Short URL for this page:
On Rue Bienville.
Bienville is the man whom Louisianans place at the head of their history. In his day, they called him the Father of Louisiana, and New Orleans is as incontestably his city as if La Salle and Iberville had not so much as thought of it. He was Jean Baptiste Le Moyne. A midshipman of eighteen, he accompanied Iberville on his voyage of the discovery of the Mississippi, and fair, slight, almost undersized, his figure formed no less striking a contrast to his physically superb brother, than his gentle, quiet, meditative face did to the rough, bold, hardy constitutions of the Canadians and buccaneers in the same expedition. He was left in the colony by Iberville, with the rank of second in command. A fever carrying off his chief, Sauvole, during Iberville's absence, he assumed full command. Iberville, always strong in the favour of the Ministry of the Marine, secured the confirmation p15 of this position, and thus the young officer at twenty became the highest executive and sole representative of royal authority in the colony.
The promotion was quite in the line of his imagination, if not of his intention, and the intention of Iberville, in settling him in Louisiana. The American emigrants of to‑day are no more aspiring in their determinations, nor determined in their aspirations, than were the Canadian emigrants of the seventeenth century. But the Canadian emigrant aimed at noble rank, feudal power and privileges. Thus, the father of Iberville and Bienville, Charles Le Moyne, himself the son of an innkeeper of Dieppe, a thrifty trader and interpreter, while amassing land and fortune and by the life and death ventures of a pioneer in Canada, aimed his ambition for his sons, and fixed their careers by giving them the noble surnames proper to seigneurial rights and estates, — de Longueil, de Sainte Hélène, de Maricourt, de Sérigny, de Bienville, de Chateauguay,º — and events proved him not a bad marksman. Whilst the younger brothers were still children, the eldest had served in France; had, with his Indian attendant, figured at Court as related by the Duchess of Orleans in one of her letters to her sister, the Countess Palatine Louise; had married the daughter of a nobleman, a lady in waiting to her Royal Highness of Orleans; and had built that great fortress-chateau of Longueil, the marvel of stateliness and elegance of the day for all Canada; and had obtained his patent of nobility and title of Baron. The little Bienville, an orphan from the age of ten, was brought up by the baron de Longueil, in all the stateliness and elegance of the chateau; and it is to this environment and rearing that we are indebted for p16 that "tenue de grand Seigneur," which threw such quaint picturesqueness, not only over his personality, but over the city which he founded, as is noticeable by many a token to‑day.
Bienville, nevertheless, was a born coureur de bois, as Iberville was a born buccaneer. With a trusty Canadian companion or two, he paddled his pirogue through the bayous, and threaded the forests of Louisiana, until he became as expert a guide as any Indian in the territory. And, with his native Canadian instincts, to assist natural capacity for acquiring the dialects, habits, manners, and etiquette of the savages, he learned to know them, and thereby to govern them, as no Indian in his territory could ever assume to do. For twenty-seven years his authority over them was absolute. The stiff parchment and rigid sentences of government etiquette have rarely conveyed reports so redolent of forest verdure, freshness, and natural adventure as his. It comes to us still, in fragrant whiffs, even from the printed page, and one likes to dream that in that ancient swarm of government officials in the marine office of that day in Paris, there may have existed some infinitesimal clerk, with — despite his damnable fate — an adventurous heart. With what eagerness must he not have turned, as six months by six months rolled by, to the belated courier from Louisiana, and the budget from Bienville. What a life-giving draught, — a Fenimore Cooper draught, — to the parched plodding mind!
It was not all, however, nor even the best of it, in Bienville's reports, nor in the reports sent to the government by the facile, if unorthographic pens of his companions, young French and Canadian officers whom p17 we shall meet here and there later on; for there is Pennicaut! The literary pilgrim comes to many an unexpected oasis in the arid deserts of colonial research, whose shaded wells turn out to be veritable places of dalliance and pleasure. Such a complimentary comparison, if ever manuscript suggested it, must be thought of in connection with Pennicaut's "Journal." At least, so it appears to the Louisiana pilgrim.
