. Labatut was appointed its Treasurer. To Bellechasse was given, with the grade of Colonel, the command of the militia of New Orleans, including the companies formed by the p606freemen of color, and all its other officers were re-commissioned. It is true that no alacrity was shown to accept these commissions; but the French Prefect was unjust at the time, when he supposed that it was owing to the intrigues of the Spaniards. On the contrary, several natives, of Spanish descent, consented to be commissioned as officers of the militia, and among others, Charles Anastase Gayarré,13 the grandson of the Royal Comptroller, or Contador, who came to the colony with Ulloa in 1766. Although it may be that he was influenced by his father-in‑law, Etienne Boré, the new Mayor of New Orleans, nevertheless it is evident that he would not have pursued this course, if it had been contrary to the wishes of the Spanish authorities, as his feelings must have been enlisted on their side, and as he was then in office14 under the appointment of the King of Spain.
By a special proclamation, the Black Code given by Louis XV to the province, excepting such parts of it as were inconsistent with the Constitution and Laws of the United States, was declared to be in force.15
"Soon after," says Monette, in his History of the Valley of the Mississippi, "the Spanish troops were withdrawn and the military posts were evacuated. In the city and suburbs of New Orleans there were four military posts or forts, relinquished by the Spanish troops, which might be exposed to the depredations, and equally so to the unlawful occupancy of disaffected persons and nocturnal disturbers of the peace. The troops of the United States, designed for the occupation of these forts, not having arrived within the limits of the ceded province, many were apprehensive of outrage and violence from a lawless and disaffected populace, composed of the lowest p607class of Spaniards, Mexicans, and free persons of color who infested the city, and other disorderly persons and desperadoes of all nations, who, released from the restraint of a standing army, might be prompted by the hope of pillage to fire the city, or to commit other acts of violence.
"To guard against any such attempt, and to preserve order in the city, a number of enterprising young Americans associated themselves into a volunteer battalion, to be placed under the command of Daniel Clark, Jr., the American Consul. Their first muster was at Davis's rope-walk on Canal St., where they were joined by a number of patriotic young Creole Frenchmen, who continued to serve until the battalion was finally discharged. Having organized, they placed themselves under their commander, and proceeded to the head-quarters of the Colonial Prefect, to whom they made a formal tender of their services for the purpose of preserving order in the city, and for the occupancy of the forts until the arrival of the American Commissioners and troops. The battalion16 continued to increase by the voluntary enrolment of Americans and French Creoles, until the whole number exceeded three hundred men. The Americans were chiefly captains and mates of vessels, supercargoes, merchants, clerks, and seamen belonging to vessels in port. The French, by their zeal, vigilance, and patriotism during their time of service, proved themselves worthy of American citizenship. Their services were gladly accepted, p608and detachments from their numbers were detailed upon regular tours of duty in patrolling the city by day and by night."
The following confidential despatch addressed by Laussat to his Government, on the course he deemed proper to pursue on that occasion, and dated on the 10th of December, will not be read without interest.
"Citizen Minister, I deferred writing to your Excellency by the last mail, in the hope that the commissioners of the United States were to arrive here yesterday, and that the same despatch would have conveyed to you the information of our taking and delivering possession, in the name of the French republic, without any intervening delays. It seems, however, that the arrival of the Americans is postponed until next week. I cannot, therefore, and will not put off any longer, giving you an account of the actual state of things.
[. . .]
"On the 23rd of November, General Wilkinson, one of the commissioners for the United States, came to my house at six o'clock in the evening. The other commissioner is W. C. C. Claiborne, Governor of the territory of Mississippi.
"Wilkinson was returning from the frontiers of Florida, and was on his way to join his colleague at Fort Adams, near the dividing line between the territory of Mississippi and the district of Baton Rouge. We had just had a conference of two hours in reference to the course to be pursued towards the Spanish commissioners in all possible contingencies, when, on breaking up the interview and stepping out of my room, I met the French officer, citizen Landais, who had been sent to put me in possession of the original documents containing the instructions of our Government for taking possession of Louisiana, and delivering it over to the United States.
p609 "I did not hesitate, and I resolved to accelerate that event; for, you have seen in my preceding despatches that I suspected the good will of the Spaniards, and it was prudent not to give them time to know the system of opposition which the Minister of his Catholic Majesty at Washington had openly and impetuously pursued in protesting against the cession, because it was to be feared that the Spanish commissioners might in their turn be tempted to imitate him.
