Short URL for this page:

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

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

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

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Chapter 3

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.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


[image ALT: link to next section]
Chapter 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p59  Chapter IV
Establishment of the Municipal Government

Within less than one hundred years Louisiana had passed through six changes of government. Originally governed directly by the crown, Louis XIV had put it, in 1712, in the hands of Antoine Crozat. In 1717 it had been transferred from Crozat to the Compagnie de l'Occident. The Company ceded it in 1731 back to the Government of France. Spain acquired the country in 1762. In 1801 the king of Spain had relinquished the province to France and now France had sold all of its rights in this vast and fertile domain to the United States.

At the time of the cession, New Orleans had been for thirty-four years under Spanish control. During the early part of this long period, its interests had been neglected, and its progress had been slow. Onzaga, for instance, admitted that, during the first four years, the population had not increased. The increment by birth had been offset by the loss through emigration. But better times followed. The governmental policies underwent certain relaxations; commerce revived, and by 1785 an official census revealed within the walls of New Orleans 4,980 persons, while by 1788 this number grew to 5,338. There was an increase in the first sixteen years of Spanish control of 56 per cent, or, in the nineteen years, of 57 per cent. Immigration was not encouraged. The growth of the population was due to natural causes. With the exception of some agriculturalists from Malaga, the Canaries, and Nova Scotia; and the American immigration which Spain at first impeded and then fostered, there were very few imported additions to the total number of inhabitants. In 1778, when Galvez required all the English-speaking residents to take an oath of fidelity to Spain, there were but 170 persons affected by his order. The British traders whom O'Reilly had expelled in 1769 gradually returned to the city, or were replaced by others. The trade concessions of 1782 brought to the city some French merchants; their number was augmented a few years later when the French Revolution compelled the Royalists to seek refuge in foreign lands; a respectable contingent sought the shores of the Mississippi. Some Germans and some Italians established themselves, as they naturally would do, in a seaport. The slave-revolt in Santo Domingo in 1791 drove many refugees into New Orleans, amongst whom were the members of the first theatrical troupe that ever played in Louisiana. Nevertheless, the population remained essentially Creole. Outside of official circles there were few Spaniards, and a number of them were identified with the dominant element through marriage.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century New Orleans was reckoned one of the most important of North American seaports. In 1802, 158 American, 104 Spanish, and 3 French vessels — a total of 265 — with an aggregate tonnage of 31,241, sailed from the harbor. In the following year the import tonnage showed an increase of from 35 to 37 per cent. Already, along the river-bank just above the city, "within ten steps of Tchoupitoulas Street," the fleets of flatboats and barges from the upper part of the Mississippi Valley were finding a convenient mooring place. In front of the town, near the Place d'Armes, lay the  p61 shipping, often twenty or more vessels at a time, made fast to the bank, where "they received and discharged with the same ease as from a wharf." The small tonnage of the individual vessels, and the depth of water made this possible. Below the Place d'Armes was the anchorage of war vessels, visits from which were not frequent.

The town had already outgrown its original boundaries. It is estimated that there were from 1,200 to 1,400 separate premises, or about 4,000 roofs of one sort and another. Some of the larger buildings were substantially constructed of brick and roofed with slate. Those on the three or four streets nearest the river were sometimes two or even two and a half stories in height. Those farther back were usually one story high, of wood, roofed with shingles, and often elevated on wooden pillars from eight to fifteen feet above the ground. The homes of the poor were scattered in all parts of the city, but especially on the rear streets. Even among the most prosperous classes there were many whose domiciles were small and rude. In the center of the river-front rose the unfinished cathedral, flanked on the upper side by the arcaded front of the Principal, where the Cabildo had held its stately convocations; and on the lower side by a widespreading wooden building occupied by the priests attached to the cathedral. On either side of the Place d'Armes ran two long rows of one‑story buildings, containing the principal retail stores of the town. The Government House, the Barracks, the hospital, the home of the Ursuline nuns, and a few other buildings survived here and there from the first French regime. The streets were straight and tolerably wide, but none of them were paved. In bad weather they were often impassable to vehicles. There were few sidewalks; such as existed were made of wooden planks pegged down to the earth, except in the heart of the town, where there were some narrow brick "banquettes." The streets were not lighted. At night it was a difficult operation to find one's way about. All the refuse of the city found its way into the gutters, which were filthy and emitted an unspeakable stench. Business was concentrated largely on Toulouse, St. Peter, Conti, St. Louis, Royal and Chartres streets along the levee. The French were for the most part content to invest their savings in real estate. They were the proprietors of the retail establishments. They lent money — often at one or two per cent per month. The Spanish, who, except for those in Government employ, were mainly Catalans, kept the lesser shops and the cheap drinking places which infested all parts of the town. The wholesale business, in fact, almost all the larger commercial establishments of every description, were in the hands of Americans, English and Irish. In society and politics, however, the conditions were reversed. There the Creole was dominant. Creoles held many important governmental employments; they sought commissions in the military forces; they influenced very largely the government of the city.

