Short URL for this page:
by Heloise Hulse Cruzatº
So much has been written about Louisiana that it is difficult to find, even by close sifting, any incident which has escaped our past and contemporary historians. Imagination surrounds the past with a halo brighter from its remoteness, and there is an attraction in musty records and time worn parchments which the most practical amongst us cannot resist. Out of their dust and from their faded leaves,
"Old faces look upon us,
we seem to be another world, surrounded by a grander race of men, and we follow through their career until the "dead alone seem living."
It is this feeling that makes each memory of by‑gone days strike a responsive chord, and emboldens those who have access to old documents to supplement the oft told chronicles by any minor details which may come to their notice.
All complete histories of Louisiana tell of General George Victor Collot's arrest in New Orleans in 1796, by order of Governor Carondelet, under suspicion of being a secret agitator and a spy. This arrest was considered by some to be groundless and insulting to the French Republic; by others to have been fully justified.
A few documents which have since been discovered and the correspondence carried on between the French General and the Spanish Governor cast more light on this episode of our Spanish Colonial history.
Collot was a soldier of fortune. He rose to rank in those titanic days of the French army when a new system was created, and young generals came to the front because talent, youth, energy and enlightened methods were sought for instead of the prestige of experience and an honored name. Every military commander must necessarily have been talented at a time when generals were tried and condemned for gaining half a victory,1 sent to the scaffold for excess of prudence,2 p304 and when age, instead of inspiring respect, became a crime in the armies of the republic. The convention ordered victory and "the representatives of the people," says Thiers, "who fanned to flame the revolutionary passions in the camps expected impossibilities." These exactions strengthened genius, brought it to light, almost created it.
Carnot, "the creator of the armies, the organizer of victory", favored young generals,3 and it was in his day that Collot came to the lands "watered by the Mississippi." He was in his 45th year, an accomplished scholar, a brave soldier, a strategist of the first order and capable of much endurance. Of his judgment and discretion Napoleon expressed a poor opinion, but his having been destined by him to fill high positions, and intrusted with a difficult mission by the French government, proves that he was a man of more than ordinary ability, fully able to cover his tracks and conceal his real motive even from such an antagonist as the wily Carondelet.
He had traveled through the United States in the spring of 1796 and descended the Mississippi with the intention of reconnoitering the countries traversed by that stream, by the Ohio, the Missouri and their affluents. Before leaving Philadelphia he secured passports and letters from the French and Spanish ministers, which did not prevent the latter from advising the Governor of Louisiana to have him detained. In St. Louis he was informed of this fact, at the same time he was warned through letters from Philadelphia that the Secretary of the United States4 had given like orders, and that the English had sent Indians from Canada to assassinate him.5 To continue his researches and prolong his stay in the Spanish portion of Illinois was beyond possibility. It would not have been tolerated by the commander of that province, Mr. Zenon Trudeau, whom he had already compromised; to return by the north would have thrown him into the hands of the English, and the Americans and the Spaniards looked upon him with suspicion. To all these reasons add that potent factor in human events, the fear of ridicule, and you will understand why General Collot, in the face of all these threats, continued his journey down the Mississippi. He says in his memoirs that he wished to escape the contempt which generally falls on those who make much ado about nothing and bring back naught but excuses after much trouble and expense; that he feared, more than any, the inexorable judges who sit at a man's p305 own fireside, and who, without investigating circumstances, kill him slowly by perfidious insinuations and turn the tide of public opinion against him.6 He probably hoped to escape detection as he exchanged his more comfortable barge for a pirogue and retained but six men in his service. For these changes he alleged the facilities which a lighter bark afforded him for exploring the various rivers, and he attributed the smaller number of his attendants to the fact that he could not accommodate more. In Baron Marc de Villiers du Terrage's "dernières années de la Louisiane" may be found a facsimile of the embarcation used on the Mississippi in Collot's time, a large flat boat with covered top, then called voiture. With this small force and his adjutant, General Joseph Warin, he left St. Louis in the middle of September, 1796, without acquainting its commander of his intention of penetrating into lower Louisiana.