"On the morning of the next day, I urged General Wilkinson to hasten his departure and to go and wait for further information from me at the head of his troops, whose numbers he might increase or diminish accordingly.
"Moreover, I immediately busied myself with preparing the ground around me.
"In the first place, I secured a chief for the militia, and I was lucky indeed in laying my hands on an officer who had served twenty-four years, who was not personally well disposed towards the Marquis de Casa Calvo, on account of his having been dismissed from active service on unfavorable terms, and who enjoyed an excellent reputation and much popularity in the country. He is, besides, the owner of considerable property in the vicinity of the city, and his name is Deville de Goutin Bellechasse. Once sure of him, I availed myself of his aid in all the principal and subordinate military measures which I had to conceive and execute.
"I thought also of securing, without loss of time, an imposing support in the civil department of the government, and I selected for Mayor of the city, M. Etienne Boré, a native of Louisiana, of a distinguished family, formerly Mousquetaire17 in France, one of the p610largest and most skilful planters of the province, and a gentleman renowned for his patriotism and for a character of unwavering independence. I made a powerful appeal to him in the name of his country, whose interests required his services, and I had the satisfaction to win him over.
"As we were in the grinding season for the sugar cane, there could not have been a more unpropitious time to draw the planters away from their fields and the superintendence of their negroes.
"After M. Boré, and through his influence, I secured the services of some of the most distinguished among the colonists. I took every care to join with them in authority some of the most respectable inhabitants of the city, who had a capacity for business, who were used to it, who were known as such, and who had a knowledge of the three languages spoken in the colony — the French, English and Spanish.
"It was with a true feeling of joy that I put in authority M. Villeré, the son of one of the most interesting of O'Reilly's victims, himself much loved in the colony, and held in great repute for his probity, his good conduct and his merit. I thus discharged a second debt on the part of France.
"It was essential for me to have, immediately, a municipality animated with a proper disposition, enlightened, active and respectable. Under the Spanish domination, the municipal council (cabildo) was an insignificant institution — a mere show or parade, lacking real power, generally composed of heterogeneous elements, of devoted tools, of beings mostly disgraced and bespattered with mud.18 The Governor, individually, p611was the army — the law — the tribunal of justice — the police — the administration of the country.
"It was therefore an indispensable obligation for me, considering the circumstances in which I might be placed and the total want in which I was of every thing, to create immediately a moral power which, as soon as I should assume the reins of government, might of itself become an irresistible political lever.
"I labored without intermission to obtain that result, on the Saturday, Sunday, and Monday which preceded the cession.19
"I shall always remember with pleasure that, on Tuesday evening, at nine o'clock, I had succeeded in gathering round me what Louisiana possesses of most respectable and distinguished, within thirty miles, in point of reputation, virtue, talent, influence, and wealth. The gentlemen thus assembled were the first to whom, according to your despatches, Citizen Minister, and your instructions, I made known the treaty of cession, and the views of the Government in negotiating it. I explained to them the successive changes of domination which would be the sudden result of that cession, and the first of which would take place on the next day. I laid out before them the plan on which I intended to proceed, commented on the difficulties which might be in the way, unfolded what I expected from their co‑operation, and discussed the powerful motives which ought to induce them to give me their assistance.
"The day before, I had delivered your letter of introduction to the Spanish Commissioners, and I had declared to them that my intention was to take possession two days after, that is, on Wednesday, 30th of November. p612I had communicated to them the procès-verbal, such as it was subsequently signed, and such as I send a copy of to your Excellency.
"In answer, the first thing which was said to me by the Spanish Commissioners was: What are the forces with which you will take possession? — I replied: with the militia and the French who are in New Orleans. — As this is but a mere formality, observed the Spanish Commissioners, our troops might assist you, and might continue in your service until the arrival of the Americans. We shall thus contribute with pleasure to help you, considering the union which exists between the two nations. — This would be contrary to my instructions, and I can do very well without it. — But the officers of the militia are mostly, and especially the Colonel who commands them, commissioned and paid by the King of Spain. — I will recommission them instantly. All that I ask of you is to draw the militia together, and to keep them under arms at the moment when you will deliver the colony to me. — We have received no orders different from the first, and therefore the colony shall be delivered to you. — The Marquis de Somoruellosº wrote to me, a few days ago, that he had lately renewed to you the orders to do so. — This evening, one of us will call on you, and we shall come to some final understanding as to the style of the procès-verbal and as to the details of the ceremony.
