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Occupying the vast middle section of the United States, the Mississippi Valley has grown, within the space of little more than a century, from a condition of virgin wildness into one of the most highly civilized and prosperous regions of the whole world. At the southern extremity of this marvellously fertile and rapidly developing area stands the city of New Orleans, the port through which it communicates with the sea, and with the countries beyond the sea. This city, marked out by geography and the logic of events as the chief Southern metropolis, has a history covering more than 200 eventful years. During much of this long period the annals of New Orleans and of the Mississippi Valley are one and the same thing. During another crowded epoch, that history, and the story of the State of Louisiana, are similarly convertible terms. But prior to the Civil war the evolution of New Orleans was taking a direction independent of that of the State; municipal problems of great importance had arisen on one hand, while on the other the broadening of the state-life had shifted certain phases of community activity into a wider arena. But on the narrower stage, a drama of extraordinary picturesqueness, and, as we now know, of national significance, was being played. Through the amazing development of the golden '30s and '40s; through the tumultuous years of war and reconstruction; through the difficult period of rebuilding which filled the '80s and '90s — down to the wonderful commercial revival of the last quarter-century — through all these epochs of varied and vivid interest, New Orleans has been molding a history of her own.
First Map of Louisiana, 1683
It is curious, therefore, to observe that this eventful story has not hitherto been chronicled. In the pages of Martin and Gayarré, to cite the two most illustrious representatives of the older generation of Louisiana historians; and in those of Fortier and Phelps, to mention two of a more recent epoch — the strange and moving annals of New Orleans are ignored except for casual references. Other writers who have professed to tell the story of the city, have contented themselves with a few episodes, selected for their picturesque value; but an attempt to set forth, in detail and with the impartial attention to every possible phase, of the varied life of the metropolis of the South, is made for the first time in the present work.
In a sense, the history of New Orleans begins with the exploration of the lower reaches of the Mississippi River by the French. The vast expanses of the upper valley of the great river early attracted the attention of the coureurs de bois and of the missionary priests from Canada, the former fascinated by the wild, free life of the wilderness among the Indians; the latter, attracted by the possibility of winning souls to God. It was not till the middle of the seventeenth century that reports of the mighty size of the great stream began to be circulated through the Canadian p2 settlements. Stories told by Leclère, Nicollet and Grossellières hinted at its magnitude; and there is the tale of the priest, Menard, who, lost in the marshes of Wisconsin, wandered far to the South, perhaps even into Louisiana, and was possibly the first Frenchman to set eyes upon the Mississippi rolling its enormous yellow flood to the Gulf. But it remained for Joliet and Father Marquette first actually to descend the river. In their wake, nine years later, came LaSalle, to take formal possession of the region which we now call Louisiana, and to dream of founding a great city "upon the first high ground above its mouth" — the first time that the idea of a metropolis at that point seems even vaguely to have been formulated.
For seventeen years France made no effort to follow up LaSalle's discoveries, and even then was stirred to action only by rumors that England intended to plant a colony in the region which he had explored. At last the minister, Pontchartrain, dispatched to the new world a young officer, named Iberville, a Canadian by birth, who had distinguished himself in the naval war with Great Britain, and whose courage and discretion were well known. Iberville's instructions were to relocate the almost-forgotten mouth of the Mississippi, and to establish a colony at some strategic point where it would serve to demonstrate to the world the fact of French occupancy. Iberville sailed from Brest with a tiny fleet in October, 1698, accompanied by his brother, Bienville, destined to play a large and honorable part in the subsequent history of French colonial enterprise in America. They anchored in Biloxi Bay some three months later. Learning from the natives that the mouth of the Mississippi lay a short distance further west, Iberville set out with Bienville and some fifty men,1 in two barges and a few canoes, and following the coast line, after many adventures, succeeding in entering the river on March 1, 1699. He ascended the stream as far as the "territory of the Houmas," some distance above the site of the present city of Baton Rouge, and then returned to his ships by a circuitous route leading through the bayous and the lakes, into what we call today the Mississippi Sound.
On the way up the river Iberville camped for a short time on or near the spot where subsequently the city of New Orleans had its beginnings. Here he found a village belonging to the Bayougoula Indians — a collection of some eight or ten straw-roofed huts, surrounded by a circular fortification of cane and saplings, about six feet high. His guide, an Indian whom Iberville had attached to the expedition at one of his preceding halting-places, showed him a road through the forest only a short distance from this settlement, by which it was possible to go quickly and easily from the Mississippi to the gulf coast and to Biloxi Bay.2 This road was used by the Indians as a portage; that is, they hauled their canoes by this route a distance of about a mile from the river to two small bayoux (now called St. John and Sauvage), which led directly into Lake Pontchartrain, and were thence able to make their way eastward to the Mississippi Sound. It was "a very good road," says Iberville in his account of the journey, "where we found considerable evidences of people coming and going. It appeared that the distance from one place to the other was very short."
p3 Iberville seems to have attached little importance to this information at the time, and scarcely more when, about a year later, he had occasion to return to the neighborhood; but Bienville noted the peculiar advantages of the location, and, this impression confirmed during years of constant passage back and forth between the Mississippi and Biloxi or Mobile, decided him, when his opportunity finally came, in 1718, to establish there "on the most beautiful crescent of the river" a city which he foresaw would be the commercial capital of the Mississippi Valley.