In continuing his journey down the Mississippi the French General took every possible precaution to insure his safety. He wrote another journal in which he was careful to praise Carondelet's administration, with the intention of leaving it at the easy convenience of those inclined to curiosity, and he afterwards felt sure that this subterfuge had saved him from long detention in Havana. In this journal he affirms that Zénon Trudeau, Governor of St. Louis, knew nothing of his plans, which were formed during his stay in the American territory of Illinois. This did not prevent Carondelet from calling to account the governor of St. Louis and of threatening him with destitution. Collot declares that he gave Trudeau information relative to armaments in course of preparation in Canada against Upper Louisiana and friendly advice as to the defense of St. Louis. He classed St. Louis "the finest country in the world" but deplores that in it were "neither warriors, merchants nor agriculturists; that it held naught but uncultivated lands, and emaciated bodies often clothed in rags hardly fit to protect them against the wind." On his arrival at Kaskaskia he was apprized that his mail had been intercepted by the federal government, and that a certain Judge St. Clair of that country was specially insulting in the opinions he formulated against him and against the French Republic. This St. Clair met Collot on the Ohio, and outstripping him, denounced him and had him stopped at Fort . According to Collot7 St. Clair was an Englishman implicated in the conspiracy of Governor "Blound" the aim of which was to turn Louisiana over to the English. The English in Canada were preparing an expedition of two thousand regulars, fifteen hundred militiamen and several savage tribes to p306 attack Upper Louisiana; rumors were rife that English agents in Kentucky and Tennessee were organizing another against Lower Louisiana; the judge and Collot both had reason to suspect each other. The French General accompanied by a justice of the peace and his adjutant, General Warin, called on Judge St. Clair and obtained from him a written repudiation of the charges made against him; this document read thus:
Cahokia, August 29, 1796.
Sir: I cannot sufficiently express my astonishment at your reproaching me yesterday as the author of your arrest at Fort Massiac; here, Sir, is the exact truth. I announced to Captain Pike, commander of the Fort, that I met you descending the Ohio, but that I did not believe that you would arrive soon as you were busy measuring the distances. I can assure you that I made no other observation, much less did I make any charge against you; I shall never believe that Captain Pike could have added anything to what I said.
I accede, Sir, with pleasure to the request you made yesterday that I should give you this declaration in writing, which I believe is sufficient.
I have the honor, etc.,
William St. Clair.
Treason seemed to threaten all the countries of North America at that time and Collot declared that he had received from an inhabitant of Tennessee the written report which follows:
1. "That Chisholm, English agent in Tennessee, has enlisted 1,000 inhabitants of this province to attack the posts of Baton Rouge, Nogales and the Ecores-a‑Margot, belonging to Spain.
2. That Chisholm has reconnoitered Louisiana and the Floridas and determined the Creeks and Cherokees to turn their arms against the Spanish possessions;
3. That Chisholm has obtained a list of 1,500 Tories or English Royalists from Natchez (which list he carries) of those engaged to take up arms in favor of the English, as soon as they appear to attack lower Louisiana and to march after this conquest on Santa Fe, ascending the Ouachita river.
4. That an assemblage is now being formed in upper Canada of 1,500 English troops of line, 700 Canadians (salaried militia), and of 2,000 savages from the lakes who are to be commanded by Brent, the Indian chief.
p307 5. That this body is to descend the Illinois river, attack St. Louis and afterwards march on Santa Fe, following the St. Francis and Arkansas rivers.
6. That Chisholm has secured six campaign cannons which he has placed on the Tennessee river, in care of one of his agents, and that these are the same cannons destined to the Genet expedition.
7. That the place of meeting for the Americans is set at Knoxville, in Tennessee for the 1st of May.
8. That, in consequence, Chisholm has made all these arrangements and that after having made his report to minister Liston at Philadelphia he left on March 28th for London, on the brig Fanny, in order to inform his government of this project and demand ships and money for its execution.
9. That to prove what he advanced Mr. ––––– remitted to us an original letter signed by Chisholm in which he enjoins him to find himself at Knoxville to act according to the fixed plan."
It is not astonishing that with all this supposed information the French General should have thought that he was rendering a friendly service to the different commanders at the Spanish posts in warning and advising them. At the same time, surrounded by treason, by enemies and unwilling subjects, it was natural for Carondelet to be suspicious and to have the movements of any stranger carefully watched.
