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Chapter 2

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 4
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p39  Chapter III
The Transfer to the United States

The Spanish held possession of Louisiana for thirty-four years. On the whole, their government was satisfactory to the people.​1 Under their rule the population of the province quadrupled. That of New Orleans doubled. The commerce of the city also grew materially. The goods received by river were, in 1801, valued at a total of 1,095,000 French livres. The trade with Europe, in spite of a vacillating policy which alternately encouraged and depressed it, was also valuable. Spain spent over 60,000,000 pesetas in the colony. Her only return for this large outlay was the satisfaction of having a barrier between the restless Anglo-Saxons and her possessions in Mexico. This barrier was now rapidly crumbling away. Its collapse was due, in part, to the fact that the inhabitants of Louisiana resisted all efforts to convert them into Spaniards. To the end of the chapter they remained French. As late as 1874, when the tale was almost finished, an intelligent traveler, Smith, after visiting the colony, made note of the general neglect of the official tongue and the steadfast devotion of the people to the land of their forbears.2

But in part, also, the Spanish failure was due to the operation of great economic laws, which dictated the western advance of the Americans and linked the fate of New Orleans with the commercial development of the Mississippi Valley.

In 1803 these obscure forces were suddenly complicated by the political situation in Europe. France was then under the control of her meteoric emperor, Napoleon. His policy, which had already brought him into collision with Great Britain, was now hurrying on another terrible war. In the elaborate web of alliance woven in anticipation of this event were involved lands and peoples far removed from the theater of the expected conflict, and among them was the distant city by the Mississippi and the vast province of which it was the capital. The story of how Louisiana was abruptly wrested from the relaxing grasp of its Iberian rulers and then, as abruptly, delivered into the hands of the United States, can be briefly told. By the secret treaty of San Ildefonso, signed on October 1, 1800, Napoleon had bargained with Charles IV, of Spain, to have Louisiana and the Floridas ceded to France in exchange for Tuscany, which was to be erected into a kingdom for the Duke of Parma, husband of Charles' daughter. Rumors of this treaty reached President Jefferson, who instructed the American ambassador, Pinckney, at Madrid, to ascertain the truth with regard to it, and sent Robert Livingston to France as minister, to open negotiations there for the cession of the Island of Orleans — for New Orleans then stood on an island — to the United States. Meantime a second secret treaty was negotiated  p40 on March 1, 1801, also at San Ildefonso, but this instrument was not signed at once because the Spanish king waited for his son-in‑law to be assured of his new kingdom. Talleyrand, Napoleon's principal minister, with characteristic duplicity, detained Livingston in Paris uncertain as to the existence and extent of the treaty.


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Letter of Recommendation Dated March, 1783,
Concerning Antonio Valette,
Signed by Galvez, Governor of Louisiana, 1777‑1785

(Seymour Collection. In Sala Capitular)

Pending the final ratification of the agreement, Napoleon prepared to throw into Santo Domingo a heavy force which was ultimately to go to New Orleans under General Victor. The failure of the French general, LeClerc, to subdue an insurrection of the negroes in that island, interfered with this plan. Napoleon still urged the ratification of the treaty. On October 15, 1802, it was signed. The boundaries of the vast territory concerned were purposely left indefinite. The news that France was to have Louisiana produced an unfavorable impression in the United States. Jefferson wrote to Livingston that the cession was a mistake. It would, he believed, be the ruin of France, for it would inevitably make the United States an ally of Great Britain. It was at this critical moment that the Intendant at New Orleans, Morales, closed the port to the Americans. This action forced the issue. We have seen how it affected the Westerners, who now declared that the free navigation of the Mississippi was theirs by right, and they intended to have it by force, if it could not be obtained in any other way.3

At this stage Jefferson sent Monroe to Paris as envoy extraordinary and Congress took the measures already detailed, looking to the forcible seizure of New Orleans, should diplomacy prove unavailing. Napoleon was aware that England commanded the seas. Could a rival maritime power be built up to check her development or at least to divert her attention from the exclusive contemplation of European problems? He suddenly realized that something of the sort might follow from acquiescing in the proposals which Jefferson laid before him. Talleyrand, after a conference with Barbé-Marbois and Décrés, went to Livingston on April 11, 1803, with an offer, not merely of New Orleans, but of the whole province of Louisiana. This was a large proposition. The American envoys were reluctant to undertake it offhand. But after some diplomatic fencing a bargain was finally struck on April 30. Livingston and Monroe agreed to pay 80,000,000 francs for the whole territory. Napoleon himself, in fixing a price, thought 50,000,000 francs sufficient. Barbé-Marbois, however, on his own initiative deeming the price too low, named the higher figure. It was finally decided that $20,000,000 of the total should go to pay the spoliation claims made by American citizens against France since 1800.4