Iberville planted his colony on the east shore of Biloxi Bay, on or not far away from the spot where stands today the pleasant little town of Ocean Springs. From the first the settlement was handicapped by untoward circumstance. At no time did the population exceed a few hundred, yet it was constantly torn by contentions. One faction was eager for easy riches to be acquired — so it was hoped — from the discovery of gold and silver mines, from the exploitation of the pearl fisheries, from commerce with South America, and other equally chimerical enterprises. These plans, absurd as we now know them to have been, committed their proponents to a seacoast town. The other faction, of which Bienville was the representative, advocated the importation of French farmers, the encouragement of agriculture, and the removal of the colony from the inhospitable sands of the Mississippi coast to the opulent alluvial lands on the banks of the Mississippi. The latter, wiser design did not interest Crozat, a rich Parisian merchant and court favorite, who, under a grant from the French king, controlled the destinies of Louisiana from 1702 to 1707; but when he surrendered his unprofitable concession into the hands of the Scotch speculator, John Law, it received prompt official approbation, and Bienville was enabled to carry out the design which he had cherished so long.3
New Orleans was, however, not the first French settlement on the Mississippi. In 1700 Iberville had built a fort on the river bank •"eighteen leagues from the mouth," as a protection against the anticipated incursions of the English. This fort, which consisted of little more than a rural stockade and a small log blockhouse, was abandoned in 1707. Bienville was for a time commandant at this post. Later, about 1716, under orders from Crozat, Bienville had established a post on the site of the present-day City of Natchez, which he named Fort Rosalie. But neither settlement was as advantageously settled as that which he was now commissioned to establish.
Bienville, Founder of New Orleans, 1718
The next step was to remove the company's headquarters from the barren Mississippi coast to the new site. This project was stoutly opposed. Even Bienville's chief engineer, LeBlond de la Tour, who is sometimes erroneously credited with having laid out the city, was among those who disapproved and voted against it. Bienville presented the matter in the colonial council in December, 1718, and again, with greater urgency, in 1720. On both occasions he was outvoted. New Orleans, for the moment, continued a mere trading post of the company. Its progress was very slow. The "carpenters and convicts" left by Bienville, under De Pailhoux, seem to have done little or nothing. By 1719 only four houses had been erected in addition to the company's warehouses. In fact, the settlement was at this period so insignificant that Diron d'Artaguette could say with some reason, in one of his memorials to the minister in Paris, that the real date of the foundation of the city was 1722. It was not till June of that year that Bienville obtained official sanction for the removal of the capital to the new site. The transfer of the troops and Government property began at once, and was completed by the following August.7
At this time New Orleans could boast of 100 houses and 500 inhabitants. The plan of the town, however, as projected by Bienville's engineer, De Pauger, contemplated a far greater population. De Pauger laid it out on lines reminiscent of La Rochelle, in France. It was approximately a parallelogram, 4,000 feet long on the river, by 1,800 feet in p7 depth, divided into regular squares 300 feet on each side. The streets were not named till 1724. At that time the settled area did not extend beyond Arsenal (Ursulines) Street in one direction, or Bienville in the other, nor back further than Dauphine. The dwellings were rude cabins of split cypress boards, roofed with cypress bark. They were separated from one another by willow copses and weed-grown ponds swarming with reptiles. Midway of the river front two squares, one behind the other, had been set apart for military and ecclesiastical uses. The front one was the Place d'Armes; the rear one was entirely occupied by a church. In 1726 a monastery we erected on the left of the church, for the Capuchin priests who arrived two years earlier, to take charge of the spiritual concerns of the province. A company of Ursuline nuns reached New Orleans in 1727 from France, and were temporarily domiciled in a house on the corner of Bienville and Chartres streets, while a more commodious residence was being completed for them in the square bounded by the river front, Chartres, Arsenal (now Ursulines), and the then-unnamed street below, afterwards called Hospital Street. At the same time the Jesuits arrived in the city, and for their use Bienville set aside a large tract of land bounded by what now Common, Tchoupitoulas, Annunciation, and Terpsichore streets; and in 1728 and 1745, by donation and by purchase, this splendid plantation was extended to Felicity Street. The Jesuits brought this region under cultivation; introduced the culture of the myrtle, the wax of which was then a staple article of commerce; the orange, the fig, and probably also sugar-cane and indigo. A house and a chapel were built for the use of the priests, and slaves were assigned for service in their fields. The space between Common Street and the upper boundary of the "Vieux Carré" was reserved by the Government as a "terre commune," — for a public road and for fortifications, should these be necessary.
The early years of the city were troubled by storms and other similar disasters. In fact, Bienville's project of removing the capital from Biloxi to the Mississippi was fought for some time on this ground. In 1719, for example, the river rose to an unprecedented height, and the site was completely inundated.8 It appears that the inundation was only a few inches in depth, but it offered a plausible argument against the new city. In 1722 a hurricane destroyed thirty houses, the church and the hospital, and did great damage to the crops. Other adverse conditions resulted from the colony's dependence upon the Mississippi Company, which was mainly a speculative enterprise, and only incidentally concerned with the development of the city. Its operations, as a matter of fact, had caused a respectable influx of settlers; and the development of a paper currency, after the model which Law had introduced in the home country, was attended by a spurious and temporary prosperity. But in 1725 the embarrassments of the company brought trouble not to France only but to the far-away colony on the Mississippi; and a drastic scaling process, four times repeated under the authority of a royal decree, was necessary to cure a desperate situation. Rid in this gross manner of their mutual obligations, the shorn colonists faced in 1726 an area of sounder, if less flamboyant, prosperity.
p9 In 1724 Bienville was recalled to France. The jealousies of rival officials were responsible for his resignation. His retirement lasted till 1733, when he was again restored to power. His place as Governor was taken, meantime, by Perier, a man of many admirable qualities, but stern and vindictive in character. Under Perier many improvements were made at New Orleans, including the construction of a levee, which extended eighteen miles above and eighteen miles below the city, and may be regarded as the first link in the extraordinary system of defense against flood which now crowns the banks of the Mississippi from the mouth of the Red River to the sea. We get some idea of the new Governor's activities from an old map preserved in the archives of the Department of Marine, in Paris, which shows the improvements that had been made in the city by 1728. Most of the public buildings, including the parish church, were by the latter date constructed of brick. On the right of the church stood a small guard house and the prison. On the square above the Place d'Armes was the Government house, surrounded by extensive grounds neatly cultivated. The Government employees were quartered in a series of small buildings in the square on the lower side of the Place d'Armes, overlooking Chartres Street. At the corner of Toulouse Street and the river front were the marine repair shops and forges, while on Dumaine Street from the river nearly to Chartres stretched the long, narrow buildings known as the King's warehouses. A hospital had been erected at the corner of Chartres and Arsenal (now Ursulines). In the empty square next below the convent of the Ursulines was completed in 1728. The barracks and the company's workshops were situated in the square bounded by Royal, St. Louis, Bourbon, and Conti.