Whilst in St. Louis Collot had been offered Mr. Chouteau's escort on a visit to the Osage tribe but so many obstacles were put in his way that he would not accept the trader's offers. When he reached the Arkansas river he was invited by the chiefs of the great Arkansas village to pay them a visit. He provided himself with a guide and the customary presents for them, and when he arrived at the point where he was to cross the river the guide was much astonished p308 to find a deserted shore, but Collot, having observed the character and the of the Savages, understood that they would not stoop to what they considered a servile act. He was, however, surprised to find no conveyance for the crossing, but on closer inspection a light bark and a long pole were perceived, and he writes that it seemed that he heard them say: "Here is a canoe, here are oars, if you are not old women use your arms." They each took an oar and traversed the river amidst applause and to the great delight of the Indians who awaited them on the opposite shore. They were received with the usual ceremonies, and the General describes a savage marriage feast in which their hearts were stirred by the slow, sad and tender melody of the love songs.
When they reached White river it was decided that Warin would ascend the river to the canal connecting it with the Arkansas and would there wait for Collot who was to descend the river to its mouth. On the following day General Collot reached the place where he was to meet his adjutant and not finding him pitched camp to await Warin who arrived the next day, lying in his pirogue, apparently helpless and in a great pain. He had reached the junction of the Arkansas and White rivers when two Chickasaw Indians who had followed them from Illinois attempted to assassinate him, striking with a hatchet a blow aimed at his head which he warded off and received in his chest. The General was persuaded that his unfortunate companion had been mistaken for him, being of the same height and similarly dressed. These Indians, judging from their paint and feathers, were on the war path.
Notwithstanding this misfortune, Collot, with indomitable energy continued his route. He describes the Arkansas river with its bed of sand, its tinge of red which it took from the red earth through which it flowed, its rocks of salt imparting a taste to its waters; in the distance mountains whose summits were lost in the clouds, fertile plains studded with hills. At its source, near the Osage, he noted herds of cows, bears, deer, elks and panthers making this part of the country dangerous to travelers. The Indians hunted in this region only at certain seasons when they were a thousand or more warriors.
From here the party proceeded to the Yazoo, passing the isle of Snags, and the isle of the Dead Man's Head. At the isle of Snags the driftage, piled to the height of •60 feet, narrowed the channel. The Yazoo separated upper from lower Louisiana. They found it at a distance from its mouth, divided into two branches: the Cold Water and the East Yazoo and many creeks emptied into it. He describes p309 the land as fertile descending the river; from the Cold Water branch to its source the country was salubrious, but the other side of the Cold Water to the delta of the Yazoo was continually overflowed and made the country extremely unhealthy. The Yazoo country and the Natchez district were then considered the finest portion of North America. The commerce of skins which had once flourished in that section was reduced at that time to 50,000 deer skins, and seven or eight thousand pounds (weight) of beaver skins. After leaving the Yazoo, Collot proceeded to Nogales which was then ironically called the Gibraltar of Louisiana; he found this portion hilly, gradually to level land. Here he saw a fort which he criticizes; it was built on a low hill with a blockhouse on an adjacent one, commanding the battery, and on a third hill, (separated from the fort by a ravine), another blockhouse, the whole surrounded by a ditch and a small palisade. This fort was called the Fort of the Sugar Loaf. In this section there were two other blockhouses; the one on the west of Fort Vigie, called Fort Gayoso, the one on the right called Fort St. Ignatius. These miniature forts and blockhouses held a captain and 80 men; the general thought they would have required at least a thousand men to defend them, and that unless a chain of forts were built on these heights, they were useless as a barrier against the Americans who could master them in the rear by descending the Mississippi. He here speaks of quantities of turtle eggs buried in the sand on the bank of the Mississippi when the water receded. An old Spanish resident of Nogales told the Frenchmen how intelligently the sluggish turtle deposited her eggs, coming out of the water at daybreak with much precaution, looking all around to see if observed, then with her front paws digging a hole in which she deposited her eggs and flattened the ground over them with her body, returning in the opposite direction from which she came. The Canadians recognized these nests by the polish the turtle gave them. These turtles were rare on the Mississippi; they were more numerous in the Arkansas, and in the western branches emptying into the Mississippi; they were of larger size as one nears the gulf. From Nogales the party entered Big Black river, parallel with the Yazoo, forking off into many branches, its course interrupted by rapids and waterfalls, and at times difficult of navigation.
They next explored Stoney river, (Bayou Pierre), so called from the large rocks in its bed during the •twenty odd miles of its course. In this river he notes the Stoney Creek Islands remarkable for their forming three channels only one of which is navigable during a period; Collot cites that when he went through the left one was the pass of p310 moment, but that "before spring it would probably be obstructed" and another would become navigable.