"At nine o'clock, the Marquis de Casa Calvo called at my house with the Secretary of the Government, Armesto. Some insignificant expressions were altered in the procès-verbal, and we examined the Spanish translation, in which we concurred. We easily came to an agreement as to what was a mere matter of etiquette. The Marquis renewed the proposition, or the equivalent of it, which he had made in the morning. I declined it peremptorily, as I had done already. He observed that p613the Cabildo was composed of officers appointed by his Catholic Majesty, but that, on the eve of passing under the domination of the United States of America, they would willingly, in concert with the Commissioners of their Sovereign, give such assistance as circumstances might require. I answered that I would establish a new municipal body.
"On Tuesday, I understood from various sources that the militia companies had been operated upon, and that they would not answer the call when summoned to the ceremony of the next day.
"For the last few days, I had been on the best footing of intelligence, at the request of the American Government, with Mr. Daniel Clark, their Consul, and a rich planter and merchant, who knows perfectly this country, in which he has resided twenty years, who is extremely zealous in favor of the cession, and whose penetration and talents for intrigue are carried to a rare degree of excellence.
"Whilst I was counteracting, through M. de Bellechasse and some other military gentlemen, the practices which were carried on among the militia, and which were but the continuation of those I had witnessed without being able to check them, Mr. Clark was forming a numerous company of American volunteers, and, through my friends, I caused to be drummed up about a hundred of the Frenchmen who have lately come here; and most of whom had served in our armies during the revolution.
"I undoubtedly knew that there would be no impediment to the execution of the treaty, but it was necessary to prevent its becoming a cause of annoyance for France in a country peopled by Frenchmen, who, in reality, love her passionately. It was necessary to avoid that the Commissioner of the French Government p614be laughed at, on account of the state of embarrassment and isolation in which he might be placed. It was necessary to prevent the Americans and the Europeans from turning into a joke our manner of taking possession. It was necessary not to run the risk of some disturbances, and not to be compelled perhaps to adjourn the ceremony, and to make an appeal to the troops of the United States.
"This is, Citizen Minister, what was the constant basis of all my steps and acts.
"I will not relate to you the street talk and fibs which were current on Tuesday, during the whole day.
"On Wednesday morning, at 10 o'clock, M. Fortier, who commanded the militia, with the grade of colonel, who was commissioned and paid as such by the King of Spain, and who, besides, was the intimate friend of the Marquis de Casa Calvo, came on the part of the Marquis, to inform me of the difficulties which were felt in the attempt to draw the militia together, in a number sufficiently large to be respectable. He proposed to me, in the name of the Marquis, to have recourse, either to the Spanish troops, or to the few militia that could be collected, as auxiliaries. This was his expression.
"After the militia had been assembled, rather poorly than otherwise, the Marquis had said to them: "We have mustered you up to take possession of the province in the name of the French Republic. It is for you to determine if you wish to serve her for fifteen days.
"My answer to the Marquis's message was short:
"I redoubled, however, my efforts to have, in case of need, a spontaneous armed force that might be ready to show itself simultaneously.
"It was not long before I was informed, that the Spanish officers were earnestly striving to draw together at least two or three companies of militia, and particularly that of the grenadiers.
"At twelve o'clock, I went, with a considerable escort of Frenchmen, to the City Hall, where I found the Spanish Commissioners. They delivered to me the province in the form and manner described in the procès-verbal hereto annexed.
[. . .]
"As soon as the French flag had been hoisted up, and the Spanish Commissioners had withdrawn, I placed myself in the centre of the militia companies, and I presented to them M. Bellechasse as their Colonel and Commander. I also caused to be proclaimed in their presence the composition of the staff.
"There were about one hundred and fifty militia-men present, among whom were about sixty grenadiers.
"I returned to the City Hall to establish and organize the Municipal body.
"I have published a proclamation sufficiently moderate not to displease the Spaniards, or the Americans.
