By William Kernan Dart
Bossu, who was a French Captain of the Marines, visited Louisiana in 1751, and subsequently in 1761. He reported his travels in letters to his patrons in France, notably the Marquis de Lestrade. He was an acute observer, and described his adventures in a straightforward, direct style. The three volumes which contain his narratives are replete with historical descriptions concerning Louisiana, its natives, its flora, and its fauna. Certain historical inaccuracies appear in his accounts, notably in his account of the casualties in the Natchez massacre, where he fixes the dead at 2,000, while the modern historians fix them at 200.
Little is known of the career of this explorer and historian of early Louisiana, not even his first name being remembered. He had a long career in the armies of France, being seriously wounded at the battle of Chateau Dauphin in July, 1744, in the Alps. His work is now not generally accessible, and so far as is recorded, was only translated into English once, and then by John Reinhols Forster, in 1771. Forster's translation was printed at London, and now seems to be as rare as the original French text.a
The account which is here rendered into English is given in the English equivalent of Bossu's French. The thoughts are those of Bossu, as are the criticisms and historical statements. No credit or originality is to be ascribed to the present translator, unless it be that of the scribe who has laboriously reduced to our language that which Bossu so readily told in his own easily flowing French.
The first person is used in the following account because it is Bossu, who is speaking. The description of the Natchez massacre, and the events preceding it are selected for two reasons: Because it is peculiarly appropriate to the times of Bienville to whose memory this number of this Quarterly is dedicated, and because it relates the story of perhaps the first battle in our own part of the country in which white men participated. It is, of course, only an incident in the history of warfare, and would in all likelihood not even be deemed worthy of a communique in the great battle reports of today; but it is evidence of the fact that Frenchmen and Frenchwomen knew how to die just as bravely in the early eighteenth century defending their p191 firesides as they know how to die along the western front in these sad days of nineteen hundred and eighteen, Anno Domini.
But let us turn to Bossu, and listen to the story he tells:
While I was at Belle-Isle on the sea in 1750 under the command of the Chevalier de Grossolles, he gave me a letter from the Count d'Argenson, advising me that His Majesty had seen fit to appoint me a lieutenant in the Marine troops. His orders were for me to present myself without delay at Rochefort. After a tempestuous voyage from Belle-Isle, during which our frail vessel narrowly escaped shipwreck, I ultimately arrived at Rochefort, reporting to the Intendant of Marine, Le Normant de Mesi.
The Intendant, who was a man of true merit and well worthy of his position, informed me that it was necessary for me to make a voyage beyond the seas. Accordingly I departed for La Rochelle, where I embarked on a ship named the Pontchartrain du Port, a vessel of four hundred tons. Le Normant had outfitted this ship for His Majesty with the object of transporting four companies of marines, who had been taken from the fort of the Isle de Rhé,º and who were to reinforce the garrison of New Orleans.
We left La Rochelle on November 26th. For fifteen days, contrary winds tossed us about the shores of Spain, until we were almost ready to put into some nearby port for repairs. Fortunately the wind changed suddenly, and at the end of January, we sighted the coast of Madeira, then the property of the Crown of Portugal.
On February 15th, we entered the Tropic of Cancer, and on the following day the sailors initiated, with many ludicrous ceremonies, those aboard who had never hitherto passed this line. Finally, two months after our departure from La Rochelle, we arrived in good health at Cape Francis, on the coast and island of St. Domingo, which was the first land of America where the Spaniards had built towns and fortresses.
The Cape is situated at the foot of a mountain. It is defended by a fort built into the rock at the entrance of the port, and this fort is protected by artillery which juts out into the sea over a promontory or cape. From this promontory the cape takes its name. It is by European merchants, creoles and negroes, the latter being employed by the inhabitants in the cultivating of sugar cane, coffee, indigo, cocoa, cotton, and tobacco. The Spanish and the p192 French share this country; the latter inhabiting the more western part of it.
The Indians in this island have been frightfully oppressed by the Spaniards, but the European inhabitants are most courteous and gentle, and justify all praise that is given them. It is with good reason that France accords the title of nobility to the creoles; they uphold it completely by their distinguished capacities, either in the profession of arms or in the other arts which they exercise with equal success.
We left this place on March 8, 1751, and on March 15, we arrived at the island of Cuba, which is the most temperate of the Antilles. Departing from Havana, the capital of this island, we met between Cape Catoche and Cape St. Anthony on March 23, a violent equinoctial storm. I became very sea sick, and was only strengthened by my ardor in serving my country in a new land. Suddenly the wind changed, the sea became appeased, and a few days later we entered the famous Gulf of Mexico. There we came across a prodigious amount of floating trees, which came from Louisiana, and which had been carried into the Gulf by the Mississippi river. This in a measure served to guide us to the mouth of this river, which is blocked by sand bars and shoals.
During the first days of April, we perceived the Balise, a fort established at the mouth of the Mississippi river.
