[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to next section]
Am. Dom., Ch. 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of Louisiana

by
Charles Gayarré

in the edition published by
William J. Widdleton,
New York, 1867

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Am. Dom., Ch. 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p276 Chapter VII
Administration of Governor Claiborne — Arrival of the First Steamboat at New Orleans — Part of West Florida annexed to Louisiana — Debates in Congress — Remarkable Aversion in Louisiana for Public Life — The Baratarians.
1812‑1813

On the 10th of January, an exciting event took place in New Orleans. It was the arrival from the West of the first steamboat which navigated the turbid waters of the Mississippi. Her Captain stated that he had been but two hundred and fifty-nine hours actually on the way.1 This speed seemed at the time to be marvelous, and the whole population flocked to the river to examine the wonderful creation of the genius of man.

On the 19th of March, the House of Representatives at Washington resolved itself into a Committee of the whole, on the Bill for the admission of Louisiana into the Union, and the extension of the laws of the United States thereto. An amendment was presented, giving four representatives in the State Legislature to that part of West Florida which was proposed by the Bill to be annexed to the State now formed of the Orleans Territory.

Mr. Johnson, who had offered the amendment, spoke in support of it, adverting to the memorial which had been presented from the Convention of Orleans, giving their decided assent to the annexation of that Territory p277to the State, which removed, in his opinion, the objections urged against authorizing this representation.

Mr. Calhoun opposed the amendment, on the ground of its incorporating in the law a principle of representation which was in hostility with the provisions made concerning that subject in the Constitution of the new State. He said that it came in conflict with the apportionment made by that body, which alone had the power to change or modify the principle of representation; and that body being dissolved, he advised that it should again be called together, as the only mode by which the object in contemplation could be attained.

Mr. Nelson went into an argument to show that the proposed amendment was neither incompatible with the Constitution, nor inexpedient. The error in the reasoning of gentlemen appeared to him to be, that Louisiana was considered by them as a State, which it was not until the bill now before the House should pass; and in its present inchoate situation, he contended that it was competent to Congress to annex conditions to the instrument which made it a State. He then dwelt at some length on the urgency of the claim of the population of West Florida to a representation in the Legislature of the State, of which he maintained that they could not be constitutionally deprived.

Mr. Poindexter could not conceive how a Territory could be represented in the first Legislature of a State to which it was not annexed, until the consent of the Legislature should be obtained.

Mr. Nelson replied that there was yet no such body in existence as the Legislature of Louisiana, nor would there be until this passed to create it a State; and in admitting the State into the Union, having already imposed certain conditions, Congress had the right to impose that further condition which the amendment proposed.

p278 Mr. Johnson observed that his amendment was predicated on consent already given by the Convention; but, if it were not, he contended that the people to be included in the South ought to be actually represented. He went into a larger scope of argument to show that there was no difficulty in the way.

Mr. Calhoun again spoke in opposition to the amendment. He said that it proposed to annex conditions to the people of the Territory of Orleans, on its becoming a State, when there was no political body in existence competent to accept them, as the Convention which had framed the Constitution had been dissolved; that the people of West Florida would be unrepresented only until the State Government should be organized; that the interval during which they would be unrepresented was unavoidable, and, after all, that being so short, it was not very important. He further maintained that the proposed amendment would be engrafting the principle of Territorial Government on a State Government, to which it was wholly inapplicable; that it was, in fact, assuming to make a Constitution for the people of a State, whose inalienable right it was to form a Constitution for themselves.

Mr. Gholson spoke against the amendment in its present form, as he conceived it incompatible in many respects with the Constitution now offered for the consideration of Congress. "For instance," said he, "the Constitution of Louisiana provides that the Senate of the new State shall consist of fourteen members, and this amendment adds two members peremptorily, which makes the number sixteen, in defiance of that Constitution." He then read an amendment, which he said he would propose, if the one now under consideration were not agreed to. The question being on Mr. Johnson's amendment, it was negatived by a vote of 39 to 37.

p279 Mr. Gholson then proposed his amendment, which was to add to the bill the following proviso:

"And provided, also, that the people of that portion of West Florida hereby proposed to be made a part of the State of Louisiana shall, before the election of Senators and a Representative to the Congress of the United States, be invested with and enjoy equal rights of representation, and equal privileges in every respect, with the people of the residue of the said State."

Mr. Rhea opposed the amendment, because he doubted the power of Congress to superadd conditions to those already made requisites to the admission of the State into the Union. There appeared to him but one way to remedy the evil, and that was to authorize the people of Orleans to meet again in Convention to accept the conditions required.

Mr. Clay spoke in favor of the amendment. He could see no real objection to its adoption. The Convention of Orleans had framed a Constitution for the State in conformity to the law of Congress, imposing certain conditions as preliminary. The Convention had annexed to their acceptance of these conditions another proposition, to wit: That the Florida Territory should be incorporated in that State. "Can we not," said Mr. Clay, "accept or reject this proposition? If we accept, may we not do it with or without qualification? We agree to give only a certain part instead of the whole Territory desired; and it is proposed to do this on certain conditions. In alienating a whole territory, an entire people (an exercise of one of the highest attributes of sovereignty), we are about to take care of their rights, and to secure to them the same political rights, privileges and immunities as are enjoyed by the people of the Territory to which it is to be annexed. If the present amendment was adopted, the question how these p280rights shall be invested by the Legislature, or by a new convention to be called for the purpose, is very properly left to the decision of those concerned."