Pennicaut was born in La Rochelle. He was to be a ship-carpenter, but at the age of fifteen had the passion for travelling so strong in him, that three years later, unable to resist it any longer, he engaged, oh blessed time for passion-driven travellers! for a voyage whose destination he did not know, but which ended in the discovery of the mouth of the Mississippi.
About the same age as Bienville, and with patent congeniality of temperament, he was his constant attendant in his excursions and expeditions, and his ever-faithful admirer. Pennicaut could never have read a novel: he certainly would have mentioned it if he had, but that he knew what a novel should be, and that he had in him the capability of writing many a one, no reader of his "Journal" can doubt for an instant.
He wrote his adventures, from memory, years after in Paris, where he had gone by the advice of Bienville, in search of relief against threatened blindness. He had a hope that his literary effort would gain him the pension of the king; but, in spite of our own earnest wishes to find the evidence, there is none that Pennicaut's hope did not die of the usual disappointment that awaits the hope of the literary.
Besides Bienville's excursions and adventures, thrown into far chronological proportion and effect than p18 reality granted, and related with an eye to detail, of which Bienville himself did not know the fictional advantage, — we have Pennicaut's own adventures. It may be frankly confessed at the outset, that Pennicaut's experiences in the merry greenwood are of far more entertaining character than those of his commandant, and that (as he relates them) his services in the colony lead him into situations infinitely more thrilling; and we are thankful that it was so. One cannot help being thankful in reading Pennicaut, that it was so, that such a rare talent for relating adventures was so providentially accompanied by the still rarer talent of acquiring them.
The third hero of the "Journal" is that Louisiana hero of romance, par excellence, that doughty chevalier, invincible Indian fighter, and irresistible lover and founder of Natchitoches,º the Sieur Juchereau de St. Denis. St. Denis came from Canada to join his relatives Iberville and Bienville, in their new and promising field of fortune. After some independent brilliant improvisations among the Alabama and Louisiana Indians, he hit upon a scheme, — which offered, in his mind, the most entrancing reaches of peril and fortune. This was an overland trade, between Mobile and Mexico, a contraband trade, for the protective tariff of Spain prevented any other. It was during the Crozat regime in Louisiana, when the French capitalist was making the experiment, and proving the illusion, of a French monopoly of trade in the Gulf of Mexico; and St. Denis soon obtained a commission, to be his own avant-coureur, in the enterprise.
Lugger landing at the Old Basin.
He was accompanied by his valet, barber, and surgeon, Jallot; and Jallot, as Pennicaut's friend, by predilection p21 in the colony, evidently obtained for the latter the permission to join an excursion, than which nothing could have appeared more tempting to a literary and adventurous expert.
Arrived at Presidio del Norte, St. Denis found that the Spaniards had his reception all prepared for him. His attendants were detained in the garrison, and he was sent on to Mexico under military escort, to explain himself to the governor.
But it is unjust to St. Denis to allow the telling of his story to any one by Pennicaut. For a real story, the facts could not possibly have had better authenticity. That which St. Denis, in those expansive moments of the toilette which even the most reserved cannot resist, confided to Jallot, Jallot confided to Pennicaut over their social glass. It is safe to presume that any lacunae that arose either from lapse of confidences between the master and the valet, or lapses of betrayal from Jallot to Pennicaut, or lapses of memory on the part of Pennicaut, writing afterwards in France, — the latter was fully able to bridge with his own sure sense of the exigencies of fictional architecture; and so, we will allow him to proceed, with a few necessary curtailments:—
"Escorted by an officer and twenty-four Spanish horsemen M. de St. Denis voyaged over the •two hundred and fifty miles to the capital of Mexico, where he had an interview with the Viceroy, to whom he showed his passports. The Viceroy, who was the Duke of Liñares, after having looked at the passports, replied that M. de St. Denis had made a poor voyage, and without listening further to him, put him in prison. M. de St. Denis, very much astonished at such a procedure, was not a little put out by it. He remained over three months in prison. Happily for him, there were some Frenchmen in Mexico, in the service of Spain, p22 who knew Iberville very well. These spoke in favour of St. Denis, to the Viceroy, who interviewed M. de St. Denis a second time, and offered him a company of cavalry and service with the king of Spain. But M. de St. Denis, without being touched by the offer, replied that he had taken an oath to the king of France, whose service he would leave only with his life.