Around the "Old Square" — the Vieux Carré — as the original city was called — stretched a line of marshy, grass-covered mounds and fosses — all that remained of the fortifications erected by old Spanish governors, and long since fallen to ruin. Just beyond the tiny Fort St. Ferdinand, which was still maintained in tolerable repair, lay the Carondelet basin, with the canal of that name stretching away through the tropical greenery towards Bayou St. John. Both basin and canal had been neglected for years, and were now so shoal that only small craft could use them. Larger vessels coming in with cattle and farm produce from East and  p62 West Florida, as they were then called, could approach the city no nearer than the suburban town of St. Johnsburg, on the bayou. The number of vessels arriving at these points in 1802 was 500. They were mainly of small size, the largest of 50 tons, the majority well under that figure.1

The moral condition was not good. An intelligent French traveler who visited New Orleans at this time has left a lurid picture of the idle, luxurious, dissipated life which he found in the city. Gambling was the almost universal vice of the men. At the numerous games of chance ship agents, ship-masters, planters, travelers, and the leisured classes generally wagered their entire available funds, and, losing, fell into the hands of a hoard of money lenders who infested the city. The presence in the community of a large class of quadroon women was another undesirable feature. The balls at which these attractive, unprincipled persons figured were already notorious. The respectable white women, on the other hand, had few opportunities for social and mental development. Their lives were passed in a monotonous round of household duties, which left them little material for conversation. There was, moreover in all classes, a singular indifference to law and order. The clergy had little influence over their parishioners insofar as the regulation of their daily conduct was concerned. Education was neglected. Aside from the benefits of travel in Europe, which were reserved for the wealthier classes, the opportunities for improvement were few and not much valued. Smuggling was so generally practiced as to be regarded almost as a profession.2

Such, then, in a few of its most striking aspects, was the community which now passed under the control of the United States.

The sentimental regret with which the Creoles had seen the tri-color lowered at the Place d'Armes on the 30th of November, was soon intensified by a variety of circumstances, due to differences of language, usages and habits, as well as to the insolence of some of the American patrols towards the inhabitants. The discretion and firmness of the new governor easily repressed the outward manifestations of this irritation, but he could not immediately change the thoughts and feelings which prompted them. These antagonisms were artfully stimulated by intriguing French and Spanish officials, who lingered in the city for several months, after the cession had put an end to their employments. A captious, irritable spirit resulted, which vented itself in incessant complaints against the individuals who composed the Governor's official family, and especially against the Governor. The starting point of this opposition was probably a fear that annexation to the United States meant the suppression of the slave trade. That trade was "all important to the very existence of the country," as a protesting delegation represented to Congress. It was secretly but persistently carried on through Lakes Borgne, Maurepas and Pontchartrain, and through scores of inlets in the labyrinthine coastline of the gulf, where the channels were indistinguishable from the marshes, and where enterprising but unscrupulous smugglers and buccaneers, like the Lafittes, might easily elude pursuit. Nor were  p63 the people pleased to see some of the old Spanish grants nullified, and all titles subjected to official re-inspection.


[image ALT: A painting of the head and shoulders of a man in a dark military uniform of a Napoleonic style, with a high collar, a buckled sash, and gold-braided epaulets. It is W. C. C. Claiborne, the first American governor of the Louisiana Territory.]

W. C. C. Claiborne,
First American Governor of Louisiana

From a painting
in the Louisiana State Museum

In part the situation had been prepared in advance of the arrival of the American commissioners by the quarrels that had arisen between Laussat and the Spanish governor Salcedo, and between Laussat and Casa Calvo. As has already been said, these disputes had marshalled the populace into two camps. The long delay which preceded the surrender of the city into Laussat's hands had helped also to irritate the public mind. Now Claiborne was appointed governor of Louisiana with all the powers possessed by both the governor and the Intendant of former times.​3 In other words, he was made the absolute ruler of the land, uniting in himself all executive, judicial and legislative authority — a range and variety of power probably never before or since confided to a single American citizen.​4 His tenure of this despotic power was brief, but, even so, it would have been better had it been still further curtailed. Probably Claiborne's task would have been greatly simplified had Congress immediately created some sort of temporary legislative and judicial authority, some council, or chamber, composed of the best informed men in the city and delegated a part of the governor's too extensive powers to it. Certainly this course would have tended to conciliate the Creoles. Claiborne would himself have made some such arrangement, had he possessed the power.5

Laussat, like all revolutionary spirits, was more eager to destroy than to create. With the exception of the new "municipality," he failed to organize new tribunals to replace the Spanish judicial institutions which he suppressed. Yet such were imperatively necessary if the ordinary business of life was to be carried on. Claiborne was compelled to supply the need. He could not reinstitute the courts abolished by Laussat. To do so would have been instantly construed as siding with Casa Calvo and the Spanish faction. At that moment it was not clear that Spain would not dispute the cession of Louisiana to the United States. The Spanish king had registered a protest against the action of the first consul; his minister in Washington had notified the American Government that there existed certain defects in the instrument of alienation which impaired its validity — the chief of which was a solemn promise by France that the territory should never be parted with.​6 It was therefore clearly impossible for Claiborne to allow himself for a moment to be confounded with the intriguing Spanish clique. Unfortunately, however, Claiborne had no specific instructions from the Washington Government as to the procedure to follow in the premises. In taking the course he finally adopted he was guided wholly by his own discretion. He found himself virtually the only person in the community invested with judicial power. The principal, provisional and ordinary alcaldes were all involved in Laussat's suppression of the Cabildo, and disappeared with that institution. Only the "alcaldes de barrio" remained and their usefulness was so limited as  p64 to be practically nil. Under the Spanish, the principal jurisdiction in law suits, had, as we have seen, been enjoyed by two "alcaldes," who were annually elected by the Cabildo and who, on election, became members of that body. The Cabildo itself possessed appellate jurisdiction in certain civil suits. The re-establishment of the Spanish tribunals would have necessitated the revival of the Cabildo and the suppression of the new municipality, which was out of the question.