Mr. Gholson's amendment was agreed to without a division.2 But on the final passage of the bill, as amended, the vote stood 77 yeas to 23 nays.

The Senate disagreed to the amendment, and the bill passed in the end, through both houses, without the clause annexing West Florida, and was approved by the President on the 8th of April. The 2d section provided that, until the next general census, and apportionment of Representatives,º the new State should be entitled to one Representative in the House of Representatives, and that all the laws of the United States, not locally inapplicable, should be extended to the said State, and should have the same force and effect within the same as elsewhere within the United States.3

The 6th section declared that the "act of admission" should commence and be in force from and after the 30th of April.

Almost simultaneously with the act for the admission of the State of Louisiana, another act had passed, "to enlarge the limits of the State," and was approved by the President on the 14th of April. It enacted, that in case the Legislature of the State of Louisiana should consent thereto, all that tract of country comprehended within the following bounds, to wit: Beginning at the junction of the Iberville River, (or Bayou Manchac,) with the Mississippi; thence along the middle of the Iberville, the river Amite, and of the Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain to the eastern mouth of the Pearl River; thence up the eastern branch of Pearl River to the thirty-first degree of North latitude; thence p281along the said degree of latitude to the river Mississippi; thence down the said river to the place of beginning, shall become and form a part of the State of Louisiana, and be subject to the constitution and laws thereof, in the same manner, and for all intents and purposes, as if it had been included within the original boundaries of the said State.

It further enacted, that it should be incumbent upon the Legislature of the State of Louisiana, in case they consented to the incorporation of the Territory aforesaid within their limits, at their first session, to make provision by law for the representation of the said Territory in the Legislature of the State, upon the principles of the Constitution, and for securing to the people of said Territory equal rights, privileges, benefits and advantages with those enjoyed by the people of the other parts of the State, which law should be liable to revision, modification and amendment by Congress, and also in the manner provided for the amendment of the State Constitution, but should not be liable to change or amendment by the Legislature of the State.

On the 4th of August, the Legislature of Louisiana approved of, and consented to the enlargement of the limits of the State, in the manner provided for in the act of Congress above recited, and declared that the Territory annexed to her "should forever be and remain a part of the State of Louisiana;" and by a subsequent act of the 25th of the same month, the Legislature granted to the annexed district three Senators and six Representatives. The annual salary of the Governor was fixed at $7,500; that of the Secretary of State at $2,500. The Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives had each a regular salary of $2,000 a year.

A resolution was passed by the Legislature, and approved p282by the Governor on the 31st of August, declaring it to be expedient to remove the seat of government from the city of New Orleans, and directing that some place more convenient be made choice of as the permanent seat of government for the State. It further provided for the appointment of two persons on the part of the Senate and three on the part of the House of Representatives, to examine the different places designated for the seat of government, and to receive any propositions to be made, or donations to be offered of property in those different places, with instructions to report to the General Assembly at their next session.

P. B. St. Martin was the first Speaker of the House of Representatives under the State Government, and Julien Poydras the first President of the Senate.

W. C. C. Claiborne had been elected Governor of the State. It was the best proof of the satisfaction given by his administration under the territorial system of government, which, itself, had been an object of detestation to the great majority of the population. He appointed L. B. Macarty to the office of Secretary of State.

Allan B. Magruder and Jean Noel Destréhan, who had been members of the late Convention, were elected Senators of the United States; but Destréhan having resigned before taking his seat, and during the adjournment of the State Legislature, the Governor appointed in his place Thomas Posey, who was little known in Louisiana, at least to the ancient population.

Thomas Bolling Robertson, who had been Secretary of the Territory, was elected to represent the State in the House of Representatives at Washington.

Hall, Mathews and Derbigny were appointed by the Governor Judges of the Supreme Court. Each of them had a salary of five thousand dollars.

On the 18th of June, Congress had solemnly declared p283to the world that war existed between the United States and Great Britain, and had empowered the President "to use the whole land and naval force of the United States to carry the same into effect."

On the 31st of July, Claiborne, in his inaugural address to the Legislature, taking into consideration the state of the country, had strenuously recommended a thorough organization of the militia, which until then had been far from effective. "A war exists," he said, "between the United Kingdomsº of Great Britain and Ireland and dependencies, and the United States of America. War is not the greatest of evils — base submission to aggression would have been a greater curse. It would have entailed dishonor, cowardice, vassalage upon our posterity. The independence of America was the fruit of eight years of toil and danger, and to maintain this inestimable advantage, the sword is again unsheathed. The wrongs of England have been long and seriously felt; they are visible in the decline of our sea towns, in the ruin of our commerce, and the languor of agriculture. The recourse to arms may increase the pressure; but let it be recollected, that whatever sacrifice we make, is offered on the altar of our country — a consideration which will reconcile a faithful people to every privation. The President of the United States calculates on every aid which it is in the power of Louisiana to give, as well to mitigate the evils of war to our citizens, as to make it effectual against the enemy. In so reasonable a request, let not our chief be disappointed. For years he labored to arrest the storm, and now that it rages in all its fury, let us endeavor to carry him and our country safely through it. Union is in itself a host; it is numbers, strength and security. Let every man put himself in armor. Age itself should be prepared to advance against an invading p284foe. Our young men should hasten to the tented field, and tendering their services to the Government, be in readiness to march at a moment's warning to the point of attack. In such a contest, the issue cannot be doubtful. In such a cause, every American should make bare his bosom. Where justice is the standard, Heaven is the warrior's shield."

