These headings of the author's are used here as local links to text on this webpage.
State of Agriculture in 1736 — Exemption from Duties on certain Articles of Importation and Exportation — War between the Choctaws and Chickasaws — Singular Judicial Proceeding in 1738 — Bienville's Dispatch on the Sand-bars at the Mouth of the Mississippi — De Noailles is sent to Louisiana to command an Expedition against the Chickasaws — Bienville's Jealousy — Intrigues of the Indian, Red Shoe — General Rendezvous of the French at the Mouth of River Margot — Failure of that Expedition — Its probable Causes — Bienville's Apology — Effects of a Hurricane — Situation of the Colony in 1741 — Heroism of a French Girl in a Battle against the Indians — Bienville incurs the Displeasure of his Government — He demands the Establishment of a College — That Demand is refused — Bienville is recalled to France — He Departs never to return — He is succeeded by the Marquis of Vaudreuil — Other Facts and Events from 1736 to 1743.
The bad success of Bienville's campaign against the Chickasaws had, to some degree, checked the progress of the colony, and contributed to increase the disaffection of the inhabitants, who were already very little pleased with their colonial home, and who became still more dispirited by the prospect of protracted warfare with implacable savages. To this feeling of insecurity must be added the stagnation of commerce, and the precarious condition of agriculture, of which Bienville said: "The planters are disgusted with the cultivation of tobacco on account of the uncertainty of the crop, which is alternately affected either by the incessant rains, or by the long droughts so peculiar to this country. We may produce from thirty to thirty-five thousand pounds of indigo, if there be no accident in the way. The inhabitants are turning their attention to this branch of industry. As to silk, very little is made, through ignorance. With regard to cotton, the production is very p498 limited, on account of the difficulty of separating it from its seeds, or rather because the cultivation of indigo is more profitable. As to flax and hemp, hardly any is made. With regard to tar and pitch, the colony produces about six or seven thousand barrels, but it wants an outlet." Such was the state of agriculture in Louisiana in 1736.
On the 4th of February, 1737, the French government issued an ordinance which was to take effect on the 1st of July of that year. The object of it was to exempt from certain duties, during ten years, the productions of Louisiana which should be carried to Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinity, Dominique, Barbade, St. Lucie, St. Vincent, Grenade, and the other islands of that archipelago, and the productions of these islands when transported directly to Louisiana. This was another measure of sound policy, and it is to be regretted that the whole administration of the colony was not founded on a system equally as praiseworthy.
During the whole of the year 1737, war was kept up, at the instigation of the French, between the Choctaws and the Chickasaws, without producing any result of importance. It consisted of marauding excursions, in which, however, the Choctaws, by their depredations, succeeded in inflicting some partial injuries on the Chickasaws, who were too well provided with means of defense not to set at defiance all the rude and incomplete engines of attack which could be brought to bear against them. In a dispatch of the 28th of February, Bienville had said: "Fortified as they are, with the help and through the instructions of the English, the Chickasaws can not be destroyed, except bombards of a strong caliber and miners are employed against them. It is necessary that we be so provided. The English have sent more than two hundred p499 men to the Chickasaws, to whom they afford every kind of assistance."
Nothing occurred during that year worth being recorded, except it be the phenomenon of the fall at New Orleans, on Palm Sunday, of hailstones as large as the eggs of a common hen, and the foundation of an hospital by a sailor, named Jean Louis, who, in the service of the India Company, had acquired a small capital of ten thousand livres, which, at his death, he consecrated to the relief of suffering humanity. At one of the extremities of the city, a house belonging to one Mme. Kolly was purchased for twelve hundred livres; the repairs went up to two thousand five hundred livres. One part of the balance of the sum bequeathed was employed in procuring the necessary apparatus and furniture, and the other part was kept in reserve. In 1849, the Charity Hospital of New Orleans, which is the principal institution of the kind in that city, accommodates in its spacious halls more than one thousand patients, at the annual expense of fifty thousand dollars. What contrasts will spring up from the lapse of a century!
As another exemplification of such contrasts, it may not be indifferent to record that, in 1738, the annals of Louisiana are marked by a singular judicial trial founded on laws, customs, feelings, and ideas which are so foreign to those of our own time, that there seems to be between them a wider chasm of ages than there really is. Thus, an individual named Labarre, having committed suicide, a curator was appointed to the corpse, which was indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be deprived of Christian burial, and to lie rotting and bleaching on the face of the earth among the offals, bones, and refuse of the butcher's stall.
The French government had always felt considerable difficulty in preventing desertion in the troops sent to p500 Louisiana. In a dispatch of the 18th of March, 1738, Bienville said: "Many of the Swiss desert to Pensacola, where they are protected openly by the monks and secretly by the governor. But as the Spaniards are in want of provisions, I have recommended to Diron d'Artaguette, at Mobile, not to supply them with any until they consent to deliver up our deserters."
In a communication of the 12th of April following, he returned to the same subject: "Three other Swiss," he wrote, "have again deserted to Pensacola, which is in a state of extreme famine. The governor of that place sent to me for some provisions. I refused them on account of the protection he grants to our deserters. Whereupon he sent them back to me. Every day, there come here Spaniards whom hunger drives away from Pensacola. We have already among us more than thirty of them, whose pale and squalid faces are frightful to look at, and testify to the sufferings of these wretches. Such misery is without a parallel."
