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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of New Orleans

John Kendall

published by The Lewis Publishing Company,
Chicago and New York, 1922

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 3
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p22  Chapter II
The Spanish Domination

Upon leaving New Orleans Ulloa betook himself to Havana, and from that city addressed to the home government a memorial, in which he complained bitterly of the treatment he had received from the Louisianans. Aubry, he said, had warned him on his arrival that the people were stiff-necked and rebellious, and this description he had found only too accurate. He gave particulars of Noyan's and Bienville's ill-judged attempt to enlist British aid in behalf of their conspiracy. This news seems to have stirred the Spanish government to action. No matter how reluctant the King might be to take over the unlucky donation, he could not sit idly by and permit an important crown-property to fall into the hands of those who, after all, were as much his enemies as those of his relative, the most Christian monarch of France. Accordingly, an expedition was fitted out at Havana, which sailed in the summer of 1769 for New Orleans under the command of Count Alejandro O'Reilly. O'Reilly was one of the many distinguished soldiers then in the Spanish service. He was a typical adventurer. Born in Ireland, most of his life had been spent in other lands. He had fought under the flags of Italy, France and Spain. He had received a severe wound in Italy, and won a splendid reputation for courage and ability in Portugal. But, most important of all, he had been instrumental in saving the life of Charles III during an uprising in Madrid in 1765, and royal gratitude was responsible for his swift promotion to the highest rank in the army. His present appointment, the extensive powers with which he was clothed, and the large force placed at his disposition — all demonstrate the significance attached to his mission.

His fleet of twenty-four warships arrived in the Mississippi on August 18th. O'Reilly immediately disembarked 3,600 well-armed men and fifty pieces of cannon. At noon he himself landed to take over the government from aubry. This was effected in the middle of the Place d'Armes. O'Reilly met Aubry in the midst of the open space and presented his credentials, which were read aloud in the hearing of the troops drawn up on all four sides of the square, and of the people, who, silent and apprehensive, were grouped beyond. Then Aubry absolved the colonists from their oath of allegiance to France and declared them subjects of the Spanish crown. Salutes were fired from the grim ships that lay in a long line before the town; the French ensign fluttered down from its place at the top of the tall staff in the center of the Place d'Armes, and the red and yellow of Spain rose in its stead. A Te Deum was sung in the parish church, at which the French and Spanish officers were present. That afternoon a parade of O'Reilly's little army brought to a close the ceremonies of annexation.1

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New Orleans in 1763

O'Reilly's instructions were to "have the heads of the rebellion tried and punished according to law, and then remove out of the colony all individuals and families whose presence might endanger its tranquility." With him were "persons learned in the law" who were "to superintend  p23 the judicial proceedings." But he was to pursue "a lenient course [. . .] in the colony, and [. . .] expulsion from it was to be the only punishment inflicted on those who deserve a severer one."​2 His proceedings were, however, marked by a vindictive and cruel spirit quite at variance with the tenor of these instructions. He first lulled to rest the apprehensions of the leaders of the late revolt by a display of affability and courtesy, and then, during an entertainment at the government house, treacherously arrested them and hurried them off to prison. In this way Lafrénière, Marquis, Mazan, the two Milhets, Petit, Caresse and Hardi de Boisblanc fell into his power. Foucault, Noyan and Villeré, however, did not attend the entertainment, and were not apprehended till later. Bienville had already fled the colony; Noyan was arrested on August 23rd; Foucault, though taken into custody, was protected by his official position; while Villeré's fate is enveloped in mystery. One account says that he was seized by a detachment of Spanish soldiers at his plantation on the German Coast while planning an escape into the British settlements; another, that he boldly returned to the city, was there arrested, and died that same day "raving mad"; and still another, that he was bayonetted and slain on board of one of the Spanish warships by his guards while endeavoring to go on deck and speak to his wife, who had come out in a rowboat to see him. Two other persons, Doucet and Poupet, were also taken prisoners. In effecting these arrests O'Reilly availed himself of the assistance of Aubry, insofar as the collection of data was concerned, but has expressly stated that the French officer did not know in advance that matters were to be carried to extremes.

The accused were promptly put on trial. The case dragged along for two months. Then Lafrénière, Marquis, Caresse, Joseph Milhet and  p24 Noyan were sentenced to death; Petit was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Jean Milhet, Hardi de Boisblanc, Doucet and Poupet were given sentences of imprisonment ranging in length from six to ten years. The execution of the five condemned to death was carried out in the afternoon of October 25th, in the Champs de Mars, or parade ground, in front of Fort St. Charles, near the point where Chartres and Esplanade Avenue intersect each other today. The other sentences were carried out only partially. Petit, Mazan, Jean Milhet, Hardi de Boisblanc and Poupet were transported to Havana and put in the dungeons of the Morro Castle, but a year later were set at liberty. Foucault was sent to France, where he received his just deserts, by being shut up in the Bastille for eighteen months. Bienville made his way to France, but being related to many influential persons there, escaped without punishment. O'Reilly, with the tenacity which was one of his outstanding characteristics, made an effort through the Spanish government to have him, too, arrested, but failed, and Bienville went unmolested till his death some ten years later. All the property of the convicted men in Louisiana was, however, confiscated to the Spanish Government.