At the upper river corner of the city, at what later became the intersection of Customhouse and Decatur, stood the residence of the Governor, and in the same square immediately behind, the Jesuits had a building which they occupied until they removed to their quarters on their plantation above the town. Along the river front, from Bienville to Arsenal streets, and on Chartres and Royal streets, rose the dwellings of the official and wealthier members of the community. Orleans Street was occupied mainly by the homes of the humbler citizens. Most of the residences were built of cypress timbers; a few of the more pretentious were of brick, or partly of brick and partly of plaster; and a few were two stories or even two-and‑a‑half stories in height. Among the names most conspicuously figured upon this ancient map are: Delery, Dalby, St. Martin, Dupuy, Rossard, Duval, Beaulieu-Chauvin, D'Ausseville, Perrigaut, Dreux, Mandeville, Tisseraud, Bonnaud, DeBlanc, Dasfeld, Villeré, Provenché, Gauvrit, Dellerin, D'Artaguette, Lazon, Raguet, Fleurieu, Bruslé, Lafrénière, Carrière, Caron and Pascal. These were among the leading landowners of the community. In the winter of 1727‑28 the arrival of the first of those groups of reputable young girls sent by the French authorities to the care of the Ursulines, to be disposed of, under their superintendence, in marriage with the settlers, infused a new element into the population. They brought with them each a small chest of clothing, whence the name, "filles à la cassette" — casket girls — by which they, and other similar consignments in subsequent years, are known in the history of the colony.9
p10 Perier's activities were also, and less successfully, directed against the Indians. The Chickasaws and Choctaws attacked and destroyed Fort Rosalie in the winter of 1729‑30. News of the disaster was brought to New Orleans by the few scanty survivors of the disaster. The community was thrown into consternation by the news. A palisade was hastily erected around the city, a moat was dug, and every house in the city, and every plantation near it, were provided with arms in anticipation of an attack by the Indians. A force of militia was recruited in the town and the environs and sent along with the regulars to the seat of war. During the course of the campaign which followed, practically every able-bodied male in the city was called on to bear arms. The only bloodshed, however, which took place in New Orleans during the war resulted from a conspiracy among the Negro slaves, who, instigated by emissaries sent in by the Choctaws, planned an insurrection and the massacre of the whites. The leaders were apprehended in the nick of time, and eight men and one woman were executed, the former on the wheel, the latter on the scaffold.
Bienville's return to power was brought about by Perier's failure to deal adequately with the situation. His campaigns against the Indians proved failures. Although one of the recalcitrant tribes was broken up, the remnants joined the survivor, and their depredations continued. In the emergency, the colonists recalled the wise and efficient rule of the former Governor, and appealed to Paris to have him sent back. "If it is desirable to save the country, which is in the greatest danger," ran their petition, "it is indispensably necessary to send back the Sieur de Bienville."10 At the same time the company, convinced that no profit was to be hoped for from Louisiana, tendered the concessions to the King. Thus it was that Bienville, who had been living in the greatest obscurity in Paris, returned to New Orleans in 1733 as first Royal Governor. He set to work at once to organize an expedition against the victorious tribes. This task, and the subsequent campaign, lasted two years. Although everything was done that skill and experience could suggest to insure success, the end was failure — failure as complete as that which had attended his predecessor. Aided by bad weather, the Indians proved themselves more than a match for the French. They outfought and outwitted them. "I feel with grief," wrote Bienville, in his account directed to the Minister of Marine, in Paris, "that your highness will not be satisfied with this enterprise which has cost the King so much expense; but I flatter myself at the same time that you will kindly observe that I did not neglect a single precaution necessary to render the campaign as glorious as His Majesty had reason to expect."
The miscarriage of his plans seemed to have cast a permanent gloom over Bienville's usually cheerful spirit. A deepening sense of discouragement led him finally, in 1740, to send in his resignation. "The labor, the anxiety, and the trouble of mind which I have had to bear for the eight years which it has pleased your excellency to maintain me in this government have so enfeebled my health that I should not hesitate to supplicate you to give me leave to cross over to France by the first royal vessel, if the interests of the colony and my reputation did not exact of me that I should put the finishing touches to the treaty of peace which I have commenced with the Chickasaws. It is thus that, after having p11 re-established peace and tranquility in the colony, I desire that it may be permitted me to make a voyage to France to restore my shattered health. I supplicate your excellency therefore kindly to ask this permission for me from the King. I do not expect to be able to take advantage of it before the return of the vessel in 1742, and in case France does not take part in the war which is being lighted in Europe." There is no reference in his letters to the thousand petty jealousies, piques, and oppositions which had made impossible the success on which he had counted. On the contrary, his interest in this closing episode of his career was to see that his officers were promoted and properly paid, and to ask that a college be opened in New Orleans. The last request was denied.
Bienville left the colony never to return in 1743. His later life is a blank which imagination alone can fill. Only once more does he emerge into the light of history. That was, when the colonists, in 1764, appealed to him to intercede with the King not to transfer Louisiana to Spain. Bienville, then in his 86th year, co‑operated to the best of his ability with the young colonial delegate, Jean Milhet, sent to Paris for the purpose. They appeared before the minister, De Choiseul, but the latter had no interest in the matter, and the petition of the colonists never reached the eyes of his royal master. Bienville died in 1768.