Descending •twenty-eight miles lower they reached the Natchez which begins at the Yazoo and ends at the Tonicas. He describes its situation on the left bank of the river on an elevation which he calls the "fourth Spur." This territory was cut by numerous ravines and the fort was situated on the principal hill. Collot gives a lengthy description of this fort and mentions the means to be resorted to to remedy its defects. He states that Mr. Gayoso de Lemos, who was then governor, had it surrounded by palisades and was to build a road of which the ditch was already outlined. The adjoining battery had neither ditch nor palisade but was to have a 4‑inch cannon. It was called Gayoso's battery. The fort was hexagonal in shape and contained sixteen cannons, eight 18‑pounders and eight 12‑pounders, barracks for 200 men, a well which measured not less than •80 feet depth, and a powder magazine, all in a pitiable condition. The buildings he described as "crumbling," the platforms and supports so rotten that if the fort were to use its 18‑pound cannon it would infallibly have tumbled down. There were 50 men garrisoned at this fort which the General thought the best situated for defense against the Americans who could reach it only by a long circuitous route. He declared that all the fortifications on the left bank of the Mississippi, however manned or consolidated, without the alliance of the western States, were useless for the defense of Louisiana. The town of Natchez, facing the river, he described as containing 100 wooden houses painted in different colors and many fine farms and orchards which seemed to denote industry, comfort and means. The population at that time amounted to 10,000 inhabitants, among them 2,000 militiamen and 200 well mounted volunteer dragoons. This population consisted of English emigrants, Tories or Royalists, who during the American revolution sided with King George, and the malcontents of the United States who took refuge there. They had but one feeling in common, their hatred of the federal government. The only route for Natchez trade was the Mississippi and its only market New Orleans; there was however a trail which led to Pointe Coupee where began the grand route to New Orleans, and by this road came, on horseback, the gallant Mississippi volunteers who in 1815 participated in the battle of New Orleans. Here again Collot imparted to the governor, Gayoso de Lemos, the information which he had given to Governor Trudeau about Canadian armaments, and also revealed to him a plot8 hatched by the English in Canada p311 and so well worked by their agents in Tennessee, in Florida, among the Tories of Natchez, the Creeks and Cherokees, that everything was ready and the early part of May set for their attack on Baton Rouge and other forts and their invasion of Louisiana. Whether this was a boast of Collot or did he really possess the said information we can only conjecture. That there was a plot and that the English had been stirring the Creeks for some time previous is beyond dispute, and Carondelet was aware of it, for in a letter to one of his officers, dated April, 1794,9 he says that Seagrove10 is trying to excite the Creeks against the Spaniards, he advises him to have some Choctaws with him, and authorizes him to offer them a reward which will be awarded to them on their arrival at the confederation. "Seagrove," he writes, "has left for Philadelphia with fifteen Creek chiefs." He proposes gaining over the Choctaws and their neighbors and fortifying themselves before his (Seagrove's) return; he fixes the sum to be spent in provisions, brandy, munitions, etc., and bids them beware of "tafias," he asks the officer to repeat the above details to Lavillebeuvre, to give full instructions as to the means of avoiding a surprise and orders as to what he must do, in case of attack, to the sergeant to be left at "Tombecbe" with fifteen men. He informs him that all is "quiet above" but that they might be attacked by the Balize; he instructs him to reconnoitre the river with care and to establish communication between the confederation and the Yazoo. This letter of Carondelet proves that Collot's revelations had been anticipated and that the gratitude which he expected from the governor of lower Louisiana for this "signal service" was not called for.
From Natchez the party descended to Baton Rouge, •120 miles lower. On the way they passed the Roche D'Avion, named after the Missionary martyr and the canal of the Tonicas, an arm of the Mississippi; the Tchafalaya on the right, emptying into St. Bernard's bay, Pointe Coupee and then Baton Rouge, beginning at False river, which has since been filled. Collot traces the etymology of Baton Rouge to the habit the former savage inhabitants had of marking the boundaries of their respective lands by a long pole or cane painted red.a He speaks of the cypress wood back of the town under •ten or twelve feet of water during the inundations and in the dry season an impassable marsh; the sandy soil of the town proper at the time of the flood, was always under water. The Baton Rouge fort, immortalized by the memory of Grandpré and his companions, p312 was in the shape of a star, surrounded by a ditch with a covered road. When Collot saw it only the Commander's house remained of all the out houses and a small barracks containing forty men. He considered Baton Rouge a very important position and went into minute details of the work necessary to render it secure if not impregnable. Speaking of that outlet of the Mississippi called the Iberville river he wrote that the different appellations of Massiac, Manchaque, Ascantia, had been so often misapplied that it was confusing to a stranger. The canal connecting Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas was the Massiac canal; the two passages formed by Grand Isle were the little and big canals. We must bear in mind that Grand Isle was at that time called Massiac Island. The stream which flows to the junction of Iberville and Amite rivers was called Amite; that portion from Amite river to the Mississippi was the Iberville canal. To call it river would be incorrect as it was born of the Mississippi in the high water season. During the war of 1812 Jackson ordered the filling of the Manchac canal as a necessary precaution against the invaders.