These dispatches describe a state of things which is almost inexplicable. On one side, we see the Spaniards running away from Pensacola to New Orleans, to escape from starvation, and on the other, the Swiss and French soldiers deserting from the halls of abundance in New Orleans and Mobile, to throw themselves into the arms of famine in Pensacola. The only natural conclusion that one can come to on this subject is, that the French soldiers, blackguards as they are represented to be by Bienville, were disposed to run any risk rather than remain in Louisiana.
Among the official communications of that year to the French government, there is a joint one from Bienville and Salmon, which bears on a subject of much interest to this day. It relates to the sand-bars which obstruct the several mouths of the Mississippi. "There are daily p501 changes," they said, "at the mouth of the river and the Balize bar. It has been remarked that, when the winter is short and the north wind has not prevailed much, these changes become more perceptible and the water is not so deep. This may also proceed from the existence of two other passes, through which water runs with more rapidity than in the one which is called the Balize.1
"Harbor-master Livaudais (capitaine de port) used to find, ten years ago, •about sixteen feet water on the Balize bar, but it has since become greatly obstructed. Lately, when piloting the Oroo, Livaudais did not find more than •eleven feet and a half on the bar. On account of this diminution of the water, this vessel made her way up with considerable difficulty, the more so, that she draws more water than those ships which preceded her. This shallowness of the water over the bar has frequently been the cause of damages and expenses."
"To obviate this inconvenience, the India Company some treaty years since, had cause to be constructed iron harrows, (herses) which were dragged over the bar, to remove the sand and mud. But this expedient had its disadvantages: it removed the soft mud, and left the sand, which, forming a solid and compact body, would, in time, not only have interfered with the passage of ships, but have prevented it altogether. This caused the harrows to be abandoned. As the ships of the company were large, and could not pass without being lightened, a small vessel (flute) was left stationed on the Balize bar, to receive part of the cargoes, and the spot where this vessel happened to be anchored, deepened gradually to •twenty-five feet."
p502 "From this fact the inference has been drawn, that, to deepen entirely the Balize, it would be proper to have a vessel drawing •eighteen feet, in the hold of which brick wells should be constructed. By alternately pumping water into and out of these wells, the vessel would rise or sink at will:— and by running her up and down over the bar, it is evident that she would cut a channel through. It is true this would be expensive, but the utility of the measure would be incalculable."
"Livaudais, who is a seaman of thirty years' standing, has long been of great service to the colony, in the piloting of vessels over the bar, and by his prudence, he has frequently preserved them from accidents. After having served some years on the privateers of St. Malo, he came to the colony in the employment of the India Company. He has deserved well of the government, and it would be proper that a commission of ensign be granted to him."
The Balize pass, which, in 1728, had •sixteen feet water, in 1738, •fourteen feet and a half, and which Bienville represents as filling up rapidly, is known in our days as the South-East pass, and having no more than •six feet water, has long been abandoned. The necessity of deepening the mouths of the Mississippi was actually felt by the French government, when the colony was in its infancy, and it is really astonishing, that a work of so national an importance, which can be executed at a cost comparatively insignificant, when taken in connection with the results to be obtained, should not as yet have been accomplished by the government of the United States, with the ample pecuniary and scientific means which it possesses.
But in those remote days, although such an improvement, by the force of its practicability and of its utility, obtruded itself upon the attention of the French government, p503 yet its execution would have far exceeded the expenses which that government was willing and able to bestow upon a colony, of which the existence was so precarious. It was feared, not without reason, that England, favored by the contiguity of her American provinces, would, ere long, make a successful attack upon Louisiana. The fact is, that the English were multiplying their intrigues among the Indian nations, to make them rise upon the French, and had succeeded to a considerable extent. The Illinois, and many other western and northern nations, whose friendship had so far been secured by the French, had become cold and disaffected, if not entirely alienated; and among the Choctaws, Red Shoe, with a considerable party, had again allied himself to the English. With such dangers staring him in the face, Bienville had been pressing than ever in soliciting additional forces, and was at last successful. The Minister of Marine wrote to him:— "His majesty sends to M. de Bienville, artillery, arms, ammunition, provisions, merchandise, and seven hundred men, the recruits included. His majesty also sends bombardiers, cannoniers, and miners, with M. de Noailles d'Aime, who had long served as lieutenant of a ship of the line, and who is to command the Swiss and the detached marine troops. It is his majesty's wish, that, during the expedition, M. de Noailles should have the command, not only of these troops, but also of the colonial troops and militia which are under the orders of M. de Bienville, to whom his majesty recommends, with regard to the direction and employment of his troops, to act in concert with M. de Noailles, who has the necessary talents and experience to command."
"A second expedition is authorized, if it be thought p504 of absolute utility to the colony. However, it must not be undertaken without real necessity."