On the 14th of August, in a message which he sent to the Legislature, he said: "On turning my attention to the interior of the State, I perceive with regret that, within the Parishes of Feliciana, Baton Rouge, St. Helena, and St. Tammany, which have recently been annexed to Louisiana, the civil authority had become so weakened and relaxed, that the laws have lost much of their influence, and, in the Parish of St. Tammany in particular, are scarcely felt. I advise, therefore, that such provisions as you shall think proper to prescribe for these parishes may be passed with all convenient dispatch."

In those days there was not the same greediness for office which has since become so conspicuous, and it had frequently been difficult for the President of the United States and for Governor Claiborne to find suitable men, willing to accept political trust, or any delegation of authority from the Government. If some were tempted into it, they soon resigned, and by their very resignations increased the difficulties which beset the appointing power. The judges, in particular, were remarkable for their readiness to return to private life, and Claiborne, in a message to the Legislature, mentions one of the causes: "The collection of taxes by the Parish Judges," he said, "has at all times been considered by them as a very unpleasant duty. It has already occasioned several resignations, and in some instances prevented citizens in whom the public placed high confidence p285from accepting the office of judge. I much fear that a continuation of this regulation may induce some other judges to retire, and that, at the present period, when the durability of the parish court system is so very uncertain, I shall experience difficulty in filling satisfactorily the vacancies which exist, or such as may arise. With a view, therefore, to prevent embarrassments, and the better to secure a punctual collection of the revenue, I suggest for consideration the expediency of providing by law for the division of the State into four or more collection districts."4

On the 2d of September, Claiborne vetoed a bill, entitled "An Act supplementary to an act to regulate the conditions and forms of the emancipation of slaves." It must have contained very extraordinary provisions, judging from Claiborne's objections. "It puts to hazard," remarked the Governor, "the character, the peace of mind, and even the lives of unoffending citizens, by subjecting them to be denounced by slaves, to whom the bill holds out such inducement — the promise of freedom — as to expose innocence itself to accusation. In some instances, the provisions of the bill may tend to bring offenders to punishment. But, as I fear they might also operate to the injury and oppression of good men, I should regret to see them introduced into our code of laws."

The Legislature had hardly adjourned, when Claiborne thought proper, "on considerations of public interest," as expressed in his proclamation, to convene the General Assembly in extraordinary session at the seat of Government, on the 23d of November. The main object was to provide by legislation for the mode of choosing electors to give their votes for a President and Vice-President of the United States on the first Wednesday in p286December; and the Senate and House of Representatives, in joint meeting assembled on the 30th of November, chose Julien Poydras, Philemon Thomas, and Stephen A. Hopkins, as electors of a President and Vice-President of the United States.

Previous to the meeting of the Legislature, an unprecedented number of resignations had taken place among the Creole members of that body, for reasons which are not sufficiently authenticated to be historically recorded; but the fact is remarkable. Among those who thus refused to take their seats were: Joseph Landry, Senator elect for the County of Acadia; Godefroy Olivier, the Representative from the Parishes of Plaquemine and St. Bernard; P. B. St. Martin and J. C. Arnauld, Representatives from the German Coast. What is more strange is, that Alexander Labranche and René Trudeau, having been elected in the place of the two last-named gentlemen, resigned in their turn. Genesi Roussin and Le Breton Deschapelles also vacated their seats. All these gentlemen belonged to the élite of the ancient population, and some of them had been members of the late Convention. It must therefore be presumed that they must have had very powerful reasons for the course which they pursued. It is impossible not to suppose that there was some serious discontent and disgust at the bottom of it.

1813. On the 4th of March, commenced the second term of Mr. Madison's re-election to the Presidency. His inaugural address on that occasion sounds as a production of the present day, and, with a slight alteration in the phraseology, would be applicable to the condition of things existing in 1861, between the North and South of the disrupturedº Confederacy of the United States. A mere substitution of names is sufficient to suppose it delivered by Jefferson Davis.

"From the weight and magnitude p287of the trust reposed in me," said the re-elected Chief Magistrate, "I should be compelled to shrink, if I had less reliance on the support of an enlightened and generous people, and felt less deeply a conviction that a war with a powerful nation, which forms a prominent feature in our situation, is stamped with that justice which invites the smiles of heaven on the means of conducting it to a successful termination.

"May we not cherish this sentiment without presumption, when we reflect on the characters by which this war is distinguished?

"It was not declared on the part of the United States, until it had long been made on them in reality, though not in name; until arguments and expostulations had been exhausted; until a positive declaration had been received that the wrongs provoking it would not be discontinued; nor until this last appeal could no longer be delayed, without breaking down the spirit of the nation, destroying all confidence in itself and in its political institutions, and either perpetuating a state of disgraceful suffering, or regaining by more costly sacrifices and more severe struggles our lost rank and respect among independent Powers.

[. . .]

"As the war was just in its origin, and necessary and noble in its objects, we can reflect with a proud satisfaction that, in carrying it on, no principle of justice or honor, no usage of civilized nations, no precept of courtesy or humanity, have been infringed. The war has been waged on our part with scrupulous regard to all these obligations, and in a spirit of liberality which was never surpassed.

"How little has been the effect of this example on the conduct of the enemy!

"They have retained as prisoners of war, and threatened p288to punish as traitors and deserters, persons emigrating without restraint to the United States; incorporated by naturalization into our political family, and fighting under the authority of their adopted country, in open and honorable warfare for the maintenance of its rights and safety. Such is the avowed purpose of a Government which is in the practice of naturalizing by thousands citizens of other countries, and not only of permitting, but compelling them to fight its battles against their native country.