There were other weighty considerations which had to be regarded also. Louisiana was destined to be admitted into the union of American States. Its government had to be assimilated to that of the other American commonwealths as rapidly as circumstances permitted. Claiborne realized that similarity of legal institutions constituted a strong bond of union throughout the United States as it already existed. The differences which had, in fact, existed between the legal customs of France and those of her colonial possessions during the time when Louisiana was under her control, had been deplored by the ablest French jurists and philosophers. It was recognized that these differences constituted a serious weakness in the organization of the colonial governments. If then, these anomalies had proven detrimental under a monarchical form of government, how much more so would they be in a federated community like that of the United States?

But, as a matter of fact, no defense is needed to justify Claiborne in setting up his Court of Pleas. This court was established on December 30, 1803. It consisted of seven justices. Their civil jurisdiction was limited to cases not exceeding $3,000 in value, with the right of appeal to the Governor when the amount in litigation rose above $500. Their criminal jurisdiction extended to all cases where the punishment did not exceed a fine of $200 or imprisonment of more than sixty days. Each individual justice was vested with summary jurisdiction over all cases involving $100 or less, but the parties at interest possessed the right to appeal in all cases to the court itself — that is to say, to the seven justices sitting en banc.​7 This arrangement reserved to the governor original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matters save as specifically conceded and also appellate jurisdiction over the new tribunal. It had, however, the very great merit of furnishing a method by which the government of the city could be carried on. Without it, the municipality, as constituted by Laussat and temporarily retained in office by Claiborne, was futile.

The Spanish laws were, on the whole, admirable, but the system of executing them was effete and corrupt. Their most objectionable feature was that the judge might hear, examine and decide in secret. Claiborne's new court brought all these operations out into the light; trial by jury was introduced and the judge was amenable to public opinion. But no act of his whole administration caused more dissension in New Orleans, brought upon the author more criticism, than the establishment of this court. No attention was paid to the fact that Claiborne only very reluctantly retained any judicial functions for himself. It was passionately asserted that justice could not be administered by a man who, like himself, had no knowledge of the two popular tongues — French and Spanish. As a matter of fact, Claiborne had at hand competent  p65 interpreters; and to the charge that these men did not always possess a thorough knowledge of the law, it may be answered that most of the cases which came before Claiborne were commercial, that the law on such matters is generally the same in all parts of the world, and that it was perfectly possible for him to decide equably without any special study, from his own general knowledge of the principles involved.

Casa Calvo, down to the date of his departure, early in 1806, worked persistently to estrange the people from the governor. Nor can we blame him altogether for this; since, if he really anticipated an effort by his Government to prevent the permanent acquisition of the Province by the United States, such was his duty, looking towards the possible military exigencies of the case. Every effort was made to discredit the Americans; the fact that Claiborne was constantly surrounded by his own countrymen was exploited to the utmost. It was alleged that he thrust as many of these into office as he could, ignoring the Creole population, though this, as we have seen, outnumbered the foreign element in the proportion of 12 to 1. This was an unjust criticism. Claiborne, if anything, favored the "antientº population," as "Laelius" called it. Lewis Kerr, who was a citizen of the Mississippi Territory, was made sheriff on account of his special legal and general qualifications; but the clerk of the new court was Pierre Derbigny. Of four newly-appointed notaries only two were Americans. Offices of honor not involving profit were generally assigned to Creoles. All "civil commandants" but two or three, all of the officers of the militia, a majority of the municipal council, most of the judges of the Court of Pleas, and the larger number of the members of the Board of Health which Claiborne felt obliged to create — these were all "antient" Louisianans. Still another sore spot was the use of English in official business. This, said the critics, menaced "old Louisiana" with political annihilation. English was used exclusively in the custom house; the governor's official letters were written in that language, and it was used in his own court. But in the Court of Pleas French as well as English was officially recognized; in the proceedings of the municipality, French alone was used; and French was the medium in which the correspondence of most of the Louisiana magistrates with the new government was conducted. In reorganizing the militia, Claiborne retained the services of the Americans who had been enlisted by Laussat, but he distributed them through the four companies which he created and gave the command of the battalion to Major Dorcière, a Creole, whose language was French. Still another ground of criticism was the surreptitious immigration into Louisiana of undesirable persons, especially negroes from the French West Indies. Claiborne, as a matter of fact, did all in his power to prevent these unwelcome additions to the population. He ordered that all ships should be inspected at the Balize by the officer in command there; they were next detained at Fort Plaquemines [below New Orleans] till the commandant there was satisfied as to the propriety of permitting the resumption of the voyage; and finally, on arriving at New Orleans, no one was suffered to land until the vessel had been inspected by a committee of the Board of Health. In spite of these precautions, however, there was a steady infiltration of undesirable persons.

It is not to be denied that, on the other hand, something was done to justify the fear and distrust with which the Creoles regarded the new government. A writer in the "Gazette" in November, 1804, while on  p66 the whole defending Claiborne refers to the "indiscretion of all parties, their impudent writings and discourses, the contests about country dances. [. . .] An essay written merely to gratify the author's humor has been imputed to the governor of the province as a predetermined insult towards its inhabitants; a private quarrel between two gentlemen, one of them English and one of them French, has almost occasioned a riot."​8 At night insurrectionary placards posted around the streets attracted crowds who resisted efforts to remove the incendiary publications. Duels were frequent; Governor Claiborne's own private secretary and brother-in‑law was killed in one, in an attempt to refute a slander. In June and July three public meetings were held, at which prominent citizens joined in preparing a memorial to Congress asking to be speedily admitted to the Union, partly because of the commercial advantages which that would entail, but also because it seemed to offer a route by which the objectionable governor might be eliminated. In one instance the attempt of the sheriff and his posse to arrest a Spanish officer was prevented by the violent opposition of 200 men. Swords were drawn and  p67 it was not until a detachment of United States troops appeared that resistance ceased. "This city," wrote Claiborne," requires a strict police; the inhabitants are of various descriptions — many highly respectable and some of them very degenerate." It is a remarkable fact that the amiable and patient governor lived down all these multitudinous causes of complaint; and when he died in 1816 he was surrounded by the respect and affection of his people. The details here set forth have interest as shedding light upon the character of the community, but, most of all, because they explain the origins of that prejudice against Americans and things American, which is the great motive in the history of New Orleans down to the Civil war, a prejudice so deep and all-pervading that the Creole population could come to look on the yellow fever with complacency, nay, almost with affection, since, as Gayarré has said, it attacked the stranger almost exclusively and was, as it were, a weapon against those who threatened the "antient" Louisiana, its language and its supremacy.9

