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Transfer of the Seat of Government to New Orleans — Its Population and Appearance in 1724 — Boisbriant, Governor ad interim — Black Code — Expulsion of the Jews — Catholic Religion to be the sole Religion of the Land — Perier appointed Governor — League of all the Officers of Government against De la Chaise, the King's Commissary — He triumphs over them all — Republicanism of the Colonists — The Ursuline Nuns and the Jesuits — Public Improvements made or contemplated by Governor Perier — Census in 1727 — Expenses of the Colonial Administration — Edict of Henry the Second against Unmarried Women — Other Facts and Events from 1723 to 1727 — Traditions on the Music heard at the mouth of Pascagoula River, and on the Date tree at the corner of Dauphine and Orleans Streets.
In 1723, the seat of government was at last and definitively transferred to New Orleans, much to the satisfaction of Bienville. That city, now so populous and so flourishing, contained at that time about one hundred very humble buildings, and between two and three hundred souls. All the streets were drawn at right angles, dividing the town into sixty-six squares of •three hundred feet each. The city thus presented a front on the river of eleven squares, by six in depth. The squares were divided into lots of •sixty feet front on the street, with a depth varying from one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty. The name of New Orleans was given to the city in compliment to the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, and Chartres-street was called after the Duke of Chartres, son of the Regent:— Maine, Condé, Conti, Toulouse, and Bourbon streets were also named after the princes of the royal blood, such as the Prince of Conti, Duke of Maine, p354 Prince of Condé, Count of Toulouse, and Duke of Bourbon. One of the streets was honored with the name of Bienville, the founder of the city, and deservedly has that name been lately bestowed on one of the parishes of this state. The only establishments which then existed between New Orleans and Natchez, were those of Mezières and St. Reine, — a little below ; that of Diron d'Artaguette, at Baton Rouge; that of Paris Duvernay, near Bayou Manchac; of the Marquis d'Ancenis, near Bayou Lafourche; of the Marquis d'Artagnac, at the Cannes Brûlées, or Burnt Canes; of De Meuse, a little lower, and of the Brothers Chauvin, at Tchoupitoulas. With the exception of the Chauvins, these aristocratic possessors of the virgin soil of Louisiana were not destined to strike deep roots in it, and their names soon disappeared from the list of the land-holders in the colony.
In that year, however, another settlement, which was to grow rapidly in importance, was made on that portion of the banks of the river which now forms the parishes of St. Charles and St. John the Baptist. Large tracts of land were conceded to those Germans, whom Law had sent from Alsatia, to settle on the •twelve square miles of territory which had been granted to him on Arkansas River, by the India Company. When these German families were informed of the fate of Law, and saw themselves abandoned to their own resources in that distant part of the colony, they broke up their establishment, and descended the Mississippi in a body, with the intention of returning to their native country. But, fortunately, they were prevailed upon to settle at a distance of •about thirty miles from New Orleans, on a section of the banks of the river, which, from that circumstance, drew the appellation of the German Coast, under which it was long known. Every Saturday, they p355 were seen floating down the river in small boats, to carry to the market of New Orleans the provisions which were the result of their industry. From this humble but decent origin, issued some of our most respectable citizens, and of our most wealthy sugar planters. They have, long ago, forgotten the German language, and adopted the French, but the names of some of them clearly indicate the blood that flows in their veins, although more than one name has been so Frenchified, as to appear of Gallic parentage. The German Coast, so poor and beggarly at first, became in time the producer and the receptacle of such wealth, that, a century after, it was called the Gold Coast, or Côte d'or.
In the very year when these industrious people came to reside at the German Coast, and before they could show what rich harvests could spring from the prolific soil of Louisiana, the colony suffered extremely from the want of provisions, and, in a dispatch of the 24th of January, the Superior Council informed the French government "that the colonists would absolutely starve, if the India Company did not send by every vessel an ample supply of salt meat." From 1699 to 1723, such representations, however incredible they may appear, had been made every year, and had forced the French government into heavy expenses, so that it is calculated in a memoir of that epoch, that the few individuals scattered over Louisiana had, at an average, cost annually to France, in provisions alone, about one hundred and fifty thousand livres. There must certainly have been much abuse and malversation at the bottom of this state of things, and it is evident that there was in the organization of the colony a defect, which, if it starved some, fattened others. Be it as it may, the existence of the colony was nothing but a prolonged p356 agony. The principle of life seemed to be wanting in her.
Thus, the colonists in Louisiana, during the year 1723, were dragging along, sluggishly and miserably, a rickety sort of existence, when, on the 11th of September, there burst upon them a tremendous hurricane, which lasted three days. The church, the hospitals, and thirty houses in the modest little hamlet of New Orleans, were pulled down by the wind. Three ships that were in port were completely wrecked: the crops were destroyed: very few of the edifices on the embryo farms of the colonists could withstand the fury of the hurricane, and were swept away like chaff, or autumn leaves. The desolation was so widely spread, and so intensely felt, that the first impulse of the people in their despair was to quit the colony forever: and, no doubt, they would have executed their design, if they could have procured means of transportation. A company of infantry that had embarked at Biloxi for New Orleans, availed themselves of this favorable opportunity for escape, took possession of the vessel, and forced her captain to sail for Charleston, where they landed safely with their arms and baggage.
It frequently happens that both the excess of misery and of prosperity, has a tendency to develop the evil propensities of the human heart. It was, on this occasion, strikingly exemplified by the colonists, who, at all times, had been strongly addicted to gaming, but who now, seeking perhaps for artificial excitement, to lose the consciousness of their wretchedness, went on playing with such wanton recklessness at all kinds of games of chance, that the authorities found it necessary to interfere, and to prohibit with stringent penalties their indulging in this culpable and dangerous passion.
In spite of all the misfortunes which had befallen the p357 country, its agriculture had been developing itself to some extent, although checked by many obstacles. The number of negroes, or slaves, was gradually increasing, and, this year, it was determined by an ordinance, that the negroes introduced by the India Company from Africa, should be sold for 676 livres per head, on a credit of one, two, and three years, payable in rice and tobacco. The price of rice was fixed at 12 livres the barrel, and tobacco at 26 livres per hundred pounds. Wine was to be supplied to the colonists for 26 livres the cask, and brandy at 120 livres. Another ordinance fixed the value of the Spanish pistoles and dollars, which, from the proximity of the Spanish provinces, had become current in the colony.