"They have not, it is true, taken into their own hand the hatchet and knife devoted to indiscriminate massacre; but they have let loose the savages, armed with these cruel instruments; have allured them into their service, and carried them to battle by their sides, eager to glut their savage thirst with the blood of the vanquished, and to finish the work of torture and death on maimed and defenceless captives.

[. . .]

"And now we find them, in further contempt of the modes of honorable warfare, supplying the place of a conquering force by attempts to disorganize our political society, to dismember our Confederated Republic. Happily, like others, these will recoil on the authors; but they mark the degenerate counsels from which they emanate; and if they did not belong to a series of unexampled inconsistencies, might excite the greater wonder, as proceeding from a Government which founded the very war5 in which it has been so long engaged, on a charge against the disorganizing and insurrectional policy of its adversary.

"To render the justice of the war on our part the more conspicuous, the reluctance to commence it was followed by the earliest and strongest manifestations of a p289disposition to arrest its progress. The sword was scarcely out of the scabbard, before the enemy was apprised of the reasonable terms on which it would be resheathed. Still more precise advances were repeated, and have been received in a spirit forbidding every reliance not placed on the military resources of the nation.

"These resources are amply sufficient to bring the war to an honorable issue. Our nation is, in number, more than half that of the British Isles. It is composed of a brave, a free, a virtuous and an intelligent people. Our country abounds in the necessaries, the arts, and the comforts of life. A general prosperity is visible in the public countenance. The means employed by the British Cabinet to undermine it have recoiled on themselves; have given to our national faculties a more rapid development; and draining and diverting the precious metals from British circulation and British vaults, have poured them into those of the United States. It is a propitious consideration, that an unavoidable war should have found this seasonable facility for the contributions required to support it. When the public voice called for war, all knew, and still know, that without them it could not be carried on through the period which it might last; and the patriotism, the good sense, and the manly spirit of our fellow-citizens, are pledges for the cheerfulness with which they will bear each his share of the common burden. To render the war short, and its success sure, animated and systematic exertions alone are necessary; and the success of our arms now may long preserve our country from the necessity of another resort to them."

On the 15th of March, Claiborne issued the following proclamation:

"Whereas, I have received information that upon, or near the shores of Lake Barataria, within the limits and jurisdiction of this State, a considerable p290number of banditti, composed of individuals of different nations, have armed and equipped several vessels for the avowed purpose of cruising the high seas, and committing depredations and piracies on the vessels of nations in peace with the United States, and carrying on an illicit trade in goods, wares and merchandise with the inhabitants of this State, in opposition to the laws of the United States, and to the great injury of the fair trader and of the public revenue; and whereas there is a reasonable ground to fear that the parties thus waging lawless war will cease to respect the persons and property of the good citizens of this State, I have thought proper to issue this my proclamation, hereby commanding the persons engaged as aforesaid in such unlawful acts to cease therefrom, and forthwith to disperse and separate; and I do charge and require all officers, civil and military, in this State, each within his respective district, to be vigilant and active in apprehending and securing every individual engaged as aforesaid in the violation of the laws; and I do caution the people of this State against holding any kind of intercourse, or being in any manner concerned, with such high offenders; and I do also earnestly exhort each and every good citizen to afford help, protection and support to the officers in suppressing a combination so destructive to the interests of the United States, and of this State in particular, and to rescue Louisiana from the foul reproach which would attach to her character, should her shores afford any asylum, or her citizens countenance, to an association of individuals whose practices are so subversive of all laws, human and divine, and of whose ill-begotten treasure no man can partake, without being forever dishonored, and exposing himself to the severest punishment."

This proclamation did not prevent the individuals therein mentioned from appearing daily in the streets of p291New Orleans, and from carrying on their trade with its citizens without much danger or impediment.

There were other wild guests who at that time used to pay frequent visits to New Orleans. These were numerous bands of Choctaws, who, when under the influence of intoxication, would often prove a dangerous nuisance. Several Parishes of the State, among others, those of St. Tammany, St. Helena and Baton Rouge, were exposed to Indian depredations, and the apprehensions of their inhabitants became so great, that several farms were abandoned, and the settlers fled to the interior for safety.

The belief that the British meditated an attack against Louisiana was daily gaining ground. It was sadly in want of arms and munitions of war, and yet the Government of the United States had withdrawn from the State one Regiment of infantry of the regular troops, of which measure Claiborne immediately complained to James Brown and Eligius Fromentin, who had succeeded Magruder and Posey in the Senate of the United States. He represented to them the defenceless state of the country, and also expatiated at length on the sufferings and losses of the planters on account of the overflows of the Mississippi, from the Parish of Concordia down to the Parish of Plaquemine inclusively. Even New Orleans had been partly inundated by a break in the levee at Kenner's plantation, some ten or twelve miles above the city. Fromentin had been appointed one of the Judges of the Supreme Court by Governor Claiborne, and had been rejected by the Senate. But shortly afterwards he was elected by the united vote of both houses to the Federal Senate for the term of six years, which was an ample compensation for any mortification which he might have felt from his defeated aspirations to the Bench.

p292 This overflow was not the only calamity from which New Orleans was to suffer. It was afflicted as much by fire as by water. Constant conflagrations had produced a feeling of despondency in the inhabitants, as no one was sure of a safe night's rest in his own house, which might be burned over his head before the next dawn of day. To remedy the evil, Claiborne, on the 26th of June, offered a reward of one thousand dollars to any individual who should give such information as might lead to the discovery and punishment of these lurking incendiaries. Shortly after, a female slave, thirteen years old, having been sentenced to death on conviction of arson, under circumstances which had inclined the Governor to the granting of a reprieve, with a view perhaps to a final pardon, doubts were raised as to his authority to exercise that power, on the curious ground that slaves, not being parties to the Constitution, could not derive any benefit from that instrument. The case was referred to F. X. Martin, who was then Attorney-General, and who afterwards became Chief-Justice of the State. The Attorney-General replied:

"That he could not find anything in the Constitution or laws of the State which authorized the Governor to commute the punishment of any person, free or slave, and did not believe that such a power was impliedly vested in the Governor by virtue of his office.