[image ALT: An ink drawing of a man's bust. He is mostly bald, and wears an expression of cunning and self-satisfaction; also a jacket and a cravat. It is Etienne de Boré, the first mayor of New Orleans.]

Etienne de Boré
First Mayor of New Orleans

Immediately upon taking over the government, Claiborne arranged for the government of the city. He issued a proclamation on December 20th retaining in office provisionally all of the functionaries appointed under the French administration. These included the members of Laussat's Municipality, all except Johns and Sauvé, who, being opposed to the new governor on general principles, handed him their resignations. The others, "thus re-elected and confirmed," took their seats anew that afternoon.​10 Boré was continued as mayor and the post of "adjoint," or deputy-mayor, made vacant by the resignation of Sauvé, was filled by the appointment of Cavalier Petit. Claiborne, in a letter to President Madison, commenting upon these arrangements congratulated himself upon having been able to secure a man of the social prominence of Boré to head the administration. As a matter of fact, Boré was one of the most active leaders of the party opposed to Claiborne. He, Bellechasse and Johns were soon conspicuous in the meetings held by the citizens to protest against the "kind of government which had been forced upon them." They were supported by Daniel Clark, now by the new order of things relieved of his consulate. Claiborne does not seem to have been ruffled in the least by Boré's criticism. On the other hand, Boré's  p68 views as to the American Government do not seem to have prevented him from discharging his duties as mayor with assiduity and success.

The members of the municipality renewed their oaths before Claiborne on November 24th. On this occasion the governor made a short address outlining their duties, which were, in effect, to continue the same as under Laussat's administration. The council met for the first time under the new conditions on December 28th and held thereafter sessions once every two weeks. It immediately addressed itself to the matter of the condition of the streets, the regulation of the police force, and the reduction in the number of the "taverns," which was inordinately large. On January 9th we find under consideration regulations for the guidance of persons using the river-front for business purposes. At the next meeting regulations were adopted for the government of public balls. On February 8th the council supplemented its previous action with regard to the bakeries by adopting a whole series of regulations. The bakers were important persons in New Orleans at that time. According to Robin, their business was one of the most profitable in the community. "Many of them make considerable fortunes in a few years," he writes, "and that is not at all astonishing. Kentucky and the other parts of the United States which communicate with the Mississippi send their flour to New Orleans. This flour is of varying quality and consequently at different prices, selling at from $3 to $10 or $12 per barrel of about 190 pounds weight. Sometimes the supply is so great in the city that the price declines below that at the point from which it has been brought. Bakers who are farsighted can lay in a stock at these times, and they make a further profit by mixing flours of inferior grade with the superior."​11 Under the Spanish there was a tax of a picayon (6¼º cents) per pound on bread. The municipality did not continue the tax, but made rules to regulate the price, thus establishing a precedent which was followed for many years. It now also interfered in regard to other articles of food and passed a resolution fixing the price of beef at one "picayon" a pound, mutton one shilling a pound, and veal and pork eight cents per pound. Other ordinances passed at this time provided for the government of the police, and placing a tax on vehicles. This was all useful and important work. The Council was, however, constantly embarrassed by the fact that it was a temporary organization. It was, moreover, eclipsed by the authority of the governor. His approval was required in practically all cases when important legislation was proposed. It is remarkable, then, that on the whole the municipal government worked with as little friction as it did and still more so, that its achievements were so substantial.

Boré resigned on May 26, 1804, on the ground that his private affairs required his entire attention. He was succeeded by Cavalier Petit as acting mayor. The council saw Boré's retirement with regret and adopted resolutions expressing this feeling and also the hope that the vacancy would be filled by a man equally as able and patriotic. At the same time it endorsed James Pitot as a suitable person for the position. On June 6 Claiborne appointed Pitot to the office. Pitot was descended from a distinguished French family, the founder of which was Ti‑Pitot, who commanded a squadron of cavalry in the Seventh Crusade. Antoine Pitot d'Aramon, in order to avoid the religious quarrels then in progress  p69 in certain parts of France, removed to Languedoc at the beginning of the sixteenth century and thereafter the family was identified with that province. The father of the new mayor was born in Languedoc in 1695 and died in 1771. He was inspector to the army of the famous Marshal de Saxe, distinguished himself as an engineer and scientist, and became a member of the French Academy. The mayor was born in Rouen in 1761​a and was educated at one of the best schools in Paris. At the outbreak of the French Revolution he was taken to Santo Domingo. Thence he moved to Philadelphia and then to Norfolk, Va. In early manhood he settled in New Orleans, where he went into business in partner­ship with Daniel Clark. Pitot built one of the first cotton presses in New Orleans. It stood at the corner of Toulouse and Burgundy streets. Gayarré speaks of him as "a gentleman of respectability and talent." His career as mayor lasted till July 19, 1805, and was signalized by the incorporation of the city, and the taking of the first steps towards the substitution of an elective magistracy for the appointive one.