The spiritual concerns of the colony were not neglected. Louisiana was divided into three grand ecclesiastical districts. The first was intrusted to the Capuchins, and extended from the mouth of the Mississippi to the Illinois. The Carmelites had jurisdiction over all that section of country which spread from the Alibamons to Mobile; — the Wabash and Illinois district was the lot of the Jesuits. Orders were given and provisions were made for the construction of churches and chapels, the colonists having complained of their being obliged, for want of proper places of worship, to assemble in the open air round wooden crosses erected in the fields, or public thoroughfares and roads.
The necessity of deepening the mouth of the Mississippi, had attracted the attention of the French government at the earliest period of the establishment of the colony, and the engineer Pauger made, in this year, 1723, a very interesting report on the practicability of arriving at this desired result. He represented that it was easy and not expensive to fix (fixer)º or to control the current of the Mississippi, so as to make it subservient p358 to the plan of operating upon the sand-banks which obstructed the several mouths of the river, and so as to give admittance to the largest ships, whatever might be the depth of water they drew; that, if necessary, a fine artificial harbor with quays might be created at the Balize, with the numerous resources which the nature of the locality offered, and that it might be effectually protected by such fortifications as he indicated. He recommended to shut up all the mouths of the river, except one, in order to force a greater volume of water into the remaining channel, which would, consequently, acquire more depth; and he calculated the increased velocity and power of the current would sweep away the whole of the mud or sand-bank which barred the entrance of the Mississippi. He suggested that the immense quantity of drift-wood which it carried down, might be secured and fastened to its banks to give them greater solidity, and to narrow the bed of the river. He also stated that, for the execution of the works he described, the government had at hand inexhaustible cypress forests, furnishing an incorruptible kind of wood, which, without much expense, might be used to any extent and with incalculable advantages and results.
In 1849, when I write these lines, there is no such thing as a French colony in North America, but there is in it a gigantic empire composed of thirty sovereign states, having in the aggregate a population of twenty-five millions of souls, and a commerce more extensive than that of any nation in the world except Great Britain. The limits of that empire, known under the appellation of the United States of America, extend from the frozen banks of the St. Lawrence to the sun-burnt hills of New Mexico and the golden Californian shores of the Pacific. The thousands of miles of country p359 which the Mississippi waters in its course belong exclusively to this mighty people, and, consequently, the deepening of the mouths of the Mississippi, and the giving a free access to what has justly been called an inland sea, on the shores of which stand such cities as New Orleans and St. Louis, in a boundless region where several millions of the human race are already domiciliated, and where countless millions will reside in the future, would be one of the most important national works which the government of the United States could undertake; and yet it is no more thought of than if it was not recommended by the eloquence of its own magnitude, and if it had not repeatedly been brought before Congress by more than one legislative resolution of the State of Louisiana. True it is, that it would not cost perhaps one hundred thousand dollars a year, to have •forty feet of water at the mouths of the Mississippi, through which pass annually so many millions of importation and exportation in every sort of goods and produce; — that it would stimulate and increase commerce, by the affording of new facilities and the diminishing of obstacles, risks, and expenses to ship-owners and merchants; that it would be investing money that would return the highest interest; — that it would procure to the people the precious advantage of studding the banks of the Mississippi with navy yards, at points teeming with infinite resources, far from the guns of hostile fleets; — and that it would make of that mighty stream a harbor, an asylum, and a home for our winged monarchs of the ocean. True it is, that the expenses attending the accomplishment of such a vast object, would be microscopical when compared with the results of every kind which would be attained, and that large sums have been lavishly spent in more favored states, because they were of more political importance. But, long ago, p360 would this much-needed improvement have been carried into execution, which, for more than a century, by its immense importance, its easy feasibility, and the imperious necessity which demands it, has struck with the force of self-demonstration every mind that has bestowed the slightest attention on the subject, if Louisiana had been blessed, like New York, with a large congressional representation. Let us hope that the time will come, when, to secure the success of some move on the political chess-board of the day, and to gain the complement of certain votes required to fill up the scale of power, that great national work shall be done, which was delayed so long when it was demanded only by the wants of commerce, the sense of justice, and the voice of public interest.
A treaty of peace having been concluded between Spain and France, Pensacola, which had been taken by the French in 1719, was restored to the Spaniards. This peace dissipated the fears and feelings of insecurity which existed in the colony from the neighborhood of Cuba and of the other Spanish possessions on the continent; and a successful campaign which the Choctaws had undertaken against the Chickasaws, at the instigation of the French, gave such a crushing blow to this warlike tribe, as to secure the country for a while against their depredations. Bienville said, in one of his dispatches, "The Choctaws, whom I have set in motion against the Chickasaws, have destroyed entirely three villages of this ferocious nation, which disturbed our commerce on the river. They have raised about four hundred scalps, and made one hundred prisoners. Considering this state of things, it is a most important advantage which we have obtained — the more so, that it has not cost one drop of French blood, through the care which I took of opposing those barbarians to one p361 another. Their self-destruction, operated in this manner, is the sole efficacious means of insuring tranquillity to the colony." Bienville also wrote that there were •thirteen feet of water on the bar at the Balize, and that he was actively engaged in fortifying that pass, and in preparing lodgings for a small garrison.
The Chickasaw had hardly been disabled from doing further mischief, when Bienville was informed that the Natchez, in consequence of some difficulties which had sprung up between them and the French, had murdered two or three of the latter and plundered their habitations. He immediately went up the river with an army of seven hundred men, and having obtained the sacrifice of some heads, in atonement for those of the French who had been killed, he smoked the calumet of peace with the Indians, and only three days after his arrival at Natchez, he had the satisfaction of speeding back to New Orleans, after having put an end to hostilities which threatened a protracted and a dangerous war.
But the Indians were not the worst enemies he had to cope with. He had active and ever-plotting adversaries in the colony, and no vessel returned to France without carrying back heavy accusations against the Governor of Louisiana. Hubert, the king's commissary, was one of the foremost, and kept repeating to the French government that Louisiana was the finest country in the world; that if it had a fault, it was that its virgin soil was too rich, which was injurious to agriculture, the first harvests being too luxuriant to be productive; but that if the colony did not prosper more, it was owing to the mal-administration of Bienville, and to his favoritism for his numerous relations and allies. The fact is, that the colony, as for the past, was divided into two factions, and the quarrels of its officers and administrators waxed p362 so hot and so acrimonious, that almost every day, anonymous and defamatory writings were stuck up at every street corner in New Orleans, and satirical compositions were clandestinely circulated, which produced much irritation and many duels. The Superior Council had to publish an ordinance on the subject, and to inflict heavy penalties on those who participated in the composition and publication of these libels.