"That the Governor might reprieve any person, bond or free, after conviction, till he should have an opportunity of consulting the Senate.

"The power of reprieving," said he, "is expressly given by the Constitution in cases of high treason. Hence a plausible argument might be drawn that he may in lesser offences.

"But the power of pardoning must include that of reprieving; for, during the greatest part of the year, the p293Senate not being in session, if the Governor cannot reprieve alone, culprits must undergo punishment before the Senate may be consulted, unless the court will postpone the execution of their sentence till the meeting of the Senate.

"It is said that slaves are not parties to the Constitution, and therefore cannot derive any benefit from any clause in that instrument, and the Governor, deriving the power of pardoning, and consequently that of reprieving, from the Constitution, cannot exert it in favor of slaves. Neither is an alien party to our Constitution or laws, yet, when tried, he must be tried according to them, not from any right he has to their benefit, but because our judges have no other rule to go by, and are not authorized to proceed without any rule. An alien enemy, if tried here, would be tried by a jury, would have every advantage which a citizen might claim, and, no doubt, if his case called for it, would be entitled to the clemency of the State in the mode known to the Constitution and laws. If there was not a particular mode pointed out by law for the trial of slaves, no court or judge could try them in any other mode than that in which freemen are tried. If there be (one there is) no mode pointed out by which the Governor is to act toward them when they are the object of the clemency of the State, he must act toward a slave as he would toward another human being. For although, in civil cases, slaves are considered as things, in criminal cases they are considered as men."

The Constitution being a new thing, to which the people were unused, the different constructions put upon it by the public mind were manifold, and some of them, by their extraordinary nature, show how very little that document was generally understood in the first years of its p294existence. The Constitutional question which I have cited is one of the many which were frequently mooted.

On the 15th of July, Claiborne addressed to one of the Louisiana Senators in Congress, Eligius Fromentin, a letter, in which he depicted to him the neglected condition of the State in a military point of view.

"The Third United States Regiment," he said, "commenced its ascent of the Mississippi a few days since. I much fear this regiment will be considerably reduced previous to its arrival at Cincinnati. The recent overflowings of the river have left on its margin an immense mass of vegetable matter, which, under the influence of a hot Summer's sun, will soon be in a state of putrefaction, and must render the atmosphere greatly insalubrious. The departure of the Third Regiment has diminished one-half the regular forces in this quarter, and leaves us much exposed. I have issued orders for holding in a state of requisition a strong detachment of militia, to take the field in case of insurrection, invasion, or imminent danger of invasion. But the arraying of this force will necessarily be attended with delay, and to the general want of discipline will be added a scarcity of arms, unless the loans of muskets desired can be obtained from the General Department, and speedily forwarded.

"The non-payment of the bills drawn by Colonel Shaumburgh on the Secretary of War has seriously affected the credit of the War Department in this State, and will, I fear, much injure the service. Colonel Shaumburgh's bills in many cases fell into the hands of private individuals, whom their rejection submitted to serious embarrassments. I learn also that the claims of many citizens for labor done, or materials furnished at the different fortifications, remain, for the want of funds, unliquidated. It is not for me to inquire how far the moneys p295expended in this State under the authority of the War Department have been judiciously appropriated. But I sincerely regret that so many persons, relying on the credit and good faith of Government and its officers, should have sustained injury."

One of the Louisiana Senators, James Brown, who had also been addressed on the same subject, replied in these terms:

"It is with extreme pain that I discover that the force destined for the defence of our State, instead of being augmented, is daily diminishing. I have only to assure you that no pains on my part have been wanting to induce the General Government to alter its course on that head, and to afford us something like an adequate protection.

[. . .]

"So generally has our coast been menaced, so numerous have been the calls on the Department for protection at the different points immediately threatened, and so limited are the funds assigned to that object, that the complaints of our distant State, though reiterated and enforced in the best manner I could devise, have resulted in a manner in the highest degree unsatisfactory and mortifying to me. The removal of the Third Regiment, and what is more extraordinary, its removal by water, is a policy which I do not approve, and against which I have directly and repeatedly remonstrated."6