While these secret negotiations were in progress in Paris for a still more momentous transaction, New Orleans was surprised by the receipt of news that Louisiana was to be transferred from Spain to France. Preparations were at once begun to quarter the French officers who were expected to arrive shortly. The Cabildo, for instance, met and solemnly let at auction the contract for supplying the troops with meat. It must have been with some disappointment that, after their preparations, the  p42 local officials saw the arrival on March 21, 1803, of a single ship, the Surveillant, having on board the French commissioner, Laussat, his family, and a small suite of officers and civilian associates, among them the adjutant-general Burthe, who was expected to attach himself to General Victor's staff, when that commander should eventually arrive. Laussat bore a commission as Colonial Prefect. In the government which was to be established in Louisiana this official was to have powers similar to but more extensive than those previously enjoyed by the Spanish Intendant. There was to be a captain-general whose functions paralleled those of the Spanish governor-general. A commissary of justice was also to be set up to superintend the administration of justice, and to compile a civil and criminal code.​5 Laussat was the only one of these officials who arrived. Victor, who was appointed captain-general and commissioner to receive, on the part of France, the Province from the Spanish, never reached Louisiana. Laussat's position, embarrassing from the first, grew more and more so as time passed and the cession was delayed by the exigencies of the war between France and England. It was expected that he would complete the arrangements for the reception of Victor's army; but as weeks elapsed and Victor did not appear, his activities became more and more ridiculous. It was not till nine months later, when he was installed at the head of the government by the retiring Spanish that his status took on a definite character.6

Laussat's advent in the colony was, however, made pleasant by the cordiality with which he was greeted. He landed a few miles below New Orleans and was met there by carriages in which he and his party were conveyed to the city, which they entered amidst salvos of artillery. Salcedo, surrounded by the principal civil and military officers of the Government, received him at the Principal. He established himself in the residence of Bernard de Marigny. There on the following day delegations of the leading citizens waited on him; the Cabildo called to pay its respects; even the clergy, forgetting for a fleeting moment its grievances against the French Republic, likewise paid a ceremonious visit. An address from the City of New Orleans, and another from the German Coast, seemed to indicate that his arrival, as the harbinger of deliverance and reunion to France, aroused universal joy.

Laussat was naturally gratified at these evidences of esteem. His mind was full of the importance of his mission. He had elaborate schemes for the development of the city first, and then of the entire province. He had brought with him an extensive library to be used by those who were to labor with him in the various departments of administration and instruction which he meant to establish.​7 He was fitted for the role he expected to play by long experience in administrative work under the Revolutionary government. He had been a member of the Council of 500 and of the Tribunate in the Year VIII. He was now about 47 years of age. Napoleon had a poor opinion of his abilities and on one occasion spoke contemptuously of his attainments. However,  p43 he seems to have been an excellent choice for his present post. He was soon on good terms with Salcedo, the governor, and with Morales, the Intendant; less so with Lopez de Armesto, the governor's secretary. Armesto was the real brains of the administration. He had been twenty years in the colony, knew every detail of the public service, and had his creatures everywhere. Laussat in his dispatches never wearies of commenting upon the people whom he met. "Venality," he observed, was "general and open," but otherwise the population was "active, industrious and full of emulation. [. . .] Much is to be done, but I am convinced that the Government will benefit with usury for any pains that it may be put to on their behalf."​8 Society, though not free from the dullness usual in small towns, was characterized by a good deal of elegance. "The men are frank and open, but singularly fond of pleasure," he writes. Laussat was struck by their custom of interspersing their meals with toasts and songs. The women he found uniformly charming and both sexes joined great refinement of manner to inherent elegance. The prevailing luxury of dress reminded him of Paris. "I find here none but French," he wrote on one occasion, "and, it must be said, Bonapartist hearts. It is impossible to speak for a moment of the Republic, of its wars, of its peace, of its achievements, and of its destiny, without awakening continued expressions of admiration. [. . .] This colony, by the circumstances of its retrocession, regards itself as in a special sense the ward of the first consul, and since he has restored it to France it looks to him for strength and prosperity."9

But this first reception was deceptive. As a matter of fact, the population regarded the impending changes of masters either with indifference or alarm. Laussat was annoyed by the demonstrations of esteem which were made over the Spanish officials by the very men like De Boré, Fortier, Labatut and DeBuys, who signed the addresses of welcome presented to him.​10 A few days after his arrival he himself had occasion to remark that "enemies of the Republic, actuated all by fear or jealousy, were striving to embitter, irritate, and disquiet the population." These evil-minded persons, it appeared, were constantly harping upon the questions of slavery and religion. These were weak points in Laussat's armor. France had abolished slavery elsewhere; might it not do the same in Louisiana? That contingency was not agreeable to contemplate among a people whose capital was largely invested in that form of property. Moreover, the Consulate was notoriously unfriendly to the Catholic Church, of which the inhabitants of New Orleans were members almost to a man. This agitation went on so persistently that the Ursuline nuns finally felt that it would be wise to abandon the city in which they had resided almost since the hour of its foundation. They petitioned the Spanish authorities in June for authority to remove to Havana. Laussat used every argument to dissuade them from this course, but could not do so; and the prayers of the people to whom the nuns were endeared by the memories of near half a century of intimate association, likewise  p45 proved unavailing.​11 Sixteen of the twenty-five ladies who represented the order in New Orleans left the convent and embarked for Cuba attended to their vessel by Salcedo, and other government officials and by a multitude of sorrow­ful citizens.12


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Plan of the City and Environs of New Orleans, 1816
from a survey by B. Lafon

A larger, fully readable scan (1.3 MB) is also available.