It is very difficult to explain O'Reilly's conduct in this tragic affair. Historians have generally assumed that he acted under secret instructions from the court of Madrid different from those given out to the public, and which left him no discretion.​3 It may be, however, that on arriving in New Orleans he was apprised of conditions regarding which we have no knowledge, and which, he felt, required immediate and drastic action. Such, possibly, may have risen in conjunction with the schemes of the leaders of the revolt to bring about British interference. This supposition acquires a certain plausibility when we consider O'Reilly's Irish origin and the animosity with which he pursued the British traders in Louisiana. One of his earliest acts was to expel them from the Province. As for the trial of the unfortunate men whom he had arrested, that is generally regarded as an empty form. There can be little doubt that the fate of the accused was predetermined. The procurator-general based his indictment upon the assumption that Louisiana had been taken over by the Spanish Government at the time of the expulsion of Ulloa. This was, however, a mere assumption. Good evidence exists to show that quite the contrary was the case. Villiers du Terrage, for example, prints a letter from the Spanish minister Grimaldi to the Spanish ambassador in Madrid, the Count de Fuentes, in which he refers to the revolt in Louisiana, and adds these significant words: "Ulloa, who had not yet taken possession of it, had departed." Grimaldi was in a position to know, and in an official communication we may presume he took pains to express himself accurately. The view of the Spanish Government was, therefore, that the status of the colony was still French. If so, then the utmost fault of Lafrénière and his companions was an excessive devotion to the country which had cast them off.​4 Their deaths would be, on that interpretation, unjustifiable.

Aubry's part in the affair, also, is hard to understand. It is generally assumed that he was so anxious to clear himself in O'Reilly's eyes of any responsibility for the recent disturbances, that he involved Lafrénière  p25 and the others much deeper than the facts warranted. But it should be remembered that he was a simple soldier, and that the treaty of transfer invested the Spanish Government with a considerable temporary authority over the French garrison in Louisiana. He may have felt that his duty required him to obey O'Reilly's order as fully, as intelligently and as zealously as he could. His report on the subject still exists; it certainly constitutes a severe arraignment of the men whom he cites as responsible for "that criminal enterprise." He left New Orleans within a month after the death of the revolutionists, intending to make his home in France, but his ship was wrecked in the Garonne, within a few miles of port, and he perished miserably. There were strange rumors in New Orleans of chests of money taken on board the "Père de Famille," on which he sailed on his ill-omened voyage. These, it was said, were the price of his submission. If so, he did not live to enjoy his ill-gotten gains.5

O'Reilly's orders were to punish the instigators of the revolt, and then to re-organize the government, in accordance with Spanish ideas. Having completed the first part of his task, he now turned to the other. O'Reilly had dictatorial powers, but he was never governor in a strict sense of the word. He was expected to remain only a short time in the colony, and then give way to Don Luis de Onzaga, who accompanied him and what had already been commissioned governor. On November 21st O'Reilly issued a proclamation in which he said that the evidence at the late trial furnished abundant proof of the seditious behavior of the Superior Council during the two preceding years, and that its influence had been uniformly exerted in support of the late revolt, instead of in the cause of law and order. It was therefore necessary to abolish the tribunal, and establish in Louisiana the form of government which existed in Spain's other American colonies. The effect of the pronouncement was the suppression of the entire French judiciary and the abrogation of the French laws, except insofar as the Black Code was concerned, which O'Reilly specially excepted. The French laws O'Reilly replaced with a code of his own, based upon the "Recopilación de Indias." This, however, was intended to be used only until the inhabitants should become sufficiently acquainted with the Spanish language to have recourse to the original statutes. For the Superior Council he substituted a Cabildo, which was the governing body in New Orleans thenceforward to the close of the Spanish regime.

The Cabildo was a Council the functions of which were not greatly different from those of the body it displaced. It consisted of ten members, in addition to the governor, who presided over its deliberations, and the secretary, or escribano, who kept a record of them. The members were divided into two classes, as they held their office by election or by purchase. The former were four in number, and included two "alcaldes ordinarios," the "síndico procurador general," and the "mayordomo de propios." They were elected annually on the first of the year by the whole Cabildo, including the members who were about to retire. They were required to be householders and residents of New Orleans. They were always eligible to re-election, but except by a unanimous vote they could not be re-elected until they had been two years out of office. The two "Alcaldes ordinarios" were judges, with both civil and criminal jurisdiction.  p26 They held court daily, at 10 A.M. in the Principal, or town hall; in the evening, between 7 and 8 o'clock, at their own residences. They acted summarily all cases in which the amount involved was not over $20, but in all civil cases involving more than 90,000 maravedis ($330.88) an appeal might be taken from their judgments to the Cabildo. They were without jurisdiction over those who could claim a military or ecclesiastical connection. It was part of their duty to visit the prisons every Friday, examine the prisoners, verify the causes of their detention and set at liberty "the poor who may be detained for their expenses or for small debts"; but they were not to set at liberty prisoners confined under orders from the Governor or any other judge. They were also to appear in public "with decency and modesty, bearing the wand of royal justice — a badge provided by law to distinguish the judges. When administering justice they shall hear mildly those who may present themselves."6