There certainly was no sound policy in this ministerial communication, for it must have been easy to anticipate the feelings which it was calculated to awaken in Bienville's heart. It was telling him in plain terms, that he had not the necessary talent and experience to command, and that another who possessed them, was sent to supply his deficiencies. It is clear that the success of the intended expedition, under another chief, would have rendered more glaring Bienville's failure in his past operations against the Chickasaws. He had tasted the bitterness of defeat, and when, after unremitting exertions and importunities, he had obtained the means he wished for, to wipe off the stain which adverse fortune had left on his military reputation, he was not to profit by the boon. In the same field, where he had reaped nothing but disappointment and shame, another was to come and gather a rich harvest of glory. He, Bienville, so at least thought the minister, had not the necessary talent and experience to command, and no chance was left him, to prove that the impression was wrong. On the contrary, the success of a rival would be a confirmation of the ministerial judgment. No doubt that Bienville felt, to the very core of his soul, the indignity of his new position, and when it is recollected, that he was the founder of the colony, that he had been forty years connected with it, that he had in it numerous relations, kinsmen, friends, and adherents, who looked up to him with clannish pride, who resented his injuries as his own, and who took the liveliest interest in his reputation and affairs, it does not require a deep insight into human nature, to foresee that the projected expedition was doomed to defeat. It is but seldom that half-way measures do not prove abortive, p505 and do not fall far wide of the mark they were intended for. Bienville had, or had not the qualifications to be trusted with command in war. If he had them, it was cruel and unjust, after the mortifications he had experienced in his struggles against the Chickasaws, through a deficiency of adequate means, as he alledged,º not to afford him the opportunity of retrieving his past reverses, and to put all the required implements which he had demanded at the disposal of another. It is evident that Bienville, if he was not qualified to act as the leader of an army, ought to have been superseded at once. But to leave him in his post, with the mocking appearance of command and power, to trample on his pride, his sense of dignity, and his self-love, by putting him under a sort of tutor, was a dangerous experiment to be made. It was gratuitously and imprudently tempting the demon that lurks within the deep and fathomless caves of the human heart. Future events have demonstrated that the French government had not pursued the course of wisdom on that occasion.
The greater part of the year 1739 was devoted to making preparations for that campaign, by which the destruction of the Chickasaws was to be accomplished. In the month of March, Bienville sent his nephew, the Chevalier de Noyan, among the Choctaws, to conciliate them and obtain their support. Noyan succeeded in his mission, and out of the forty-two villages inhabited by the nation of the Choctaws, he gained thirty-two. The remaining ten, who were under the influence of Red Shoe, declared themselves in favor of the English. In some of the thirty-two villages which had pronounced themselves in favor of the French, English traders were plundered, wounded, and put to flight; and parties of warriors were formed, who departed to war against the p506 Chickasaws. They brought back their usual trophies, which consisted of scalps.
Proud of having prevented the ten villages from joining in the alliance which the majority of them had formed with the French, Red Shoe, at the head of ninety-eight warriors, had gone to the English settlements in Georgia, under the hope of being handsomely rewarded. It appears that he was disappointed, for on his return, he sided with the French, who, no doubt, offered him better terms, and on the 18th of August he plundered three English warehouses, and departed on a war expedition against the Chickasaw. Thus, the whole Choctaw nation had become favorable to the French, and Bienville found himself placed under the most auspicious circumstances to execute his plans of attack against the Chickasaws. He had given up the idea of following the old route through the lakes and up the Tombecbee, although it was the shortest and the easiest, and he took the resolution to ascend the Mississippi up to that part of its bank which was the nearest to the Chickasaw villages. From that spot to the Indian villages, the distance was •about one hundred and twenty miles. His reason for taking this other and longer route, was his thinking that it afforded him facilities to procure a more considerable quantity of provisions, and to transport his artillery with less trouble. Since 1737, the engineer Deverges,a in compliance with Bienville's instructions, had studied the ground and reported that it offered an easy access to the Indian villages. Acting under this impression, Bienville had fixed for the general rendezvous of his combined forces, the mouth of the river Margot, not far from the present city of Memphis.
Since the arrival of Noailles with seven hundred men, Bienville was abundantly supplied with troops, provisions, p507 ammunition, bombards, and guns, and every thing looked fair at the opening of the campaign. In the month of August, De Noyan, who commanded the vanguard, reached the general rendezvous at the mouth of the river Margot. A short time after, De la Buissonniere, who had succeeded the unfortunate D'Artaguette in the command of the Illinois district, arrived with a detachment of the garrison of Fort Charles, with a body of the Illinois militia, and about two hundred Indians. A week had hardly elapsed, when Céleron and St. Laurent made their appearance. These intrepid officers were from the far distant Canadian provinces, and had come with a company of Quebec and Montreal youths, all of gentle birth, and the sons of officers. After a short apprenticeship, they were entitled to be, in their turn, commissioned as officers. While they were waiting for Bienville, the troops constructed a fort where they were encamped, and called it Fort Assumption, from the circumstance of its having been completed on the day when the Catholic church celebrates the feast of the Assumption.
The rest of the troops, under the command of Bienville, reached the general rendezvous only on the 12th of November. Inexplicable delays had, it seems, prevented the junction of all the forces of the expedition from taking place sooner. In the mean time, that part of the army which had been lingering on the banks of the river Margot since the month of August, had been afflicted with disease, and great mortality had ensued. When the whole army was reviewed on the 12th of November, it was found to be composed of about twelve hundred white men and two thousand four hundred Indians. Bienville had left New Orleans on the p508 12th of September, and in one of his dispatches boasts of the rapidity with which he ascended the river, considering that he was only two months on the way.
When all the forces of the expedition were brought together, it was discovered that there was a good deal of false reckoning in the quantity of provisions they expected to have, and Bienville informed the French government that more than half of the cattle, horses, and provisions which had been gathered at Fort St. Francis in Arkansas, had been lost in crossing over the marshes and low countries they had to go through on the way to the place of rendezvous at the mouth of the river Margot. Only eighty oxen and thirty-five horses reached the French camp, but in such a condition that they were not fit for any thing. Two hundred and fifty horses, with one hundred head of cattle, which were expected from Natchitoches,º had also perished.