Another matter about which the people felt concern was the currency. There was reason to fear that with the removal of the Spanish government the sound coinage of Spain would give place to the paper "assignats" of France. Spain had spent 3,000,000 pesetas annually, more or less, in the colony, and had always settled its debts punctually; this stream of wealth was about to end and there was some doubt as to the ability of the Republic to meet its obligations in a similarly business-like manner. Another source of apprehension was the possibility that the five-year moratorium recently instituted in Santo Domingo might be extended to Louisiana. The commercial situation was also critical. The interests of the New Orleans merchants were fast becoming identical with those of their English-speaking neighbors along the upper courses of the great river. Free trade was a necessity to them. Free trade, in effect, they managed to have in spite of the onerous Spanish commercial regulations. France might not be so hidebound in these matters as Spain, but she was by no means favorable to free trade. What would be her attitude towards the restrictions lately laid on the port of New Orleans? From all this there resulted the disquiet of a population which had accustomed itself to the lax administrative methods of the Spanish — which had learned how to evade what it did not find profitable to obey; would it be able to do so much under the more competent, less corrupt French officials?

As early as April, Laussat reported to his government that he was beginning to find his position difficult. As a matter of fact, through his own personality as much as the force of circumstances, he had alienated all parties, even the most rabid Republicans. A representative of the Jacobin Club which had been organized in New Orleans on the model of one in Philadelphia, called to deliver an address: Laussat, bored with his eloquence, addressed him rudely, with the result that the society concluded that the French commissioner was not a true republican. The Royalists and emigrés naturally saw in him merely the agent of a hated government. The clergy, after the first perfunctory call, held aloof. His relations with the official classes, also, gradually grew unpleasant. Laussat attributed this to the influence of the Marquis of Casa Calvo, who arrived in May, to be the Spanish commissioner for the transfer of the Province. The change in Salcedo's under was probably dictated, in part, at least, by a proclamation which Laussat issued soon after his arrival, in which he tactlessly alluded to the "atrocities" of O'Reilly. The disagreement with Casa Calvo arose over a dispute as to jurisdiction. Laussat wished to imprison Burthe, with whom he had fallen out with regard to the limitations of their respective powers. The Spaniard would not recognize Laussat's rights in the premises. He took the ground that, until the Province was actually transferred, there could be but one authority, and that Spanish.​13 These quarrels were known in the community,  p46 and arrayed the population in two groups — as they favored French pretensions, or sympathized with the Spanish officials.

Laussat was also irritated because Casa Calvo set to work to compile a list of the inhabitants who desired to retain their Spanish nationality. "Scarcely had he set foot on the river bank," he says in one of his reports, "than he summoned to meet him all the local military officials (and thanks to the militia, there is hardly a person of importance in the colony who cannot be said to have some connection with the military establishment), and required them to state definitely whether they favored the King of Spain; and on this declaration depended in a large degree the eventual disposition of their pensions and fortunes." Two companies of negroes in New Orleans were also called on to make the "fatal determination," as Laussat called it; and when some of them refused, they were put in jail; or, at least, so two of them reported after their release, when they poured their complaint into Laussat's sympathetic ears. He was annoyed also to find that a priest had been sent to the Terre aux Boeufs to make a census of the Acadian farmers there who might not wish to identify themselves with the new government. In all of this, however, Laussat had no good cause of complaint. Casa Calvo was clearly doing no more than his duty.

The formal announcement of the impending cession was first made in New Orleans on May 18, in a proclamation signed by Salcedo and Casa Calvo. This document, among other things, offered to such of the inhabitants as did not wish to abandon their Spanish nationality, the opportunity to migrate to Havana, or to some other of the Spanish colonies in America. Among its other provisions was one defining the limits of the ceded territory, namely, those specified in Article Five of the Treaty of Paris of 1763, leaving the settlements on Bayou Manchac to the line of separation between them and the United States, a part of the Spanish Province of West Florida. Still other clauses referred somewhat vaguely to the security of the laws and customs of the colony,​14 and the property and concessions and religious professions of the people; all of which the signers hoped would be respected by the new government.

It was not until August that New Orleans heard that the contemplated retrocession to France would be a mere form. There had been disquieting rumors to that effect somewhat earlier, but Laussat had ignored them. The Americans "who infest this town," as he wrote, had been for some time circulating the report that France would never take possession; that within a year the United States would have possession of the place. Official confirmation of these disquieting rumors arrived on the twenty-fourth, and with it Laussat's appointment as commissioner to transfer Louisiana to the United States.15

This was a terrible blow to his vanity. A French traveler, who was in Louisiana at the time, has left on record the statement that "when Laussat knew that Louisiana was to be ceded to the United States, and that the French government had delegated to him the ceremony of cession,  p47 he could not see the unexpected change, which was to derange all his plans of study, without being deeply affected."​16 However, he put as good a face on the matter as he could and on November 30, 1803, had the satisfaction of performing with great dignity his part in the solemn farce by which he became, temporarily, in the absence of the captain-general, head of the government.