The síndico-procurador general, or attorney-general syndic, was not, as one might infer from his title, exclusively a prosecuting officer, although as city attorney for New Orleans it was part of his duty to institute suits for delinquent taxes and other revenue due the municipality. "The Procurador General," ran O'Reilly's edict, "is an officer appointed to assist the people in all their concerns, to defend them, to preserve their rights, and obtain justice on their behalf, and to enforce all other claims which relate to the public interest. [. . .] The Procurador General, who is appointed only for the public good, shall see that the municipal ordinances are strictly observed, and shall endeavor to prevent everything by which the said public interests might suffer." He was required to represent the city at all apportionments of land. Part of his function was to see that the other officers of the Cabildo performed their duties punctually; that those who were required to furnish bond provided "good and sufficient" sureties; and in case these sureties ceased to be "good and sufficient," to see that others of a satisfactory sort were provided. Finally, the Mayordomo de Propios, the fourth elective member, was a sort of municipal treasurer. He made disbursements upon the Cabildo's warrants, and on retiring from office, at the end of his year of service, was expected to render a detailed report of the financial operations of the twelvemonth.

The six seats in the Cabildo which were purchasable were held by officials known as perpetual regidores — rulers, or administrators. The first occupied a purely honorary office, that of "alferez real," or royal standard bearer. His duties were limited to carrying the Spanish flag at certain ceremonies. The second regidor was "Principal alcalde provincial," and had cognizance of offenses committed outside of the city, with authority to pursue, seize and try all persons escaped to that region. The third was the "Alguazil mayor," a sort of civil and criminal sheriff, whose duty it was to carry into effect, either personally or through his deputies, all orders issued from the different tribunals. He was also superintendent of police and prisons, and was authorized to appoint the jailer, a personage of considerable importance, if we are to judge by the detail with which his duties are laid down in O'Reilly's regulations. The "depositario general" had charge of the government stores, and particularly of all moneys or effects in the custody of the law, except such as  p27 went to the "recibidor de penas de cámera," in the way of fines and penalties. The sixth regidor had no special function, but seems to have been eligible to any duties which the absence or incapacity of one of his associates made it necessary to attend. The regidores were paid $50 each per annum. The other officials received no stated compensation, but were entitled to collect certain fees and fines.

The purchasable seats in the Cabildo were sold, primarily, at auction by the government. They could be sold again by the incumbents, providing that the royal treasury received from the new tenants one-half the price paid in the first instance, and one-third of the price of all subsequent transfers. The office of clerk was likewise acquirable by purchase. It will be seen that the offices of greatest responsibility were not included in this group. In fact, the distribution of power was so managed that only a very small part of actual authority fell to any member of the Cabildo. The real government was in the hands of the military and ecclesiastical representatives of the crown and state. The Cabildo was, essentially, a court. As constituted above, it met every Friday in the Principal to hear cases of appeal from the courts of the "Alcaldes ordinarios." These appeals, however, were not heard by the Cabildo as a unit, but through two of its members deputed to sit with the "Alcalde" who had tried the case. The entire Cabildo, under the presidency of the Governor, was required to pass upon matters like the sale of the monopoly of supplying the city with meat, or wood, or what not; but all expenditures save the most paltry were made only after the approval of the Governor had been secured. On the other hand, the Governor was required to take oath before the Cabildo to submit any or all of his acts to its investigation, and, before he could enter upon the exercise of his office, had to give securities for the faithful performance of his duties, of a kind satisfactory to the members.7

Such, then, was the government of New Orleans under the Spanish domination. O'Reilly completed his work by assigning to the city its first definite revenue. He laid a tax of $40 annually on each tavern or café; of $20 on each hotel or inn; of $1 on every barrel of brandy imported into the city.​8 A tax of $6 on every boat of twenty tons burden or over entering or leaving the port was to be devoted to the maintenance of the levees. The municipality was also invested with the owner­ship of the land immediately abutting on the Place d'Armes, between Chartres Street and the river, which was thereupon transferred to Don Andrés Almonester y Rojas, a local magnate, in consideration of a ground rent which helped considerably to augment the slender income at the disposal of the Cabildo. The butcher voluntarily agreed to contribute $370 per annum, not, as they said, with a view subsequently to increase the price of the article in which they traded, "which ought to be done only under pressure of extreme necessity," but in recognition of the duty of every trade to pay its share of the municipal expenses. It is estimated that the income of the municipality from all sources was thus brought up to $2,000.9