The early history of New Orleans is divided, almost with the regularity of the acts of a well-plotted play, into nearly equal periods. The first, from 1718 to 1729, was a formative epoch, a time of beginnings, of passive accretion. The second, which extends from 1729 to 1740, is the period of the Indian wars, with the incitement to an active life with which such operations were attended, and which in some sort compensated for their losses and sufferings. The next period, from 1743 to 1753, was characterized by the administration of Bienville's picturesque successor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil. De Vaudreuil was a member of an influential French family. His advent was hailed by the colonists as presaging a period of royal favor and municipal development. These rosy anticipations were doomed to disappointment. De Vaudreuil had all the defects of his time. He was interested in the showy, superficial aspects of his government. Under him there was a notable increase in the size of the garrison. The glittering uniforms of the soldiers became almost as commonplace in the streets as the homespun of the civilians. Some encouragement was extended, it is true, to the production of myrtle-wax, and sugar cane, but the corruption of the government was notorious, and the ostentatious living of the Governor and his wife had a bad effect upon the population, which imitated his unfortunate example as far as its means permitted. The business of religion and education made little progress — due, it is said, as much to the rivalries of Jesuits and Capuchins as to any dereliction on the part of the administration. Another factor in an awkward situation was the presence in the capital of an increasing number of Negro slaves.
The introduction of blacks into the colony had begun early, mainly in consequence of the practice of the Company of the Indies of sending worthless and criminal elements to New France. The planters found it impossible to depend upon such labor and were compelled to seek elsewhere the hands needed on their plantations. Thus, by 1744, there were about 300 Negroes in the city. The next census, taken about a decade later, showed no perceptible increase in the total population, but the proportion of slave to white had risen, in a population of about 3,000, to p12 2 to 3. As his last official act before leaving the colony, Bienville had affixed his signature to a set of laws designed to minimize the danger arising from the existence in the community of an element drawn from the wildest and most savage races of the Dark Continent. This was the celebrated "Code Noir," or "Black Code." This code, taken with only minor amendments from a somewhat similar codification drawn up in Santo Domingo, was, down to the close of the colonial epoch, the rule to which the slaves were subject. On the whole its provisions were not severe; with respect only to offenses tending to imperil the safety of the whites were its penalties stringent.11 But, otherwise, the slaves were protected by the laws as carefully as their masters, from cruelty and injustice.
Waited on by this servile class, the wealthier element in the white population copied as far as possible the elegant habits of the governor and his wife, just as the latter endeavored to reproduce in the little colonial capital something of the stately manners of Versailles. The dwellings of the better sort were now being erected a square or two back from the river, instead of directly on the river-bank, as at first. They even tended to spread beyond the fortifications, into the country, along the pretty road which led from the northerly gate towards Bayou St. John. In these buildings, with their lofty halls and spacious rooms, severely plain externally and internally, usually one story or, at most, one story and a half in height, borne on brick piers sometimes as much as 15 feet high — was seen a richness of apparel and an elaborate social life curiously at variance with the poorly drained, unpaved, unlighted, and frequently impassable streets, and the swamps and morasses without.
De Vaudreuil was promoted to the governorship of Canada in 1753 and his place in Louisiana was entrusted to a naval officer named Kerlerec. Kerlerec had spent a quarter-century at sea, and his manner was that of the quarter-deck. He was a bluff, domineering, honest man, something of a martinet, and impatient of opposition. Two important enterprises signalized the administration. The fall of Fort DuQuesne in 1758 compelled the garrison to go to New Orleans. The long journey was made down the Mississippi in boats and barges. It was impossible to shelter so many newcomers in the existing barracks, and the Governor was obliged hastily to construct additional buildings in the lower part of the city, at a point where what was subsequently name Barracks Street intersected the river front. The other undertaking was the reconstruction of the fortifications. These had at no time been impressive, consisting mainly of a "very trifling moat" and a palisade flanked by small blockhouses armed with guns of low caliber. But such as they were, they were now restored in a manner calculated to furnish protection on all the landward approaches to the city, with salients at intervals, and a "banquette" within.
These measures comprised all the improvements carried out in the city under Kerlerec's direction. Otherwise, it was left to its own devices. Drainage, sanitation, fire protection — the need of all of which was long felt — claimed no official consideration. Police regulations did not exceed the strict surveillance of the Negroes. Public finance was limited to the further issuance of paper money. Nevertheless, a certain spontaneous development went on. Forty-four brick houses, for instance, were erected p13 between 1749 and 1752. A generation which still spoke French, but which was American by birth, was beginning to replace the pioneers. Save for the accident of language, the second generation was no longer French. It had acquired a certain imperiousness of temper from the habit of command of a docile, servile class. The love of freedom characteristic of the wilderness life throughout colonial America, was theirs in as strong a measure as it was the New Englander's or the Virginian's.12
It can readily be imagined how a man of Kerlerec's temper would fit into a community such as New Orleans had come to be. He quickly alienated the good will of the people by his arbitrary treatment of influential inhabitants. His quarrels with Rochemore, the intendant, were bitter and prolonged. The latter seized the vessel of a Spanish Jew trader who had put into New Orleans in search of business. This action was based upon the provisions of the royal edict forbidding Jews in the colony. But Kerlerec restored the vessel to its owner, and arrested Rochemore and the latter's supporters, Belot, Mandeville de Marigny, Lahoup, Bossu and others, on the charge of conspiring to usurp authority. These men were sent to France for trial. There they became the center of an intrigue against the unfortunate Governor. Kerlerec, already almost distracted to find means to placate restive Indian allies, soothe the rancors of controversy between the rival religious orders, Jesuit and Capuchin, and isolate the territory under his charge from the enterprising English smugglers to north and northeast, had now to defend himself from their charges and insinuations. At last, about the end of 1762 or early in 1763, he was ordered to return to France and give an account of his stewardship. He sailed from New Orleans in the summer of 1763, leaving his difficult post to D'Abbadie, who, with the title of director-general, had been sent to displace him. In Paris the rancors kindled in the colony pursued him. He was involved in interminable lawsuits with the Rochemore factions. A royal commission investigated his conduct, rendered an ambiguous report, and he was sentenced to banishment from Paris. This was harsh punishment, doubtless; but de Vaudreuil, only a few years before, on charges hardly more substantial, had been consigned to the Bastille. Kerlerec, therefore, was fortunate in not suffering imprisonment to boot. He was an honest, well-meaning man, who was the victim of an injustice which history has only tardily repaired. He died in 1770.13