Another waterway cited by the French General was that small stream between Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, the Tanchipas which emptied into Lake Pontchartrain, and at its source met the Nitabani which flowed into Lake Maurepas. Between Lake Maurepas and Amite river the country he found intersected by a great number of small tributary streams which subjected this section to frequent inundations. The Amite was then navigable only with oars there being too much depth to use a pole, and the banks so thickly fringed with trees that sails were of no avail. "But these inconveniences are momentary," wrote Collot, "it is easy to conceive that they will disappear as the land is cleared and populated." In the same section a little river was specially noticeable from the abundance of fish in its waters, the name itself attesting to this fact, for Antomoha means fishy. Below Iberville river they entered the passage called Plaquemines, which like the Iberville is dry in certain seasons; and a little lower they came upon the Big Fork of the Chetimacha which carries the surplus waters of the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico. Since Bienville's partial exploration of these bayous the French and Spanish governments, with unpardonable neglect, never studied these outlets with the advantages they might offer to commerce. The French General admired the surpassing beauty of the settlements and fine plantations in this part of the country, where Sugar cane had replaced indigo and cotton and after de Boré's experiments and success in the granulation of p313 sugar, Louisiana's wealth was assured. The •sixty miles intervening between the Chetimacha and New Orleans he noted for the beauty of the planters' homes on both sides of the river. The General, who had been in the West Indies, was deeply interested in the cultivation of sugar, and he determined to accept Etienne de Boré's invitation and to study the new methods which had brought the planter success and wealth, but his expectations were doomed to a speedy collapse for he had no sooner reached de Boré's residence than he was arrested, according to his own account on the 27th of October at daybreak, by the major of the garrison,11 just as his adjutant was about to start for the governor's residence12 to present his passports and letters and to announce that General Collot would call on him the following day; Mr. Guilmard, officer of the regiment of Louisiana, arrived in the Governor's shallop and requested an interview. The General assured him that on the morrow he would present his respects to the governor, but the major insisted that he should accompany him immediately, alleging that he held these instructions from the governor himself. Collot was obliged to comply without even the privilege of changing his costume, and Gen. Warin, who intended to remain to guard his baggage, was told that he was included in the order; they were hurried into the boat and the baggage remained at the mercy of the oarsmen. Half an hour later a troop of horsemen going towards de Boré's plantation received a sign from Major Guilmard to return, which sign they seemed to expect. To Collot's inquiries the Major replied that it was the ordinary patrol. Further on, at a sign from an officer of the garrison, Guilmard simulated much surprise and exclaimed: "How strange, I am ordered to the fort!" General Collot then demanded if such was the lodging destined to the officers of the French republic even before they were honored by an introduction to the Governor.13 Through a stupefied, curious crowd, but not a hostile one, the French officers were ushered into Fort St. Charles which stood on the river bank in the space now comprised between Esplanade and Barracks streets. Two officers were placed on guard in their prison, at the door two grenadiers with naked swords, one at the window, outside the door two more grenadiers with bayonets, and another on guard on the parapet which commanded a view of the window on that side; during the night the garrison and the patrols on horse and foot were doubled. Fort St. Charles was one of the five forts erected by Carondelet. Collot says that this fort and Fort St. Louis commanded the road p314 and the river. The other forts situated at the salient angles of the square of the town were Fort St. Ferdinand and Fort Burgundy and between the two Fort St. Joseph. He called them "miniature forts" and thought that Governor Carondelet was more intent on keeping his turbulent subjects in check than to defend New Orleans against invasion. In 1805 the city passed resolutions requesting the evacuation and destruction of these forts and the filling of the ditches surrounding them as unsanitary from the stagnant water they contained. Gov. Claiborne approved the enforcement of this resolution but excepted from demolition Forts St. Charles and St. Louis which were then garrisoned by United States troops; the ditches were, however, drained by his orders. Fort St. Charles, where the French Generals were incarcerated, was the last to be demolished, towards 1826, the same year Collot's book describing his voyage in Louisiana appeared.14
After these voluminous precautions Adjutant-General Warin was brought before the governor who made him undergo an interrogatory in the presence of the Auditor of War, the interpreter and the secretary of the government. He was afterwards, by the governor's order, escorted to an inn where he spent the night under guard of two fusileers and a corporal, though he was then very ill, having never recovered from the wound in his chest inflicted by the savages who tried to assassinate him. Meanwhile General Collot who had remained in the fort demanded a copy of the order of his arrest which Major Guilmard and his adjutant15 refused. The governor denied having issued any other than a verbal order. Why the written one was not destroyed, since he had reasons to deny its existence, cannot be explained. It still exists in New Orleans, written in full and signed by Carondelet's own hand, and the following is its wording:16
"New Orleans, the 25th of October, 1796.