Monsieur le Moyne d'Iberville, a Canadian gentleman, discovered this mouth in 1698, after de la Salle had missed it in 1684. Our boat crossed the bar, and we fired our cannon in order to call the coast pilot. At the same time the captain of the ship disembarked his artillery, and two hundred men who had been selected for service on this border of the colony of Louisiana.
On April 4th, we, eighteen officers, descended from the ship and reported to the Fort of the Balise, which was, measured by the sinuosities of the river, about •ninety miles from New Orleans. M. de Santilly was in command of this fort, and he made us as comfortable as we could be made at this post, which was isolated and surrounded by a marsh filled with serpents and crocodiles.
Monsieur the Marquis de Vaudreuil, the Governor of the colony, having been informed of our arrival, sent several ships for us. They brought many delicacies, which we distributed among our soldiers, and we left for New Orleans on these boats, arriving there on Easter Day. The Marquis had just received twenty-four companies of marines to increase his force in Louisiana, and on the same vessels that brought these marines there came girls who had been recruited in p193 France to populate the country. The King granted those who married a certain number of arpents of land for cultivation, supported them for three years, gave them a musket, and a half livre of powder, two livres of shot a month, an axe, a mattock, poultry, and cattle for their lands.
The Marquis de Vaudreuil distributed the twenty-four new companies in different quarters of the colony, without exception as to persons, the most influential being ordered with the most weak to these far posts of duty. It was my fate to be allotted to the company that was ordered to the Illinois, a frontier post •about fifteen hundred miles from New Orleans. I had the honor of being one of a number of officers, who were particularly recommended to the Marquis by Monsieur Rovillé, the Minister of the Marine, and his hospitality enlivened my stay until I was definitely settled. He lived in great affluence, but this Governor did the honors with such nobility and with such generosity, that he acquired the esteem and the friendship of all the officers, who justly gave him the title of Father of the Colony. M. Michel de la Rouvilliere, the ordonnateur, contributed on his side to render our existence more pleasant by the gentle way in which he distributed the produce of the country, just as he did everything relative to his ministry.
We departed August 20th for the Illinois post with Monsieur de Macarty, who had been named commandant by the Court. The different nations which I was obliged to visit during this long voyage permits me to give an ample description of the beautiful Mississippi river, and of the peoples who inhabit its borders.
In New Orleans the streets are well arranged and today this city is greater and more thickly populated than it has ever been. Its inhabitants are of four sorts, Europeans, Americans, Africans or negroes, and Mongrels. The Mongrels are those who were born of Europeans and of those natives of the country whom we call savages.
They describe Creoles as those who were born of a Frenchman and a Frenchwoman, or a Frenchman and an European.
The Creoles are in general very brave, grand, and haughty. They are disposed towards the cultivation of the arts and sciences, but as they do not have the opportunity of following the teachings of good masters here, the rich and well meaning parents do not hesitate to send their children to France as the first school of everything in p194 the world. They do this particularly in order that the respective sexes might properly learn their positions in the world.
New Orleans and Mobile are the only cities where they do not speak in patois. Here the French that is spoken is correct. The negroes are brought from Africa. They are used in cultivating the soil, which is excellent for the cultivation of indigo, tobacco, rice, maize, and of sugar cane, for all of which there are very well managed plantations.
The city of New Orleans is inhabited by merchants, artisans, and foreigners. It is an enchanted place because of the salubrity of its air, the fecundity of its ground, and the beauty of its position. This city is situated on the banks of the Mississippi, one of the greatest rivers of the world, since it flows through •more than twenty-four hundred miles of known country. Its pure and delicious waters (M. Normant de Mesi, while he was Intendant of the Marine at Rochefort served it on his table; this water has the virtue of contributing to the fecundity of women), serve a country of •an hundred and twenty miles, in the middle of which are a number of homes which present a delightful spectacle on both banks. The owners of these homes enjoy in abundance all the pleasures of the chase, of fishing, and of all the other delicacies of life.
The Capuchins were the first priests to arrive in New Orleans. They came as missionaries in 1723. Their superior was the first Curé of the Parish, and these good religious devoted themselves solely to the affairs of their ministry.
The Jesuits, two years later, established themselves in Louisiana; these splendid diplomats discovered the secret of exploiting the rich land of the colony, which they obtained through their political moves.
The Ursulines came about the same time as the Jesuits, or a little later. These pious women, whose zeal is assuredly most praiseworthy, devoted themselves to the education of the young girls. They also received the orphans into their community, and for this service the King gave them a pension of fifty crowns for each orphan. They were also in charge of the military hospital.
When the colony was established, a tribe known as the Chitimachas lived on a stream to the west of New Orleans, which bore their name. In 1720, one of this tribe assassinated on the banks of the Mississippi, the Abbé de S. Côme, the missionary of this colony. M. de Bienville, then Governor, took the entire nation to task, and he attacked them with the aid of several tribes, our allies.