D'Abbadie was from the South of France, of a family which had frequently held office under the crown. He himself had a long official career before coming to Louisiana. He was known as an upright, capable administrator of the routine sort. His character was mild and conciliatory. His administration was signalized by two events — the expulsion of the Jesuits; the transfer of Louisiana to Spain. The former event bright to a close the controversy between the Jesuits and the Capuchins which had troubled the colony since 1755. The expulsion was effected in accordance with a royal decree directed against the order, and enforced throughout the French dominions; but it was executed in Louisiana with a severity in which one cannot fail to perceive evidences of purely local p14 animosities. The decree was approved by the Superior Council, June 9, 1763.14 The goods and chattels of the Jesuits were sold at auction, with the exception of some books and clothing, which the fathers were permitted to retain. The sum of $180,000 was realized in this way. The proceeds of the sale of the property in New Orleans were to be applied to the support of the Jesuit missions; the remainder was appropriated to the State. Church ornaments and all sacred utensils were turned over to the Capuchins, and the chapel and graveyard on the Jesuit plantation just above the city were razed. The fathers were sent back to France, with the exception of Father Baudoin, who, at the age of 72, was too feeble to undertake the journey; Father de la Meurinie, who was ill, and Father Meurin, who for some unknown reason received permission to remain and carry on his religious work among the Indians. Father Baudoin, who had been provincial of the order, and one of the protagonists in the interminable controversy with the Capuchins, was cared for by the famous painter, Etienne de Boré, until his death, in 1766.15
During the French domination New Orleans was governed by the Superior Council. Prior to 1712 the government had been discharged by military men who assumed civic functions. They were usually experienced in colonial affairs, and well qualified to undertake civic duties. This period of personal and military government ended when the Superior Council was organized. That body came into existence in connection with the grant which was made in 1712 to Crozat. Crozat's was a mere operative grant, and did not convey any rights as to government. These were retained by the crown. The Council was established under an edict dated September 14, 1712. It was primarily a law tribunal, designed to supply the place of the officers of justice then lacking in the colony. It was composed of the Governor of New France and the Commissary Ordonnateur, or Intendant. These officers were co‑equal in rank and authority. The former was charged with the general civil and military affairs of the Province. The latter had control of matters of commerce, police, finance and justice. Under these powers he enacted police ordinances and regulations.
The Council was at first established on a sort of experimental tenure of three years. In September, 1716, the probationary period having expired, it was re-established on a permanent basis. Its membership was increased to eight, by adding the Lieutenant-Governor, the Governor of Louisiana, a senior counsellor, two puisne counsellors, and an attorney-general. The functions of the Council as thus enlarged approximated those of similar institutions in the French colonies in Martinique and Santo Domingo. It is probable that its essential features were due to Crozat. He had spent a large part of his life in the West Indies, and there accumulated the large fortune which he was risking in the new enterprise. It is reasonable to suppose that he was consulted in the preparation of the edict, and that his experiences in the New World were embodied in the suggestions that were adopted.16
The Council met monthly, dispensed justice as called upon, and concerned itself with the civil administration of the Province. The law which it was charged to administer was the ancient "usage of Paris," and the p15 laws, edicts, and ordinances of the realm, particularly of Louis XV and his immediate successors. In civil cases three members constituted a quorum; in criminal cases, five. There was an interesting provision allowing the Council to fill all unavoidable vacancies temporarily by calling in a corresponding number of reputable citizens who might seem to possess the necessary qualifications. In this lay the germ of representative government. This feature maintained itself in all subsequent modifications of the basic law under which the Council existed. In 1768 the revolutionaries exploited it effectively to pack the Council and carry through their program in spite of the protests of the Governor, Aubry.
Another interesting feature of the Council was the fact that its president was not the Governor of New France, but the Intendant, or in the latter's absence, the senior counsellor. The Governor occupied the seat of honor, but his functions were those of an ordinary member. The Intendant collected the votes and pronounced sentence. In all legal transactions of a preliminary sort, like affixing seals or taking inventories, the senior counsellor officiated.
In 1717 Crozat surrendered his concession, and Louisiana passed into the hands of the so‑called Mississippi Company, or Company of the Indies. This corporation was invested with full sovereignty in Louisiana. The Crown reserved only the right to a small annual compensation and the "homage" of the company. The directors obtained certain modifications in the organizations of the Council, in order that they or their agents might be represented therein. An edict was accordingly published in September, 1719, by which the membership was made to include such directors of the Company as might be in the colony, the Commandant General, which post was held by Bienville, the "king's lieutenants," a senior counsellor, two other counsellors, an attorney-general and a clerk. The Council was at the same time relieved of its duties as a court of first instance, and became exclusively appellate. Inferior tribunals were established in various parts of the Province.17 In these the presiding functionary was not an appointee of the King, but an agent of the Company. To assist him he had in civil cases two "notables" from the neighborhood, and in criminal cases, five such "notables." Here, again, we encounter tendencies towards a representative form of government. New Orleans was placed in a division which also include Natchitoches;º a special court for the city was not instituted till 1725.18 At the same time ecclesiastical division was effected, and a vast district, extending from the Gulf to the Illinois, and including New Orleans, was placed under the spiritual direction of the Capuchins.
In 1721 the Council was relieved of the routine business of the Company, and left free to devote itself to its proper judicial and administrative duties. The Company business was relegated to a special council organized for the purpose, which met daily at Biloxi, where the capital was then located.