On the 16th of January, 1724, Bienville had the mortification of receiving a dispatch from the French government, by which he was called to France to answer the charges brought against him. Perhaps to soften the blow, his cousin Boisbriant was appointed governor ad interim. This was the second time that his enemies had succeeded against him, and forced him to visit France in self-defense. But before leaving the colony, he published, in the month of March of the year 1724, a Black Code, containing all the legislation applicable to slaves. It remained in force until after the cession of Louisiana by Spain to France, and by France to the United States, and some of its provisions have been incorporated into the Black Code which is now the law of the land. As it embodies the views, feelings, and legislation of our ancestors more than a century ago, on a subject which has been daily growing in importance, I have deemed it of sufficient interest to lay the whole of it before the public.1 Its first and its third articles were, it must be confessed, strangely irrelevant to the matter in consideration. Thus, the first declared that the Jews were forever expelled from the colony; and the third, that the Roman Catholic religion was the only religious creed which would be tolerated in Louisiana. By what concatenation of causes or of ideas, these provisions concerning the supremacy p363 of the Roman Catholic religion and the expulsion of the Jews came to be inserted into the Black Code, it is difficult the imagine.
I transcribe here a short royal ordinance, which shows the nature of the morality of the country at the time, and which demonstrates the state of distraction and of bitter conflict with which the colonists were afflicted, instead of working harmoniously for their mutual welfare.
"Royal ordinance concerning the breaking up of seals, and the violation of the secrecy of letters.
"Whereas the directors of the India Company have represented to us, that in our province of Louisiana many breaches of trust are committed with regard to the letters and packages which are received from Europe, and those which are destined to be transported from said colony to our kingdom; that some evil-minded persons, either through malicious intentions or a guilty curiosity, intercept said letters and packages, and after having opened them, make public what they contain, whereby quarrels and animosities are produced in our colony, we have deemed it expedient to stop the course of an abuse so prejudicial to commerce and so repugnant to good faith: and to this effect, we have declared and ordained that all persons, officers, clerks, inhabitants, or others, on being convicted of having detained or intercepted one or several letters or packages, shall be sentenced, to wit: the officers or clerks, to a fine of five hundred livres, to be deprived of their office or offices, and to be forever incapable of holding any other under our government; and that the inhabitants (habitants) and others shall be sentenced to the iron collar (carcan), and to a fine of five hundred livres."
The affairs of the company, far from improving, were rapidly becoming worse. Louisiana was losing ground p364 in the estimation of the French government, and it was thought necessary to diminish the expenses of such an unprofitable possession. Thus, by an ordinance of the 7th of November, the military forces of the colony were reduced from twenty companies to ten, commanded by Marigny de Mandeville, De la Tour, d'Artaguette, du Tisné, Lamarque, Le Blanc, Des Liettes, Marchand de Courcelles, Renault d'Hauterive, and Pradel. Such being the economical views of the French government with regard to Louisiana, the excellent observations and plans presented by the engineer Pauger, concerning the improvements to be made at the mouth of the Mississippi, could not be carried even into partial execution; but as a reward for his labors, he was appointed member of the Superior Council.
The colony had always greatly suffered from the want of surveyors. The grantees of lands experienced much difficulty and long delays to be put in possession of their grants, and frequently, these surveys being made by persons who were incapable, and not legally empowered to officiate, much confusion and uncertainty ensued, and promised future litigation when the country should be more thickly settled. To remedy this evil, two brothers, named Lassus, were sent to Louisiana with full powers to act as engineers in the name of the company.
One of the curses of the colony was the constant fluctuation of its monetary circulation. Not only its paper currency underwent rapid depreciation as soon as a new one succeeded that which fell into discredit, but the company, for the most nefarious jobbing purposes, used to change, by repeated edicts, the standard of Spanish dollars and pistoles, which were the chief metallic currency of the country. Thus, by an edict of the p365 23d of February of the preceding year, the company had suddenly raised the value of the dollar from 4 livres to 7 livres 10 centimes; and twelve months after, on the 26th of February, 1724, the pistole was reduced from 30 to 28 livres, and the dollar from 7 livres 10 centimes to 7 livres. On the 2d of May, there was another reduction for the dollar from 7 livres to 5 livres 12 centimes, and for the pistole, from 28 to 22 livres 8 centimes. On the 30th of October, the came a further reduction. Thus, from 22 livres 8 centimes, the pistole was brought down to 18 livres, and the dollar, from 5 livres 12 centimes to 4 livres 10 centimes. It would be tedious to go into all the details of these financial operations, and to investigate their real causes. It is evident that there must have been at the bottom of them some dark fraud, greedy corruption, and thieving speculation, which enriched some individuals at the expense of the sheepish multitude. To give an idea of the perturbation which was produced in the affairs of the colony, it is sufficient to state that, in the course of two years, there was, by successive arbitrary ordinances, a rise and fall of nearly fifty per cent in the value of the metallic currency of the country. An indescribable confusion was the consequence of such measures. The pecuniary situation of every colonist was changed; the ruin was almost general, but some large fortunes sprung up from the vast wreck. Comments are unnecessary, when facts speak so loudly and so distinctly. The mere statement of these facts suffices to show what was the spirit which presided over the administration of that miserable colony. Under such an incubus, how could it prosper without a miracle, when suffering from the violation of all the laws of nature, of common sense, of civilization, and of political economy?
In 1724, the white population of Louisiana, says La p366 Harpe, amounted to about 1700 souls, and the black population to 3300. If La Harpe's statement be true, it shows an astonishing diminution of the white population, which, in 1721, was computed at 5400.a There were in the colony, 1100 cows, 300 bulls, 200 horses and mares, 100 sheep, 100 goats, some hogs, and a considerable number of domestic fowls of every kind. In New Orleans and its vicinity, there were about 1000 souls, including the troops, and the persons employed by the government.
This year, 1724, was made remarkable by the promulgation of a law for the protection of domestic animals, and by its Draconic severity. Thus, the king, at the request of the Superior Council of the colony, issued a royal edict, declaring that the voluntary killing or maiming of a horse, or of a horned animal, by any one but the owner, should be punishable with death, and that any person who, without leave from a competent authority, should kill his own horse, his own cow, and sheep, or their young ones, if of the female sex, should pay a fine of 300 livres.