"From the moment of the cession, Casa Calvo has behaved towards me with exquisite politeness."
Such were Laussat's comments on what he had thought and done, and on what he believed he had seen, or had been correctly informed of. But it seems, from his own version of the facts, as related in this despatch, that if there was any indecent display of ill temper, hasty conclusions, undignified and offensive suspicions, as well as of arrogant language, it was not on the side of his adversaries; that if there was, as he complains, a good deal of child's play, he had a handsome share in it; and that his vision must have been singularly dimmed by his apprehensions of the supposed hostile dispositions of the Spaniards, not to have discovered, sooner than after the cession, the uniformity of Casa Calvo's exquisite politeness.
Whilst all these mutations had been going on, or had been in the act of preparation, Laussat and Casa Calvo had been vieing in giving splendid entertainments to the inhabitants of New Orleans, and the republican Prefect had struggled not to yield in pomp and display to the proud and wealthy nobleman. It was no doubt with them a matter of policy, as well as of taste or pride. A French author,20 who witnessed those festivities, says: "M. Laussat exhibited in brilliant entertainments, embellished by the graces of his affable and beautiful wife, that fascinating elegance which seems to be one of the attributes of the French character. The Louisianian ladies, who looked upon her as a model of taste, appeared at those entertainments with a magnificence which was a just p617cause of astonishment in such a colony, and which might have been successfully compared with any efforts of that sort even in the principal cities of France. The Louisianian ladies, who may justly be said to be remarkable for their habitual gravity, are generally tall and exquisitely shaped; the alabaster whiteness of their complexion, which was admirably set off by their light dresses, adorned with flowers and rich embroidery, gave a fairy-like appearance to these festivities. The last one, particularly, astonished me by its magnificence. After tea and the concert were over, the dancing were interrupted at midnight, and the guests went down to a saloon — where, on a table laid for sixty to eighty persons, arose, on the top of rocks, the temple of Good Faith under which was placed the allegorical statue of the goddess. But, farther on, beyond that room, one was attracted by the flood of light which burst from an immense pavilion, in the shape of a gallery. There, forty or fifty tables, covered with a variety of dishes, were spread for the accommodation of four or five hundred guests, who grouped themselves round them in small detached parties.
"The tendency of these festivities was, no doubt, to spread the taste for pleasure and luxury in a colony which, being in its nascent state, still needs a great deal of economy and labor; but, nevertheless, these entertainments, under the circumstances in which they were given, were the result of a useful and enlightened policy, because they strengthened the common customs and manners which connected us and the colonists, causing them to cherish what is French, and impressing them with a proper sense of the grandeur of the mother country."
In the meantime, as apprehensions were entertained p618by the Government of the United States that difficulties might arise in relation to the cession, in consequence of the disposition manifested a few years before by the Colonial Government of Louisiana to retain possession of the posts situated above the 31st degree, and in consequence of the energetic protests recently made at Washington by the Spanish Minister, in the name of his Catholic Majesty, the President21 had ordered a part of the militia of the States of Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, to be held in readiness to march at a moment's warning. Considerable forces had been assembled at Fort Adams, and five hundred Tennesseans had come as far as Natchez, under the command of Colonel Dogherty.º Claiborne, the Governor of Mississippi, had ordered a volunteer company of horse of that territory to be prepared to march with him on the 10th of December.
Claiborne met at Fort Adams, on his way to New Orleans, General Wilkinson, who was coming from that city, where he had had with Laussat the interview I have mentioned. The troops who were at this post were set in motion in company with the volunteers, and, on the 17th of December, the two American commissioners encamped within •two miles of New Orleans. On the day following, they despatched an officer to Laussat, to inquire whether he was disposed to receive their visit; Laussat answered in the affirmative, and immediately sent in his carriage an officer named Vinache, with Bellechasse, the Colonel in command of the militia, and a French citizen named Blanque, to meet Claiborne and Wilkinson. The commissioners came to Laussat's house with an escort of thirty of the Mississippi horse volunteers, and, on their approach, were saluted with nineteen guns. The next day, at half past p619ten in the morning, Laussat went on horseback to their camp with an escort of sixty men, and thus returned officially the formal visit he had received.