On that morning Laussat published an address to the inhabitants of Louisiana. "French citizens," he said, "the French flag today will float everywhere; it will remind you in this distant land of your combats, your victories, your devotion, and your valor. It will not be surrounded by its usual rampart of those formidable bayonets which have covered it with power and glory. But welcomed by a faithful ally, it will be guarded by the Louisianans, those worthy sons of our sires, — it will be guarded by your presence, by your respect, by your love." A long proclamation also was issued officially announcing the approaching transfer to France; and to diminish the effect which that other transfer, only a few days removed, might produce upon the present ceremony, Laussat devoted most of the document to a flattering description of the future of Louisiana.​17 At midday Salcedo, Casa Calvo and Laussat arrived at the Principal, before which the regiment of Louisiana, some Mexican cavalry­men, and the local militia, under its commander, Charpin, were drawn up in full uniform. With Laussat came a party of fifteen or sixteen Frenchmen. Amidst salvos of artillery from the war-vessels in the river the commissioners entered the building and ascended the staircase to the Sala Capitular. Here on a dais had been placed three arm-chairs. Salcedo took his place in the center one, with Laussat at his right, and Casa Calvo on his left. Laussat rose and presented to the aged Spanish governor his credentials, including copies of a long document addressed by the King of Spain to the Marquis de Somoruelos, captain-general of Cuba, authenticating the cession of the Province. At the close of the reading of these papers Salcedo, with a few appropriate words, delivered to Laussat, on a silver plate, the keys of Forts St. Charles and St. Louis. He thereupon yielded him the place of honor. Casa Calvo now solemnly absolved from their oath of allegiance to Spain all of those colonists who had not specially expressed their desire to retain their Spanish nationality. Finally, the Naval Commissary Daugerot, on behalf of the French, and Lopez de Armesto, on behalf of the Spanish, read in each language a proces-verbal of the proceedings, which were signed by the principal actors in this memorable scene. Then Laussat, Salcedo and Casa Calvo appeared on the balcony over­looking the Place d'Armes.​18 At a signal given by the firing of cannon, the Spanish flags descended from the flagstaffs, and the French flags were hoisted.19

'Then the Spanish commissioners turned to withdraw," says Laussat, in his Memoirs; "I accompanied them as far as the stair. Our secretaries and staff officers went with them to the foot of the staircase. [. . .] Poor old Salcedo was tottering with age: Casa Calvo constantly retained that calm and serene air which the officials of his nation, even of an inferior rank, never fail to preserve." At this moment the grenadier  p48 company of the regiment of Louisiana, took possession of the Spanish flag, "and the troops defiled in its wake at the charge. [. . .] After they had marched by," continued Laussat, "I descended to the square. I placed myself in front of the line of the militia drawn up there. M. Sosten was there. I addressed him, and he replied that the troops had been ordered out in accordance with my desires, and turned them over to me. I thanked him. I proclaimed M. Bellechasse their commander, and made a short address commending him. I had my order appointing him read and directed that they yield him the proper obedience. I then added: 'I confide to you in the name of the Republic these flags; you will defend them, you will honor them; they will be in your midst as a benefit to the country; they are here as upon their native soil, for French blood runs in the veins of the majority of you.' During this ceremony the cannon pealed on every side. Bellechasse had made his arrangements. He went to take charge of the different posts. At the moment when the Spanish flag was lowered at Fort St. Charles it was saluted with twenty-one guns fired from the fort, and twenty-one fired from a battery of eight pieces which I had placed in the square in front of the Prefecture."​20 The same honors were paid to the French flag when it floated into place.

French sovereignty thus re-established in New Orleans lasted from November 30 to December 20. This period was not exempt from anxieties, but they were provoked mainly by events in the Attakapas and the Opelousas, where the inhabitants attempted to exploit the transfer to suit their own interests, and had to be restrained.​21 There were fears that disturbances might be started by the lower classes in the city, but nothing serious happened. Laussat, however, accepted the offer of the services of a battalion of Americans under Daniel Clark, the American consul, who, together with many Creoles, made up a force about 300 strong. These guarded the city effectively, drilling in Davis' ropewalk, on Canal Street, and patrolling the streets day and night until the arrival of the United States troops.​22 As a further means of insuring the peace of the city Laussat promptly substituted for the Cabildo a municipality of the type with which he was familiar in France. "I occupied myself with forming a municipal council," he tells us in his memoirs; "I desired in it merchants, Americans, men accustomed to affairs; I proposed to create a memorial and homage to the French sacrificed by O'Reilly. I sought out a secretary who would put this machinery in motion, who would have courage, honesty, talent, and wisdom. In a word, I wished to have a municipality composed in a manner which would do me honor and which would defend with dignity its country before the Americans on their arrival and taking possession. This act is the most striking one of my short reign, and the one to which I attach the greatest importance."23

This municipal council was composed of Jacques Livaudais, Petit, Cavalier, Villeré, "worthy brother of him who was judiciouslyº assassinated by O'Reilly;" Evan Johns, a rich American who had been for a  p49 long time a naturalized Spanish citizen; M. Fortier, William Donaldson, G. Faurie, the younger Allard, Jean Watkins, A. D. Tureaud and the treasurer, Labatut. Etienne de Boré was appointed mayor. Pierre Derbigny was made secretary to the council. Destrehan was named first "adjoict" and Pierre Sauvé, second "adjoict."​24 The "adjoicts" were deputy-mayors, and as such discharged any function which the mayor found himself unable to perform. They do not appear to have otherwise been invested with any duties. The office of "adjoict" was, therefore, largely honorary. Boré, the mayor, was a well-known planter, a man of wealth, education, and distinguished social position. He was in his fiftieth year. He was a native of Kaskaskia, but had spent a considerable portion of his life in Europe, whither he was sent in his early youth to be educated. After leaving school he entered the King's Musqueteers and, later, after a visit to Louisiana, on business, was transferred to the French cavalry. He left the army with the rank of captain. He married a daughter of Destrehan. He owned a great plantation a few miles above the City of New Orleans. There he had originally cultivated indigo. But when this product lost its market as a result of competition from Guatemala, he turned his attention to the manufacture of sugar. On his estate he set up a sugar mill and there, in 1795, had, with the aid of two Cubans, Mendez and Lopez, succeeded in producing the first granulated sugar ever known in the colony, with the result that agriculture was completely revolutionized. The other members of the new city government were also all men of fine position and great influence.