The enacting of such a law was no doubt prompted by the necessity of preserving against wanton destruction, animals which were so useful to the colony, and which it was extremely important to multiply. But as the human race was quite as scarce in the colony, and of a nobler and more precious nature, it seems that some scale of proportion should have been observed between the degrees of punishment to be inflicted for the killing of an ox, or of a man, and that the bipeds and quadrupeds should not have been assimilated under the same aegis of protection. What a wonderful change has taken place in our legislation, in our manners and customs, in the whole state of the country, and in its very bones and sinews since 1724! This change is p367 so great, that we can hardly admit the reality of the evidence that, only a little better than a century ago, one might have been broken on the wheel, or decapitated in Louisiana, for having maimed or wounded a horse or a cow. It shows that blue-laws were not confined altogether to the soil of Connecticut.
On his arrival in France, Bienville laid his defense, in 1725, before the French government. He represented that he had honorably served the king for thirty-four years, during the greater part of which he had acted as the governor, or one of the chief officers of Louisiana:— that as an officer of the Navy, he had served seven years, and gone through seven campaigns at sea:— that during these seven campaigns, he had been present at all the sea-fights of his brother Iberville, on the coasts of New England, of Newfoundland, and in the bay of Hudson, and among other engagements, at the one which took place between one single French ship of 42 guns, commanded by Iberville, against three English ships, of which one was of 54 guns, and two of 42, when, after a struggle of five hours, Iberville sunk the fifty-four, took one of the 42, and dismasted the other, which escaped under the protection of the dark shades of night; in which fight, he, Bienville, was dangerously wounded in the head. He further represented, that it was he, who, in 1699, jointly with his brother Iberville, had discovered the mouth of the Mississippi, and established a colony in Louisiana; that, for twenty-seven consecutive years, he had devoted himself exclusively to the colonization of that province; that he had sacrificed in favor of this public spirited enterprise the brilliant career which was open for him in his majesty's navy, in which many members of his family had distinguished themselves, seven of his brothers having died naval officers; that his father had p368 died on the battle-field, in the service of his country; that there still remained in the navy three of his brothers: De Longueil, governor of Montreal, in Canada, De Sérigny, captain of a ship of the line, and De Chateaugué, naval ensign. He then reviewed what he had done since he arrived in Louisiana, the unceasing hardships and difficulties of every sort it had been his lot to struggle against, — the causes which excited the jealousy and hostility of his adversaries; and he labored to prove that all his acts had been in conformity with the laws, with his instructions, with the interest of the colony, and of the king's service, and that it was to his unremitted exertions and devotion, that the colony was indebted for the continuation of its existence. Bernard de la Harpe, who, in his historical journal, warmly supports Bienville against his accusers, says pithily, that the best proof that Bienville had always been more mindful of the colony's interest and welfare than of his own, was, that during the twenty-seven years he had resided in the colony, and wielded power, he had not acquired in property more than 60,000 livres worth (or $12,000), which was more than could be said of his traducers.
But if Bienville had implacable enemies, he had friends, blood relations, and allies, whose fidelity and active zeal were a compensation equal to the hostility from which he had to suffer. One of them, De Noyan, his nephew, presented to the Superior Council a petition, in which he stated, that he wished to disprove an assertion which had been advanced by his uncle's enemies, who had assured the French government that the Indian nations, having been oppressed by Bienville, were rejoiced at his departure from Louisiana. The Superior Council acceded to the prayer of the petition, and De Noyan brought before them deputations from p369 the Oumas, Tunicas, Natchez, Choctaws, and other tribes, who declared that Bienville had always been their best friend, and that, during his absence, their hearts would ever be clad in mourning. Nevertheless, Bienville, in spite of his own exertions, and of those of his friends, was dismissed from office, and Périer was appointed governor in his place on the 9th of August, 1726. The success of Bienville's enemies was so complete, that Chateaugué, his brother, who had long been acting as "Lieutenant de Roi," or lieutenant-governor in the colony, was also removed, and that the two Noyans, both his nephews, one a captain, and the other an ensign in the army, were broken, and the order was given to send them to France. The object of these measures, besides the gratification of private malice, was to destroy the influence of Bienville, to sweep away all the obstacles of a foreseen opposition from the path of his successor, and to make level ground for the new administration.
This change, and the other modifications which were expected in the administration, produced considerable perturbation, ill-blood, and fears, in the colony. The excitement was increased by the anticipation of a war, and the proclamation of Boisbriant, the governor ad interim, and De la Chaise, the king's commissary, which invited all the colonists to carry to the king's warehouses at New Orleans and Mobile, all the ammunition and provisions they could command, to provide for the contingencies of a war likely to break out between Spain and England, and in which France would be called to take a part, in virtue of her treaty of alliance with Spain.
It will be recollected that De la Chaise had been sent by the India Company, in 1723, with Du Saunoy, to exercise inquisitorial powers over the affairs of Louisiana, p370 to take informations on the conduct of all the officers and administrators of the colony, and to report thereon to the government. Du Saunoy having died shortly after his arrival, De la Chaise had remained clothed with all the authority of the joint commission. As soon as he entered upon his duties, the old intestine war had immediately ceased by mutual consent between the officers, clerks, agents of the colonial administration, and they had leagued themselves against the common enemy — against the spy whom the government had set in terrorem over them all. De la Chaise soon found himself in a hornet's nest, and met fierce opposition in every thing, and from every quarter. He was a nephew of the celebrated Jesuit, Father de la Chaise, the confessor to Louis the XIVth, and of patrician birth, the ancient feudal castle of his family, the Chateau d'Aix, being situated among the mountains of the province of Forez, in France. His father was the son of George d'Aix, Seigneur de la Chaise, who was distinguished for his military services, and had married Renée de Rochefort, daughter of one of the noblest houses of the province. Members of the De la Chaise family continued to occupy high rank in the army, and in the king's household, and one of them, during the regency of the Duke of Orleans, died a lieutenant-general. He had acquired reputation for his uncompromising integrity, and his unflinching attachment to duty, but, says the Duke of St. Simon, in his memoirs, he was so deficient in intellect, that he frequently met with unlucky accidents, in his military career.