Such being the defenceless condition of Louisiana, it became necessary to compel a speedy organization of the militia, and it was presumed that a draft would be resorted to, but the mere recommendation of that measure produced much discontent in some quarters. On the 31st of July, Claiborne addressed Colonel Placide Bossier, of Natchitoches,º on the subject. He informed that officer that the Adjutant-General would inclose him p296the commissions which he solicited, and that his exertions to organize his regiment were confidently relied on by the Government. "The war in which our country is involved," wrote Claiborne, "rages with unabated fury, and there appears no prospect of a speedy peace. The Creek Indians manifest an unfriendly disposition toward the United States, and seven hundred warriors of that tribe, well armed, have recently crossed the Perdido. It is probable they may be met, and, I trust, driven back by the troops of the United States on that station. As a measure of precaution, which the crisis seemed to render indispensable, I have ordered a detachment of militia to be holden in readiness for actual service, and to be obtained by draft, if this should become necessary. A quota of this detachment has been assigned to the First Brigade, and quotas will be assigned to the several other brigades throughout the State, so soon as the regiments attached to each brigade shall be organized. I repeat, Sir, that this is only a measure of precaution, and that the citizens composing the detachment will not be called from their homes, unless in case of insurrection, or when the public safety shall require it; and, in no event, to be marched out of the limits of the State. Essential as this measure is to the public safety, it has, nevertheless, been assailed with all the bitterness of party, and is spoken of as the act of a tyrant. It consoles me, however, to know that these furious attacks are only made by a disappointed, and, I believe, unprincipled faction in this city, against whose efforts to produce disorder the good sense of the people will, I trust, be an ample barrier, and against whose calumnies as regards myself, I oppose a life exclusively devoted to honorable pursuits."

In the midst of all this war agitation, the population of New Orleans was thrown into a ferment by a decision p297of the District Court of Louisiana in the suit of Edward Livingston against Le Breton D'Orgenois, the Marshal of the United States. The decision declared "illegal" the interference of President Jefferson in the case of the Batture, and directed the claimant to be restored to the possession of the alluvial land known under that name. The Marshal refused to appeal from that decision, and the City Council of New Orleans passed a resolution whereby the Governor was invited to appeal in behalf of the city and the State, on the ground that the rights of both were infringed in the premises. In relation to this affair, Governor Claiborne wrote to the late President Jefferson: "Considering the Batture as a part of the bed of the Mississippi, and included within the port of New Orleans, I shall have recourse to our State Courts to enjoin Mr. Livingston against exercising any acts of ownership over the same, or in any manner obstructing the navigation of the Mississippi, which is declared to be a great highway, and the free use of which, as well to the inhabitants of this State, as of the other States, is one of the considerations on which Louisiana was admitted into the Union. Mr. Livingston has found means either to neutralize, or to make active partisans of, most of the lawyers in the State. The people, however, are fortunate in receiving the support of the Attorney-General, F. X. Martin, and of Messrs. Moreau Lislet and Fielding Turner, three distinguished lawyers, and I entertain strong hopes that we may yet be enabled to maintain the rights of the public."

On application of the Attorney-General, James Pitot, the Parish Judge, granted an injunction, but subsequently dissolved it, on the following grounds: That, until it was shown that Mr. Livingston had done some act to deprive the citizens of the use of the Batture, or p298erected some works thereon which might obstruct the navigation of the Mississippi, judicial interference would be premature and improper. "Thus the case rests for the present," wrote Claiborne to Thomas Bolling Robertson, the representative of Louisiana in the lower House at Washington; "nor has Mr. Livingston yet thought proper to prosecute the Mayor of New Orleans, or the inhabitants, who are in the habit of taking, as formerly, dirt from the Batture. I am extremely desirous to have the rights of title to the Batture finally settled, but feel some difficulty as to the best manner of bringing the question fairly before our courts."

In the month of September, the population of New Orleans was informed that the war with the Creek Indians was assuming a serious aspect, that a fort twenty-five miles from Mobile had been taken by them, and three hundred and fifty men, women and children had been cruelly massacred. It was confidently reported that many slaves had escaped from their masters to join the Indians, and it was feared also that the Choctaws would soon become hostile. Hence increased vigilance was required throughout Louisiana, and Claiborne sent a circular to all the militia colonels, pressing upon them the necessity of being ready to meet all emergencies whatever; and, on the 11th of September, he departed through Bayou St. John for the Parish of St. Tammany, to take measures for the safety of its inhabitants, who were much exposed to the depredations of the Indians.7 From St. Tammany he proceeded to Baton Rouge by way of St. Helena, and then went to Lafourche, from which he journeyed to the Attakapas and Opelousas districts, actively engaged in making what preparations he could for the defence of Louisiana with the scanty materials which the State possessed at the time. He p299even went as far as Natchitoches, where a great many Spanish families had taken refuge from the neighboring province of Texas, which was then in a state of revolution. These fugitives, to the number of about twelve hundred, had crossed the Sabine in the most destitute condition, which had been generously relieved by the adjacent parishes in Louisiana.

Being at Natchitoches, Claiborne availed himself of the circumstance to send, on the 18th of October, what in Indian parlance is called "a talk," to the Great Chief of the Caddo Indians. It is preserved here as a curious specimen of the figurative style which it was universally thought proper to adopt in addressing the rude warriors and primitive denizens of the wilderness:

"Friend and Brother! I arrived at this port three sleeps past, and learn from our friend, Dr. Sibley, that you had only left it last month. I should rejoice to have met you here, that we might have shaken hands in friendship, and smoked and conversed under the shade of the same tree. Seven years ago, brother, we had a conference at this place, Natchitoches, and mutually promised to keep the path between our two nations white. We have been long in authority, and know from experience the blessings of peace. We will endeavor to keep the chain bright between our two nations, and the chiefs who follow us may, I hope, so strengthen it that our children's children will live together as neighbors and friends.