"It had been reported to the Viceroy that, while M. de St. Denis had remained at Presidio del Norte, he had courted the daughter of the Captain, Don Pedro de Villesco. The Viceroy, to influence him, told him that he was a half-naturalized Spaniard already, since, on his return to the Presidio he was to marry the eldest daughter of Don Pedro de Villesco. 'I will not deny to you, my lord,' replied M.de St. Denis, 'that I love Doña Maria, since it has been told to your excellency, but I have never flattered myself that I should merit marrying her.'
"The Viceroy assured him that he could count upon it, that if he accepted the offer made him, of a company of cavalry and service with the king of Spain, Don Pedro would be delighted to give him his daughter in marriage. 'I give you my word upon it,' he added. 'At the same time, I shall allow you two months to think over my proposition, during which time you will remain here at full liberty to go where you please in the city. You will meet here many French officers in the service of the king of Spain, and who are very well pleased with it.'
"M. de St. Denis thanked the Duke of Liñares for his kindness, particularly for the liberty he gave him; after which, on leaving the apartment, M. de St. Denis was accosted by a Spanish officer, who, speaking pretty bad French, told him that he had orders to lodge him in his house, and to accompany him on his promenade in the city. M. de St. Denis, who knew by experience that to keep on good terms with men of this nation, one must load them with compliments and deference, replied in the Spanish officer's own language, that he would be very much obliged for the officer's company, which would give him the greatest pleasure.
"The officer conducted his guest to his house, which was a cottage furnished after the Spanish manner, that is, with curtains of linen, the walls all bare, and chairs made entirely of wood. He showed him a chamber beside his own, only a little larger p23 and a little cleaner, opening on the garden, where, he said, M. de St. Denis would sleep.
"They were about going out when the cavalcador major of the Viceroy entered, and presented to M. de St. Denis a sack containing three hundred piasters, which the Viceroy sent for his use while he remained in Mexico.
"M. de St. Denis, accompanying the grand equerry to the foot of the stairs, begged him to convey to the Viceroy how much overwhelmed he was with all his liberalities. After which, re-entering his apartment, he asked the Spanish officer to accompany him to a place where he could find something to eat for the money, and where he wished the honour of the officer's company at dinner.
"The officer willingly guided him to a hostelry frequented by French and Spanish officers, where they had good cheer without being fleeced of their money, the price of the meal being fixed at one dollar a head. M. de St. Denis continued to eat there during the two months he remained in Mexico. He there became acquired with many French officers in the Spanish service, who knew of him, without his knowing them, because most of them had been friends of Iberville's. He likewise made the acquaintance of one of the most considerable Spaniards in the city, who tried again and again to induce him to enter the service of the king of Spain. He was even invited several times to the table of the Viceroy, who gave magnificent dinners every day. Nothing that he had ever seen appeared to M. de St. Denis so rich as the Viceroy's service of silver. Even the furniture of his apartments, his armoirs,º tables, down to his andirons, all were of massive silver, of extraordinary size and weight, but rudely fashioned.
"M. de St. Denis was most careful, all the time he was in Mexico, to guard his words, to say nothing that could be used to his prejudice, although every day he partook of the good cheer of the French and Spanish officers, who neglected no effort to attract him to themselves. They were no doubt pushed to this by the Viceroy, but they did not succeed, and this was what probably induced the Viceroy to give M. de St. Denis his congé. One day when he had him to dinner, he took his aside into a magnificent cabinet, into which M. de St. Denis had never p24 entered before, and told him, since he could not be prevailed upon to enter the service of the king of Spain, he was at liberty to return to Louisiana, and that he could depart with the officer with whom he lodged, presenting him, at the same time, a purse of a thousand dollars, "which," said the duke laughing, "he gave him for the expenses of the wedding," hoping that the Doña Maria would influence him more than he and his officers had, towards accepting his offers.
"M. de St. Denis immediately commenced his preparations for departure. He supped with all his French and Spanish friends, and bade them good-bye, embracing them all heartily.
"While he was dressing next morning, the grand equerry of the Viceroy entered his chamber, and informed him that his Excellency had sent him a horse from his stables, to make the journey with.