De la Chaise, the king's commissary in Louisiana, was not gifted with a superior intellect; but he was a solid square block of honesty, who neither deviated to the right nor to the left from the path of duty, and who, possessing a considerable share of energy, moved stoutly p371 onward in the accomplishment of his mission, regardless of persons and of consequences. The never-ceasing repose of his handsome features was an unmistakable indication of the unruffled serenity of his soul: and the dignity of his person, the measured propriety of his deportment and actions were such, that it checked in others the ebullition of passion, forced discussion to be courteous, and anger itself to be respectful. With the blandest urbanity, but with unwavering firmness, he called every one to account, and the opposition, which he goaded into fury by his steadiness of purpose, and his unsparing investigations, became such, that the government thought it necessary to act with vigor. Boisbriant, the governor ad interim, Perrault, Perry, the engineer Pauger, the attorney-general Fleuriau, all members of the Superior Council, were censured with severity by the government. Moreover, Governor Boisbriant, Bienville's cousin, was summoned to France, to justify his acts: Perrault, Fazende, and Perry, members of the council, were dismissed from office: Fleuriau, the attorney-general, was invited to throw up his commission, and the office itself was suppressed for the moment. They had the mortification to receive the imperative order to appear respectfully before De la Chaise, and the new governor, Périer, or before whomsoever these dignitaries might choose to designate, and then to account to them for all their official acts. After that, Perrault and Perry were to be transported to France. With regard to Fazende, the other councillor, he was permitted to remain in Louisiana as a private citizen. Through the influence of Boisbriant, the governor ad interim, who was violently opposed to de la Chaise, a spirit of insubordination having infected the troops themselves, the king had issued an ordinance, on the 20th of November, to prohibit all assemblies of p372 officers. It was a complete revolution in miniature, but these were thought to be mighty events in the liliputian colony of Louisiana.
Thus, De la Chaise and Périer remained the supreme masters in Louisiana. The India Company, thinking it good policy that Périer should have a personal interest in the prosperity of the colony, and anxious to secure his zealous co‑operation, even if it were on selfish grounds only, granted him, over and above his regular salary as governor, a concession of •ten acres of land, fronting on the river, with the ordinary depth, and decreed that he should receive the donation of eight negroes a year, as long as he should retain his office.
The India Company gave to Périer the minutest instructions, to serve as rules for his administration. They informed him that they expected he should keep up the best understanding with De la Chaise, the king's commissary, whose integrity, zeal, and intelligence were well known to the company, and that there should be no jealousy and no clashing of authority between them; that from the sad experience of the past, they had come to the conclusion that power should be divided in the colony between two persons only, each one responsible for his acts in his respective department; that one should be the executive officer and the military commander of the colony, and the other should have the supervision of its police, its commerce, and its judicial administration; that they should remain completely independent of each other, in order to prevent the dissensions and quarrels which had hitherto been so fatal to the prosperity of the country; that he, Governor Périer, and the commissary, De la Chaise, would find, in the company's instructions, their powers and functions clearly defined and kept distinctly apart; that De la Chaise having made many enemies in consequence of his zeal for the p373 interests of the company, Governor Périer was required to back and to support him with all the means which would be in his hands; and that, in concert with this colleague in authority, he was expected to take all the measures necessary to punish, according to their deserts, those who had opposed the exercise of the authority conferred upon the king's commissary.
One of the articles of the instructions ran thus:— "Whereas it is maintained that the diseases which prevail in New Orleans during the summer, proceed from the want of air and from the city being smothered by the neighboring woods, which press so close around it, it shall be the care of M. Périer to have them cut down, as far as Lake Pontchartrain." This paragraph shows two things:— 1. That, at that remote time, the summer was a sickly season in New Orleans, as it is to this day; and 2. That to make it more healthy, the government was, as far back as 1726, struck with the necessity of an improvement which, for many years past, has in vain been urged upon the public authorities of New Orleans. To procure to this city a free and pure ventilation from Lake Pontchartrain, there remains to be removed only a thin curtain of wood, which might soon be withdrawn; and there being no other impediment to prevent a mutual exchange of breezes between the Mississippi and the lake, gentle drafts of invigorating air would daily sweep through our streets, and make of New Orleans, during the summer, the safest and most agreeable urban residence in the Union. When it should be once known that New Orleans is as much blessed with health as any other part of these United States, its rapid aggrandizement would be almost without limits, and it would, with the advantages it possesses, become at once the pride and the wonder of the American continent. In 1844, under the administration p374 of Governor Mouton, this enlightened chief magistrate of the state of Louisiana proposed to the mayor of the city, to put at his disposal from eighty to one hundred black convicts, sentenced to hard labor, on condition that they should be employed by the municipal councils of New Orleans, in cutting down the forest which lies between the lake and New Orleans, and on condition that, during that time, they should be fed and clothed at the expense of the city. This liberal offer was not accepted for some futile causes, and a very important public improvement was indefinitely delayed. But he who studies some of the designs of Providence, as they are stamped on the map of the world, can see, however feeble his vision may be, that it is not in the power of the apathy, the stupidity, or the malice of man, materially to affect the destinies which are in store for the noble city now rising so proudly on the bank of the mighty father of rivers in the Egypt of the New World. Time will do all that is necessary — time! that great destroyer and beautifier of things!
"Haec igitur formam crescendo mutat, et olim
In another article of the instructions, the company impressed upon Périer's mind the importance of his visiting, as soon as possible after his arrival in Louisiana, the powerful tribe of the Natchez, in order to become well acquainted with their dispositions, and the nature of their relations with the neighboring French settlement, to which it was the intention of the company to give as full a development as it was susceptible of. He was informed that the Natchez had three important villages in close contiguity with the French settlement; which circumstance had been and was expected p375 to be the cause of incessant misunderstandings and quarrels; and that it was the desire of the company that he should look into this state of things, and that, if he should be of opinion, after a thorough investigation, that there was danger in keeping so close together two antagonistic races, then to tender to the Natchez chiefs, presents sufficiently persuasive to induce them to remove farther. These instructions, which, no doubt, became known to the French settlers, and leaked out among the Indians, and the feelings and acts to which they must have given rise, were probably one of the main causes that produced the horrible tragedy which marked with letters of blood the annals of Louisiana in 1729.
The new governor, Périer, had, when accepting his office, undertaken a task which, to be performed with credit to himself and to the India Company, required capacities of mind and soul of no inferior order; for, he had to contend with difficulties, for which mediocrity was no match. To appreciate his position, it is sufficient to read the description which Drouot de Valdeterre, who had commanded at Dauphine Island and Biloxi, gives of the colony in 1726.
"The inhabitants of this country," said he, "whose establishment in it is of such recent date, not being governed in the name of his majesty, but in that of the company, have become republicans in their thoughts, feelings, and manners, and they consider themselves as free from the allegiance due to a lawful sovereign. The troops are without discipline and subordination, without arms and ammunition, most of the time, without clothing, and they are frequently obliged to seek for their food among the Indian tribes. There are no forts for their protection; no places of refuge for them in cases of attack. The guns and other implements of p376 war are buried in sand and abandoned; the warehouses are unroofed; the merchandise, goods, and provisions are damaged or completely spoiled; the company as well as the colonists are plundered without mercy and restraint; revolts and desertions among the troops are authorized and sanctioned; incendiaries who, for the purpose of pillage, commit to the flames whole camps, posts, settlements, and warehouses, remain unpunished; prisoners of war are forced to become sailors in the service of the company, and by culpable negligence or connivance they are allowed to run away with ships loaded with merchandise; other vessels are willfully stranded or wrecked, and their cargoes are lost to their owners; forgers, robbers, and murderers are secure of impunity. In short, this is a country which, to the shame of France be it said, is without religion, without justice, without discipline, without order, and without police." What a picture! It wants no finishing stroke.