When Law abandoned the Company, in 1722, it was necessary to send to the colony three commissioners to adjust its affairs there. They were Faget, Marchenet, and Ferrand. They appear to have had only temporary authority and did not supplant but co‑operated with the Council. It was these commissioners who authorized the removal of the capital p16 from Biloxi to the shores of the Mississippi. This transfer necessarily involved the Council, which thereafter was domiciled in New Orleans. In the pages of Durant, a traveler who about this time wrote a book about his experiences in North America, and who visited New Orleans, occurs an interesting reference to the Council at this epoch. "Lawsuits," he says, "are settled here without attorneys or counsellors, and consequently without expense, on the pleadings of the parties." These words indicate that the Council sat principally as a board of arbitration, and that much which under other circumstances would have resulted in litigation, was adjusted on the report of the members designated to investigate it. These members were two in number, and were named from time to time. They sat twice a week. The cases handled by them were those involving amounts not in excess of 100 livres ($22).
In December, 1722, two additional commissioners were sent from France to aid in the adjustment of the Company's affairs. They were also to investigate the conduct of the colonial officials. One of them, De Saunoy, died shortly after his arrival, but the other, De La Chaise, was for some time active in the administration. His reports are believed to have occasioned the recall of Bienville in 1724, and the censure of the Council by the home government in 1726, when three of its members were removed, and the resignation of the attorney-general was demanded. Under Perier, De La Chaise handled all matters connected with the police, commerce and finance, and became the principal law officer of the Crown.19 He was, in effect, the Intendant.
In 1728 the Council was invested with the supervision of real estate titles. This power was extended twenty years later to enable defective titles to be cured when the defect arose from the absence or incompetence of public officials.
The Mississippi Company, after Law's disgrace, continued to administer the colony down to 1731. It then surrendered its privileges. Two commissioners, Bru and Bruslé, were sent to Louisiana to wind up its affairs. At the same time the Superior Council was remodeled. The membership was extended to twelve, besides the Lieutenant-Governor of New France. The subsequent history of this body may be briefly related. During the remaining thirty years over which the French regime continued, officers replaced each other as experience suggested, or the policy of the home government required. In De Vaudreuil's time the legal labors devolving upon them in consequence of the development of the fur trade were so onerous that four "assessors" had to be added. These men served for four years, and ranked immediately below the members of the Council. They voted, however, only in case of a tie, or when some case had been specially referred to them for examination, or when they were called in to make up a quorum.20
From the foregoing it appears that the Intendant, by virtue of his control over commerce, finance and police, was the officer who had most to do with the affairs of New Orleans. But as he sat and voted in the Council, that body, in the last analysis, was the governing body in the city. The Council played a large part in the city's history, in other than purely administrative matters. From it proceeded in 1724 the famous Code Noir, one provision of which prohibited the manumission of slaves p17 except after permission had been obtained from the Council. In the middle of the century it figured in the disputes between the Capuchins and the Jesuits over the ecclesiastic control of the Province. In Kerlerec's controversy with Rochemore it supported the former and its complaint lodged with the King in 1761 was effective in bringing about the latter's recall. It was instrumental in the sequestration of the property of the Jesuits in 1763, nearly a year before action was taken against that order in the home country. D'Abbadie in a dispatch dated June 7, 1764, complained that the Council was animated by a seditious spirit, and advised the removal of all the Creole, or native, members, and replacing them with persons born in France. This spirit, we may well believe, was that which flamed up in the piteous revolt of 1768, in which the part borne by the Council has already been outlined.
During the whole of the period which we are now considering, the policy of the French Government towards Louisiana, if it can be said to have had a policy, was one of systematic neglect. Under De Vaudreuil it had done little for its welfare; under Kerlerec, nothing at all; and now, under D'Abbadie, the colony thrown away. This indifference to what might have been the richest jewel in the French crown, is explained and in part excused by the fact that at this time France was engaged in the Seven Years' War. At the close of hostilities, in 1763, the British boundaries in North America, were advanced as far as Baton Rouge and Manchac, and New Orleans found itself with red-coated neighbors whom it had never expected to see so close at hand. With the new boundary France also conceded the right of free ingress and egress at the mouth of the Mississippi. French law forbade the colonials to traffic with the British, but it was obviously impossible to prevent an illicit trade from springing up under the circumstances, and at a point just above the little city, then known as Little Manchac, and afterwards as Jefferson City, a market came into existence where smuggled goods were bought and sold. British ships, under pretence of visiting the new posts on the Mississippi, put in here with miscellaneous cargoes, principally Negro slaves, for which there was an active demand. This would have scandalized Kerlerec, but his successor was a judicious man, and ignored that which he saw himself powerless to correct.
With the loss of Canada it became clear to French statesmen that France's tenure on Louisiana was very doubtful. The territory was isolated; the English were bold and enterprising; the end might be delayed but scarcely prevented. As early as 1751 the French ambassador at the Court of Madrid, in a memorial addressed to the Spanish crown, confessed as much. Spain, however, with her contiguous possession in western North America, might easily consolidate the two regions. Could she be induced to accept the gift, a rich and potentially useful prize might be kept from falling into what were still, treaties of peace to the contrary notwithstanding, the hands of the enemy. Accordingly, France made a tender of the province; and on the same day that the Treaty of Paris was signed — Feb. 6, 1763 another and secret agreement, the so‑called Family Compact — was concluded, whereby the Bourbons of France delivered to the Bourbons of Spain the whole of that vast expanse of territory which so many Frenchmen had labored and died to add to the possessions of the Gallic crown.