Pitot exerted himself to introduce economy into the various branches of the administration, and took an especial interest in the police. In the preceding chapter we have seen that among the first acts of the Laussat Municipality was the enactment of a comprehensive ordinance defining what acts constituted offenses against public order. To enforce this ordinance a small police force was subsequently created, with Pierre Achille Rivery at its head, under the title of "Commissioner General of Police in the City and Suburbs of New Orleans." The wretched pay which the members, officers and men received attracted only the riff-raff of the city into the service. A few ex-Spanish soldiers were enlisted but the council soon found it necessary to authorize the employment of mulattoes to fill the ranks. It was, however, stipulated that the officers should always be white men.

The utter inefficiency of this organization occasioned general complaint and in 1804 it was supplemented by a patrol of citizens, drawn from the militia, and under the command of Colonel Bellechasse. This subsidiary force of volunteers was divided into four squads of fifteen men each, each squad serving eight days, and then being relieved by another. The militia patrol did duty chiefly in the outlying districts. It received no part. In 1805, Pitot made a further reform in the police organization by reconstituting the gendarmerie as a mounted corps, with three officers, three non-commissioned officers and thirty-two men. This was subsequently changed so as to give a force of twenty-two mounted men and ten infantrymen. The mayor was made chief of this corps.​12 In spite of some disputes over matters of authority, particularly as involving the right to appoint the members of this force — a right which the mayor claimed was assigned to him by the city charter — the new system worked fairly well. The militia patrol, which was continued, however, fell steadily in popular favor, partly because of its composition, but chiefly because it made considerable demands upon the leisure of the citizens, and they were not prepared to render indefinitely the services required.13

On March 25, 1804, Congress divided the Province of Louisiana into two parts — the upper part being annexed to the Indiana Territory,​b and  p70 the lower part, which corresponds in boundaries approximately to what is now the State of Louisiana, was erected into the Territory of Orleans. Its government was entrusted to a governor, jointly with a council of thirteen freeholders, to be selected by him; and the judicial powers were to be exercised by a superior court and such inferior courts as this council might establish, the judges of the former, however, to be appointed by the President of the United States.​14 New Orleans was made a port of entry and delivery, and "the town of Bayou St. John" was made a port of entry. On October 1 the new government went into operation. Claiborne was retained as governor. He had been formally inaugurated at the Principal at noon, on October 5. He took the oath before Mayor Pitot, and then delivered an oration in English which was translated into flowery French by Pierre Derbigny. The people were displeased at having the legislative council appointed, instead of elected by them; but the national government, through Claiborne, exercised a wise discretion in the matter of introducing the forms of democratic government, and it was some years yet before the heterogeneous population of New Orleans could be regarded as fit to exercise all the functions of American citizen­ship. However, a long step forward was made in February, 1805, when the Territorial Council furnished the city with a charter. This charter went into effect early in March. With its adoption the real history of New Orleans, as distinguished from the remainder of the Province or Territory, may be said to begin.

The charter consists of some nineteen sections. It begins by precisely determining the area of the municipality. It was bounded "on the north by Lake Pontchartrain, from the mouth of Chef Menteur to the Bayou Petit Gouyou, which is about three leagues to the west of Fort St. John; on the west by Bayou Petit Gouyou to the place where the upper line of the grant or concession formerly called St. Baine, and now called Mazage passes; from thence along the line of the plantation of Foreel to the River Mississippi and across the same to the canal of Mr. Harang; and along the said canal to the Bayou Bois Piquant; from thence by a line drawn through the middle of the last mentioned Bayou to Lake Cataoucha and across the same to the Bayou Poupard, which falls into the Lake Barataria; on the south by the Lake of Barataria, from the Bayou of Poupard to the Bayou Villars; from thence ascending the Bayou Barataria to the place where it joins the canal of Fazande, and continuing in the direction of the last mentioned canal to the Mississippi, and finally on the east by ascending the Mississippi to the plantation of Rivière and then along the canal of his present saw mill to the Bayou Depres, which leads to Lake Borgne, and from the point where the last mentioned bayou falls into the said Lake Borgne by a line along the middle of that lake to the mouth of Chef Menteur, and from thence to the Lake Pontchartrain." "All the free white inhabitants" of this extensive tract of land, water, and marsh were declared "to be a body corporate, by the name of the mayor, aldermen and inhabitants of the City of New Orleans."

The officers of this corporation were to be a mayor, a recorder, fourteen aldermen, a treasurer and "as many subordinate officers not herein mentioned for preserving the peace and well-ordering of the affairs of the said city, as the city council shall direct." It was made the duty of the governor within ten days after the passage of the act to appoint the mayor  p71 and the recorder "out of the inhabitants who shall have resided at least two years therein." The mayor and the recorder were to hold office for at least two years, or until their successors were appointed, and then they were to be appointed annually thereafter. The aldermen, however, were to be elected by the people of the city "on the first Monday of next March." In each ward of the city they were to select by ballot "two discrete inhabitants" to be "aldermen, and represent said ward in the city council." The mayor and the municipality were charged to appoint two inspectors and one clerk in each ward to have charge of this election. The clerk was to record in a book the name of each voter; the inspectors were to receive his ballot and, "without inspecting it, deposit it in a box of which one of them shall keep the key." The election was to last from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., and then the inspectors were to count the ballots "in the presence of such voters as care to remain." The returns were to be made by certificate signed by the inspectors and attested by the clerk, to the mayor, who thereupon should publish them and notify the clerk of the city council of the results.