The scarcity of provisions had increased the necessity of acting without loss of time. But Bienville did not think proper to take the road discovered since 1737 by the engineer Deverges, because he said it was made impracticable by the overflowing of small rivers. A man by the name of Saucier, who, in the communications of the time, is called a drawer of plans (or dessinateur), had also found a road, but it was rejected by Bienville. The engineer Deverges again went to work under the direction of Noyan, and after two months of exploration, discovered, in January, a practicable road on the high lands (sur les hauteurs). Unfortunately, this road came to light precisely at the moment when the provisions began to be exhausted. Even then, Bienville and Noailles appear to have remained in a state of hesitation until the month of February, 1740, when a council of war, composed of Bienville, Noailles, Bellagues, p509 Du Teillay, De Longueil, De Noyan, De Gauvrit, D'Hauterive, D'Aubigny, and Pepinet, decided that, considering all the untoward circumstances the French had to contend with, it was impossible to march to the Chickasaw villages, without hazarding the reputation of the king's arms,2 and orders were given to prepare for a retreat. This was the greatest armament which the country had yet seen, and all this bustle, show, and pomp of war had ended in smoke. The mountain had been delivered of a mouse; the French had gathered from the four quarters of the horizon merely to disperse.
What is remarkable is, that Céleron, either authorized by Bienville, or assuming the undertaking on his own responsibility, departed from Fort Assumption, on the 15th of March, after the bulk of the army had moved off down the Mississippi, and marched upon the Chickasaw villages, with his company of cadets, about one hundred Frenchmen and four or five hundred Indians. When Céleron appeared in sight of the villages with his small forces, the Chickasaws, either believing that it was only the head of the French army which was coming behind, or frightened at the vastness of the preparations which had been made against them, and at the unalterable determination which the French seemed to have taken to wage a war of extermination against their nation, presented themselves before the French officer, as suppliants for peace, which they solicited in the humblest terms. Céleron accepted their propositions, and sent some of their chiefs after Bienville, whom they overtook on his way to New Orleans. The French governor made with them a treaty, by which they promised to deliver up the Natchez they had in their possession, and to exterminate the rest of that unfortunate race. However, Bienville declared to them that the p510 treaty of peace did not include the Choctaws, who would continue to make war upon them, and to receive from the French the customary price for every Chickasaw scalp they would raise, until they, the Chickasaws, should grant to the Choctaws the satisfaction which these allies of the French demanded for certain injuries they pretended to have received. In consequence of this treaty, the Chickasaws delivered up to Céleron a few Natchez, whom he put into the hands of the French of Louisiana, and he returned to Canada with his forces, after having razed to the ground Fort Assumption, which had risen like a mushroom growth, and which was thus destined to have but an ephemeral duration.
Céleron is the only officer who gained any reputation in that expedition, which proved so disgraceful to the French, although heralded with so much pomp, and although replete with so ample means of success. Bienville himself felt that the result of that campaign would redound very little to his credit; and in a dispatch of the 10th of May, 1740, he gives for it but a very lame and impotent justification. It is evident that he felt embarrassed and ill at ease under the weight of the circumstances which militated against him. His pen labored for excuses, and it is apparent that they sprung up meager and thin from a barren field. Thus he wrote to the minister of the colonial department:—
"Much to my sorrow, I feel that your excellency will not be satisfied with the result of an enterprise which has cost so many expenses to the king; but, at the same time, I hope that you will be pleased to observe, that I had not failed to take every one of those necessary precautions, which ought to have rendered that campaign as glorious as possible for his majesty.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
p511 "At all events, if we did not come out of it with all the success which we had a right to expect, the glory of the king's arms has not been tarnished. All the Indian tribes were struck with the grandeur of our preparations, and have felt the superiority of our forces. They have stood eye-witnesses to the fear with which we impressed our enemies, and which induced them to sue for peace. I think that I can even assert that, considering the tranquillity which the colony now enjoys, our affairs are in a better position than if we had marched to the Chickasaws, from whose own confession we know that they were observing our movements, with the intention of abandoning their villages, as soon as they should have been made aware of our march upon them.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
"After all, those Chickasaws can not, when left to their own resources, be a cause of much uneasiness to the colony. We know from their own mouths that they hardly number three hundred able bodied men, and that their most famous warriors perished in their late wars."
To have mustered, at an enormous expense, an army of three thousand six hundred men, well provided with artillery, bombards, and arms of every sort, and to have come within •one hundred and twenty miles of the stronghold of the enemy, without striking a blow; to have lost five hundred men by disease out of the twelve hundred white troops, and after the beginning of a retreat, to have patched up, as it were by accident, a sort of sham and hollow peace, for the observation of which there was no warranty beyond the pledged word of fickle savages, these were the circumstances which gave the most positive denial to Bienville's assertion that, "if the French did not come out of it with all the success which we had a right to expect, the glory of p512 the king's arms had not been tarnished." Nor is it possible to agree with Bienville, when he says that the affairs of the colony were in a better condition than if he had marched up to the villages of the enemy, because in that case the intention of the Indians was to abandon those villages. But even admitting that supposition to be correct, would not the destruction of such well-fortified strongholds as they were represented to be, have been an immense advantage to the French? And if the conviction that the Indians would have retired before such overwhelming odds be a good reason for not continuing the expedition, it must have been an equally strong one for not undertaking it. Nor is it possible, again, to agree with him when he declares that the Indian nations were struck with the grandeur of his preparations, that they were made aware of the superiority of the French forces, and that they had witnessed the fear which such a display struck into the bosoms of the Chickasaws, who were forced to sue for peace. It seems, on the contrary, that the insignificance of the result obtained, when compared with the vast scale on which the expedition against the Chickasaws was conducted, must have been a practical demonstration, particularly in the eyes of the Choctaws, who numbered fifteen thousand warriors, of the utter incapacity of the French to cope with any of the powerful Indian tribes.