On Tuesday, the 20th of December, the Prefect ordered all the militia companies to be drawn up under arms,22 on the public square in front of the City Hall. The crowd of spectators was immense, and the finest weather favored the curiosity of the public.
The commissioners of the United States arrived at the gates of the city with their troops, and, before entering, were reconnoitred according to military usages, by a company of the militia grenadiers.
The American troops, on entering the city, were greeted with a salute of twenty-one guns from the forts, and formed on the opposite side of the square, facing the militia.
At the City Hall, the Commissioners of the United States exhibited their powers to Laussat. The credentials were publicly read, next the treaty of cession, the powers of the French Commissioner, and finally the procès-verbal. The Prefect proclaimed the delivery of the province to the United States, handed the keys of the city to Claiborne, and declared that he absolved from their allegiance to the French Republic such of the inhabitants as might choose to pass under the new domination. "Claiborne now rose," says Judge Martin in his History of Louisiana, "and offered to the people his congratulations on the event which irrevocably fixed their political existence, and no longer left it open to the caprices of chance. He assured them that the United States received them as brothers, and would hasten to extend to them a participation in the invaluable rights forming the basis of their own unexampled prosperity, and that, in the meanwhile, the people would be protected in the enjoyment of their liberty, property p620and religion; that their commerce would be favored, and their agriculture encouraged. He recommended to them to promote political information in the province, and to guide the rising generation in the paths of republican energy and virtue."
The three commissioners then went to one of the balconies of the City Hall. On their making their appearance, the French flag that was floating at the top of a pole in the middle of the square came down, and the American flag went up. When they met half way, a gun was fired as a signal, and immediately the land batteries began their discharges, which were responded to by the armed vessels in the river. "A group of American citizens who stood at the corner of the square," says Judge Martin, "waved their hats, in token of respect for their country's flag, and a few of them greeted it with their voices; no emotion was manifested by any other part of the crowd. The colonists did not appear conscious that they were reaching the Latium sedes ubi fata ostendunt."c
Laussat then presented the American commissioners to the militia, and delivered to them the command of that body. Afterwards, Claiborne and Wilkinson proceeded to have all the posts and guardhouses occupied by their troops. Thus ended the French domination, if it can be so called, twenty days after it had begun. The Spanish Government had lasted thirty-four years and a few months.
On this day, when he took possession of the colony (the 20th of December, 1803), Claiborne issued the following proclamation:
"Whereas, by stipulations between the Governments of France and Spain, the latter ceded to the former the Colony and Province of Louisiana, and with the same extent which it had at the date of the above mentioned p621treaty in the hands of Spain, and that it had when France possessed it, and such as it ought to be after the treaties subsequently entered into between Spain and other States; and whereas the Government of France has ceded the same to the United States by a treaty duly ratified, and bearing date the 30th of April in the present year, and the possession of said Colony and Province is now in the United States according to the tenor of the last mentioned treaty; and whereas the Congress of the United States, on the 31st of October, in the present year, did enact that until the expiration of the Session of Congress then sitting (unless provisions for the temporary government of the said territories be sooner made by Congress), all the military, civil, and judicial powers exercised by the then existing government of the same, shall be vested in such person or persons, and shall be exercised in such manner as the President of the United States shall direct, for the maintaining and protecting of the inhabitants of Louisiana in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and religion; and the President of the United States has, by his commission bearing date the same 31st of October, invested me with all the powers, and charged me with the several duties heretofore held and exercised by the Governor-General and the Intendant of the Province:
"I have therefore thought fit to issue this my Proclamation:
"Making known the premises, and to declare that the government heretofore exercised over the said Province of Louisiana, as well under the authority of Spain as of the French Republic, has ceased, and that of the United States of America is established over the same; that the inhabitants thereof will be incorporated in the Union of the United States, and admitted as soon as possible, according to the principles of the Federal Constitution, p622to the enjoyment of all the rights, advantages, and immunities of citizens of the United States; that, in the meantime, they shall be maintained and protected in the free enjoyment of their liberty, property, and the religion which they profess; that all laws and municipal regulations which were and existence at the cessation of the late government, remain in full force; and all civil officers charged with their execution, except those whose powers have been specially vested in me, and except also such officers as have been intrusted with the collection of the revenue, are continued in their functions during the pleasure of the Governor for the time being, or until provision shall otherwise be made.