The aldermen thus chosen were to compose the city council. The recorder for the time being was constituted president of this body, but with no vote save in case of a tie; in case of his disability a president pro-tempore might be elected. The aldermen were to take their seats in the City Hall (Principal) on the second Monday in March, 1805, and one-half of the members should serve thereafter till the same date in 1806, and the remainder till the same date in 1807; "so that in every ward there shall be an annual election for one out of the two aldermen." The majority of the council would be deemed a quorum. The council would be judge of the election of its own members. It was empowered to select its own clerk, doorkeeper, and other officers. It was required to meet at least once a month. On the third Monday in March, a "fit and discrete" person was to be elected treasurer thereof, who, under bond of $20,000, with the assistance of two secretaries, was to hold office for one year. The council was invested with the power to make and pass laws and by-laws, and these ordinances, after receiving the signature of the mayor, were to have the force of laws. If the mayor should not approve of these ordinances, he was required to return them within five days, with his objection stated in writing. If two-thirds of the council then present were to vote in favor of the law in spite of the mayor's disapproval, then it was to become a law notwithstanding the veto. If the mayor did not return the law within five days it was to be deemed approved; but under no circumstances could an ordinance of the council have force which contravened any provision of the charter, the laws of the Territory, or those of the United States.

To the mayor and council thus acting together the charter gave the right to tax all real and personal property, with a view to raise funds "to supply any deficiency for lighting, cleaning, paving and watering said city; for supplying the city watch, the levee of the river, the prisons, workhouses, or other public buildings, and for such other purposes as the police and good government of said city may require." But it was provided that no tax for police, lighting, or watering might be put on property not within the parts of the city not laid off into streets. To the mayor and council, moreover, was committed the duty of regulating the price of bread, but not of other provisions, nor could they license drays or carts except in a manner specifically set forth in the charter.

 p72  The mayor when elected was to take the oath of office before the governor; the other officers were to take theirs before the mayor. In case of the disability of the mayor the recorder was to act as mayor pro-tempore, and while so employed the council was to elect a president pro tempore who should preside at its meetings.

The ninth section of the charter dealt with the qualifications of voters, who were to be "free white males residing for one year" in the city, "owning real estate valued at $500 or renting a property of an annual value of $100, or, in case of doubt, to be examined under oath." The tenth section dealt with the duties of the treasurer, and the eleventh with those of the mayor. Among the duties of the mayor were: to appoint "measurers, weighers, gaugers, marshals, constables, scavengers, wharfingers and other officials, as directed by the city council; to license taverns and boarding houses; and to license carriages and coaches for hire." Importance was attached to this licensing matter, inasmuch as it was made an offense subject to a fine not to have the proper license, and one-half of such fines went to "the person who shall sue for same," — presumably, the informant. The mayor was entitled to collect $2.50 for every warrant he might issue, and to any other compensation that the council might decree.

The mayor and the recorder were declared by the charter to be ex‑officio justices of the peace. The mayor was to superintend the police and make ordinances for the control of the watchmen and the city guard. He was "to be informed of the intent of every order from the council ordering the disposal of any money or public property." No member of the council could be appointed to any employment or office created by the council. Section XIII transferred to the new corporation any estates previously owned by the Cabildo. The following section provided that all ordinances established by the previously existing municipality were to continue in force insofar as they did not conflict with the present instrument. Section XV divided the city into seven wards. The sixteenth section conferred on mayor and council the right to build sewers, drains, canals, etc., in any part of the city; to open and grade streets; to enjoy certain powers of expropriation of property for these purposes; all expenses incurred for these purposes were to be met out of the city funds. The eighteenth section fixed the recorder's salary at $1,000 per annum. The closing section reserved to the legislature the right to amend and alter the charter at will.15

Although brief, this document was fairly comprehensive. The verbiage is often quaint, but its terms are clear and definite. It is remarkable to observe that all of the subsequent city charters reproduce the ideas incorporated in this original instrument. In fact, one cannot but admire its homely wisdom. No less authority than the Supreme Court of Louisiana declared that this charter "like all the statutes passed at the commencement of the American government of Louisiana — to the honor of their authors be it said — is a model of legislative style and exhibits its intendment with a clearness and precision which render it impossible to be misunderstood. [. . .] The whole tenor of the act is a delegation of power for municipal purposes, guarded by limitations, and accompanied by such checks as experience had shown to be wise, expedient,  p73 and even necessary for the interests of those who were to be affected by it."16

In accordance with the new law, an election for aldermen was called for Monday, March 4. The announcement was made in the columns of the Louisiana Gazette on March 1. Mayor Pitot was deeply impressed with the significance of this first step towards local self-government. In the call he referred earnestly to "the importance of the election," and expressed the hope that the citizens "would consider what degree of zeal and reflection is required in" their "first step towards the enjoyment of 'their' rights." It was also pointed out that "the new council would not be restrained, as may frequently have happened to the municipality, from uncertainty respecting the true extent of their powers and the confidence placed in them by the people." The polling places were established at the residences of Messrs. Lefauchew,º Coquet, Romain, M'Laren, Macarty and Bienvenu, and "at the Ball Room." The election duly took place and the following aldermen were chosen: First Ward — Felix Arnaud, James Garrick; Second Ward — Colonel Bellechasse, Guy Dreux; Third Ward — LaBertonnière, Ant. Argotte; Fifth Wardº — T. L. Harman, P. Lavergne; Sixth Ward — J. B. Macarty, Monsieur Dorville; Seventh Ward — Porée, Guerin.17