The detail of the arrangement was kept secret for twenty-four months and then became known through a letter from the King to D'Abbadie, p18 reciting the facts of the transfer to Spain.21 To this communication were annexed copies of the treaty itself, of the Spanish monarch's letter of reluctant acceptance, and instructions regarding the manner in which the evacuation and surrender of territory were to be effected. The whole correspondence was ordered spread on the minute-book of the Superior Council, in order that the text might be generally accessible. Nothing could be clearer or more official. No unprejudiced mind could, in view of these facts, doubt that the transfer had been legally and irrevocably consummated. But the colonists preferred not to believe. New Orleans under Spanish rule faced the enforcement of the iron system of exactions and restrictions that constituted the Spanish colonial trade laws; and that spelt ruin to the commerce of the little city. There was, moreover, the question of the currency, always a painful one in New Orleans. Nearly 7,000,000 livres of paper money were in circulation; these had depreciated to one-quarter of their face value, but were the only medium in circulation. Would the Spanish Government undertake their redemption? There were also certain debts due by the Government; who would pay them, the French or the Spanish? Aside from these material considerations, there were personal and patriotic reasons why the community should contemplate with anxiety the proposed change of government. The office-holding class, particularly, had reason to apprehend the loss of their places under the new regime; there can be no doubt that this element in the population had much to do with fomenting the revolution which subsequently occurred.
In this agitated state of the public mind a petition was sent to France by the hand of Jean Milhet, the wealthiest merchant of the city. It implored the King to open negotiations with Spain for the cancellation of the family Compact. This, of course, elicited no response. The petition fell into the hands of the Duc de Choiseul, then minister, and all powerful; the cession had been largely his work, and he took care that the piteous appeal of the colonists should not reach his royal master's hands. Milhet notified his constituents of his failure in 1766; but the Spanish Government still delayed taking possession of Louisiana, and this fact encouraged the population to hope against hope.
died in February, 1765, mourned by no one outside of his immediate circle. He had won few friends in New Orleans, of which he seems to have formed a very poor opinion. The people, he said, in one of his reports to the home government, were wholly given up to speculation; they speculated on bills of exchange, on the currency, on the merchandise in the King's warehouses, on everything which could possibly be used for the purpose. To this he attributed most of the difficulties of the colony, especially in the finances; to this, and to the habits of idleness, intoxication, independence, and insubordination which had established themselves among the people. These faults he believed could only be eradicated by severe measures. These views were known. It is hardly surprising, then, that Bossu, a contemporary writer, chronicling his demise, hints at assassination; but there seems no doubt that he really died of a bilious fever. His remains were interred in New Orleans. He was succeeded by Aubry, as Governor ad interim. Aubry was senior officer of the little garrison. With him was associated the intendant, Foucault. Aubry seems to have been a well-intentioned man. The opprobrium p19 heaped upon him in many histories of this tragical period, was probably only partly deserved. Regarding Foucault, however, it seems clear that he betrayed all parties to which he at different times professed allegiance, and his ultimate expulsion from the colony and long detention in the Bastille were punishments richly merited.
In July, 1766, the Superior Council received a letter from Don Antonio de Ulloa, commodore in the Spanish navy, announcing that he had been named by the King of Spain to be Governor of Louisiana, and expected to sail soon for New Orleans to take up his duties. But nearly eight months elapsed before Don Antonio put in an appearance. He brought with him only a small detachment of Spanish soldiers. The new Governor was celebrated as a scientist and author. He was a man of kindly disposition and enlightened views. He undoubtedly meant well by Louisiana. His appointment was an earnest of the Spanish monarch's good will. Ulloa at once perceived the critical economic situation that prevailed in the colony, and planned to relieve it as far as circumstances permitted. But the people, hurt and angry at the manner in which they had been handed over by their own King to strangers, and dreading the commercial revulsion which, they felt sure, impended in consequence of the transfer, refused to recognize his good intentions. Nothing that he could do could conquer their aversion — not even the measures instituted by him in May, 1767, only two months after his arrival, with a view to conserve the trade with France and the West Indies which otherwise the community stood every chance of losing, and the loss of which they themselves realized would leave them little better than bankrupt. An attempt to regulate the price of imported articles through a commission of disinterested local magnates, not only awakened the anger of the merchants, but of the consumers, the very class which it was designed to assist. When Ulloa was approached with reference to the finances, he readily agreed to recognize the paper money left in the colony by France as the lawful circulating medium at its market value, until instructed by his government as to its retirement; but this did not suit the people, who insisted that it should be retired at par. The garrison, too, proved recalcitrant. France had promised that the soldiers in Louisiana should pass over into the Spanish service; but this those in New Orleans now refused to do. Even the personality of the Governor — his habits, tastes, household arrangements, his marriage — the conduct of his wife — all were made targets of the hostile criticism of the population.b
Ulloa, on his side, was not without blame. When the Superior Council demanded to see his credentials, he refused to exhibit them. It is not clear that he had any credentials. Aubry, even, does not appear ever to have seen anything of the kind.22 Ulloa treated the Superior Council as a subordinate civil body, and refused to deal with anybody but the Governor. He refused to take possession of the Government until additional troops were sent him. Nevertheless, he virtually did take charge, working through Aubry, who put himself unreservedly at the orders of the newcomer. The Spanish soldiers were employed as garrisons at various points in the Province; the Spanish flag was displayed on various Government buildings in New Orleans in conjunction with that of France. It must be said that Aubry and Ulloa worked together harmoniously, and but for the uprising in October, 1768, would probably p20 have succeeded in "gradually molding Frenchmen into Spaniards," as Aubry said, rather happily, in one of his dispatches to Paris.