"And I hereby exhort and enjoin all the Inhabitants and other persons within the said Province to be faithful and true in their allegiance to the United States, and obedient to the laws and authorities of the same, under full assurance that their just rights will be under the guardianship of the United States and will be maintained free from all force and violence from without or within."
The situation in which Louisiana was, when transferred to the United States, is fully described in a document23 communicated by the President to Congress on the 14th of November. When O'Reilly took final possession of the colony in 1769, its population was about 13,000 or 14,000 souls, allowing to New Orleans 3190 souls. In 1803, it was estimated at 49,000 or 50,000 souls for the whole province, putting down New Orleans at 8000 or 10,000 souls,24 and not including the Indians, who, scattered about on that immense territory, were not supposed to number more than 25,000 or 30,000 p623souls. The revenues of the city of New Orleans were $19,278, its expenses hardly amounted to ten thousand dollars. The annual produce of the province was supposed25 to consist of 3000 pounds of indigo (rapidly declining) — 20,000 bales of cotton of 300 pounds each — 5000 hogsheads of sugar of 1000 pounds each — 5000 casks of molasses of 50 gallons each. The estimate of the produce shipped from New Orleans in the year 1802, including that of the settlements on the Mississippi, Ohio, &c., did not exceed 40,000 tons. The exports were estimated at $2,158,000, and the imports at $2,500,000. The revenues accruing to the King's Treasury hardly went up, on an average, to $120,000 a year, and the expenditures of the government had gradually risen so high as to exceed $800,000 in the year 1802.
When the Spaniards took possession of the colony, there were in it seven millions of paper money issued by the French Government, then losing 75 per cent. On its retrocession to France, the paper issued and to be redeemed by the Spaniards hardly exceeded six hundred thousand dollars. "It consisted of emissions made in the early part of the Spanish administration, and of a debt due by the Government for supplies furnished to the troops and the King's stores,26 and for salaries of officers and workmen, for which liberanzas, or certificates, were regularly issued, of which there was afloat, at the time of the cession, a sum of from four hundred and fifty to five hundred thousand dollars. They bore no interest, and were commonly to be bought at a discount of from 25 to 50 per cent. At the change of Government the discount was thirty. This depreciation was not the result of a want of confidence, or of any apprehension that the certificates would not be paid, but the p624consequence of the increased value of money, produced by the scarcity of it in the market."
As far as I have been able to judge, I think I may safely come to the conclusion that the ordinary and extraordinary expenses incurred by Spain in relation to Louisiana, over and above the small revenue she derived from that colony, may, without exaggeration, be put down at about fifteen millions of dollars, from the 5th of March 1766, when Ulloa landed at New Orleans, to the 30th of November, 1803, when the retrocession to France took place.
It will be recollected that, as previously related, the Marquis of Grimaldi, who was a member of the Cabinet of Madrid, had written, on the 11th of May, 1767, to the Count of Fuentes, then Ambassador of Spain at Versailles: "The Duke of Praslin (one of the French Ministers) will remember that there were doubts on our part, as to the acceptation of the donation tendered by his most Christian Majesty. But, as the same reasons which had made France believe in the necessity of the cession, prompted Spain to accept it, the King gave his assent, although it was well known that we were acquiring nothing but an annual incumbrance of two hundred and fifty to three hundred thousand dollars, in consideration of a distant and negative utility — which is — that of possessing a country to prevent its being possessed by another nation."
Thus Spain had assumed an incumbrance, which cost her in the end fifteen millions of dollars, in the vain hope of establishing a barrier between her Mexican Colonies and the danger which she foresaw was to come from the Northern Colonies of England in America. Recent events have proved how futile was the attempt to protect herself against an inevitable evil, and experience has demonstrated that the application of European p625treasure, blood and industry to the creation, the purchase or the conquest of colonies in America, is not destined to be a profitable investment. Spain therefore acted wisely when she at last determined to part with a possession which was a useless and expensive incumbrance to her, and which was on the eve of being wrested from her by her powerful neighbors, who, by so doing, would have obeyed rather the dictates of a stern necessity, than of an ambition yet dormant in the cradle.