These savages were defeated, and the loss of many of their best warriors forced them to demand peace. Bienville granted it to them p195 on the condition that they would bring him the head of the murderer. They punctiliously satisfied this condition, and came to Bienville to present him the calumet of peace.
The calumet is a long pipe of red, white, or black marble, the stem being •about three feet of cane. The savages send it by deputies to the nations with whom they wish to make treaties or renew alliances. They dress themselves for this occasion with white eagle plumes, for this is their symbol of peace and of amity. They will go anywhere without fear with this calumet, for there is nothing more sacred among these people.
They arrived in all their regalia at New Orleans, singing the song of the calumet, and beating the wind in cadence so as to announce the arrival of their ambassador.
The chief of the deputation then said: "I am happy to present myself before you. It is a long time since you have borne hatred against our nation. We have been told that this enmity has departed from your heart, and we see with joy that happier days are before us both."
They then seated themselves on the ground, placing their faces on their hands. Their leader spoke without hesitation and they kept silent without changing their positions during his harangue. A word uttered, or a laugh escaping by the French during this address would have been considered an affront by them.
The chief having spoken, some moments later he arose with two others. One of the latter filled the pipe of the calumet with tobacco, the other lit it, the chief puffed it, and he then presented it to Monsieur de Bienville to do likewise. The Governor smoked it as did each of his officers in turn according to each's respective rank. This ceremony being concluded, the old orator took back the pipe, and gave it into Bienville's custody.
Then the chief again seated himself, and the other ambassadors produced the presents, which they had brought the Governor. These consisted of deer and other skins, all being white as a sign of peace.
The chief was then covered with several sable skins sewn together; they were crossed over the right shoulder and under the left arm. He gathered together the folds of this robe, drew himself up with a majestic air, and delivered this harangue to the Governor:
"My heart smiles with joy to see me before you. We both understand the word of peace that has passed between us. The heart of our nation laughs with happiness until it leaps for pleasure! Our women forget at once all that has passed! They dance! Our children are as happy as the young roe. Your word will never be p196 forgotten. Our hearts and our ears are overflowing with it, and we will defend it and protect it as long as the memory of man lasts. As this war has made us poor, we had to order a general chase to bring you these skins, but we did not dare to go far fearing that the other nations would not understand your word. Even until now we came trembling on our way until we saw your face.
"My heart and my eyes are happy to see you today. Our presents are small, but they are brought with a full heart, so that we may obey your word. When you command us, our limbs will hasten as quickly as the stags in order to do that which you wish."
Here the orator paused. Then raising his voice, he continued gravely:
"Ah! How beautiful is the sun today compared to what it was when you fought us. How dangerous is a wicked man! You know that one of us has killed your chief of the prayers, whose death has caused us the loss of our bravest warriors. There are only left among us our old men, our women, and our children, who hold forth their arms to you as they would to a good father. The son who was otherwise in your heart now comes to take his better place. The Great Spirit is no longer angry with our nation. You have asked for the head of our wicked man. To have peace, we have brought it to you.
"Yesterday the sun was red, the roads were filled with thorns and brambles, the clouds were black, the waters were troubled and muddied, our women wept unceasingly over the loss of their relatives and did not dare to seek wood for our support. Our children cried with fear. Even while the night birds sung, our warriors were on their feet. They only slept with their arms in their hands. Our cabins were abandoned, and our fields were overgrown with weed. Our stomachs were unfed, and our faces thin. Our game fled from us, the serpents hissed at us in anger and in fear, striking at us with their fangs. The birds, which lived near our homes, seemed by their sad melodies, to only sing to us the song of the dead.
"Today, the sun is brilliant, the skies are clear, the clouds have flown away, the roads are covered with roses, our gardens and our fields are cultivated, and we offer to the Great Spirit the first of their fruits. The water is now so clear that we may see our images, the serpents have fled, or else they no longer start at us, the birds charm us by their sweetness and the harmony of their song, and our wives and daughters dance even so that they forget to eat and to drink. The heart of all our nation rings with joy to see that henceforth both the French and ourselves march along the same road; to see the p197 same sun enlightening us both. We both speak the same tongue, and our hearts shall be as one, for neither shall we kill the French nor the French kill us. Our warriors follow the chase so that they may live, and so that we may both eat together. Do you not say that this is good, my Father?"
To this discourse, spoken in a firm and assured tone, with all the grace and gentility, and with all the majesty possible, M. de Bienville answered in a few words in common language, which he spoke with ease. He told them that he was happy to see that the nation had regained its spirits, he invited them to dine, and as a sign of amity he placed his hand in that of the chief, and thus the treaty was concluded.
Since that time, this tribe has been devotedly attached to the French, and to this day they furnish the game and venison of the city of New Orleans.
After leaving New Orleans we arrived at the place inhabited by the superbº nation of the Natchez. These people are forever in the public news and by their power and by the extent of their territory they impose their will upon the other contiguous nations. Their country extends from the Menchak river, which is •about an hundred and fifty miles from the sea up to that of the Hoyo, which is •in the neighborhood of thirteen hundred and eighty miles from the sea.