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New Orleans in 1770
A larger, fully readable scan (2.1 MB) is also available.

 p29  The Cabildo met for the first time on December 1, 1769. O'Reilly presided, and delivered a "bando de buen gobierno," a species of ordinance defining the policy to be followed by the incoming administration. This was the first of a series of similar ordinances, after the fashion of the Roman praetors of old.​a O'Reilly was content to decree the enforcement of laws of Castille and of the Indies, and the use of the Spanish tongue in judicial proceedings and in public business. The official use of French was permitted only in the judicial and notarial records of the military officers who were put in charge of the civil administration outside of New Orleans. He then announced the appointment of Onzaga as Governor, installed him over the Cabildo, and withdrew. But by virtue of his superior position as captain-general O'Reilly continued to exercise all the functions of government down to October 29, 1770, when he sailed from New Orleans for home.

The changes which O'Reilly wrought, though extensive, were more apparent than real. Inasmuch as the laws of Spain and of France had a common origin in the Roman law, they had numerous points of resemblance. The "recopilaciones" and "fueros" accordingly went into force without any friction other than that involved in the difference of language. The tone of severity and the feature of surveillance which figured in the Spanish legislation may have seemed unpleasant to those accustomed to the lax codes of their previous masters, but they were softened almost entirely away by the paternal, corrupt and inefficient administrations which succeeded upon O'Reilly's departure. Aubry has left on record the statement that O'Reilly established nothing new but what was absolutely necessary, but "continued and put in force all the wise and useful provisions which the weakness of the government had for several years failed to compel the community to observe."​10 Indeed, it is noteworthy that O'Reilly placed Frenchmen at the head of practically every branch of the government; and the fact that he found none to refuse his commissions, and that on January 1, 1770, the Cabildo was permitted to elect St. Denis and De La Chaise to be "alcaldes ordinarios" — the latter brother-in‑law to the unfortunate Villeré — seems to show that the summary justice dealt out to the revolutionaries was regarded with much less horror by the population than has been generally believed.​b

The arrival of the Spanish produced a large though temporary increase in the population. A shortage of provisions resulted. This was relieved only by the opportune arrival of a vessel from Baltimore, with a cargo of flour belonging to an American merchant named Pollock. Pollock won the esteem of O'Reilly by his generous conduct on this occasion. He refused to profit by the necessities of the town, and was content to take the price which O'Reilly, at his solicitation, set upon his wares. His award was permission to trade thereafter free with Louisiana.​11 But otherwise O'Reilly showed himself imbued to the fullest degree with the oppressive ideas of the Spanish Government on the subject of colonial commerce. His harsh actions with regard to the British tradesmen has already been mentioned. "They had in this town," he says in one of his dispatches, "their merchants and traders, with open stores and shops, and I can safely assert that nine-tenths of the money spent here went into  p30 their pockets." He forbade his constituents from buying from the vessels, which, flying the English standard, passed tantalizingly up and down in front of New Orleans on their way to and from Manchac, Baton Rouge and Natchez. They might sell them provisions, but only if the compensation were in coin, not in kind. A violation of this statute was punishable with a fine of $100. This restriction operated hardly on a community so dependent upon the British as New Orleans had become, and the Spanish officials soon saw the necessity of doing something to offset it. O'Reilly early in 1770 recommended that there be an absolutely free trade between New Orleans and Havana. The colony needed "flour, wine, oil, iron instruments, arms, ammunition and every sort of manufactured article for clothing and other domestic purposes." It had to export "timber, indigo, cotton, furs and a small quantity of corn and rice." He recommended that the vessels owned in the colony be put on an equality with Spanish vessels. In the latter part of that year a further concession was made, when as many as two vessels per annum were allowed to enter the port from France.

Under Onzaga other privileges were granted, but it was apparent that the prosperity of the colony would be destroyed if the Spanish commercial regulations were conscientiously enforced. Onzaga was a man of real ability. He dealt with the situation in a typically Spanish way. He found, for example, that in addition to the restrictions imposed under O'Reilly's code, there were others set up by Ulloa, in 1766. These, if enforced, would confine the trade of Louisiana to six Spanish ports — Barcelona, Málaga, Cartagena, Alicante, Seville and Coruña. The colonists could not always obtain what they needed from these places. Nor could they always sell their goods there to advantage. Louisiana indigo was inferior in quality to that of Guatemala, and consequently was not wanted in Spain. There was no market for Louisiana furs in a region where reigned perpetual summer. Tobacco, indeed, might have been sold, but the Louisiana product had to compete with the better grades from the West Indies, and the margin of profit was too narrow to make the business attractive. Timber could be laid down in Spain only at prices which were prohibitive. There was, however, a market near at hand where all these products could be disposed of easily and at a profit. An illicit trade with the British traders sprang up along the river both above and below the city. In return the British offered goods and slaves. Against the river bank in front of what is now the suburban town of Gretna these enterprising adventurers kept two immense flatboats fitted with shelves and counters and stocked with many kinds of merchandise. They were part of a fleet of similar craft which traveled up and down the river, trafficking from one plantation to the other. The value of this contraband business is estimated at $650,000 per annum. Onzaga, realizing that the economic life of the colony depended upon this illegal trade, winked at it. The merchants in New Orleans complained bitterly at being excluded from so lucrative a field. It was finally hinted that the Governor's acquiescence was not wholly disinterested. Then Onzaga interposed, but only far enough to clear himself of the imputation. Thanks to this wise lenity, the commerce of Louisiana not only throve but a desirable element was gradually added to the population, as one after another of the British adventurers bought lands and settled in the country.12