This uprising was the result of a long-planned and carefully organized conspiracy, led by Nicolas Chauvin de la Frénière, the attorney-general of the colony; Foucault, the intendant; Jean and Joseph Milhet, Pierre Caresse, Joseph Petit, and Pierre Poupet, merchants; Noyan de Bienville, a nephew of the founder of the city; Jerome Doucet, a lawyer; Pierre Marquis, an officer of Swiss mercenaries; Baltasar de Mazan, Hardi de Boisblanc, and Joseph Villeré, planters. The brains of the movement were La Frénière's. Of him it is difficult to get a clear idea. A man of impressive presence, of brilliant eloquence, he seems to have fascinated everyone with whom he came into contact. Yet he seems to have been one of those whose habits and pursuits invited D'Abbadie's animadversions. He was heavily in debt; Ulloa has left on record the opinion that the revolution was merely a pretext for him to avoid the payment of his obligations.23 He was a Creole — that is, a native of Louisiana, and the only member of the Superior Council who was not born in Europe. He and his associates had convinced the German and Acadian settlers residing on the Côte des Allemands, •about twenty miles above New Orleans, that certain debts due by the Spanish Government would not be paid. These men, armed with a great variety of weapons, led by Noyan de Bienville and Villeré, marched into New Orleans on October 28, filled the streets, and recruited their ranks from among the citizens till they numbered about 600. A mass meeting was then held, at which La Frénière, Doucet, and the Milhets made addresses, and a petition addressed to the Superior Council was signed, asking, among other things, that Ulloa be required to leave the colony.
In the meantime Foucault had convened the Council, and upon receipt of the petition took steps to ratify it. Aubry, who was asked to assume the governorship upon Ulloa's departure, protested in vain against these high-handed proceedings, but he had at his command only 110 men, and was powerless to do anything but see that Ulloa and his family got safely to their ship.
All parties to the affair immediately sent memorials of their home governments; Aubry and the Council, to Paris; Ulloa, to Madrid. The Council's letter was carried to France by Le Sassier, Milhet and St. Lette. It was a singular composition. The accusations against Ulloa were that he opened a chapel in his house which he frequented instead of attending services in the French churches; sent to Cuba for a nurse for his child; forbade the whipping of slaves in the city, and other equally puerile allegations. The real grievances of the colony were set forth with much detail and very convincingly, particularly as touching the currency and the commerce of the port. But France could do nothing. All that the commissioners obtained in Paris was an agreement to fund the colonial debt at three-fifths its face-value into 5 per cent bonds.24
It is impossible here to follow in detail the progress of the revolution, for revolution it was. Ulloa sailed for Havana on April 20. What passed between that date and the arrival of the Spanish general, Alejandro O'Reilly, with his fleet and army, nearly four months later, is very p21 obscure. It seems clear, however, that the revolutionary party rapidly lost ground. Having failed to secure the support of France, it appears that the leaders seriously considered the idea of establishing a republic. But the proposition met with undisguised hostility on the part of the population. They had risen against what they regarded as oppression, but not to substitute a species of government of which they had no experience. It is probable that Marquis was the proponent of the idea of the republic. He was a Swiss, and doubtless had in mind some organization such as existed in his own country. Unfortunately, no detailed statement of the scheme has come down to us. The rejection of Marquis' suggestion — if he made it — left the leaders of the movement in an awkward position: to England, only, could they turn for help. Mazan and de Bienville went to Mobile to arrange with the English governor there for troops to occupy New Orleans; but they seem to have received no encouragement. In fact, the British commandant had no forces adequate to carry out a scheme so temerarious. Even had the attempt been made, it is improbable that a population like that of New Orleans, which included many old sailors accustomed to regard the English as enemies; and many Acadians, who had suffered bitterly at British hands, would have welcomed them as masters.25
1 Margry, Origines françaises des Pays d'Outremer, IV, 51.
2 See Margry, Origines, IV, 164‑65.
3 King, Sieur d'Iberville, 257, 258.
4 Gayarré, Louisiana, I, 62.
5 Martin, Louisiana, I, Ch. 9, p204.
6 Villiers du Terrage, Fondation de la Nouvelle Orléans, passim. The Louisiana Historical Society has not accepted this view. In March, 1918, it passed a resolution declaring that the city was founded between February 9 and 11, 1718. — Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 2, p44. Margry, however, intimates that the date may be as late as May or June. — Origines, V, passim.
7 See King, Sieur d'Ibervile, 262‑264.
8 Villiers du Terrage says that the depth of water over the site did not exceed •six inches, and that the damage resulting from the inundation was much exaggerated. — Fondation de la Nouvelle Orléans, 39.
9 The last company of the "filles à la cassette" arrived in 1751. From these successive parties are descended many of the best Creole families of the city.
10 Grace King, in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 3, p48.
11 Phelps, Louisiana, p75.
Thayer's Note: Very substantial excerpts of the Black Code are provided by Gayarré in his History of Louisiana, Vol. I, Appendix.
12 Waring and Cable, Social Statistics of Cities , p220.
13 Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années de la Française, Ch. XIV. Martin states that Kerlerec was sent to the Bastille. — Hist. of Louisiana, I, 195. Gayarré gives the same statement. — History of Louisiana, II, 95, 107.º
14 Rightor, Standard History of New Orleans, 482.
15 Rightor, Standard History, 481‑482; Gayarré, II, 99‑100.
16 Dart, Legal Institutions of Louisiana. — French Domination, 8.
17 Monette, History of the Valley of the Mississippi, I, 246.
18 Dart, Legal Institutions, 24.
19 Dart, Legal Institutions, 23.
20 Social Statistics of Cities (Washington, 1887), Part II, p226.
23 Quoted by Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années de la Louisiane Française, 280.
24 Waring and Cable, Social Statistics of Cities (Washington, 1887), Part II, 224.
25 Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, 286.
a Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe's journal, which was only published well after his death, in 1831, is widely considered unreliable by historians. The original text of the passage quoted reads:
"A cette époque M. de Bienville chercha un endroit convenable sur les bords du Mississipi, pour y placer le comptoir principal. Il choisit celui auquel on a donné depuis le nom de la Nouvelle-Orléans, à trente lieues de la mer, dans le fleuve, par rapport à la communication du lac Pontchartrain, par le ruisseau Saint-Jean. Il y laissa cinquante personnes, tant charpentiers que forçats, pour défricher le terrein et y construire quelques logemens."
p142 of the 1831 edition, the margin adding "Février 1718."
b For Ulloa's experiences in Louisiana, see also the much more detailed accounts, differing sharply in their sympathies, by Charles Gayarré (who also gives the full text of the letter) and Grace King; note that both extend onto a second chapter.
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