We departed from New Orleans on August 20th for our Illinois voyage, with six boats carrying the four companies already mentioned by me, all of us being under the command of M. de Macarty. The trip was made by rowing against the current of the Mississippi, because of the sinuosities of this river.º This stream flows between two high banks covered with great forests, the trees of which are the most ancient in the world.
We first met two German villages, which had been established in 1720 through a concession made to Law by the King. These places were inhabited by people from Germany and their provinces numbering fifteen hundred persons, and the land occupied by them formerly belonged to a savage nation called the Akanca. They had •twelve square miles, and had been created into a duchy. With them came a transport of a company of Dragons, and more than a million of merchandise, but Law lacked the necessary facilities to support them.
p198 The emigrants separated, and the Germans settled •about thirty miles above New Orleans. They are a very hard-working people, and they are regarded as the purveyors of the capital. Their two villages are in command of a Swedish captain, who is the Sieur d'Arensbourg. He was at the battle of Pultova with Charles XII in 1709, and is the head of a large family which has settled in Louisiana.
•Six miles further up we found the Collapissas, a tribe distinguished for their attachment to the French, but they are very much depopulated today. Their true name is Aquelon Pissas, that is to say, a nation of men who understand and who see.
Above them are the Oumas, sun worshippers. Like nearly all the other nations of America, there people believe that the Sovereign Being resides there, and they therefore revere in this living sun the author of all nature. They say that nothing on earth compares to this wonder, which enlightens the universe, and which dispenses joy and abundance. It is according to such principles that they follow this worship as a cult and pray to the sun as the physical image of the grandeur and the goodness of a god, who deigns to communicate to mankind by showering them with this .
Forty-five miles from the Oumas, going up the river, we came to "la pointe coupée." This post is situated •about an hundred and twenty miles from New Orleans. The ground there is most fertile, and is covered with fruit trees. The place is mainly colonized by the French, who busy themselves with the culture of tobacco, cotton, rice, maize, and such other commodities. These colonists are also engaged in the cutting of timber and wood, which they transport to New Orleans as rafts.
On the left bank of the river, a short distance from Pointe Coupee, is the village of the Tonikas, a savage nation which is likewise greatly attached to the French. Their chiefs are always ready to mobilize their warriors in order to be our allies in war. Their last chief, who was very brave, was dangerously wounded in an expedition against the Natchez, and by reason of the services he had rendered to the King, his Majesty honored him with the brevet of Brigadier of the Armies of the Red Men. In addition he decorated him with a blue ribbon from which hung a silver medal containing a picture of Paris, and he likewise received a golden-head cane.
After the massacre of the French by the Natchez, of which I will give an account later, a deputation from this nation was sent to make peace with the great chief of the Tonikas. The latter at once communicated their offer to the Commander General of the French, but the Natchez, not awaiting the answer, assassinated the Tonikas, p199 commencing with their great chief. The latter were awaiting our orders and our assistance, and suffered the death and loss of many of their subjects. We have never ceased to sorrow over the loss of these good savages, with all their good qualities and splendid behavior.
After traveling for •two hundred and forty miles from New Orleans, we arrived at the post of the Natchez. Twenty years ago this was a considerable establishment, but it is of little importance today.
The fort is situated on an eminence which dominates the Mississippi, which may be controlled at that point by a cannon shot. The land in this part of the colony is most elevated; it is the most fertile in the country, and is cultivated in cotton, tobacco and maize.
I sojourned for sometime at this post, which is commanded by the Chevalier d'Organ, a natural son of the Prince of Lambex, of the House of Lorraine.
The Natchez, who were once powerful there, are a considerable people. They consist of several villages, governed by individual chiefs, who in turn obey a great chief, the head of their nation. All their princes bear the name of Sun, and there were five hundred of these, all allies of the Great Sun, their common sovereign. This latter bore on his breast the image of the sun, from whom he pretended to be a descendant, and which was adored under the name of Ovachil, which meant "the very great fire," or the "supreme fire."
The religion followed by the Natchez was one of great dignity. The Great Priest arose before the rise of the sun, and marched at the head of his people in a serious step, bearing the calumet of peace in his hands before him. He smoked it in honor of the sun, and the first puff of tobacco. As soon as the sun started to rise, the assistants successively succeededº to this honor, smoking, and raising their arms towards heaven. They then debased themselves to the earth. The women, bearing their children in their arms, assumed a similar religious posture.
During their harvest season, which occurred in the month of July, the Natchez celebrated a very great feast. They commenced by blackening their faces, they did not eat for three hours after mid‑day, afterwards they purified themselves by baths. Then the eldest person of the nation offered to the god the choicest of their harvests and of their fruits.
They had a temple, where they kept an eternal fire burning. The priests were entrusted with its care; they could not serve this fire except by the wood of one tree. If through ill luck they were p200 prevented from so doing, consternation reigned in the nation, and the negligent priests were put to death, but this was a very rare event. These guardians were always able to readily renew the sacred fire, under the pretext of lighting their calumets; for they were allowed to use the sacred fire for this purpose.