The municipality as thus created was a temporary device, expected to last only until the American government should take over the city, when it was expected new arrangements would be made. Laussat called his municipality together on the morning of November 30, the day of the transfer of the government. He read them the decrees which he intended to issue. He expected applause; instead, there was discussion which seems to have offended the sensitive prefect; at any rate, he somewhat abruptly dismissed them till the following day.25

 p50  The municipality took its duties with becoming seriousness. During the three weeks over which the French regime extended, it met ten times. Its first step was to take over from the custody of Spanish officials the funds belonging to the city. In all, about $25,000 was received from these sources. The extent of the council's authority was also considered at its first meeting. This was a matter of some importance, as it involved the tenure of office of a number of persons, like the police officers, the jailor, and the "executioner of high justice." It is gratifying to know that the council decided that it had authority to continue these persons at their posts, and that the jailor solemnly appeared and took the oath of office. Two days later, at the second meeting, the important matter of the importation into the colony of negroes from the French West Indies was discussed, apropos of the arrival in the river of a vessel with thirteen of the objectionable persons on board. At that time the French West Indies were in the throes of a servile war, and the Louisiana slave-owners were apprehensive that the introduction of Dominican negroes into the community might lead to a similar outbreak here. Two members of the council were appointed to lay the matter before the Colonial Prefect. It was taken up at several subsequent meetings. The negroes in question were consigned to the firm of Relf & Chew. These merchants appeared before the council on December 12 and stated that they were ignorant of the point of origin of this human merchandise until informed by the council. They undertook to see that the negroes were confined to the ship while it lay in port and that they should be sent out of the colony at the earliest possible moment. Councilmen Faurie and Sauvé were appointed a committee to meet the ship on her arrival, make a list of the suspected negroes, and see that the agreement with Relf & Chew were faithfully carried out.26

On one other occasion the matter of slaves came up. On the 5th of December the council adopted an ordinance prohibiting slaves from roaming the streets after nightfall, and particularly forbidding them to frequent the balls and other public entertainments to which free men of color were admitted. The hour of 9:00 P.M. was fixed as the latest at which they might go abroad. Thereafter all slaves unable to show a written permit from their owners were to be taken up by the patrol, and put in prison; or, if they were guilty of any misconduct sufficient to justify, in the opinion of the police, they were to receive ten stripes "and thereafter to be at the disposition of their masters." A fine of $25 was put upon all persons operating a place of public entertainment who sold a ticket to a slave.

On December 3rd the council addressed itself to the matter of the police. It adopted an ordinance requiring the "alcaldes de barrio" — who were continued in office under the title of "commissioners" — to report once a week at the Principal. At the same time a letter was addressed to the syndics of the "banlieu" or suburbs, inviting them to continue to perform their customary functions. Also, provision was made for the administration of justice in summary cases. Councilmen Jones and Tureaud  p51 were appointed to discharge the duties of justices of the peace. They were to officiate in "all summary cases not requiring 'procedure,' " civil as well as criminal. They were to hold court daily, except Sunday, at the Principal (now called the Hôtel de Ville) from 9:00 A.M. to noon, and from 2:00 to 6:00 P.M. A few days later the council adopted a set of police regulations. They prohibited "blasphemy" (profanity) in the public streets. "The driving of carts of Sunday" was forbidden unless a good excuse could be shown. The provisions with reference to gambling were very severe. Persons arrested for the third time on a charge of gambling were not only in danger of a heavy fine, but were to receive "twenty-five lashes on the bare back." Some of the clauses in this code were so wise and appropriate that they have continued to have a place in the local law down to the present day, with scarcely even verbal changes. A few, particularly those relating to gambling, appear never to have been enforced.

At the same time the other functions of local government were parcelled out as follows: Councilmen Livaudais and Villeré — to have charge of the work on the levees and streets, and supervisions of the "corvée" or forced labor; Fortier and Faurie — Markets, street-cleaning, lighting; Watkins and Allard — Public health, including the hospital, and the bakers and bakeries; Donaldson and Petit — Finances, including those of the hospital and of the parish church, which was then under construction; Sauvé — Levees and roads in the suburbs "from the city to the home of the elder Trudeau, inclusively;" Allard — Levees and roads in "the Bayou district," Gentilly, and "the Metairie;" Villeré — Levees and roads in the remainder of the territory under the council's jurisdiction. The allusion to the bakers is of some interest. The municipality took a paternal interest in the price of food, and at this same meeting required the bakers to be present and make a statement of the amount of flour on hand, as preliminary to an ordinance fixing the price of bread, and similar reports were required of them weekly thereafter.