The installation of the new council was effected with some pomp at the Cabildo (as the Principal was now beginning to be called, ignoring the real significance of that name) on March 11. Claiborne appeared at midday in the council chamber, accompanied by various civil and military authorities, and many citizens. "The members of the municipal corps were found present and measures for the public order having been taken, Monsieur the Governor, proclaimed mayor of the new council James Pitot, who previously had filled the place, and when he had taken the oath in that capacity, the nomination of the governor of Jean Watkins to the post of recorder, or assessor, having been officially read, he took the oath at the hands of the mayor, who then received successively those of Messrs. Felix Arnaud, James Garrick, Joseph Faurie, François Duplantier, Guy Dreux, Pierre Bertonnière, Antoine Argotte, Thomas Harman, P. Lavergne, J. B. Macarty, F. K. Dorville, Thomas Porée and François Guerin, chosen by the citizens aldermen or members of the common council."​18 Bellechasse was not present. At the close of this little ceremony Mayor Pitot made a short address in which he gave an account of his past administration, and in particular described what he had done with regard to the police, and the economy which he had introduced into the management of the government. He, Claiborne, and the public generally then withdrew. Watkins took the chair and called the council to order. The secretary, Bourgeois, being absent, Achille Rivery was appointed to act in his place. The only business done was the adoption of a resolution authorizing the mayor to put in force all the ordinances regarding the police already in existence. Thereafter the council regularly met under the presidency of Watkins, until July 27, when Bellechasse having been elected president, he took the place.

Pitot resigned his office in July, 1805. In his message of resignation, he said: "My affairs not allowing me to fulfil the functions of mayor,  p74 I have sent to the governor my resignation of that post. Appreciating all the marks of kindness and of confidence which I have received at your hands, I beg you to accept my acknowledgements. Give me your esteem and believe me deeply grateful." That was the ceremonious and graceful way in which things were done in those days.​19 A little later, however, Pitot was able to accept another, though perhaps less onerous post, when Claiborne appointed him Judge of the First Probate Court of the Territory. He remained on the bench till his death, November 4, 1831. When this sad event occurred eulogies upon his life and character were pronounced by the leaders of the local bar, including Pierre Soulé, Mazureau, and Bernard Marigny.​20 Chief Justice Bermudez, speaking of Pitot's services as a judge, has said that "in the early days and more advanced life of this State, with Judge Martin and his associates, all of imperishable memory and luster, he proved of unappreciable assistance in expounding the new laws which followed the anterior legislation in giving good judicial proceedings a proper form and shape for the administration of justice, and in laying down a solid basis for the statutory jurisprudence with which the state is blessed."21

The Author's Notes:

1 Waring and Cable, Social Statistics of Cities, Report on New Orleans, 29‑32.

[decorative delimiter]

2 Robin, Voyage dans l'intérieur de la Louisiane, II, 75 ff., quoted in Phelps, Louisiana, 207‑214.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Martin, History of Louisiana, Howe's edition, 295.

[decorative delimiter]

4 Gayarré, History of Louisiana, IV, 1‑3.

[decorative delimiter]

5 "Laelius," in the Louisiana Gazette, November 9, 1804. This article was evidently written with the full knowledge and approval of Claiborne, of whose acts it is a convincing defense.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Martin, Louisiana, 294. Casa Irujo subsequently withdrew for his master all opposition to the cession, and denied that there had ever been any intention of resisting it.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Gayarré, History of Louisiana, IV, 3; Martin, Louisiana, 319; Dart, Sources of the Civil Law of Louisiana, 37‑40.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Louisiana Gazette, November 9, 1804. See also the "Esquisse de la Louisiane," printed anonymously in 1804, referred to in Robertson, "Louisiana under the French and the American Regimes," II, 269.

[decorative delimiter]

9 Gayarré, Louisiana, IV, 636.

[decorative delimiter]

10 The official record of the installation of the municipality as preserved in the City Archives of New Orleans reads;

"Proces-verbal of the Reinstallation of the Municipal Corps the Day of taking possession of the colony by the United States.

"Today, December 20, 1803, of the Christian era, the commissioners or agents of the United States, W. C. C. Claiborne and James Wilkinson, being present at the Hotel de Ville, in the meeting room of the municipality, with the citizen Pierre Clement Laussat, Colonial Prefect of the French government, in order to receive from him possession of the colony or Province of Louisiana, and this important act having been effected, His Excellency, W. C. C. Claiborne, named by the President of the United States Governor General and Intendant of said Province, has had read his proclamation, by which he orders maintained provisionally in their functions all of the public officers who existed under the French government, and also all municipal enactments issued to date; consequently Messrs. the Mayor and the members of the Municipal Council (except Johns and Sauvé, who have resigned), thus re-elected and confirmed, have taken their seats anew, and the meeting has adjourned to Thursday, the 24th of the current month; in faith whereof the present proces-verbal has been signed by the recording secretary.

"Signed: Boré, Tureaud, Faurie, Donaldson, Destrehan, Fortier, Livaudais; Derbigny, Secretary."