In this energetic enumeration of the imperfections of the colony at the time, there is one thing which is deserving of notice. It is the innate spirit of republicanism which stuck to it from its origin: a spirit, of which Governor Cadillac complained so bitterly in 1717, and which, in 1726, was not much more to the taste of Drouot de Valdeterre.
It must be confessed that the company itself was the first, in some instances, to give bad examples by the violation of the contracts and of the laws of morality and justice. Thus, on the 31st of October, the Council of State, at the instigation of the company, issued an ordinance decreeing that all creditors should accept in satisfaction of their claims, and that all holders of promissory notes and letters of credit should receive in payment of those obligations (any contrary stipulations p377 notwithstanding) the copper currency what had been introduced in the colony, and for the value affixed to it, instead of Spain dollars or other Spanish coin. Any person violating this ordinance was declared to be guilty of peculation or extortion, sentenced to pay a fine of three hundred livres, one half of which for the benefit of the informer, and the other for the relief the charity hospital, and further to be whipped and branded by the public executioner. The Spanish dollars or coin paid in violation of this edict were confiscated on behalf of the government.
Nothing could have justified this violent interference with private contracts; and it seems to us, modified as we are by the political atmosphere we live in, that those who framed and issued the ordinance we have mentioned, were much more deserving of the hangman's whip and brand than those who, in conformity with their pledged faith in contracts which were lawful at the time they were made, would have disregarded and disobeyed such retrospective and barbarous legislation.
Beyond this act of arbitrary and unjust legislation, nothing else marked the close of the year 1726, which had winged its flight over the colony without having dropped from its pinions one feather which Louisiana might have added to her stores of acquisitions and prosperity. For her there had been no progress. Time and the world had stood still.
In 1727, some Ursuline nuns and some Jesuits, in conformity with a contract, which, in the preceding year, they had passed with the India Company, came to Louisiana, where they were to reside permanently. The Ursulines were seven in number, and were to take charge of the charity hospital in New Orleans. According to previous stipulations, they were transported at the cost of the company with four servants, and they p378 had received each, before their departure, as a gratuity, the sum of five hundred livres. They were immediately put in possession of the hospital, in which they were to reside until a more convenient dwelling should be built up for them. The company was to concede to the hospital a lot of ground measuring •eight acres, fronting on the Mississippi by the usual depth of •forty feet.º The object of this concession was the establishment of a plantation, capable of supplying the wants of the Ursulines, and of affording to them a sufficient remuneration for their services in the hospital. Those eight acres were to be located as near New Orleans as possible. Each of the nuns was to receive six hundred livres a year, until their plantation should be in full cultivation, or during five years after they should have been furnished by the company with eight negroes, on the ordinary conditions on which they were sold to the colonists. It was expressly stipulated, that if the nuns ceased to serve in the hospital as agreed upon, they would forfeit their plantation and the immovables attached to the hospital, and would retain only the negroes and other movables.
An edifice, which is still in existence, was constructed for their use on Condé-street, between Barracks and Hospital streets. They took possession of it in 1730, when it was completed, and they continued to occupy it until 1824, when they moved to a more splendid and more spacious convent, which they had caused to be built, •three miles below the city, on the bank of the river. After the State House had been burnt in New Orleans, the Legislature sat in the old convent, and in 1831, its sacred walls, one century after they had pealed for the first time with holy anthems, and had heard soft prayers whispered to the sweet Virgin Mary, were converted to purposes of legislation, and resounded p379 with fierce oratorical debates. It has since resumed a character more consonant with its original destination, and has become the bishop's palace.b
Such is the humble origin of one of the wealthiest religious corporations of the state. The Ursulines have long ceased to be connected with the charity hospital, and have established a convent for the education of females. Heaven has ever after favored them with uninterrupted prosperity, and so far, has spared them those trials and vicissitudes which are the common lot of the human race. In a country where all the laws counteract the permanent accumulation of wealth in private hands, and also where lay corporations of every sort invariably run into debt and end in bankruptcy, the history of these Ursuline nuns is a remarkable demonstration of the vitality, and of the spirit of preservation and of acquisition inherent to religious Catholic associations. It is undeniable that, to husband the terrestrial resources of the world, and to make the most of them, no individuals or set of people are to be compared with those who deal in religious spirituality, and whose minds are fraught with thoughts celestial. Parched deserts, where it seemed that none but the salamander could live, have smiled at the command of monks, and have become the delightful habitations of man. There, stupendous buildings have been erected in the very bosom of sterility, refreshing waters have gushed from the burning sand, luxuriant gardens have sprung into existence, the hot breeze has been made sweet with perfumes, and the gorgeous display of opulence has astonished the pilgrim or the inquisitive traveler, in places which looked as if consecrated by nature to solitude and to famine. On how many craggy sides of desolate mountains, where the goat itself could hardly find scanty food, have comfortable human abodes been p380 raised, and flourishing institutions been established under the magic spell of religious association! Religious association! It gives even to woman the strength of a giant. There is in it consolidation, duration, infinite power, and almost ubiquity of influence. Truly, it is no transient bauble, as so many of our political or other worldly institutions, but it is something to study and to admire. Its granite organization inspires me with a respect which discourages censure, and I feel little disposed to analyze the good or the evil it has produced, and to indulge in a philosophical examination of its bearings on the destinies of nations, and in a prophetic anticipation of its future doings. To pyramids, the grandeur of which awes my sight, I bow with the innate love I feel in my soul for the stupendous, without enquiring, or caring perhaps, whether harvests profitable to mankind, or rank weeds, will grow within reach of their lengthened shadows.