The appointment of Johns and Tureaud led up to an incident which occupied much of the time of the municipality during the remainder of the French regime. A Spanish officer named De Armas was, for some unknown reason, summoned before their court. He refused to reply, alleging that, as the holder of a commission from the King of Spain, he did not come under their jurisdiction. The matter reported to the council, it was determined to make it a test-case, with a view to determine the authority of the municipality in similar matters. On December 7 Councilman Jones was delegated to lay before Laussat a letter in which the city government officially stated its grievance, and asked him to take the matter up with the Spanish commissioners. A reply from the latter received on the tenth indicated their intention to support their countryman. A protest was then filed with Laussat, and on the twelfth, as a result of the prefect's intervention, De Armas consented to obey the summons of the court. It appears that he did actually make his appearance, excusing, on the ground of illness, himself from not having previously performed his duty in the premises.

The council took cognizance of the bad state of repair into which the streets and roads had fallen. Heavy rains which had prevailed  p52 recently made the matter of repair difficult. However, to facilitate drainage, it was ordered on December 10 that within two days all persons owning property in the city should clear the gutters in front of their premises, or pay a fine. The matter of repair seems to have been a duty of the comptroller; and later on we find the municipality addressing a communication to Laussat asking him to take up the matter energetically with that official. Another detail which sheds light upon the primitive conditions which then prevailed in New Orleans is the protest delivered to the municipality, on December 3, by Bellechasse, commander of the local militia, against his soldiers being called on to do laborers' work at the city prison; whereupon the council passed an ordinance ordaining that the jailor attend to such matters and particularly should carry water from the river to the prisons for the use of their inmates. At the meeting on December 5 Councilmen Petit and Sauvé were instructed to make an inspection of the fire apparatus and have it repaired as necessary. And, finally, perhaps we should mention that a committee of experts, composed of Messrs. Helaire, Boutete and Sauzeneau — probably the first instance in the history of New Orleans where a matter of the sort was confided to non-official persons — were deputed to visit the buildings in which balls and theatrical entertainments were given, to determine if they were safe; and on December 10 these gentlemen reported that the "Salle de Spectacles" otherwise the theater — was about to collapse and should be closed. Before any action could be taken, however, the occupation of the city by the Americans caused a change in the status of the municipality. In fact, through this period, the council was embarrassed and hampered by a realization that its functions were only for a brief period, apprehending that when the Province was ceded to the new owners, steps would probably be taken to remodel the local government. The foregoing resumé of its activities, however, shows that it went to work intelligently as far as the members' realization of their limitations permitted.27

During his brief tenure of power Laussat inaugurated a reign of festivity in New Orleans which was very gratifying to its pleasure loving inhabitants. On December 1 there was what he calls a "Festival of the Flag," which included a ball, a concert, a dinner and a supper. Casa Calvo in his turn gave a sumptuous entertainment, and others followed. Robin, the French traveler, who attended some of these splendid dinners and supper parties, describes the ladies who were guests: "The ladies of the colony appear at these fêtes with an elegance that is truly astonishing; the principal cities of France can offer nothing more brilliant. These ladies are generally tall and dignified. The whiteness of their complexion  p53 is set off by light robes ornamented with flowers and embroidery, so that one of these fêtes is like a scene in fairyland. Sometimes as many as four hundred guests are grouped around the supper tables. What a pity that a taste for such pleasure spread in a country which has so much need to practice economy!"​28 One pleasant effect of these gaities was the conciliation of Laussat and Casa Calvo. The latter called on the Colonial Prefect the day after the formal installation of the French government and placed himself at his orders. That tactful act, followed by the interchange of other courtesies, obliterated in Laussat's sensitive soul the last, lingering resentment, and the two seem to have parted on the best of terms.

But the Colonial Prefect was not so completely immersed in his social duties that he neglected public affairs. In the few days which remained to him of power he found time to begin the organization of a corps of firemen, of which the town stood in great need, the Spanish arrangements being of the most casual sort. He placed the hospital under the jurisdiction of the newly-created municipality. He provided for the administration of justice in summary and urgent matters. The Black Code was enforced except in certain articles "inconsistent with the laws of the Republic." His activities seem to have met with the approval of others besides their author, for Laussat writes that "the Americans show themselves very much pleased with me, and they have completely changed their language with regard to France."29

In the meantime the United States was making its preparations to take over the Province. President Jefferson commissioned William C. C. Claiborne, then governor of the Mississippi Territory, to assume the provisional government of Louisiana, and ordered General Wilkinson to assist him in taking formal possession. The garrisons on the frontier had been enlarged, and Wilkinson had been put in command over them. He formed a force of the Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee militiamen, and accompanied by Claiborne, set out for New Orleans. On December 17, 1803, they camped at a point on the left bank of the Mississippi about two miles above New Orleans. Thence they sent word to Laussat that they were there, and inquired if he were ready to receive them. A satisfactory reply was promptly received. Claiborne and Wilkinson, with an escort of thirty horsemen, rode down to New Orleans, and paid a formal visit to the French prefect, which Laussat returned. In the meantime on learning of the approach of the American forces, the last detachments of the Spanish troops had been put on board ships at New Orleans and shipped to Havana.


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Marriage License Issued by Claiborne, 1808
(Seymour Collection
in Historical Society Rooms)
A larger, fully readable scan (1.0 MB)
is also available.