"Thanking the officer in Spanish, expressing his gratitude for all the kindness of the Viceroy, whose magnificence and generosity he would make known to the governor of Louisiana and to all the Frenchmen there, M. de St. Denis descended the stairs with the equerry and received the horse, which was held by a page of the Viceroy. He exclaimed much over the beauty and value of the present, which gave the equerry the opportunity to descant upon the riches of his master, whom he elevated to the rank of the greatest kings of the world; detailing the number of his servants, and of his horses, saying that in his stables there were still two thousand handsomer than the one he had just given away, besides a prodigious quantity of furniture and services of silver.
"M. de St. Denis dared not interrupt him, although the discourse had lasted over a half hour, and he was beginning to tire of it; when fortunately the officer, who was to act as escort, called out of the window to him, that he must come to breakfast, as they were to start within the hour. The present of the Viceroy was a bay horse, and one of the handsomest M. de St. Denis had ever mounted.
"Travelling at their ease, it took the gentlemen three months to reach Coahuila. Here they found Jallot awaiting his master. Jallot had lived all this time from his trade of chirurgeon, and had even gained a great reputation among the Spaniards for his cure of many diseases to which they were subject. M. de St. p25 Denis and his escort lodged at the best inn of the place, where, however, they would not have fared so well had not Jallot himself prepared their food. At the end of eight days, the governor of Coahuila gave M. de St. Denis an officer and six cavaliers to conduct him to Presidio del Norte. He also permitted him to buy a horse for his valet, which, although it was very good, cost only ten piasters.
"Eight days after that they arrived at Presidio del Norte, where St. Denis lodged with Señor Don Pedro de . He had been there only a week when circumstances occurred to greatly advance his marriage with Doña Maria. Four villages of Indians, who were under Don Pedro's jurisdiction, took the determination to abandon their habitations and establish themselves outside of Spanish territory. They loaded their beasts with the best of their movables, and commenced their march. Don Pedro was very much troubled by this, as he was partly to blame for the defection, having given too much license to his officers who were constantly vexing and pillaging the Indians, knowing that they dared not defend themselves. Don Pedro did not know what to do to put a stop to the movement; besides, no one dared go to the Indians, for the four villages formed a force of a thousand men, armed with bows and arrows. M. de St. Denis, seeing the embarrassment of Don Pedro, offered to go to the Indians himself, alone, and persuade them to return. Don Pedro, embracing him, replied that he dared not thus expose him, for two of these villages contained the most dangerous Indians to be found anywhere, and they would not fail to kill him.
"But M. de St. Denis did not trouble himself about that. He mounted his horse, and followed by Jallot, rode forth after the Indians. Attaching his handkerchief to the end of a cane, he made signs to them from a distance, and when he came up to them, he spoke to them in Spanish, telling them to return, that all they wanted would be granted them, promising them on the part of Don Pedro, that they should not be harassed any more, showing them the dangers they would have to face from hostile Indians outside the Spanish government, adding that the Spanish soldiers would be forbidden, under penalty of death, to go to their villages; and that they need only follow him to hear this law laid down to the garrison.
p26 "The four chiefs did not ask any better than that they should remain undisturbed in their lands, so they and their people followed M. de St. Denis, who, much to the astonishment of the garrison, led them to the Presidio, — the whole four thousand men, women, and children. Alighting from his horse, M. de St. Denis spoke a few moments aside with Don Pedro, who was charmed to take upon himself any obligation, for the governor of the province would have attributed the desertion of the Indians to his negligence, and would have reported it to the Viceroy, who would not have failed to hold him responsible. Therefore, assembling all his cavaliers in the presence of the Indians, he published a law, forbidding them, under penalty of death, to go hereafter to the Indian villages, or vex them in any manner. He then exhorted the Indians to their villages, which they did, and have never left them since.
"As has been said, this advanced greatly the marriage of M. de St. Denis with Doña Maria.