 p31  Onzaga showed equal discretion in his handling of a religious controversy which broke out in New Orleans in his time. Père Dagobert, who was superior of the Capuchins at the time of the acquisition of the Province by Spain, was for some time suffered to continue in undisputed control. But a band of Spanish priests, under the envious, ambitious Padre Cirilo, soon arrived. Thereafter a bitter struggle began over the spiritual government of the colony. Onzaga favored the French party. Through his influence the contest was terminated by the appointment of Dagobert as vicar-general. It required considerable courage on his part to take this stand. It invited the hostility of his own church. But the gratification of the people of New Orleans — who were passionately attached to the amiable Dagobert — amply justified Onzaga's policy. When in 1777 he left the city to take up the duties of viceroy of Caraccas,º to which office he had been promoted, he was able to hand over to his successor a community which, while still in all essentials, French, was on the whole reconciled to Spanish rule.13

That successor was a young officer named Bernardo de Galvez. He was only twenty-nine years old when he took charge of the government, first as acting governor, and then with a commission from Madrid. Galvez was fond of gaiety, and fitted perfectly into the life of the community over which he was called to rule. With regard to the commerce of the city he exercised a policy even more liberal than his predecessor in every respect except as concerned the British. The Spanish government relaxed the prohibitions which had rested upon the exportation of Louisiana products sufficiently to allow certain articles, especially grain, woods, and tobacco, to be exported to France. Two commissioners, who were in effect consuls, were permitted to locate in New Orleans to handle the business that quickly grew up. At first the French ships were permitted to enter the harbor only in ballast, but Galvez was not at all strict in enforcing this provision of the law, and ultimately Madrid had to modify it in order to legalize conditions at which everybody in authority in Louisiana connived. The extension of trading privileges to Cuba and Yucatan, however, was surrounded by so many restrictions that it did not do New Orleans much good. Galvez was gratified when the American colonies revolted against Great Britain in 1776. The outbreak of war was followed by the arrival in New Orleans of a number of American traders, who bought arms and ammunition for the American forces, and shipped them in canoes up the Mississippiº to Fort Pitt. Not only did Galvez permit this traffic, but he helped the promoters of it with funds from the colonial treasury. He seems from the beginning to have realized that Spain must inevitably come to grips with the British in America. In 1779, when Spain, as an ally of France, found herself involved in the war with England, he was prepared to co‑operate promptly and efficiently at his end of the line. His expeditions against Manchac, Baton Rouge, and Pensacola were triumphant. The war, however, had the effect of putting an end completely to the traffic with the British which Louisiana had found so profitable. Galvez had previously taken steps to curtail it. On the other hand, the development of business relations with the Americans offered a surer and hardly less gainful opening. In consequence, New Orleans supported Galvez' military undertakings with great enthusiasm. Its award was the official confirmation from  p32 Madrid of still further commercial privileges which the sagacity of the young governor had already conceded. Extensive reductions in the duties on exports were made; a considerable cut in the import duties followed; and New Orleans found itself at liberty to trade to any city in the Spanish peninsula which enjoyed the right of commerce with the Indies.

During Galvez' frequent absences from New Orleans the government had been exercised by Don Esteban Miro, colonel of the "Regiment of Louisiana," a body composed largely of colonials which had been organized by O'Reilly. In 1785 Galvez was made captain general of Cuba. As he now transferred his residence to Havana, Miro fell heir to the vacancy, first as ad interim governor, and, a little later in the year, under a royal commission. He served till 1791. He was an affable, good hearted, and honorable man, whose judgment was as good as his intentions. As provisional holder of the office he did not see his way clear to ignore the illegal commerce which went on in New Orleans, as his predecessors had done, and therefore, at the beginning of his incumbency, enforced strictly all the burdensome provisions of the various "cédulas," especially the clause prohibiting any "stranger vessel from entering the Mississippi except in case of distress." Villars, one of the French commissioners, who still remained in the city, writing in 1783, had said that commerce with Havana was impossible; Miro's course interfered largely with the business of France. The seizure of a French vessel sent to New Orleans from Santo Domingo to fetch a cargo of lumber, showed the illiberal spirit in which the government was proceeding. After a detention of fifteen months this ship was returned to its owners by order of the Spanish king. In the meantime Miro had received his credentials; and this fact, joined to the reassuring action of the home government in regard to the ship, led the new governor to relax to some extent his restrictions on local commerce. The effect, however, had been to confirm New Orleans in its position of dependence on the American trade. In fact, from now on, the principal interest of the history of the city lies in the growing intimacy of its relations with the regions along the upper courses of the Mississippi, in the slow but sure development of those conditions which made inevitable the extinction of Spanish power in Louisiana, and the acquisition by the United States of the control of the mouth of the great river.