The sovereign at death was accompanied to his tomb by his wives and several of his subjects. The little Suns were bound to follow the same custom. The law condemned to death any Natchez who married a daughter of the Sun, together with this spouse.
Among their tribe was a savage named Eteacteal,º who would not submit to this law. He contracted an alliance with one of the Suns. His wife fell sick, and while she was dying he fled, embarking on a pirogue and going to New Orleans. He put himself under the protection of the Governor, who was then M. de Bienville, offering to be his huntsman. Bienville accepted this service, and interceded for him with the Natchez, who told Bienville that he had nothing to fear, for the ceremony had been performed, he was not to be found, and he was no longer a desirable prize.
Etteacteal, reassured, returned to his nation, without making his home there, and made several voyages there. On one of these he arrived when the Sun Stinging Serpent, a brother of the Grand Sun, died. This noble was a relative of Etteacteal's deceased wife, and had sworn revenge on Etteacteal. Bienville had returned to France, and the sovereign of the Natchez decided that the absence of the protector had revoked the agreement of protection that had been given Etteacteal. He was arrested, and was brought into the cabin of the Great War Chief, with other victims to be sacrificed in honor of Stinging Serpent, where he became very melancholy. The favorite wife of the deceased had been immolated for the sacrifice, and saw through her half closed eyes his fear of death. Appearing to be impatient to join her spouse, and witnessing the lamentations of Etteacteal, she said to him:
"Are you not a warrior?"
"Yes," he said, "I am."
"Nevertheless," she said, "you weep. Life seems so precious to you. Since that is the case, it is not proper that you should come with us. Go with the women."
"Certainly life is precious to me," responded Etteacteal, "I should like to remain on this earth for a while, at least until the death of the Grand Sun, and I will die with him."
p201 "Go then," she said in scorn, "you are not fit to come with us, for your heart will remain behind on the earth. Get away immediately, so that I cannot see you."
Etteacteal needed no further urging. He disappeared like lightning. Three old women, two of whom were his relatives, offered to pay his debt. Their age and their infirmities did not give them much pleasure in life, and none of them had had the use of their limbs for a long time. The two relatives of Etteacteal had no more gray hair than women of fifty-five have in France. The other old woman, aged one hundred and twenty years, had three white hairs, which was very rare among the savages, and none of the three was entirely wrinkled. They were executed in the early hours of the night; one by the side of Stinging Serpent, and the others at the Temple.
They died by passing a loose cord around their neck, eight male relatives drawing the cord tight, four on each side. It was not necessary for the relatives to act, but they gained nobility by so doing, and the executions only took a second.
The generosity of these women reinstated Etteacteal as a warrior of the tribe, and he was restored to his honors, which he had lost by his fear of death. He lived quietly after this, profiting by his sojourn among the French, and became a priest and medicine man of the tribe, using his learning to dupe his compatriots.
The day following this execution, the funeral ceremonies took place. The hour having arrived, the grand master of the ceremonies proceeded to the cabin decorated with the ornaments which idd his position. The victims, who were to accompany the prince in his journey to the country of the spirits, were stoic. These consisted of the wife of the deceased, and one other wife, his chancellor, his doctor, his head servant, and several old people who volunteered for this .
The favorite had entertained several Frenchmen at the house of the Grand Sun, and she bade them adieu. She then brought before her the Suns of two sexes, her children, and she addressed them in these words:
"My children, this is the day when I detach myself from your arms to follow in the footsteps of your father, who awaits me in the country of the spirits. It would wound my duty and my spirit if you should surrender to your tears. I have done enough for you. I have carried you in my body, I have fed you from my breasts. Issue of his blood, nourished at my breast, do you then give way to tears? Rejoice that you will be Suns and warriors. You must follow the p202 examples of endurance and of courage that is typical of the nation. Go, my children, I leave you without your further needing me, and you will not lack friends. Your father's friends and my friends are your friends. I entrust you to their care. As to the French, they have a tender heart, and they are generous. Make yourselves worthy of their esteem, and do not make yourselves unworthy of your own race. Always deal with them without deceit, and never implore to them with baseness.
"And you, French," she added, turning to our officers, "I recommend my children to you, whom I leave orphans. They know you only as fathers. It is your duty to protect them."
She then turned aside, and followed by her retinue, returned to her husband's cabin with the most wonderful composure imaginable.
Among the victims who joined her voluntarily was a noble woman, whose friendship for Stinging Serpent caused her desire to join him in the other world. The Europeans described her as The Glorious, because of her majestic carriage and of her splendid air, and because she only associated with the most distinguished of the French. They regretted her very much, for she had an acquaintance with many simple remedies, which served to save many of our lives during our illnesses. The subsequent spectacle only filled us with sadness and with horror. The favorite wife of the deceased drew herself up with a smile and said:
"I die without fear. Sorrow poisoned my last hours. I recommend my children to you. When you go among them, noble Frenchmen, remember that you loved their father and mother, who were your sincere friends and who loved you up to the moment of the tomb. The master of my life calls me, and in a little while I shall join him. I see your hearts sorrow at the sight of his dead body. Do not worry, for we shall always be friends in the country of the spirits, where one never dies."