"The wedding took place two months afterwards, in the village church. When the marriage articles were signed by both parties, Don Pedro went to Coahuila to buy wedding garments. M. de St. Denis sent Jallot with him to make some purchases also. They returned at the end of a month, and six or seven days afterwards the wedding was celebrated with pomp. M. de St. Denis gave to each of the Spanish cavalier three dollars and a yellow cockade to wear on his hat. He presented to his wife a very handsome diamond which he had brought from France with him. The wedding lasted three days, during which the Spanish soldiers had great feasting and jollity, and they did not spare their powder for salutes.
"After the wedding M. de St. Denis remained eight months with his father-in‑law. Then, accompanied by his brother-in‑law and three Spanish cavaliers, he set out for Louisiana, to make his report to the governor, promising to return for his wife as soon as possible. The governor of Louisiana, giving up all idea of an amicable trade with the Spaniards, built a fort at Natchitoches, to protect his frontier against them, and sent M. de St. Denis, with a garrison, to take possession of it. There, the Spanish brother-in‑law and cavaliers bade M. de St. Denis adieu, and journeyed to Presidio del Norte.
p27 "After their departure, M. de St. Denis fell into a profound sadness that he could not go with them to see his father-in‑law and his wife, Doña Maria, but the Spaniards also had established a fort on their frontier, and he feared to be taken a prisoner, and expose his life in Mexico a second time, for the Viceroy had declared to him that he would never be permitted to enter Mexico again without an order from the king of Spain.
"One day he was absorbed in his reflections, in the little forest at the point of the island of Natchitoches, on the bank of Red River, where he was in the habit of promenading alone. Jallot, who was in the woods amusing himself picking strawberries, seeing his master, watched him a long time from behind a bush; and, knowing his grief, to amuse him brought him the strawberries he had gathered in a little basket. M. de St. Denis asking where he had found them, Jallot told him, adding that there were better ones in Mexico.
" 'I should think so,' said M. de St. Denis, 'as the country is warmer, the fruit should be much better. And I can tell you, Jallot, that I have the greatest desire to cross these frontiers and go there, not for the fruit, but to see my wife, and my child, which is her fruit and mine. Although it is three months since Don Juan left, I have received no news from her or from my father-in‑law, although I wrote to them by Don Juan. And I am in such grief that I am resolved to go and see Doña Maria even if I lose my life in the attempt, rather than remain here, consuming myself in sadness, as I am doing.'
" 'Why vex and worry yourself so long?' said Jallot; 'the route is neither so long nor so difficult as you imagine. I know all the roads across these forests and can conduct you to Don Pedro's without ever being seen by any one.'
" 'You cannot think it!' said M. de St. Denis; 'can there be any chance of my making a journey of •twelve hundred miles without being discovered?' 'I know,' says Jallot, 'that I have made the journey four times without any mischance, and, if you wish, we can, on pretence of hunting, go up the river in a pirogue, •twelve miles from here, and landing, continue on foot until we reach the village of Don Pedro.'
"After thinking a few moments, M. de St. Denis told Jallot he would confide himself to him, and it was for him to take all p28 precautions to succeed in the trip, which might cost them both their lives if they were discovered; that for his part he was determined to risk his life, and to leave in three days, for that was the time he gave him to make his preparations."
The journal details how worthy Jallot was of this confidence of his master's; how admirable were the preparations for the journey; how successfully it was carried out. We do not need Jallot to tells us that M. de St. Denis could never have accomplished it without him; we are convinced of it the moment the travellers left the pirogue and planted their first footstep in the forest. They travelled by night and slept by day, subsisting on the game they — or rather that Jallot invariably — found and killed. They were two months on the journey, the last day of which found M. de St. Denis and Jallot reposing in the woods •a league and a half away from Don Pedro's village.
M. de St. Denis asked Jallot how he was going to manage to get into the house of Don Pedro without being seen. "We must wait," answered Jallot, "until past midnight, because, in summer, the Spaniards are up and about very late at night; and then you have only to let me manage, and follow me. I shall get you into the garden behind the house of Don Pedro. The garden is enclosed by a hedge; in one corner of it there is a place through which I used to enter at night to visit a certain pretty little Spanish girl whom I knew at the time of your marriage." M. de St. Denis fell to laughing and said: "No wonder our voyage has progressed well, since our augury was so good. It is love that has guided us both." "Our fate," replied Jallot, "is very different. You are sure of finding in Doña Maria a wife who loves you: I am not p29 at all certain of finding a sweetheart, who may be married."