"Brother, the United States are like the oak of the forest — a great body with many branches. The people of the United States are composed of eighteen families. Each family has a chief; but the great beloved man of all is your father, the President, who stands in the place of the Great Washington. Our friend, Dr. Sibley, is the agent of the President, and whatever he says in his name you must receive as his own words. I have seen, p300brother, and highly approve the 'talk' you gave out, when you were last in council at this point. The advice you have given to your own people, and to all Red Men with whom you have influence, is that of a father to his children. I hope they will hold it fast, and live in constant peace with the white people.

"Brother, seven years ago, you told me that your nation had but one enemy, the Osages, and I am sorry to hear that you are still at war with those people. I have often heard of the Osages. In the vast hunting-grounds where the Great Spirit has placed a sufficiency of buffalo, bear and deer for all the red men, the Osages, I hear, have already robbed the hunters of all nations, and their chiefs still wage war to acquire more skins. Among the white people, brother, there is also a nation of Osages. Beyond the sea there lives a people, called the English, who may really be considered white Osages. On the big water, which the Great Spirit made large enough for the use of all men, the English have already plundered every people, and their chiefs direct the continuance of these outrages. Many Americans, peaceably navigating the big water, had their vessels and property taken away from them, and others were compelled to serve on board of war-canoes, and made to fight against their friends and countrymen. But, brother, such injuries could not be endured; the hearts of the Americans have become cross; they have raised the tomahawk, and will not consent to bury it until the English are just toward them. The warriors of your father, the President, are marching into the country of our enemy, and the thunder of our great war-canoes is heard on every sea.

"Brother, the English, unwilling to fight us man to man, have called upon the red people to assist them. With tongues as forked and as poisonous as a snake's, p301they have told the Indians many lies, and made fair promises which they will not and cannot fulfill. Thus it is that many of the Red Men have been prevailed upon to throw away the peace-talks of their father, the President. But the Americans have the power and the will to punish all their enemies. The other day, the Creeks, when it was supposed that they were only quarrelling among themselves, surprised one of our forts, and spilled much innocent blood. A fly, you know, brother, may disturb the sleeping lion; but our warriors are now in arms against the Creeks, and it will not be in the power of their friends, the English, to shield them against our vengeance.

I don't like many words; but there is something on my heart which I must relate to you. I hear the Creeks have sent runners with war-talks to the Couchattas and other tribes, your neighbors, but I hope all these people will look up to you as an elder brother, and hold fast your good advice. When your father was a chief, the path from your towns to Natchitoches was clean, and if an Indian struck the people of Natchitoches, it was the same as to strike him. You now, brother, stand in your father's place. I wanted, brother, to send you a token of my friendship. To a chief, a man, and a warrior, nothing could be more acceptable than a sword, but a suitable one could not be obtained at this place. I have, therefore, directed that a sword be purchased at New Orleans and forwarded to Dr. Sibley, who will very soon present it to you in my name. Farewell, brother; I pray the Great Spirit to preserve you in health and happiness."

The month of November had nearly elapsed, and the Baratarian band of smugglers against whom Claiborne had issued a proclamation on the 15th of March still continued their illegal pursuits, as if no obstacle had p302been intended to be thrown in their way. Wherefore, on the 24th, he issued this second proclamation:

"Whereas," he said, "the nefarious practice of running in contraband goods which has hitherto prevailed in different parts of this State, to the great injury of the fair trader, and the dimension of the revenue of the United States, has of late much increased; and whereas the violators of the law, emboldened by the impunity of past trespasses, no longer conceal themselves from the view of the honest part of the community, but, setting the Government at defiance in broad daylight, openly carry on their infamous traffic; and whereas it has been officially known to me that, on the fourteenth of last month, a quantity of contraband goods, seized by Walter Gilbert, an officer of the revenue of the United States, were forcibly taken from him in open day at no great distance from the city of New Orleans, by a party of armed men under the orders of a certain John Lafitte, who fired upon and grievously wounded one of the assistants of the said Walter Gilbert; and although process has issued for the apprehension of him, the said John Lafitte, yet such is the countenance and protection afforded him, or the terror excited by threats of himself and his associates, that the same remains unexecuted:

"And whereas the apathy of the good people of this State in checking practices so opposed to morality, and to the laws and interests of the United States, may impair the fair character which Louisiana maintains, and ought to preserve as a member of the American Union:

"I have thought proper to issue this my proclamation, hereby strictly charging and commanding all officers of the State, civil and military, in their respective departments, to be vigilant and active in preventing the violation of the laws in the premises, and in apprehending p303and securing all persons offending therein; and I so solemnly caution all and singular the citizens of the State against giving any kind of succor, support or countenance to the said John Lafitte and his associates, but to be aiding and abetting in arresting him and them, and all others in like manner offending; and do furthermore, in the name of the State, offer a reward of five hundred dollars, which will be paid out of the treasury to any person delivering the said John Lafitte to the Sheriff of the Parish of Orleans, or to any other Sheriff in the State, so that the said John Lafitte may be brought to justice."

The band of smugglers mentioned in this proclamation was composed of desperate men of all nations, chiefly under the command of two brothers, John and Pierre Lafitte, who were originally from Bordeaux, or, according to other reports, from Bayonne,a but who, emigrating from their native country, had settled in New Orleans as blacksmiths. Tempted by the hope of make a speedier fortune than by continuing to hammer on the anvil, they abandoned the honest trade they were engaged in for one of a more dangerous character, but promising a life of excitement, which was probably more congenial to their temperament, and which held out to them ample compensation for the perils they were to encounter. They began with being the agents of the Baratarian buccaneers in New Orleans, and ended with being their leaders, and being proclaimed outlaws by the country where they resorted for illicit purposes.