At the hour fixed for the ceremony little balls of tobacco were given the victims to chew, and they were then strangled. They lay alongside of the deceased, the favorite on the right, the other wife on the left, and the remaining victims according to their rank.
The sad words of the favorite brought tears to the eyes of the French; they had done all they could to save the life of the Grand Sun at the request of the government. This sovereign was furious at the thought of death. He pointed his gun at the sun, who was his presumptive heir, and would have shot him as well as himself. The cabin was full of Suns, Nobles, and Confidants, all of whom were trembling. (Among the savages, the Suns occupy the first p203 rank as relatives of the Grand Sun; then are the Nobles, after them the Confidants, and finally the people. The wives of all these are called the nobility.) The French reassured them, they detached locks of the Grand Sun's musket, and filled the barrel of his gun with water, thus effectually disabling it for some time.
When the Suns saw that the life of their future sovereign was saved, they thanked the French by grasping their hands, but saying nothing, a complete silence reigning among all those who were present.
The wife of the Grand Sun during this adventure was shaking with fright. Upon being asked if she was ill, she said very loudly: "Yes, I am." Then she added in a lower tone: "If the French leave here, my husband will die, and all the Natchez will die. Remain then, brave French, for your words have the force of whips. If you go now, what will you have done? But you are his true friends, and you are also his brother's true friends." The law forces the Grand Sun's spouse to follow him to the grave, which was doubtless the motive for her fear as well as her praise of the French, who interceded for her life.
The Grand Sun extended his hand to the officers, and said "My friends, my heart is so weak that my eyes, although open, cannot see you about. My lips only open to thank you. Pray pardon my extreme illness."
The French answered that they were not offended, which left him quiet, but they said they would no longer be friends unless he ordered the relighting of all the fires, which had been put out by his instructions as is always the case upon the death of a sovereign. This he did, and they did not leave him until after the burial of his brother, which I have just described.
He shook hands with each one of the French, and said to them: "Since all the chiefs and noble officers desire that I shall remain on earth, I will not kill myself. Let the fires be relit on the fields, and I will wait until death calls me to join my brother. This will soon be as I am old, and until this time, I will march with the French. Without them I would have departed with my brother, and the roads would have been covered with dead bodies."
This prince only survived Stinging Serpent by a year, and his nephew succeeded him. The reign of this young prince was a very sad one for the colony, for he did not follow the adjurations of his mother, but brought out the secret conjuration against our nation which she had loved so well.
p204 In justice to these savages, however, it should be said that the campaign they undertook to destroy the French was not inspired by discontent or greed, but that it was caused by the evil conduct of an officer who insulted these people, and aroused their anger when it was his duty to conciliate them. They were free men remaining quietly in the country of their ancestors, and were treated tyrannically by the people whom they had received.
The Sieur de Chepar, the commandant of the Natchez post, neglected to encourage the friendship of the French and the savages entrusted to his care. He maltreated all those whom he did not sentence as criminals. He entrusted the most important posts to Sergeants and Corporals. Preferences of this sort, contrary to military laws, sufficed to ruin discipline among the soldiers.
M. Dumont, his second officer, protested to him over the turn things were taking, but de Chepar responded by throwing Dumont's representations in the fire, and by putting Dumont in irons. As soon as Dumont was free, he left for the capital and laid his complaints before Perrier, then Governor of Louisiana. De Chepar was recalled, and suspended from his command, but his intrigues and his friends at court protected him; he was acquitted, and sent back to his command.
This mortification not being corrected, it was followed by continued disconductº both among the French, and among the savages. The latter were angered, and suffered the worst indignities from him. De Chepar, anxious to make his fortune as soon as he could, summoned the Sun of a village called the Apple, and ordered him to retire from it with his people, and to abandon the land whereon they lived, which was of great value. The Cacique answered him that the bones of their ancestors rested there. These reasons were futile. The French commandant ordered the Grand Sun to evacuate the village, and threatened to send him to New Orleans manacled in hands and feet if he did not promptly obey. This officer imagined he could talk to this chief as he would to a slave, and he did not reflect that he spoke to a man accustomed to command, and who exercised a despotic authority over his subjects.
The Grand Sun listened and departed without answering him. He assembled his Council, who authorized him to tell de Chepar that they wished first to lay out the plan of a new village before leaving the Apple, and that this would require a period of two moons.