A large share, it is true, must be allowed for accidents in the affairs of this world, but those of which Bienville speaks in his dispatches, such as the overflow of rivers, and the loss of cattle and horses, were of a nature to have been foreseen to a certain degree. There certainly was a great want of concert of operations in the movements of the army. How came the head of it to arrive at the mouth of the river Margot in August, and to be obliged to wait until the 12th of November? p513 Then, from the 12th of November to the month of February, how came twelve hundred white men and two thousand four hundred Indians to remain in a state of torpor? Were the one hundred and twenty miles which separated the French camp from the Chickasaw village so impracticable? Had not D'Artaguette found these villages of easy access, in 1736, through the same country? If the road discovered in 1737 by the engineer Deverges had become out of the question on account of the overflowing of small rivers, as stated by Bienville, what objection was there to Saucier's? And when, in January, a third road was found out on the high lands, which road was successfully taken by Céleron, on the 15th of March, how came the whole army to remain motionless through the whole of February? What a series of inexplicable delays from August, 1739, to March, 1740! Bienville had lately been very pressing in demanding additional forces, and had always represented the ferocious Chickasaws as so formidable, that their very existence was incompatible with the tranquillity of the colony. How came he so suddenly to change his tone, and to say, that those Chickasaws were not, after all, a source of much uneasiness to the colony? On a calm and dispassionate review of all the circumstances, it is hardly possible not to come to the conclusion, that there was something rotten at the bottom of that expedition.
The solution of the enigma must, I am afraid, be looked for in the impolitic measure taken by the French government to send Noailles to assume the command of the intended expedition against the Chickasaws, and to retain Bienville in a subordinate capacity under him. There were no doubt seeds of much mischief in these words of the French minister to Bienville: "His majesty sends M. de Noailles who has the necessary talents p514 and experience to command." These suppositions, founded on the knowledge of human nature, are fully confirmed by a report of the engineer Deverges, who says, that, although his determination is carefully to abstain from accusing any body, yet he must confess that the failure of the expedition was owing to jealousies, bickerings, and conflicts of power. This was, no doubt, putting the finger on the sore. How could it be otherwise, when the greater the resources granted to a preferred rival, the greater became Bienville's interest that these resources should crumble into dust in the hands of their possessor, in order to justify the sterility of the expedition which he, Bienville, had undertaken with such inferior means? Patriotism and private interest ought seldom to be put in opposite scales, or a hundred to one that patriotism will kick the beam.
It appears from a statement of the 15th of June, 1740, signed by Bienville and commissary Salmon, that from the first of January, 1737, to the 31st of May, 1740, the expenses of the Chickasaw war amounted to 1,088,383 livres, and that for the year 1740, the budget of the ordinary expenses of the colony was put down at 310,000 livres.
On the 11th of September, 1740, there was a dreadful hurricane, which produced very extensive disasters in the colony, of which Beauchamp, the commander of Mobile, gives a description in a dispatch of the 25th of February, 1741.
"This hurricane," says he, "was so violent, that, here, it blew down several houses, and among others, the edifice which M. Bizoton had constructed, not only as a store, but as a house of refuge for sailors. Unfortunately, it contained all the flour and other provisions destined for the subsistence of the garrison. I was p515 obliged to send the garrison a fishing along the coast for the barrels which had been blown into the water, and part of which was staved off. Without this barrel fishing, we should have run the risk of dying of hunger, as our resources were limited to six or eight barrels of flour, which were in the fort.
"The wind was so furious that, if it had continued for forty-eight hours, as all hurricanes generally do, we should have been inundated. Fortunately, it blew only during twelve hours, but with such force, that half of Dauphine Island was carried away, and more than three hundred head of cattle were drowned on the island. We have lost a greater number of them on this coast, and at Pascagoulas. This loss is severely felt by the poor population of this section of the country.
"The effect produced by the force of the wind is almost incredible. There was lying before the guard-house of Dauphine Island, a cannon of four pound caliber. The wind transported it •eighteen feet from where it was. This fact is sworn to by all the inhabitants of the island.
"This hurricane, which lasted twelve hours, began in the night of the 11th of September, and ceased on that day at noon. But although its duration was not long, it caused much damage. . . . . . . . . . . To cap the climax of our misfortunes, there came another hurricane on the 18th of September, which destroyed the rest of our resources. This wind, which blew from N. N. E. and which was accompanied by heavy rains, caused an overflowing of all the rivers, by which were laid waste all the plantations of the Indians from Carolina to this place. The first hurricane was from E. S. E.:— luckily these hurricanes did not pass over New Orleans and the adjacent p516 country, where the crops have turned out to be pretty abundant. Otherwise, the whole colony would have been in a frightful state from the scarcity of provisions, and it would have been utterly impossible to make presents to the Choctaws, in whose debt, on this score, we have been for two years."