These reflections lead me by an easy transition to the Jesuits, who landed in Louisiana at the same time with the Ursulines. The Superior of the company of the Louisiana Jesuits was to reside in New Orleans, but could not exercise therein any ecclesiastical functions, without the permission of the Superior of the Capuchins, under whose spiritual jurisdiction New Orleans happened to be placed. The Jesuits had been transported to the colony at the cost of the company; before their departure, and as a gratuity, each one received 150 livres; during the first two years of their residence in Louisiana, they were to be paid severally at the rate of 800 livres annually, and, afterward, that salary was to be reduced to 600 livres. A concession of •eight acres of land, fronting on the river, with the usual depth, was made to them in the neighborhood of New Orleans, and they long dwelt on a plantation, a little above p381 Canal-street, in that part of the city which is now called the second municipality. A house and chapel were constructed for them, and they soon became as powerful in Louisiana, as they are destined to be where they may have a footing. Thus New Orleans was handsomely provided with spiritual protection, but flanked, on the left, with the Ursulines, and on the right, with the Jesuits.
In the beginning of 1727, the spot where now stands New Orleans, not being protected by a levee, was subject to annual inundations, and presented no better aspect than that of a vast sink or sewer. The waters of the Mississippi, and of Lake Pontchartrain, met at a ridge of high land, which, by their common deposits, they had formed between Bayou St. John and New Orleans, and which was since called the Lepers' bluff. The whole city was surrounded by a large ditch, and fenced in with sharp stakes wedged close together. For the purposes of draining, a ditch ran along the four sides of every square of the city, and every lot in every square was also ditched all round, causing New Orleans to look very much like a microscopic caricature of Venice. Mosquitoes buzzed, and enormous frogs croaked incessantly in concert with other indescribable sounds; tall reeds, and grass of every variety, grew in the streets and in the yards, so as to interrupt all communication, and offered a safe retreat, and places of concealment to venomous reptiles, wild beasts, and malefactors, who, protected by these impenetrable jungles, committed with impunity all sorts of evil deeds. It provoked a proclamation from Rossard, the inspector of police, who complained bitterly of the overstretched obstinacy with which, in spite of repeated admonitions, the inhabitants of New Orleans persisted in abstaining from removing such nuisances, and therefore p382 he threatened them with condign punishment. It is pleasing to the imagination, to compare the past with the present, the hay standards of primitive Romec with the gold eagles which spread their wings in front of the legions of Caesar.
Governor Périer signalized the beginning of his administration by some improvements of an important nature. On the 15th of November, he had completed in front of New Orleans a levee, of •eighteen hundred yards in length, and so broad that its summit measured •eighteen feet in width. This same levee, although considerably reduced in its proportions, he caused to be continued •eighteen miles on both sides of the city, above and below. He announced to the company, that he would soon undertake to cut a canal from New Orleans to Bayou St. John, in order to open a communication with the sea through the lakes, and he mentioned the arrangements which he had made with the inhabitants in relation to the negroes they were to furnish for the execution of this work, which was actually begun, but to which subsequent events put a stop. Thus it is seen that the plan of the canal which now bears the name of Carondelet, did not originate with that Spanish governor.
The English, being at war with the Spaniards, were intriguing among the Indians, to set them against their enemies, and at their instigation, the Talapouches had besieged Pensacola. But Governor Périer having sent them word that, if they did not retire, he would cause them to be attacked by the Choctaws, they obeyed his summons. He also gave to the Spaniards all the indirect and secret aid that he could, and he devoted much time and intrigues, to exciting a feeling of hostility among all the Indian nations against the English. Running up the Mississippi, he put an end to several p383 puny wars which existed between small Indian tribes from the Arkansas to the Balize, so that during the year 1727, an almost unprecedented tranquillity prevailed in the colony. He caused a census to be made of the negroes, and found that population amounting to 2600 souls: the white hardly exceeded that number. Insignificant as this infant colony was, its expenses of administration, this year, rose to 453,728 livres, which, considering the comparative value of the precious metals, was at least equivalent to three times that sum in our days.
On the 29th of July, the Council of State in France, for reasons unknown to us, but which we must suppose to have been weighty at the time, promulgated a decree, putting in force in Louisiana an old edict of Henry IId, which made it a capital crime for unmarried women to conceal their pregnancy. This legislative act was received in the colony with exceedingly marked signs of displeasure; and it is to be hoped that, on account of its severity, it never was carried into execution if any case ever called for its application.
During that summer, Governor Périer, leaving New Orleans, visited the first settlements of the French at the Bay of St. Louis, at Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Mobile. While among the Pascagoulas, or bread-eaters, he was invited to go to the mouth of the river of that name, to listen to the mysterious music which floats on the waters, particularly on a calm, moonlit night, and which, to this day, excites the wonder of visitors. It seems to issue from caverns or grottoes in the bed of the river, and sometimes ascends from the water under the very keel of the boat which contains the inquisitive traveler, whose ear it strikes as the distant concert of a thousand Eolian harps. On the banks of the river, close by the spot where the music is heard, p384 tradition says that there existed a tribe different in color and in other peculiarities from the rest of the Indians. Their ancestors had originally emerged from the sea, where they were born, and were of light complexion. They were a gentle, gay, inoffensive race, living chiefly on oysters and fish, and they passed their time in festivals and rejoicings. They had a temple in which they adored a mermaid. Every night when the moon was visible, they gathered round the beautifully carved figure of the mermaid, and with instruments of strange shape, worshiped that idol with such soul-stirring music, as had never before blessed human ears.
One day, a short time after the destruction of Mauvila, or Mobile, in 1539, by Soto and his companions, there appeared among them a white man, with a long gray beard, flowing garments, and a large cross in his right hand. He drew from his bosom a book, which he kissed reverentially, and he began to explain to them what was contained in that sacred little casket. Tradition does not say how he came suddenly to acquire the language of those people, when he attempted to communicate to them the solemn truths of the gospel. It must have been by the operation of that faith which, we are authoritatively told, will remove mountains. Be it as it may, the holy man, in the course of a few months, was proceeding with much success in his pious undertaking, and the work of conversion was going on bravely, when his purposes were defeated by an awful prodigy.
One night, when the moon at her zenith poured on heaven and earth, with more profusion than usual, a flood of light angelic, at the solemn hour of twelve, when all in and was repose and silence, there came, on a sudden, a rushing on the surface of the river, as if the still air had been flapped into a whirlwind by myriads p385 of invisible wings sweeping onward. The placid water was immediately convulsed; uttering a deep groan, it rolled several times from one bank to the other with rapid oscillations, and then gathered itself up into a towering column of foaming waves, on the top of which stood a mermaid, looking with magnetic eyes that could draw almost every thing to her, and singing with a voice which fascinated into madness. The Indians and the priest, their new guest, rushed to the bank of the river to contemplate this supernatural spectacle. When she saw them, the mermaid tuned her tones into still more bewitching melody, and kept chanting a sort of mystic song, with this often repeated ditty:—
"Come to me, come to me, children of the sea,
Neither bell, book, nor cross shall win ye from your queen."