This resolution being adopted was reported to the commandant, who rebuffed the envoys, and threatened their people with cruel punishments if they did not evacuate the village within short order. p205 The Council heard this order, and decided that they would pretend to submit to these discourteous hosts, but that they would report they must have time to settle elsewhere. To placate de Chepar, and to delay matters, they offered to pay him tribute during this period of maize, deer skins, furs, and other valuable commodities. The avidity of the commandant led him into the trap, and he accepted the proposition, saying to them that he only did so to oblige their nation whom he loved, and because of the friendship they had always borne for the French.
The Sun was not duped by this show of disinterestedness. He assembled his Council, and told them of the delay which had been accorded them, which they should put to good purpose in order to escape the onerous tribute imposed on them, as well as the tyrannical domination of the French. He impressed upon them the necessity of keeping their plans secret, of making instant preparations for defense, and of all the while continuing their show of amity and confidence with and in the French until all was ready for action.
For five or six days, the nobles consulted among themselves, and then reassembled, resolving unanimously to kill every Frenchman. The eldest member of the Council reported this resolution to the chief as follows:
"For a long time we have seen that the vicinity of the French has brought us more evil than good. We old people have long seen this, but our youngers would not see it. The European merchandise gives pleasure to our young, but what good purpose does it serve? To seduce our wives, to corrupt the morals of the nation, to debauch our girls, and to make the others drunk and faint hearted. Our young boys are in the same condition. The married men must kill instead of working that they might furnish luxuries to their wives. Before the French came to our country we were men, we were content with what we had, we marched boldly along all the highways, because then we were masters. But today we are irresolute, fearing to discover thorns. We march like slaves, as we will soon be, since we are already treated as such. When they are a little stronger, they will no longer dissemble, they will put us in irons. Their chief has already threatened us with this affront, and is not death preferable to slavery?"
Here the orator paused, and then continued in a more vigorous tone:
"Why do we wait? Shall we permit the French to increase until they are so strong that we cannot resist them? What will the other nations say? We pass as the most spiritual of the red men; they say, p206 with good reason, that we have more religion than the other nations. Why then await a disadvantage? Let us free ourselves, and we may then say we are true men. Let us commence today to prepare. Let us prepare to live among our women without telling them the reason. Let us bear the calumet of peace to all the nations of this country. Let them understand that the French only aspire to enslave our continent. As they are stronger in our neighborhood than in others, we will be the first to receive their chains. When they have succeeded in this, they will do likewise with all the other nations. Let us show them how interested they are in preventing this ill from happening. Let all the nations join in union to execute this plan so that the French will be exterminated by all at one and the same hour. Let the time of this massacre be that day which ends the period of grace obtained by us from their chief. We will then free ourselves from the tribute they have imposed upon us, and we will recover the merchandise we have given them. On this great day of liberty our warriors will sleep with their arms by the fire. The Natchez will appear among the French, and there will be three or four of us in each house to one of that nation. We will carry our arms and munitions, pretending that it is a great hunt, being the celebration of some great feast. We will promise to bring them deer. The shot of the gun which will be fired at the Commandant of the fort will be the general signal to fall on all the French. In order to obtain this greatest success by this attack, the other nations should join us in a general massacre. Each man must be prepared with pailletsº of wood, so as to be ready for the carnage and for the fire. Once we have destroyed our enemies, it will be easy to prevent them from retaking their old habitations. Caution is necessary, and a wise man should supervise our preparations."
With these words, the orator closed, the elders applauded him, the Sun of The Apple added this suggestion: That he was the subject of the injustice of the Sieur de Chepar, and that he personally should punish de Chepar, which would be a proper vengeance. The council hid their plans from their wives, and after placing all of the facts concerning the outrage before the Grand Sun of the Natchez, they finally obtained this just man's approval and consent. The Council of the Suns and the Noble Elders of the savages again met in an open field, reaffirmed the plan, and sent embassies to the nations.
Notwithstanding the profound secrecy of the councils, the people of the savages became uneasy, and the women of the nation inquired as to meaning of these conferences. A woman Sun called p207 Spear Arm chafed at the silence imposed on her, and was told that it was an order to renew treaties with the neighboring nations. But this did not appease her curiosity, and finally journeying to The Apple, she discovered the real plans. At a meeting of the Council, she upbraided them, and protested against the attack, but her protests were to no avail.
She was in love with the Sieur Macé, an ensign of the garrison at the fort of Natchez, and she communicated the entire plot to him. Macé at once went to de Chepar, who placed him under arrest for spreading a false alarm. Seven inhabitants, learning the plan from Macé, requested de Chepar to be permitted to bear arms so as to protect themselves against surprises. The Commandant put them in irons, and was angry that such doubts had been expressed against a nation which had expressed itself so kindly towards him. He did not once suspect that savages of this sort could so adroitly deceive him.
Spear Arm saw with regret that her warnings were useless. She then entered the temple, and destroyed many of their packets of wood, and when the savages discovered this they hastened their plans, and commenced the attack without delay.