The 20th of December was agreed on for the ceremony of transfer. Wilkinson took every care to make sure that his troops, on taking possession of the city, should not be guilty of any misconduct. On the eighteenth and again two days later, he published orders to that effect. "The general flatters himself," he said, in the latter, "that their conduct will correspond full with the great importance of this operation and the fulfillment of an event which (from whatever point of view one may regard it, either its immediate effects or its remote consequences) will form an  p55 important event in our national history, and cannot fail to fill all true patriots with joy." These injunctions were necessary, as was shown a week later, when the behavior of an American patrol in the streets of New Orleans gave rise to some disorder, calmed, however, by the prompt and effective intervention of Claiborne.30

At 10:00 A.M. on the appointed day Laussat, at the head of a numerous escort, repaired to the Principal. "The beauti­ful and elegant ladies of the city," he writes in his memoirs, describing the scene, "adorned the balconies over­looking the square. The Spanish officers were distinguished in the crowd by their headgear. At none of the preceding ceremonies had there been so large an attendance of spectators. The eleven balconies of the Hôtel de Ville [Principal] were filled with beauties. At length the American troops appeared. Captain Costille, on duty at the gates, sent his aide, Traisnel, to notify the city-commandant, Major Vinache, of their approach. The latter had received my orders, and directed that the troops be permitted to enter." The soldiers advanced in platoons along the bank of the river, and on arriving at the Place d'Armes, formed in line in front of the Principal. There they found the New Orleans troops already in position. The ceremony which followed was identical with that observed at the previous transfer, except that the actors were in part different. Laussat was seated in the place of honor on the dais in the Sala Capitular, with Claiborne and Wilkinson on either side. Daugerot and Wadsworth read in French and English the treaty of cession, the powers of the various commissioners, and finally the minutes of the act of exchange of ratifications. Laussat presented to Claiborne the keys of the forts of the town appropriately decorated with tri-colored ribbons. He then absolved of their oath of fidelity to France all of the inhabitants who wished to accept the domination of the United States.

Claiborne made a short address. He congratulated the inhabitants on the auspicious event which had placed them "beyond the reach of chance." He assured them that the people of the United States received them as brothers, and would hasten to extend to them the advantages of the free institutions which had given rise to the unexampled prosperity of their country. In the meantime, they would be protected in their liberty, property and religion, agriculture would be encouraged, and commerce would be favored.​31 He urged the importance of acquiring a knowledge of the forms of republican government, and the necessity of training the rising generation in habits of republican economy and virtue.

After the signatures of the proper parties had been duly affixed to the proces-verbal, the commissioners appeared upon the balcony of the Principal, and then descended to the square below. Here the local troops were still in position. Laussat addressed a few words to them. "Soldiers of New Orleans and of Louisiana," he said, "you have given proof of your great zeal and filial devotion to the French flag during these recent days, when for a brief time it floated over your coasts. I will bear it back to France and to its government: in their names I give you thanks. Here are the commissioners of the United States. To them I now resign your  p57 command; obey them as you would the representatives of your legitimate sovereign. In conformity with the treaty I place the United States in possession of these countries and dependencies of Louisiana." He then took his station at the foot of the staff on which the French ensign still floated.

"The cession," said Claiborne, by way of reply, "assures to you, as to your descendants, the certain heritage of liberty, perpetual law, and magistrates whom you yourselves will elect."


[image ALT: A lithograph of a group of soldiers in a large public square, firing a salute at an American flag with 13 stars. It is a depiction of the raising of the American flag in New Orleans upon the taking possession of the Louisiana Territory by the United States.]

Raising the American Flag at Jackson Square at the Cession of Louisiana
to the United States, 1803

The weather was fine; an immense crowd filled every available space in the Place d'Armes. A contemporary writer, describing the memorable scene, says that there was no point on the four sides of the square which was not filled with people. In general the crowd remained silent and motionless, most of them showing in their constitutions the emotion of regret with which they now saw the flag lowered from its proud place. At the same moment the American flag began to rise. As the two flags met half-way a gun was fired on the levee, and the batteries and the vessels in the harbors saluted. A few moments passed with both flags fluttering together; then the French standard continued its descent. The American, through some difficulty with the ropes, "continued for some minutes motionless, in spite of all efforts to raise it, as if it were reluctant to replace that to which it owed its glorious independence."​32 At the foot of the staff the French flag was received in the arms of a young French naval officer, named De Dusseuil, who turned it over to Sergeant-Major LeGrand, and together they bore it silently through the ranks of the soldiery, the Americans saluting by presenting arms as they passed. The flag was finally taken to Laussat's residence and placed under his protection. Meanwhile American flag had risen to its appointed place; a crowd of Americans gathered near the Principal waved their hats in air and broke into a loud "hurrah;" but otherwise a deep silence prevailed.

That afternoon, at 3:30 o'clock, Laussat entertained at dinner 450 persons. The health of the United States was drunk in Madeira; that of Jefferson in Malaga, and that of Charles IV and of Spain, in Canary; but that of France and of Bonaparte was drunk in champagne. The last toast was to the eternal happiness of Louisiana; whereupon a salvo of sixty-three cannon shots resounded over the city. At 7:00 P.M. tea was served, after which there was a dance which was supposed officially to end at 2:00 o'clock but which the enthusiasm of the participants protracted until nine in the morning. A few days later Boré, Fortier, Faurie, and Derbigny, in the name of the municipality, gave a ball in honor of Madame Laussat.