"For reasons of state and in the King's name, I send the major of the garrison, Mr. Guilmard, to arrest General Collot with the officer who accompanies him, as also his equipage and all his papers, in consequence of which, sir, in case of necessity, you will lend a hand to the said major for the success of his commission. God have you in his holy keeping.
The Baron of Carondelet."
"To Mr. de Boré or any other inhabitant who will be requisitioned by Mr. Guilmard."
p315 This order bears the date of October 25th, but according to Collot's statement was carried out on the 27th.
Collot's baggage had been brought to the fort only towards evening on the day of his arrest, the trunks open, the boxes broken, and the seals, notwithstanding his protest, were affixed without any previous inventory, nor any of the customary formalities. Strict orders were issued that neither pen, pencil nor ink should reach him and that everything entering the guard house should be thoroughly inspected. His keys were demanded but he refused to surrender them as he was only the depositary of effects papers belonging to the French republic. For these indignities and those undergone by Warin, Carondelet threw the odium on Mr. Metzingue.17 Collot declined to answer any questions before having a private interview with the governor.
The General insisted on the private interview which he had demanded; the Governor acquiesced to this request, and after a short conference during which Carondelet had taken cognizance of the General's letters, he recalled the auditor, telling Collot that he was compelled to question him, be would do so only for the form. After making him undergo an interrogatory which was a mere formality, the Governor offered the General a house in town which he was to occupy on parole, with an orderly; on his acceptance he had him conveyed hither in his own official carriage. Collot was obliged to acknowledge that the Spanish Governor seemed anxious to make amends for previous unpleasantness. He waived the inspection of the General's papers on condition that he would await in Havana the decision of their respective courts, but detention in Havana had in those days an unsavory reputation of indefinite promises and ever renewed delays, and as the French General had still "important business" to transact in Philadelphia18 he consented to submit his papers to the Governor's inspection after a written promise from him of inviolable secrecy and of their speedy return to him. At Carondelet's request he made a gift of some to the Spanish Government19 and received a written receipt for them.20 Notwithstanding all these fair promises some were abstracted21 and others copied by Mr. Guilmard.22
Gen. Collot remained in New Orleans, according to his statement, fifteen days23 under arrest, and during that time he was called upon to follow to the grave the remains of his friend, his companion p316 and sharer of his labor and hardships. They were both of a regenerated nation who had inscribed on the abode of their dead: "Death is eternal sleep," and sleep is rest, surcease of sorrow, but "eternal sleep!" put between them a gulf which neither life nor death could span, the abyss of nothingness. There are moments even in a strong man's life when the teachings and beliefs of childhood, like restless ghosts come back and assert themselves: Warin accepted the church ministrations from "Pere Antoine" of revered memory, and Collot, the stern republican, bowed before the cross planted on that lonely grave of a foreign soil. Warin's bones have bleached and crumbled and mingled with our soil, and the then spacious cemetery where he was laid is now a crowded labyrinth of tombs. The city then counted 10,000 souls and it is not probable that these inhabitants, most of them of French extraction, were in any way dismayed at the French General's presence, but it is easily supposed that the Spanish Governor was made very uneasy by it, and this explains his proposition that Collot should await at the Balize a transport to Philadelphia. He suggested that he should assume a false name24 to avoid the loss of his papers which his identity might endanger. To this Collot indignantly replied that his mission was too honorable to lower it by such artifices.25
Carondelet issued the passport under his own name as he desired, personally ordered the construction of a chair with secret compartments to conceal his papers, and finally returned what he chose of the confiscated papers, drawings and maps.