Neither in New Orleans nor in Madrid were the Spanish authorities blind to the menace of American expansion westward. The home government endeavored to combat it, somewhat stupidly, by interfering with the trade between its colony and the Americans. Miro had a more statesmanlike idea of extending Spanish power over the great middle western region, out of which later the states of Kentucky and Tennessee were carved. When, in 1798, General James Wilkinson arrived in New Orleans, Miro seems to have thought that, through him, this project might be put in execution. Wilkinson had served with distinction in the American Revolution, and was a man of great popularity and influence among the American settlers who, to the great anxiety of the Spaniards, were pouring into the upper valley of the Mississippi. He came to New Orleans with a flatboat loaded with tobacco, flour, butter, and bacon, and an idea of planting a colony of Americans in what are now called East and West Feliciana, and in Arkansas. Miro received  p33 him kindly, and granted him permission to establish in New Orleans a depot for the products of Kentucky, which, as we have said, on account of the geographical conditions, could be exported most easily by way of this city. He and Wilkinson had several interviews, but the latter had no idea of falling in with the Spanish governor's designs, and seems to have continued the negotiations solely out of a desire to humor his host and gain commercial advantages thereby.

Miro showed himself a capable administrator in many ways. The winter of 1784 was very severe. The river was filled with floating ice, a thing which did not happen again for over 120 years. The frost did great harm to the plantations, and the governor was compelled to exert himself strenuously to help his stricken people. He established a home for lepers. He interested himself in promoting immigration, particularly of the Acadians, some of whom had already found a refuge in Louisiana. In 1788 a great fire desolated New Orleans. Some 856 houses were burned, including the cathedral, which, though built of brick, was completely destroyed. The arsenal, the prison, and many other public edifices were likewise consumed. The disaster was followed by a scarcity of provisions, which it taxed the governor's resources to supply. It produced, however, some happy effects, among them a display of generosity which immortalized the name of Don Andres Almonester y Rojas, the local magnate, who now at his own expense rebuilt the cathedral, and, with extraordinary enterprise, undertook at reasonable prices the reconstruction of the Cabildo and other burned public buildings. Moreover, the conflagration was followed by a reaction in the direction of prosperity. The town suddenly outgrew its ancient boundaries, and as we shall see in more detail in a future chapter, a girdle of suburbs quickly sprang all around the "vieux carré." Still another circumstance which tested the abilities of the governor was the attempt of Father Antonio de Sedella to establish the Inquisition. The Santa Hermandad had been, nominally, at least, introduced into the colony under the fourth article of the third section of O'Reilly's instructions of 1769, but it is not clear to what degree this celebrated organization was developed. The Inquisition, which was a recognized institution in all the other Spanish colonies, had, however, not been introduced into Louisiana. In view of the temper of the colonists, the decision of the Spanish authorities to force it on Louisiana was exceedingly unwise. Miro sided with his constituents in this dilemma. He expelled Father Antonio summarily. Nor does his action seem ever to have been censured by the home government. Some years later, Father Antonio returned to New Orleans as a simple priest, and by his sanctity, tolerance and charity, endeared himself to the entire people.14

Miro resigned his office and was succeeded by Baron Carondelet, in 1791. Francisco Luis Hector de Carondelet, to give him the benefit of an unusually sonorous appellation, was governor of San Salvador (Guatemala) at the time he was promoted to the governor­ship of Louisiana. In his "bando de buen gobierno," issued on January 22, 1792, Carondelet made some important changes in the organization of the city of New  p34 Orleans. He divided it into four wards, over each of which he placed an "alcalde de barrio" or commissary of police. It was the duty of this official to collect the names of all persons residing in his precinct, newcomers being obliged to report their arrival within not more than twenty-four hours. It was also the duty of these officials to take charge of the fire apparatus at any fire which might occur in their district.

[image ALT: A painting of a man in 18c dress, standing with the aid of a cane, in front of a desk on which can be seen a map. He is Baron Francisco Luis de Carondelet, an 18c Spanish governor of New Orleans.]