The Indians listened with growing ecstasy, and one of them plunged into the river to rise no more. The rest, men, women, and children, followed in quick succession, moved, as it were, with the same irresistible impulse. When the last of the race disappeared, a wild laugh of exultation was heard; down returned the river to its bed with the roar of a cataract, and the whole scene seemed to have been but a dream. Ever since that time, is heard occasionally the distant music which has excited so much attention and investigation. The other Indian tribes of the neighborhood have always thought that it was their musical brethren, who still keep up their revels at the bottom of the river, in the palace of the mermaid. Tradition further relates that the poor priest died in an agony of grief, and that he attributed this awful event, and this victory of the powers of darkness, to his not having been in a perfect state of grace when he attempted the conversion of those infidels. p386 It is believed also that he said on his death-bed, that those deluded pagan souls would be redeemed from their bondage and sent to the kingdom of heaven, if on a Christmas night, at twelve of the clock, when the moon shall happen to be at her meridian, a priest should dare to come alone to that musical spot, in a boat propelled by himself, and should drop a crucifix into the water. But, alas! if this be ever done, neither the holy man nor the boat are to be seen again by mortal eyes. So far, the attempt has not been made; sceptic minds have sneered, but no one has been found bold enough to try the experiment.d
Since I am dealing in traditionary lore, I may as well close this lecture with another legend, which, when I was a boy, thirty years ago, a man of eighty related to me, as having been handed down to him by his father.
In a lot situated at the corner of Orleans and Dauphine streets, in the city of New Orleans, there is a tree which nobody looks at without curiosity and without wondering how it came there. For a long time, it was the only one of its kind known in the state, and from its isolated position, it has always been cursed with sterility. It reminds one of the warm climes of Africa or Asia, and wears the aspect of a stranger of distinction driven from his native country. Indeed, with its sharp and thin foliage, sighing mournfully under the blast of one of our November northern winds, it looks as sorrowful as an exile. Its enormous trunk is nothing but an agglomeration of knots and bumps, which each passing year seems to have deposited there as a mark of age, and as a protection against the blows of time and of the world. Inquire for its origin, and every one will tell you that it has stood there from time immemorial. A sort of vague by impressive mystery is attached to it, and it is as superstitiously respected as one p387 of the old oaks of Dodona. Bold would be the axe that should strike the first blow at that foreign patriarch; and if it were prostrated to the ground by a profane hand, what native of the city would not mourn over its fall, and brand the act as an unnatural and criminal deed? So, long live the date-tree of Orleans-street, that time-honored descendant of Asiatic ancestors!
In the beginning of 1727, a French vessel of war landed at New Orleans a man of haughty mien, who wore the Turkish dress, and whose whole attendance was a single servant. He was received by the governor with the highest distinction, and was conducted by him to a small but comfortable house with a pretty garden, then existing at the corner of Orleans and Dauphine streets, and which, from the circumstance of its being so distant from other dwellings, might have been called a rural retreat, although situated in the limits of the city. There, the stranger, who was understood to be a prisoner of state, lived in the greatest seclusion; and although neither he nor his attendant could be guilty of indiscretion, because none understood their language, and although Governor Périer severely rebuked the slightest inquiry, yet it seemed to be the settled conviction in Louisiana, that the mysterious stranger was a brother of the Sultan, or some great personage of the Ottoman empire, who had fled from the anger of the viceregent of Mohammed, and who had taken refuge in France. The Sultan had peremptorily demanded the fugitive, and the French government, thinking it derogatory to its dignity to comply with that request, but at the same time not wishing to expose its friendly relations with the Moslem monarch, and perhaps desiring, for political purposes, to keep in hostage the important guest it had in its hands, had recourse to the expedient of answering, that he had fled to Louisiana, p388 which was so distant a country that it might be looked upon as the grave, where, as it was suggested, the fugitive might be suffered to wait in peace for actual death, without danger or offense to the Sultan. Whether this story be true or not is now a matter of so little consequence, that it would not repay the trouble of a strict historical investigation.
The year 1727 was drawing to its close, when on a dark, stormy night, the howling and barking of the numerous dogs in the streets of New Orleans were observed to be fiercer than usual, and some of that class of individuals who pretend to know every thing, declared that, by the vivid flashes of the lightning, they had seen, swiftly and stealthily gliding toward the residence of the unknown, a body of men who wore the scowling appearance of malefactors and ministers of blood. There afterward came also a report, that a piratical-looking Turkish vessel had been hovering a few days previous in the bay of Barataria. Be it as it may, on the next morning the house of the stranger was deserted. There were no traces of mortal struggle to be seen; but in the garden, the earth had been dug, and there was the unmistakable indication of a recent grave. Soon, however, all doubts were removed by the finding of an inscription in Arabic characters, engraved on a marble tablet, which was subsequently sent to France. It ran thus: "The justice of heaven is satisfied, and the date-tree shall grow on the traitor's tomb. The sublime Emperor of the faithful, the supporter of the faith, the omnipotent master and Sultan of the world, has redeemed his vow. God is great, and Mohammed is his prophet. Allah!" Some time after this event, a foreign-looking tree was seen to peep out of this spot where a corpse must have been deposited in that stormy night, when the rage of the elements yielded to the p389 pitiless fury of man, and it thus explained in some degree this part of the inscription, "the date-tree shall grow on the traitor's grave."
Who was he, or what had he done, who had provoked such relentless and far-seeking revenge? Ask Nemesis, or — at that hour when evil spirits are allowed to roam over the earth, and magical incantations are made — go, and interrogate the tree of the dead.e
b For further details on the Ursuline convents, old and new, see Grace King, New Orleans, the Place and the People, Chapter 4.
d If the attempt, when Gayarré wrote in the mid‑19c, had not yet been made, it may very well have been not for lack of boldness, but for lack of astronomical opportunity. At any given moment and place, over a long period of time, the moon has one chance in 180 of being within a degree of her meridian. Your chance to work good to these trapped souls, assuming you are a priest and minded to do so in this particular way, thus occurs on average every 180 years.
An amusingly garbled version — no tree, but five wives added, the hero promoted to Sultan, and the tale shifted to the time of President Garfield — could once be read online, but with the continued shrinkage of the Web, the page (the entire site in this case) has disappeared; other stray pages out there place the incident in 1790. All this should serve as a caution, if there were need for any, that you need to check what you read: online especially, but also in printed books.
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History of Louisiana
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