On the 7th of March, Loubois wrote to the French government a communication, which more than confirmed Beauchamp's description of the state of the colony. According to the statement of Loubois, Louisiana was reduced to the lowest degree of misery. Among the other effects which he relates as the result of the hurricane of the 11th, and that of the 18th, he says, that the battery at the Balize was so much damaged that, if attacked, it could be carried by four gun‑boats. There was such a scarcity of every thing, that a cask of common wine was sold for 500 livres, of Spanish money, and 800 livres, in the currency of the colony, and the rest in proportion. As to flour, it could be commanded by no price, as there was none to be had. On the 18th of July, the same Loubois wrote: "There are many families reduced to such a state of destitution, that fathers, when they rise in the morning, do not know where they will get the food required by their children." Louisiana, now reposing so luxuriously in the lap of plenty, can hardly, when looking at her plump cheeks in the mirror presented to her by the year 1849, be persuaded to recognize herself in the picture drawn of her in the year 1741.
To increase the somber hue of the horizon which surrounded the colony, the Natchez and Chickasaws had recommenced their depredations, and the Pointe Coupée settlement had been the first to suffer from their excursions. These same Indians, to the number of one hundred and forty, attacked in the Wabash a party of p517 twenty-four French trappers and traders, among whom were a woman and a young girl. Unluckily, the inclemency of the weather had driven the French to take shelter on the banks of a small bayou, and the Indians, who had been following them for some time, took hold of hills which commanded the bayou, and on which they were protected by thick woods. From this vantage-ground, they poured their fire on the French. The battle lasted six hours, during which time the young girl displayed the greatest heroism. She repeatedly exposed her life, by coming out of her place of concealment, to cut the powder horns of those of her companions who dropped dead, and to distribute the much wanted ammunition among the surviving. At last, a bullet put an end to her existence, and the other female was also killed. Of the twenty-four trappers, or traders, sixteen perished. The remaining eight, seeing that they could no longer maintain their ground, made a desperate charge upon their foes, and forced their way through. Three of them were wounded, but they all escaped. Writing on these events, Loubois said, "I am mortified, for the sake of the tranquillity of this unhappy country, to see that I was not mistaken in the judgment which I had passed on our late treaty of peace with the Chickasaws."
Thus, it is seen, that the French officers knew how to reduce to its true value the nugatory peace which Bienville had contracted with the Chickasaws. With regard to the French, it was purely nominal; and the Choctaws, so far, had not obtained the slightest redress for those injuries of which they complained, and for which Bienville had demanded satisfaction of the Chickasaws. These two nations were therefore still in arms against each other, and had several encounters, in which the Choctaws had the advantage. On that occasion, p518 Bienville informed his government, that he saw with pleasure that the Choctaws were growing more warlike, and that they were no longer afraid of meeting their old enemies in battle.
The establishments at the Balize having been almost destroyed by the hurricanes of the 11th and 18th of September, 1740, it became necessary to renew or restore them. The engineer Deverges estimated the probable cost at 454,974 livres, including only the most important part of the works. Bienville informed the French government, that he had contracted for what it was most urgent to have done, with Dubreuil, who was the only man in the colony sufficiently wealthy, to take charge of such an undertaking, and to whom it had been adjudicated for the sum of 297,382 livres 10 centimes.
On the 31st of October, the council of state, in France, prorogued to ten years the ordinance of the 30th of September, 1732, which exempted from duties the imports into, and the exports from Louisiana. It was a laudable perseverance in the right path.
The budget of the current expenses of Louisiana in 1741, amounted to 319,411 livres. The salary of the governor was 12,000 livres; his secretary, 1200 livres; the royal commissary, 8,000 livres.
The French government, according to Bienville's expectations, had learned with much displeasure the result of the last expedition against the Chickasaws, and the minister of the colonial department addressed Bienville on the subject with some severity. From that time, all the official communications which he received were harsh in their tone, and showed how much ground he had lost at court. In a dispatch of the 19th of January, 1742, the minister, after having expressed his discontent and disapprobation with regard to several acts p519 of Bienville's administration, says:— "Moreover, it has come to my knowledge, that you have permitted two families, established in the colony, to emigrate to St. Domingo, by the ship Triton, and not only have you not laid before me the reasons which may have determined you to grant this permission, but you have not even informed me of their departure. Yet, you must be aware that, independently of the prejudice caused to the colony by the desertion of its inhabitants, such an example can not but be a source of discouragement for those who remain in it. Hence, his majesty forbids you to allow any one to leave the colony, without orders sent to you on this subject. You will be pleased to act in conformity with this instruction. You will also communicate to me the reasons for which you allowed these two families to go to St. Domingo. The suggestion which you have made, that permission be granted to the inhabitants of Martinique to emigrate at will to Louisiana with their goods and negroes, deserves to be examined, and I will see what is to be done in the matter."
From the continuance of the tone in which he was addressed, Bienville saw that he could not weather the disfavor into which he had fallen, and begged to be recalled:— which application was readily acquiesced in.