[decorative delimiter]

11 Quoted in Phelps, Louisiana, 211.

[decorative delimiter]

12 Resolution of May 6, 1805.

[decorative delimiter]

13 See Rightor, Standard History of New Orleans, 110, 111.

[decorative delimiter]

14 Phelps, Louisiana, 222, 223; Martin, Louisiana, 320, 321.

[decorative delimiter]

15 Louisiana Gazette, February 22, 1805. This act was approved by Claiborne February 17, 1805.

[decorative delimiter]

16 Louisiana State Bank vs. Orleans Navigation Co., 3rd annual repts., 305.

[decorative delimiter]

17 Louisiana Gazette, March 5, 1805.

[decorative delimiter]

18 Records of the City Council, in the New Orleans City Archives, Session of March 11, 1804.

[decorative delimiter]

19 See the letters of the mayors in the City Archives of New Orleans, July 19, 1805.

[decorative delimiter]

20 Pitot's son, Armand Pitot, born in New Orleans in 1803 and died in 1885, had a scarcely less distinguished career than his father. He was educated in France, and on returning to New Orleans was named Clerk of the Supreme Court, was admitted to the bar, named translator to the House of Representatives, and became a member of the City Council (1838) and, finally, was made secretary of the commission appointed to revise the Civil Code of Louisiana. For thirty years and more he was the legal advisor of some of the most prominent banks in the city, notably the Citizens' Bank.

[decorative delimiter]

21 See King, "Old Families of New Orleans," Chap. XXXV.

Thayer's Notes:

a The date in the text is 1784, which is not possible if his father died in 1771; I first corrected it from a photo online of his tombstone, which though barely readable, records him as having died in 1831 at the age of 70.

About ten years after I put this page online, I received a friendly note from Jean Catherine, a student of history and genealogy and a careful reader, to whom I am grateful for alerting me to a further mistake by Kendall: James Pitot was born not in Rouen (the capital city of Normandy, thus a sort of metonymy for the province as a whole), but more precisely in the Norman town of Villedieu-les-Poêles.

I confirmed it by a bit of digging of my own; the information is found in pp13-14 of James Pitot, 1761‑1831; a documentary study, by his descendant Henry Clement Pitot (1968):

Jean-Nicolas and Marie-Perette had their first child in Coutances, a daughter born June 28, 1755, and baptized the following day: Suzanne-Françoise-Jeanne-Perette Pitot, with Marie-Perette's father and mother as the godparents. A few years later, Jean-Nicolas and Marie-Perette moved to Villedieu-les-Poêles, where Jean-Nicolas was receveur des aydes. There they had three children: Anne-Marie (October 31, 1760), Jacques-Francois (November 25, 1761), and Jeanne-Louise (February 25, 1763). Jacques-Francois is our James Pitot, the subject of this study. Here is a translation of his baptismal record:

Register of Baptisms and Marriages in the church of Notre-Dame-de-Villedieu for the year 1761.

A son, for Jean-Nicolas Pitot. Wednesday the 25th of November, was baptized [ondoyé] by us, Monsieur le Vicaire, a son for Jean-Nicolas Pitot, receveur des aydes, and for Marie-Perette Le Monnyer, his wife, and born the same day. The said father and  p14 mother residing in this parish; and the church ceremonies of holy baptism were postponed through dispensation accorded by Monsieur le Curé of this place on this date and in proper form.

The French word ondoyé applies to private baptisms, usually given in cases of emergency. Several weeks later he received the church ceremonies of baptism:

Jacques-Francois Pitot. Wednesday, December 16, by us Monsieur le Vicaire, undersigned, the ceremonies of holy baptism were given to a son for Monsieur Jean-Nicolas Pitot, receveur des aydes, and demoiselle Marie-Perette Le Monnyer, his wife, which ceremonies had been postponed until this day by dispensation granted by Monsieur the official Curé of this place, under date of November 25, of this year 1761, and was given the name of Jacques-Francois, by Jacques Le Monnyer, his maternal uncle living at Coutances, and by Marie Pitot, his paternal aunt living at Saint-Hilaire, and by others who have signed with us.

On p15, the book includes the following photostat of his December 16 baptismal record:

[image ALT: A handwritten paragraph of 13 lines followed by some signatures; it is the baptismal record of James Pitot, translated on this page.]

Baptismal record of Jacques-François Pitot.
L'État Civil, Registres de Catholicité, Hôtel de Ville, Villedieu-les-Poêles (Manche).

My transcription (verbatim — as usual for the period, spelling and grammar are idiosyncratic):

Jacq; franc; pitot

Le mercredi seize decembre par nous, le uicaire sousigné les seremonies du st batême ont etee supplee a un fils pour m. jean nicolas pitot receveur des ayde et pour demoiselle marie perette Lemonnier sa femme lesquelles ont etée differes jusque a se jour par dispence acordée par le Sr cure officiel de ce lieu en datte du uingtcinq de nouembre en forme le quel fis est né le u[in]g[t] cinq de nouembre de la presente annee et a eté nommé jacques francois par jacques Lemonnier son oncle maternel domicilie a coutance et par marie pitot sa tante paternelle domicilie[e?] a St ylaire et les autre auilledieu qui ont signé auec nous

un mot rayé [. . .]


Based on which, my slightly improved translation:

Jacques-Francois Pitot. Wednesday, December 16, by us the vicar, undersigned, the ceremonies of holy baptism were provided for a son for Monsieur Jean-Nicolas Pitot, receveur des aydes, and demoiselle Marie-Perette Lemonnier, his wife, which ceremonies were postponed until this day by dispensation granted by Monsieur the official Curé of this place, under date of November 25 of the present year, and was given the name of Jacques-Francois, by Jacques Le Monnyer, his maternal uncle living at Coutances, and by Marie Pitot, his paternal aunt living at Saint-Hilaire, and by others in Villedieu who have signed with us.

[decorative delimiter]

b "Annexed" is technically not quite right; the upper part of Greater Louisiana was put under the temporary government of the Indiana Territory (S. J. Buck, Illinois in 1818, p186).

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 31 Jan 19