Notwithstanding his sudden friendship, his high regard for Collot,26 his exquisite politeness, he never relaxed his vigilance until the General was safely on board the Iphigeniaº and out of his province.
The French General left for the Balize on the 1st of November, accompanied by a captain of the regiment of Louisiana who was not to lose sight of him. He was to reside in the house of the chief pilot, Juan Ronquillo, who had been at this posts since the cession of Louisiana to the Spaniards.27 There were twenty-four pilots under him, and in this rough company, in this dismal spot, he spent seven weeks the hardship and loneliness of which it is not difficult to imagine when we call to mind what the Balize then was. As far as the eye could reach nothing struck the view but a vast swamp whose undulating surface of dingy, yellowish grasses and swaying reeds spoke p317 but too plainly of unfathomable depths below; beyond the river's unstretched hand of quaggy soil, the immensity of the open sea, and, over it all, that hush which is the stillness of desolation. Nothing broke the monotony of the marsh but the pilot's home. Could it be called home? Was it a house, this dwelling perched on stakes in the midst of floating lands, to which there was no means of exit or entrance save by a canoe, moved by pole or oar, each stroke of which sent up the fetid breath of the miasmatic, slimy water? In those bleak November days a pall seemed to hang over it even in the blaze of the noonday sun, and when the shades of evening deepened and gloom, and then darkness, fell upon the trembling prairie, the moaning of the wind in the reeds and the swish of the sluggish waters must have sounded like the wailing of unhappy spirits. Collot delineates it in one line when he speaks of "liquid mud filled with insects of all kinds, and the place productive of every incommodity and all the horrors which such a sojourn may suggest." On the 22d of he embarked on the brig Iphigenia for Philadelphia where he awaited Carondelet's answer to his demand for the abstracted papers. He threatened to lay the case before their respective ministers and the Governor, to all outward appearances gave in, but the papers, which he pretended to have forwarded, never reached the General. They were apparently confided to Juan Cortes who left New Orleans in May, 1797; he was to remit them to the French General in person, but was authorized to "throw them into the sea" if there was any risk of their falling into the hands of the enemy. On the 20th of the same month the Betsy was captured by the English schooner Ranger and Cortes, according to his instructions, tied a weight to the said package and threw it into the sea. This fact he attested to before Thomas Stoughton, Spanish Consul, as soon as he reached New York, and two days later before the minister plenipotentiary of Spain in the United States, then residing in Philadelphia.28
Collot wrote that Carondelet showed less anxiety about the consequences of his hasty action than about the means to be employed to creep out of it;29 that it was supposed that two officers would venture into a strange country without being provided with all necessary passports; that he should at least have ascertained that it was not so before ordering their arrest.
Governor Carondelet finding it expedient to justify his proceedings towards the French General, wrote to Mr. Adet, that the French p318 Minister should have advised him of Collot's visit, that he had been informed that he was intrusted with a secret mission hostile to the Spanish Government; that he was reconnoitering the country and that rumors in the American newspapers had caused his presence to create a stir and commotion throughout Louisiana.30
To form an impartial opinion it will be necessary to review the condition of the colony previous to this event. There is no doubt that the revolutionary idea which pervaded France had found sympathizers in a colony whose love for the mother-country had never been wholly eradicated. "A nation may," says Guizot, "for a moment and under the impulse of a violent crisis, deny its past, even curse it, but they will never forget it nor detach themselves from it for any length of time, nor absolutely." Louisiana had been France's brightest jewel, and Bienville's useless pleading and the execution of the Franco-Louisianians, who sealed with their blood their fidelity to France, had not stifled their patriotism. The wild and fiery eloquence of the French patriots, apostles of unbridled liberty, sank deep in the hearts of a population who had passed under the yoke of Spain without being warned of the change nor consulted as to their pleasure; the city reechoed with Jacobin refrains, the Marseillaise was called for at the theatre and the people with frenzy would applaud and recall the actors until actors and audience became so excited that a spark would have started the threatened explosion. Carondelet was aware that danger in the colony was as imminent as what could be feared from a foreign enemy.