Governor Carondelet

These alcaldes, however, exercised no judicial functions except with reference to "small debts," but they were invested with ample powers to preserve the peace. Carondelet also in this document made provision for the lighting of the city. This was to be done by oil lamps. Nothing of the sort had been attempted hitherto. The expenses were to be defrayed out of the proceeds of a tax of $1.12½ on each chimney in town. One of the new governor's first cares was to restore the fortifications around the city. He erected two forts — St. Charles, at the lower end of the Mississippi front; and another, Fort Bourgoyne,º at the upper, landward extremity of the city. As they had no strategic value, even for those days of elementary military science, these tiny fortresses must have been designed to impress the citizens. "We believe," said General Collot, in his diverting description of the good governor's fortresses, "that M. de Carondelet, when he adopted this means of defense, thought more of providing for the obedience of the subjects of his Catholic majesty, than for an attack on a foreign enemy, and in this point of  p35 view he may be said to have completely succeeded." In his later reports to the home government Carondelet confirmed this idea and added that had the population of the city not been awed by his forts, it would have rebelled under the influence of Franco-revolutionary ideas, and a serious situation would have ensued."15

More important for the city was his appointment of thirteen watchmen or "serenos," who were at first paid out of the tax on chimneys. An extensive fire, however, which occurred in 1794 destroyed 212 houses and so greatly reduced the number of chimneys that the revenue from this source was not sufficient to meet all the charges set against it; and two years later the Cabildo laid a tax on wheat bread and meat to supply this demand.

Carondelet also prohibited the importation of negroes from the West Indies, fearing that they might be infected with the insurrectionary spirit of the times; conciliated the Indians; strove to improve the living conditions of the slaves by prescribing the amount of food and clothing they should receive, their hours of work and the extent and character of the punishments which might be inflicted on them. In 1795 he began the construction of a canal in the rear of the city to connect with the Bayou St. John and give a water route from the heart of the city all the way to Lake Pontchartrain. This important work was executed by slave labor contributed by the planters and was opened in 1795.​c Incidentally it served a useful purpose in helping to drain the marsh behind the city.

Carondelet seemed to have renewed Miro's intrigues with regard to Kentucky and Tennessee. About that time Genet, the French minister in Washington, planned an expedition which was to advance from Kentucky to invade Louisiana and Florida. This fantastic scheme​d had the support of a number of Americans who were anxious to see the Spaniards banished from the lower reaches of the Mississippi, and by De La Chaise, a visionary person then living in New Orleans, who published some foolish pamphlets more or less connected with the plan. It is possible that Genet's enterprise would have borne some tangible fruit, but the government at Washington interposed and prevented what would clearly have been a breach of the law of neutrality. Moreover, negotiations were already under way between the American Government and that of Spain looking towards a more liberal policy with regard to trade at New Orleans. Genet's agents had met with a welcome in Kentucky, a fact which seems to have impressed Carondelet, as he could not help but perceive that there was far greater likelihood of the bold and enterprising population of that region conquering Louisiana than of consenting pacifically to become Spanish subjects.

Carondelet had to abandon the project of annexing Kentucky in 1792, when that State was admitted to the American Union. Four years later Tennessee likewise became one of the United States and whatever hopes he had entertained with regard to that region had likewise to be relinquished. Collot, the French general who visited New Orleans in 1796, and who was expelled by Carondelet, summed up the American objection to Spanish rule very well, when he pointed out that the Americans were too independent of nature to submit to royal control; that they could not see how a power unable to protect itself from them could protect  p37 them from other powers; and, finally, that if Kentucky and Tennessee ever seriously considered merging themselves into Spanish Louisiana, that act would prove deeply detrimental to their commerce by virtue of the restrictions imposed by the Spanish Government.


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New Orleans in 1798
A larger, fully readable scan (1.3 MB) is also available.

Louisiana was in a state of unrest during all of these closing years of the century. The reverberations of the Revolution which was convulsing Europe were audible even here, far off in the western forests. Carondelet pointed out in one of his communications to the Cabildo that the city was full of Frenchmen whose nocturnal assemblages ought to be broken up — presumably because they discussed revolutionary theories. In 1793 when New Orleans learned that Spain had declared war on France, there was a moment when the Creoles hoped that fortune would bring them back again under the French flag. At the theaters the more enthusiastic vented this feeling by singing the Marseillaise or the inflammatory songs of the Jacobins. Carondelet felt obliged to issue an order prohibiting martial dances and revolutionary music at all public assemblages. Another source of anxiety was a dispute which arose between the bishop and the Capuchins. Still another was the menacing attitude of the slaves, who broke out in open rebellion in 1795 on the Poydras plantation, some distance from the city. But "by extreme vigilance and spending sleepless nights, and by scaring some and banishing others, particularly some newcomers who were debauching the people with their republican teachings; by intercepting letters and documents suspected of being incendiary, by prevaricating with everybody," as Carondelet half-jestingly described his own procedure, he succeeded in restoring a measure of order; and when he retired from the governor­ship to take up the more responsible post of president of the Royal Audiencia of Peru, he left behind "a respected and popular memory."16

Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, who had figured in a famous episode at Natchez, when the English claimed that post under the treaty of 1795, now became governor. He was a brigadier general in the Spanish army. He showed himself a stronger opponent of French revolutionary ideas than his predecessor had been. Under his government the commerce of New Orleans improved. Most of his time was occupied with disputes with the Intendant, Morales, and with General Wilkinson, over the privilege of deposit which the Americans had received under the treaty of 1795. Morales abruptly forbade the use of New Orleans as a place of deposit, and did not provide another, as required by that treaty. This was an act of bad faith, and caused great indignation among the Americans all along the Mississippi, with whose export business it worked havoc. Their appeals to the government at Washington aroused the President, somewhat tardily, to action. Adams ordered three regiments to be concentrated in Ohio, and several others of be held in readiness to co‑operate in any action which might become necessary. Wilkinson was ordered to Washington. On his way thither he passed through New Orleans and had an interview with Morales. The blunt American soldier made quite clear to the wily Spaniard that the United States was in no mood to be trifled with — that the United States would yield none of its claims in the Mississippi Valley under any circumstances. The forfeited privilege was, however, not restored till May, 1803, when orders to that effect from Madrid obliged Morales to rescind his ill-timed  p38  ordinance. But this act of justice was tardy and ineffectual. The Americans realized that it was revocable again at the fancy of any casual Spanish official. Their irritation was not allayed by the action of the Spanish Government. In fact, they had arrived at the determination to oust the Spanish from the lower reaches of the Mississippi. If diplomacy had not at this point stepped in peaceably to effect a transfer of control from Spain to the United States, they would probably have resorted to force to bring about the thing which they desired.

In July, 1799, Gayoso de Lemos died. Pending the arrival of his successor, the Government temporarily vested in the hands of the auditor, José Vidal. A few weeks later the Marquis de Casa Calvo, an officer stationed at Havana, was sent to Louisiana as governor ad interim. Casa Calvo was related by marriage to O'Reilly, and had accompanied that official on his visits to the colony. The new governor was a man of great dignity, haughty rather than affable, who disliked the ideas of liberty and equality then afloat in the world. He was not popular in New Orleans. Both in his time and in that of Salcedo, who succeeded as governor, in 1801, the Spanish pursued a policy of expectancy, waiting upon the developments of the negotiations which were going on in Europe between America, France and Spain. Salcedo was advanced in years and somewhat infirm of mind as well as of body. He was completely under the control of his son, whose will, as far as there was any manifest in a feeble administration, controlled the government.

The Author's Notes:

1 King, New Orleans the Place and the People, 108‑109.

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2 Grimaldi to Fuentes, quoted in Gayarré, History of Louisiana, II, p266.

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3 Gayarré, History of Louisiana, II, 345‑53; Martin, Louisiana, 208; Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années de la Louisiane Française, 308.

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4 Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, Chapter XIII.

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5 Comptes Rendus de l'Athénée Louisianais, July 1, 1877. Villiers du Terrage makes light of this story. — 321‑325.

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6 Quoted in Gayarré, III, 10.

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7 The ordinance of O'Reilly is quoted at some length in Gayarré, History of Louisiana, III, 8‑18. A good summary will be found in Martin, History of Louisiana, 209‑10.

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8 Howe, Municipal History of New Orleans, 11.

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9 Records of the Deliberations of the Council of Indias on O'Reilly's Acts in Louisiana, quoted in Gayarré, III, 34‑35.

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10 Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, 319, 320.

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11 Phelps, Louisiana, 131.

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12 Martin, Louisiana, 217.

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13 King, New Orleans the Place and the People, 118‑123.

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14 Bispham, "Contest for Ecclesiastical Supremacy in Valley of the Mississippi," in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. I, No. 3, pp154‑189; "Fray Antonio de Sedilla,"º in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 1, pp24‑37. It is probable that Mr. Bispham has formed too kind an opinion of Fray Antonio's motives, at any rate at the time of his first visit to New Orleans.

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15 King, New Orleans the Place and the People, 145.

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16 Gayarré, II, 385.

Thayer's Notes:

a The reference is to the praetorian Edict, for which see the article Edictum in Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

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b Revisionist history; for the almost universal opinion, see King, New Orleans the Place and the People, pp112‑115.

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c Carondelet's canal was not altogether his: see Gayarré's History of Louisiana, Vol. I, p382.

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d The impression left by Kendall is that the "Genet affair" was no more than the ill-advised and curious intrigues of one man. Citizen Genet, though, was no loose cannon: he was faithfully executing his orders from the French government, that aimed at the dismemberment, or at the very least, the control of the United States. The French involvement in the American Revolution, which generations of American children have been taught to regard as motivated only in part by hatred of the British, but in part also as altruistic assistance, was no such thing: French diplomatic policy sought in a first, success­ful, stage to divide and weaken British power by ensuring the secession of the American colonies; and in a second stage, that failed, to destroy the weaker part thus separated. Genet's enterprises were just part of a vast array of schemes to effect the latter end. A lucid exposition will be found in French Designs on America (Chapter 6 of H. J. Ford's Washington and His Colleagues) and the further references there.

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