On the coast of Louisiana, west of the mouth of the Mississippi, there is an island called Grande Terre, which is six miles in length and from two to three miles in breadth, running parallel with the coast. Behind that island, about six miles from the open sea, there is a secure harbor which is reached by the great pass of Barataria, p304in which there are from nine to ten feet of water. This harbor communicated with a number of lakes, lagoons, bayous, sea-outlets, and canals, leading to the Mississippi, and which, skirted by swampy forests, and forming a labyrinth of waters, offered a tempting field of operation to the Robin Hoods of the sea. These men pretended to be privateers cruising with letters of marque issued by France and the new Republic of Carthagena, to prey upon the commerce of Spain; but the world called them pirates, and accused them of capturing vessels belonging to all nations, without excepting those of the United States, within whose territory they brought their prizes in violation of law. Many horrible tales were related of them, but were stoutly denied by their friends, who were numerous and influential.

The Government of the United States had attempted several expeditions against them, but of so feeble a character as to be necessarily abortive. Whenever any attack was meditated against the buccaneers, they seemed to be mysteriously informed of the coming danger, and in time to avoid it. On such occasions, they would break up their settlement and carry it to some unknown part of the coast; should the new quarters be discovered and threatened, they were transported elsewhere; and the buccaneers would invariably return to the places formerly occupied by them, as soon as evacuated by their foes. It was even rumored, and believed by many, that the pursuers never had any serious intention of capturing the pursued. On the 23d of June, the English tried whether they would not be more successful than the Americans, and one of their sloops-of‑war attacked two privateers which were at anchor off Cat Island. This time, the buccaneers, smugglers, or pirates, whatever be the name which they were entitled to, showed no inclination to avoid an armed collision, as they generally p305did, when threatened by the American navy, but they beat off the English, who suffered considerable loss.

Major A. Lacarriere Latour, who was then "Principal Engineer in the Seventh Military District of the United States," and who has published a valuable Historical Memoir, with maps, on the war in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814 and 1815, makes the following remarks on a state of things which he had seen, and on which, therefore, he was competent to pass judgment accurately: "Social order has indeed to regret," he said, "that those men, mostly aliens, and cruising under a foreign flag, so audaciously infringed our laws as openly to make sale of their goods on our soil; but what is much more deplorable and equally astonishing is, that the agents of Government in this country so long tolerated such violations of our laws, or at least delayed for four years to take effectual measures to put a stop to these lawless practices. It cannot be pretended that the country was destitute of the means necessary to repress these outages. The troops stationed at New Orleans were sufficient for that purpose, and it cannot be doubted but that a well-conducted expedition would have cleared our waters of the privateers, and a proper garrison stationed at the place they made their harbor would have prevented their return. The species of impunity with which they were apparently indulged, inasmuch as no rigorous measures were resorted to against them, made the contraband trade carried on at Barataria look as if tacitly tolerated. In a word, it is a fact no less true than painful for me to assert, that, at Grande Terre, the privateers publicly made sale, by auction, of the cargoes of their prizes. From all parts of Lower Louisiana people resorted to Barataria, without being at all solicitous to conceal the object of their journey. In the streets of New Orleans it was usual for traders to give p306and receive orders for purchasing goods at Barataria, with as little secrecy as similar orders are given for Philadelphia or New York. The most respectable inhabitants of the State, especially those living in the country, were in the habit of purchasing smuggled goods coming from Barataria. The frequent seizures made of those goods were but an ineffectual remedy of the evil, as the great profit yielded by such parcels as escaped the vigilance of the Custom-house officers indemnified the traders for the loss of what they had paid for the goods seized — their price being always very moderate, by reason of the quantity of prizes brought in, and of the impatience of the captors to turn them into money and sail on a new cruize. This traffic was at length carried on with such scandalous notoriety, that the agents of Government incurred very general and open reprehension; many persons contending that they had interested motives for conniving at such abuses, as smuggling was a source of confiscation from which they derived considerable benefit." Such were the evils which Claiborne's last proclamation was intended to remedy.

But Claiborne had on his mind far weightier considerations than the capture of the Baratarians. The month of December had come without any of the expected assistance from the Federal Government, the year was closing with still more threatening rumors of an approaching invasion of Louisiana, and Claiborne could not lose sight of the defenceless condition of the State of which he was the Chief Magistrate. The Federal Government was either deaf to his repeated entreaties for men and munitions of war, or had not the power to grant the desired supply. General Flournoy, who was in command of the United States military forces on the Mississippi, had informed the Governor that he could not conveniently concentrate within the State more than p307seven hundred men; and, furthermore, he had even attempted to deprive it of a part of its own internal means of defence, by having made a requisition for one thousand militiamen to be employed in the service of the United States during six months, unless sooner discharged. The public mind in Louisiana, at the close of the year, was therefore in a considerable state of anxiety, which was somewhat relieved by the news of several victories obtained over the Indians by Generals Jackson, Floyd, and White, at the head of the Georgia and Tennessee militia.


The Author's Notes:

1 Martin's History of Louisiana, p311, vol. 2.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Journal of Congress, Gales & Seaton, 12th Congress, p1225.

[decorative delimiter]

3 See the Appendix, for the whole act of Congress.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Executive State Journal, p8, vol. 1.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Against France.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Executive State Journal, p123, vol. 1.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Executive State Journal, p152, vol. 1.


Thayer's Note:

a They are usually said to have been from St. Malo in Normandy, as in the life of Lafitte in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 4.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 7 Apr 10