Claiborne's first act was to issue a proclamation assuring the people of Louisiana that "they might count upon the inviolable enjoyment of their liberties, their property and the religion of their choice. Also a notice in French, Spanish, and English was posted about the city, reciting the facts of the cession, and exhorting all persons to obey the laws and authority of the new government, under full assurance that their rights will be under the guardian­ship of the United States and will be maintained from all violence from without or within." His next care was to introduce garrisons from among the troops under Wilkinson's command  p58 into the four city forts, and that of Bayou St. John, as well as the more remote fortifications in the Attakapas and at Natchitoches.º

Laussat remained in Louisiana till April 21, 1804, and then left for Martinique, where he had been appointed colonial prefect. He was captured there by the British and held a prisoner till December 23, when he was exchanged for Alexander Cockburn. For the next two years he was maritime prefect at Antwerp. Then he was made prefect of the Department of Jemmapes. In February, 1814, he was made Baron and elected a member of the House of Representatives.​a This was during the Hundred Days. In 1819 he received the Cross of St. Louis and thereafter served under Louis XVIII as commandant and administrator of Guiana. In 1825 he was retired with a pension, and in 1835 he died.33

The Author's Notes:

1 Phelps, "New Orleans and Reconstruction," in Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 88, p122. Phelps speaks of it as a "wise" government.

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2 Smith, Travels in the United States, quoted in Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, 370.

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3 Roosevelt, The Winning of the West, IV, Chapter VI, passim.

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4 Barbé-Marbois, History of Louisiana (Translated by An American, Philadelphia, 1830), p300.

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5 Monette, History of the Discovery and Settlement of the Mississippi Valley, I, 553, 554.

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6 Martin, History of Louisiana, II, 187‑190.

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7 Robin, Voyages dans la Louisiane, dans La Floride Occidentale, et Dans les Isles de la Martinique et de Saint-Dominque,º III, 128.

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8 Laussat's dispatch, quoted in Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, 397‑401.

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9 Ibid.

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10 King and Ficklen, Louisiana, 151.

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11 Phelps, Louisiana, 189.

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12 King, New Orleans, the Place and the People, 158.

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13 Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, 415.

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14 Monette, History of the Discovery and Settlement of the Valley of the Mississippi, I, 555; Martin, History of Louisiana, II, 189.

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15 Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, 410, 424.

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16 Robin, Voyages, III, 130.

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17 Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, 423.

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18 Phelps, Louisiana, 195; Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, 425.

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19 Barbé-Marbois, History of Louisiana, 330.

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20 Quoted in Villiers du Terrage, 425‑426.

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21 Barbé-Marbois, History of Louisiana, 330.

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22 Phelps, Louisiana, 195.

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23 Quoted in Villiers du Terrage, Les Dernières Années, 426.

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24 Martin, History of Louisiana, 296. See also the Records of the City Council, Vol. I, in the City Archives, New Orleans.

Thayer's Note: adjoict, as it appears consistently in Kendall's printed text, should almost certainly be adjoinct (modern French: adjoint).

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25 The official account of the formation of the municipality quotes Laussat's order in full:

"Order for the establishment of the Municipal Authority in New Orleans:

"Laussat, Colonial Prefect, commissioner of the French Government.

"Considering that the cession of Louisiana to the French Republic by the commissioners of His Catholic Majesty involves the dissolution of the authority which derived from the royal crown directly, and took character from its connection with the Spanish monarchy, and the Cabildo of this town being especially one of these;

"And seeing that the regular exercise of the powers relating to the police and the social order, should not for a moment be suspended in this change of dominion,


"Art. I. That there is established in New Orleans a municipal body composed of a mayor, a council of twelve members, and a secretary.

"Art. II. The following are named to these offices. (Then follow the names as given in the text.)

"Art. III. They will enter upon their functions at once.

"Given at New Orleans VIII Frumaire, Year 12 (or November 30, 1803).



"By the Colonial Prefect of the French government,
"The Secretary of the Commission.

"Signed, Daugerot."

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26 Records of the Municipality, December 1‑20, 1803, in the City Archives of New Orleans.

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27 The records of the first municipal government in New Orleans were very neatly and systematically kept. Each session of the council was described in a large volume kept for this special purpose. These volumes form part of the archives of the city at the present day. They are preserved in the City Hall. It is to be regretted that no effort has been made to publish these interesting manuscripts. Either the city should do so, or some patriotic citizen should advance the funds to put them in type. In addition to the minute-books the City Archives containsº a complete collection of the messages of the mayors, beginning with Pitot. These, also, ought by all means to be printed. They shed a flood of light on the origins of the city. Their destruction, which might easily occur by fire at any time, would be an irreparable loss.

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28 Voyages, quoted in King and Ficklen, Louisiana, 154.

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29 Villiers du Terrage, 430.

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30 See Villiers du Terrage, 432.

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31 Martin, History of Louisiana, 297‑8.

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32 Moniteur de la Louisiane, January 2, 1804.

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33 Fortier, Louisiana, III, 51‑52.

Thayer's Note:

a Of France; more properly, the Chambre des Députés.

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