Louisiana, when in its colonial state, has the honor of having produced several distinguished men, among whom following are the most remarkable:
Aubert Dubayet27 was born in Louisiana on the 17th of August, 1759. He was the son of Adjutant-Major Aubert, one of those officers who, in 1769, were sent by Governor Aubry, at the request of General O'Reilly, to arrest the French Commissary Foucault. He entered in early life into the French army, and served in America during the war of Independence between Great Britain and the United States. He was in France at the commencement of the Revolution, and soon began to take an active part in public affairs. In 1789, he published a pamphlet against admitting the Jews to the rights of citizenship. But he away became one of the principal advocates for innovation, and, in 1791, was chosen a member of the Legislative Assembly, in which he acted a conspicuous part. In 1793, he resumed his military profession, and was made Governor of Mayence,º which, after an obstinate defence, he was obliged to surrender to the King of Prussia. Aubert Dubayet then commanded as General-in‑chief in La Vendée, and, being defeated at Clisson, became the object of denunciations against which he p626successfully defended himself. Employed again at Cherbourg, he was called by the Directory to the post of Minister of War, which he held only three months, when he was appointed Minister of the Republic at Constantinople, where he closed a life of active service, on the 17th of December, 1797, at the age of thirty-seven.d
Etienne Bernard Alexandre Viel, a learned Jesuit, was born in New Orleans, on the 31st of October, 1736, and died on the 16th of December, 1821, at the college of Juilly, in France, where he had been educated, and where, in his turn, he had devoted himself to the education of youth, after having resided many years in Attakapas, where he made himself beloved by all the inhabitants. He is known in the erudite world by a very beautiful translation, in Latin verse, of Fénelon's Telemachus, also by some little poems in Latin verse which he offered to the public, in 1816, under the title of "Miscellanea Latino-Gallica," and by an excellent French translation of the Ars Poetica, and of two of Horace's epistles.
Jean Jacques Audubon, the celebrated naturalist, was born near New Orleans, in 1780, and died in the State of New York, in 1851, bequeathing to posterity those works which have already acquired for him an immortal fame.
Bronier de Clouet, born in Louisiana, about the year 1764, entered the Spanish army in early life, rose to the grade of Brigadier-General, was for some time Governor of the province of Hagua in the island of Cuba, was created Count de la Fernandina de Hagua, and had just been raised to the Senate by Queen Isabella II, when he died in Madrid, lately, in his eighty-fourth year.
Daunoy, or rather D'Aunoy, was born in New Orleans, about the year 1775. Having become a Spanish officer, he rose by degrees to the grade of Lieutenant-General after having greatly distinguished himself against the p627French in the Peninsular war. He died at an age when he was still capable of rendering more services to the Spanish monarchy.
Joseph Villamil, who was born in New Orleans in 1789, took a part in the war of independence waged by the South American provinces, fought his way to celebrity and to the grade of General, and has lately been appointed Chargé d'Affaires by the Republic of Ecuador near the government of the United States.e
Many other Louisianians, although having made themselves less conspicuous, rose to honorable distinction in the service of France, Spain and other powers; and the number of those who thus distinguished themselves becomes remarkable, when taken in connexion with the smallness of the colonial population from which they sprang.
In conclusion, I must call the attention of the reader to a singular anomaly — which is — that, with all the foul abuses and tyrannical practices with which it has been so long the general custom to reproach the government of Spain every where, her administration in Louisiana was as popular as any that ever existed in any part of the world; and I am persuaded that I can rely on the unanimous support of my contemporaries when I declare, that they scarcely ever met in Louisiana an individual, old enough to have lived under the Spanish government in the colony and judged of its bearing on the happiness of the people, who did not speak of it with affectionate respect, and describe those days of colonial rule as the golden age, which, with many, was the object of secret, and with others, of open regrets. Such a government would, of course, have been insupportable to us, but it is not hence to be inferred that it did not suit the tastes and feelings, and deserve the gratitude of our ancestors.
Thus ends the Colonial History of Louisiana. I have attempted to write it faithfully, accurately and impartially, p628with an unabating love for truth, and with an unselfish desire of serving in this way, if not in any other, the country to which I am bound by so many ties — not only by birth, education and habit, but also by so many endearing recollections of the past, and even so many family associations and traditions, which, for me, clothe with the charm almost of private interest the relation of public events in Louisiana.