On December 28, 1729, at 8 o'clock in the morning, the savages appeared among the French, and at the prearranged signal immediately commenced their onslaught. The two de Kollys, principal agents of the Company of the Indies, were the first killed. The house of M. de la Loire des Ursins made some resistance, his servants killing seven savages before falling.
M. des Ursins, who had gone out on his horse, returned at the first sound of firing, and was met by a troop of savages. He defended himself valiantly, and killed four savages before being pierced through the body. The surprise attack was altogether successful. Nearly two thousand men were killed; only twenty escaped together with five or six negroes, most of those escaping being wounded. One hundred and fifty children, ninety women, and many negroes were made slaves in the hope of selling them to the English at Carolina.
During the massacre the Grand Chief was tranquilly sitting under a shed of the Company of the Indies, where they brought him the head of the Commander as well as that of the principal Frenchmen, which they placed in a row with the Commandant's in the center. All the other heads were piled up, while the bodies remained without sepulchre and were the prey of vultures. They opened the stomachs of the pregnant women, and killed nearly all the others who had infants at their breasts, because they were affected p208 by their cries and their tears. They made slaves of all the others, and treated them with the utmost shame.
Some persons claim that de Chepar was elusive enough to be the last to perish, and that he was a spectator at this horrible carnage. He saw then, but too late, the wisdom of the advice that had been given him. The savages said that a dog such as he was unworthy to perish at the hands of their warriors. He was given to the Puants, or the servants of the Natchez, who killed him by beating him with a whip, after which they cut off his head.
Such was the fate of the man who would listen only to his cruel desires, his avarice, and his ambition. There was not a Frenchman who escaped from this massacre who would hesitate to say that he was justly punished, and that he suffered from not properly treating a naturally barbaric people. A good administration would have naturally attached them to the French, who were once in great favor with them. Thus it is that the misdeeds of one man often result in the loss of an entire colony, and we cannot be too careful in the choice of the men who are to be commanders in this country.
The savages, notwithstanding the ideas formed about them, are not always easy to manage. One must be tactful, politic, and wise in order to obtain their good will, and they cannot be insulted with impunity. This story is the proof. And without a hint from providence it would have been even more disastrous. Without doubt, we should be grateful to Spear Arm, and should have extended her some witness of our appreciation.
The nations who were in the plot with the Natchez did not follow their stratagem against the French. The Chocta nation imagined that the Natchez did not wish them to take part in the assault on the French, and to show the latter that they did not join in the conspiracy, they allied themselves with the French to punish the Natchez. The Natchez in this combat surrendered the French women and the negroes which they had enslaved. Some time after, they were attacked in their defenses, but during a tempest they were able to escape, and left the country. We captured nearly a thousand of them, bringing them to New Orleans, and then sending them to the Isle of St. Domingo. Among these prisoners were the Grand Sun, his wife, and his mother, whom we have hitherto described. The Grand Sun disavowed this massacre. He said that the nation had taken advantage of his youth to strike this blow, that he had always loved the French, and that the attack had been caused by the despair and vexations of a people who had always been free. The French were satisfied with his defense, and treated him, his mother, and his p209 wife with great kindness, but as we did not return them to their country, they soon died of sorrow. We have inhabited this country since that time. The Natchez, pursued by the French, were too feeble to resist them, and they took refuge among the Tchicachats, among whom they found an asylum.
Since that time we have had a fort there, but the country is no longer attractive to the savages, and they have not re-established themselves there.
a Our author is regularly found listed in bibliographies as Jean Bernard Bossu; on what grounds these Christian names, I could not tell you, but there is general agreement: the question seems rather to be why Dart feels they are not known. At any rate, he appears to have written not one, but at least two, and possibly three, successive accounts of his expanding travels in north America:
• Nouveaux voyages aux Indes occidentales; Contenant une Relation des différens Peuples qui habitent les environs du grand Fleuve Saint-Louis, appellé vulgairement le Mississipi: leur Religion; leur gouvernement; leurs moeurs, les guerres et leur commerce (Paris, Le Jay, 1768 — called the 2d edition although I find no trace of a 1st — with a further edition or printing in 1769).
• Nouveaux Voyages dans L'Amérique Septentrionale, contenant Une collection de Lettres écrites sur les lieux, par l'Auteur, à son ami, M. Douin, Chevalier, Capitaine dans les troupes du Roi, ci‑devant son camarade dans le nouveau monde (Amsterdam, Changuion, 1777)
Since 1918 when Dart wrote, at least one English translation of each of the above has been made:
• Travels in the Interior of North America, 1751‑1762. Translated and edited by Seymour Feiler (Norman, OK; University of Oklahoma Press, 1962).
• New Travels in North America by Jean-Bernard Bossu, 1770‑1771. Translated and edited by Samuel Dorris Dickinson (Natchitoches,º LA; Northwestern State University, 1982).
As of writing (Feb 06) Bossu's own books are not online — else I wouldn't be putting up this excerpt, of course — but the Web does have an interesting epitome of his travels in Chapter 17 of Pickett's History of Alabama.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 7 Apr 10