In the mean time, the Choctaws were continuing to wage war against the Chickasaws with great spirit, activity, and success. The race of the Chickasaws, like that of the Natchez, was threatened with destruction. Their ancient power and renown were ebbing fast away. They had lately lost more than fifty warriors, one hundred and sixty horses, and a large number of their cattle. The few surviving Natchez who had taken refuge with the Chickasaws, finding they were an incumbrance to their generous protectors, who were so sorely pressed, p520 had retired among the Cherokees. So fierce, indeed, had become the struggle between the Choctaws and Chickasaws, that it promised a speedy termination, — the former, who were much more powerful, having sworn that they would drive away the latter from their old hereditary possessions. The Choctaw chief, Red Shoe, acquired great distinction in this war, and became the scourge and terror of the Chickasaws.
The preoccupations, vicissitudes, and dangers of war had much contributed to the neglect of agriculture in the colony. But a fragrant shrub, called the Anemiche by the Indians, had attracted the attention of the government. It is the wax-tree, or candle-berry (Myrica cerifera), of which the wax is used for making candles. These candles were, at that time, in general use among the inhabitants of Louisiana. The French government thought that they could make of the wax an object of trade, and required information on the subject, which was given in very interesting reports made by Bienville, Salmon, the botanist Alexandre, and others. It resulted from the investigations at that time, that the cultivation of this shrub might be productive, and that, at an average, eight pounds of berries produced one pound of wax.
On the 26th of March, 1742, Bienville wrote to the minister with regard to his recall:— "If success had always corresponded with my application to the affairs of the government, and administration of this colony, and with my zeal for the service of the king, I should have rejoiced in consecrating the end of my days to such objects; but through a sort of fatality which, for some time past, has obstinately thwarted my best concerted plans, I have frequently lost the fruit of my labors, and perhaps some ground in your excellency's confidence. Therefore have I come to the conclusion, p521 that it is no longer necessary for me to struggle against my adverse fortune. I hope that better luck may attend my successor. During the balance of my stay here, I will give all my attention to smooth the difficulties attached to the office which I shall deliver up to him, and it is to me a subject of self-gratulation that I shall transmit to him the government of the colony, when its affairs are in a better condition than they have ever been." It is impossible not to sympathize with the deep despondency and bitter feeling of disappointment expressed in this dispatch of Bienville, who felt, no doubt, that the ties which for more than forty years had connected him with Louisiana, the joint creation of his family and of himself, were forever to be severed. Who has not met, or will not meet the day when he stood, or will stand up in desolation like Bienville, with what energy he may summon up from his soul, amid the shivered fragments of hereditary affections, long-cherished hopes, and deeply-laid plans of fortune and happiness, which were the very household gods of his heart? Who? But why philosophize? It has become too trite and commonplace.
Although waiting for his successor, and governing the country only ad interim, Bienville was not the less on the lookout for every thing that could be turned to the profit or advantage of Louisiana. On the 15th of June, he wrote to the French government, jointly with Salmon:— "It is long since the inhabitants of Louisiana made representations on the necessity of their having a college for the education of their children. Convinced of the advantages of such an establishment, they invited the Jesuits to undertake its creation and management. But the reverend fathers refused, on the ground that they had no lodgings suited for the purpose, and had not the necessary materials to support such an institution. p522 Yet it is essential that there be one, at least for the study of the classics, of geometry, geography, pilotage, &c. There, the youths of the colony would be taught the knowledge of religion, which is the basis of morality. It is but too evidently demonstrated to parents, how utterly worthless turn out to be those children, who are raised in idleness and luxury, and how ruinously expensive it is for those who send their children to France to be educated. It is even to be feared from this circumstance, that the Creoles, thus educated abroad, will imbibe a dislike to their native country, and will come back to it only to receive and to convert into cash what property may be left to them by their parents. Many persons in Vera Cruz would rejoice at having a college here, and would send to it their children."
This joint application of Bienville and Salmon for a college was set aside on the ground that the colony was too unimportant for such an establishment. Strange to say, Louisiana has ever since suffered, through more than a century, from the difficulty of educating her native population within her own limits; and to this day, we may regret with Bienville, that so large a number of Louisianians are yearly sent away to distant colleges, in countries from which they return, perhaps with a distaste for what awaits them under the parental roof, and often with a much less keen sense of patriotism and of state pride. Nor is it astonishing if, after a long absence, their whole organization requires to be morally and bodily modified to suit the climate of our southern latitude and the atmosphere of our peculiar institutions, ideas, feelings, and manners. Fortunately, the legislature of the state is gradually preparing a remedy for this evil.
The year 1742 was drawing to a close, and the colony p523 would have enjoyed perfect tranquillity, if it had not been somewhat disturbed by the war of the Chickasaws and of the Choctaws. However, the Chickasaws had lately suffered so much from the incessant attacks of the Choctaws, that many of them were seeking for an asylum in Carolina, and it was hoped that Louisiana would soon be rid of that turbulent race. But some fears of an attack from a more powerful foe were excited by the circumstance of some Englishmen being found on the Mississippi, in the Illinois district, and of others being arrested •about one hundred and twenty miles above Natchez. As it was supposed that Englishmen could not have come to Louisiana with good intentions, those who were made prisoners in the Illinois district were sentenced, some to three, and some to five years' imprisonment; and with regard to those who were caught near Natchez, in small bark canoes, and who were five in number, Bienville wrote that they were spies from Virginia. "They shall be tried," said he, "and I shall endeavor that they be sent to the mines of New Mexico."