And thus they entertained one another until night-fall. Then Jallot took out of his bag a piece of roast venison, which he placed upon a napkin before his master; but M. de St. Denis could not eat. As for Jallot, who had a good appetite, he ate a great deal and slept soundly afterwards. M. de St. Denis was also too anxious to sleep, so he kept arousing Jallot every minute, telling him it was time to set out. Finally, seeing by the stars that it was midnight, Jallot departed on a preliminary reconnaissance. He returned at the end of two hours, and bade his master, who was storming with impatience, follow him.
Walking rapidly, in a road between an avenue of trees, they reached the ditch surrounding Don Pedro's garden, crossed it, found the place in the hedge, where Jallot, by throwing down a fagot of dried brambles, mounted to the terrace inside, and giving his hand to his master assisted him to mount also.
While Jallot replaced the brambles, M. de St. Denis strode softly into the garden. In the faint moonlight he saw the figure of his wife promenading alone. He went to her to embrace her, but she gave a cry of fright and fell fainting. Fortunately, M. de St. Denis had on him a bottle of the water of "The Queen of Hungary"; he held this to Doña Maria's nose and so brought her back to consciousness and to recognition of himself. She threw herself upon his breast. After embracing one another, over and over again, he took her, with his arm around her waist, to the little parlour overlooking the garden — the one underneath the chamber she slept in during the summer.
p30 After talking a little with her husband, Doña Maria called her father and uncle, who came and embraced M. de St. Denis. Supper was served; but M. de St. Denis ate very little, observing which, and also how tired he was, the gentlemen soon retired, leaving him to his repose — where, as Pennicaut says, we shall also leave him.
The next day his father-in‑law took M. de St. Denis aside and begged a favour of him. M. de St. Denis replied that there was nothing he could refuse him, and that he was ready to render him any service, even at the expense of his life. "I would not make this prayer of you," said Don Pedro, "were it not that your life is in danger, as well as mine, if you do not follow the advice I give you." And then he told his son-in‑law that he had received orders from the Viceroy to arrest him, should he, M. de St. Denis, ever come to see Doña Maria, and that an officer and twenty-five men, sent by the governor of Coahuila, had been waiting six months in the village to catch him; that it was absolutely necessary that neither he nor Jallot should leave the house, otherwise he would be seen and taken prisoner to the Viceroy, out of whose hands he would not escape so easily a second time. "I myself," said Don Pedro, "shall never arrest you, even should it cost me my life. Therefore, I pray you again not to leave my house, which no one has seen you enter, and where you will never be discovered, particularly in the apartments of Doña Maria, which no one ever enters."
St. Denis promised, and forbade Jallot also, to leave his room.
"What is surprising," Jallot related to Pennicaut afterwards, "M. de St. Denis passed nearly a year thus, p31 only leaving the apartments of his wife after dark of an evening, when he promenaded with her under the avenue of trees in the garden. He did not become tired, because they loved one another more tenderly than ever. . . . As for me," continued the valet, "I never passed a more tiresome time in my life, particularly in the winter, when it became too cold to walk in the garden. Sometimes, at night, when the door of the house was closed, I would sit by the fire with a great thin, ugly servant maid, called Luce, who was prouder than the daughter of the most celebrated barber in Mexico."
The birth of a second child to Doña Maria, and its baptism in her room, although conducted in all secrecy p32 (St. Denis remaining, during the ceremony, hidden in an inner chamber), brought suspicion upon the house of Don Pedro. Under fear of orders from the governor of Coahuila, for a domiciliary visit, St. Denis, parting from his wife "with many tears on each side," left as secretly as he came. He and Jallot returned on foot to Natchitoches. The journey took them six weeks, and it was filled with all the adventures possible to the time and circumstances, or to Jallot's imagination, or Pennicaut's love of romance, — Indian and Spanish attacks, hand-to‑hand combats, ending finally in the safe arrival of St. Denis and his valet at the French frontiers, mounted on chargers that they had captured from the Spaniards.
"These," says Pennicaut, "are the details of the love of his master, given me by Jallot."
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
and the People
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 14 Jan 19