1 Dando á los ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos lugar á reclamaciones de indemnizacion por los graves perjuicios que indispensablemente han de recibir en su comercio.
2 Que el (El intendente) habia tomado aquella medida y aceptaba para si solo la responsabilidad, deseando cortar de raiz los infinitos obstaculos y abusos que resultaban del dicho deposito.
3 Martin's History of Louisiana, vol. II, p182.
4 Martin's History of Louisiana.
5 Barbé Marbois's History of Louisiana.
6 Martin's History of Louisiana, vol. II, p188.
7 Laussat's despatch is not in accordance, on this point, with other reports.
8 Lettre confidentielle de Laussat à Decrès en date du 30 Messidor.
9 This affair, with other causes, gave rise to so serious a feud between the influential families of De Clouet, De Blanc, and others, that it almost threatened to produce a civil war in that district, and it became of sufficient importance to compel Governor Claiborne to go and quiet it in person, in 1804.
10 Ce misérable Burthe, etc, (one of the French Adjutants-General.)
11 A certain individual, named Fretté, who was notorious for the mad exaltation of his red republicanism, called on Laussat, a short time after the arrival of that functionary in the colony. Fretté burst into the Prefect's apartment with all the confidence derived from his faith in the doctrine that all men are born to fraternize on terms of equality, and addressed him in this familiar tone: "Citizen, I come to tell thee that we, the jacobins of New Orleans, have resolved," &c. &c., — "Who is this fool?" exclaimed Laussat, interrupting the intruder and looking at his secretary Daugerot, to whom he was dictating at the time. Without replying, Daugerot quietly got up from his seat, whispered a few words to some attendants in the next room, and citizen Fretté was much horrified at the expedition with which he was thrust out of the presence of the representative of the French Republic. This gave great offence to the progressists.
12 Martin's History of Louisiana, vol. II, p195.
13 The Author's father.
14 Official de contadoria.
15 Martin's History of Louisiana, vol. II, p197.
16 The battalion of volunteers was formed at the instance of the following gentlemen, then resident in New Orleans: George Martin, since parish judge of St. Landry, Colonel Reuben Kemper, George King, George Newman, Benjamin Morgan, Daniel Clark, American consul, Doctor William Flood, since a distinguished physician of New Orleans, Maunsel White, since a wealthy merchant and planter and a state senator, and Woodson Wren, who subsequently settled in the State of Mississippi, where he was lately postmaster at Natchez. — Monette's Valley of the Mississippi, vol. I, p561.
17 The "Mousquetaires" were privileged companies in the King's household troops, each private having the rank of Captain, and every Captain the rank of (p610)Lieutenant-General. To enter this corps it was necessary to prove gentle birth.
18 On the contrary, that body was generally composed of respectable citizens. (p611)But Laussat was an excitable and prejudiced man, looking at every thing Spanish with the informed eye of passion.
19 The cession was effected on Wednesday, the 30th of November.
20 Voyages dans l'intérieur de la Louisiane par C. C. Robin.
21 Martin's History of Louisiana, vol. II, p197.
22 Laussat's despatches.
24 It is believed that the population was underrated, and that, to set it down at 60,000 souls would be a closer approximation to truth. Some contemporaries who are entitled to much credit even think that the population was considerably larger.
25 Martin's History.
26 Ib., vol. II, p211.
27 Gorton's Biographical Directory.
a Not a misspelling, but, as the despatch hints, a barbed joke. Caracol is the Spanish word for "snail"; I'd lay 10‑to‑1 odds that this "typo" is what the Marquis got for having been too slow and thus failing to prevent the massacre of Europeans.
c Vergil, Aeneid I.205: "Latium; where the Fates reveal (our) blessed dwelling-places." I.e., Louisianians had finally arrived in the Promised Land.
d Sic. By Gayarré's own reckoning, that should have made him thirty-eight. According to a biographical capsule at the French National Archives, though, Dubayet died at age 40: he was born on August 14, 1757 and died on December 7, 1797 of a "malignant fever".
e José Villamil's principal claim to fame is now usually considered to be that in 1832 he was the first to establish a settlement in the Galapagos Islands, thus claiming them for Ecuador, whose territory they are today.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Gayarré's 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: 1 Dec 12