The French were then on very good terms with the Spaniards, and Bienville informed the French government that the Audiencia Real, or supreme royal tribunal, which, at that time, governed ad interim, the provinces of Mexico, having received intelligence that the English, under Admiral Vernon, meditated an attack against Vera Cruz, had applied to him to obtain six eighteen pounders, and that, in concert with the commissary, Salmon, he had granted them the assistance demanded.
The current expenses of the colony for the year 1742, amounted to 322,629 livres.
The Marquis de Vaudreuil, the successor of Bienville,b arrived at New Orleans, on the 10th of May, 1743, and p524 Bienville departed for France, never to return to the colony, although his life was prolonged twenty-five years. When he left Louisiana, he had reached the age of sixty-five, and he carried away with him the regrets, the esteem, and the affections of all the colonists, who called him the father of the country. With it, as an object of his creation, he was naturally identified, and he loved it with all the fervor of the parental heart. Hence did he, perhaps, think himself possessed of a prescriptive right to its administration, and it is not improbable that he looked with a jealous eye on all that interfered with this right. The fact is, that ill did he seem to brook any authority set over him; and who is he who will fling the first stone and say that, in Bienville's place, he is sure he could have felt and acted differently? Bienville deservedly exercised great influence in the country, which had been settled under his auspices and patronage, and which was full of Canadians like himself, of his numerous friends and dependents, kinsmen and family connections. When in opposition he must have been able to do much, either directly or indirectly. To the fear of this power which he possessed, must be ascribed his recall to France, and his detention there for ten years,º when Périer was appointed governor in 1726. Hence, also, the removal from office, at that time, of all his friends, and of all the members of his family. At a later period, to him, or if he remained passive himself, to the ill-will of his creatures, whom he did not exert himself to check, must be attributed the failure of the expedition against the Chickasaws, under De Noailles, in 1739. At least, all appearances and a whole concourse of circumstances combine to impress this belief upon the mind of the historian. Bienville himself, feeling at a loss how to present his justification in a favorable light, and to rebut the presumptions p525 and all the circumstantial evidence which rose in testimony against him, was obliged, as he did in his dispatch of the 26th of March, 1742, to have recourse to fatality, and to attribute his misfortunes to this stern and omnipotent cause. With the exception of this single blemish, his career is one of unsullied purity and of continual usefulness. A man of undoubted integrity, a strict observer of his word, punctilious as a knight-errant as to his honor and fair name, devotedly attached to his country and to his king, true, heart and soul, to his friends, to his kinsmen and family connections, bland and courteous in his manners, humane and another, possessing a highly gifted personal appearance, having all the distinction inherent to a man of refined and elegant tastes, he retained that air of grandeur so peculiar to the age of Louis XIVth, which had closed when he had already reached manhood, being over thirty years old when the grand monarch died. With all these qualifications, he might have been set up as a faithful representation of the gentlemen of that time. When he left Louisiana forever, although he was under the displeasure of the court, the colonists were loud in expressing their regrets; and whatever faults, inseparable, perhaps, from human nature, he may have committed, his popularity in the province where he had lived to old age, had never been shaken, and he certainly was one of the most honorable and striking characters of the primordial history of Louisiana.
Among the other most conspicuous names in the annals of Louisiana, is that of D'Artaguette, which disappears, however, at the same time when Bienville retires from the colony. The royal commissary of that name, who came to Louisiana in 1708, and who filled in it several high offices until 1742, left behind him a long memory, which made his virtues, his talents, and his p526 deeds, familiar to several succeeding generations; and the melancholy fate of his younger brother, D'Artaguette, the brilliant officer who fell into the hands of the Chickasaws, after a desperate battle, and who was burned by them at the stake, had, it seems, made such a deep impression in the country, that the name of these two men had remained almost a household word in every family. It may be in the recollection of many that, as late as 1815, gangs of negroes, when at work in the fields, sang, among the many songs with which they enlivened their labors, one of which the often repeated burden was, if spelt in French, as pronounced:—
"Di tems missié d'Artaguette,
Hé! Ho! Hé!
C'était, c'était bon temps!
Yé té ménin monde à la baguette,
Hé! Ho! Hé!
Pas nègres, pas rubans,
Hé! Ho! Hé!"
"In the days of D'Artaguette,
Hé! Ho! Hé!
It was the good old time.
The world was led straight with a switch,
Hé! Ho! Hé!
There were no negroes, no ribbons,
For the vulgar.
Hé! Ho! Hé!"
It was also customary to say, when alluding to any thing antiquated, or out of fashion, "This is as old as D'Artaguette," instead of "This is as old as Methusalem." It seems that this name, connected no doubt with the p527 floating recollections of by‑gone events, had taken hold of the imagination, even of the most ignorant class of our population.
But with the coming of new generations, the old ditties have ceased, the quaint colonial expressions have fallen into disuse, and the weeds of oblivion are daily creeping over and concealing the vestiges of the past and those traditions which were the impresses of the footsteps of time; while the hand of neglect destroys, or allows to perish, those private and public manuscripts, which, like fossil bones in the hands of the geologist, might have helped the historian in recomposing the frame and physiognomy of Louisiana, when breathing a colonial life.
2 Sans compromettre les armes du Roi.
a Further on (II.1, II.2) Gayarré — or his typesetter — will spell the name Devergès, and even once, (II.2) Devergés with an acute accent. I've been unable to find the correct spelling; I would plump for Devergès.
b Nowhere does Gayarré give the man's full name: Pierre [de] Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil de Cavagnal (1698‑1778).
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
History of Louisiana
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: 7 Apr 10