The Jacobins of the United States published revolutionary pamphlets advising the Louisianians to avenge their wrongs, to shake off the Spanish yoke and strike for liberty. It was rumored that Genet had organized an expedition of Frenchmen and Americans, for the invasion of Louisiana, of which he was to be the commander in chief,b and de la Chaise leader of the invading forces which he had recruited in Kentucky. Genet had secured the Creeks and Cherokees as allies and his recall at the request of the United States did not quell the seditious movement he had aroused. His agents were scattered over the country and seized every favorable opportunity to renew their efforts. De la Chaise, too proud to bear defeat, when he saw his plans frustrated took service in the French army. This turbulent spirit's departure must have drawn from Carondelet a sigh of relief, but he knew that he was not near the end of his troubles and he took every possible precaution against menaces from without and within. p319 Syndicates were appointed within •nine miles of each other with orders to report weekly to superior officers; citizens were compelled to report seditious expressions; assemblages of more than eight persons were forbidden, travelers without passports incurred arrest; and the city was frequently patrolled.
A number of royalists had sought refuge from the horrors of the revolution among their former brethren. Carondelet had favored their coming, he had even made large grants of land to Maison Rouge, de Lassus de St. Vrain and Bastrop and allowed and encouraged their bringing into the country from the United States31 large numbers of their countrymen who had fled from France. This increase of the French population, despite the favors granted by the Spanish Government and the conciliatory measures adopted by the Spaniards, made the danger of feuds and uprisings imminent. Barbé-Marbois tells us that "ºaversion for Spain was effaced but affection never replaced it," and that nothing but indifference could be expected from a colony so amalgamated. Carondelet held the reins of government with a steady hand and kept the restive element in check but it was never daunted.
These facts added to the growth and success of republicanism, and the ill disguised feelings of the French population, made Collot's visit following these events, under the circumstances already demonstrated, an intrusion and a menace. It is not, therefore, astonishing32 that the Spanish Governor should have taken every measure to guard against the stirring up of his colonists.
Of the different actors in this episode there is little else to say. Gov. Carondelet vented his displeasure on the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois whom he threatened to of his gubernatorial commission, accusing him of having allowed Collot to penetrate into lower Louisiana. Collot denied this and stoutly defended Trudeau, but he was an interested party, and more reliance may be placed on the statement of the Ventura Morales who says that the French General came in by the Ohio,33 and this exculpates the venerable governor of Illinois. During the year which followed Collot's arrest Carondelet was appointed President of the Royal Audience of Quito and at his departure left many warm friends in Louisiana and fewer enemies than might have been expected considering his rigid discipline, his quick and unwavering justice.
p320 Major Guilmard, who arrested the General, continued to serve under the subsequent governors until Laussat received the colony from Spain and receded it to the United States. He then was sent as Lieutenant Colonel to Pensacola by his Catholic Majesty. He was a nephew of the venerated Pere Dagobert de Longwy, a Frenchman by birth, though his talents brought him honor and emolument under the Spanish domination. His remains were deposited in the old St. Louis cemetery. As to General Collot, he remained some time in Philadelphia, and on his return to France, was destined to learn at his expense that past services are swiftly forgotten by those in authority and do not insure against disgrace and imprisonment. In 1801 he was again free and in command of a number of exiled Englishmen, Scotchmen and Irishmen bound for the United States. This armament subsequently left for Hispaniola, and was to proceed later to Louisiana. Collot was designed to be governor of Louisiana after the retrocession to France, but fell into disfavor a second time, and the last historical mention I have found of his is in January, 1803, when Livingston wrote from Paris that Bernadotte was to command in the colony, Collot to be second in command, that Adet was appointed Prefect, and that the armament destined for Louisiana would not reach there till June. In the meanwhile Bonaparte determined to sell what he could not hold, and, on the 30th of April, 1803, Louisiana was sold to the United States. Once more Collot had seen the fruit of his ambition, honor and power within his reach, but ruthless fate had again stepped between them and wrested it from his grasp. He died in Paris, July, 1805.
Etienne de Boré, in whose home Collot suffered arrest, barely escaped imprisonment, owing his safety to his popularity and to the fear of exasperating the French sympathizers in the colony. In later years he became so far reconciled to the Spaniards as to accept one of the most prominent as his son-in‑law. He was appointed Mayor of New Orleans by Laussat34 and, after this transient honor, he was requested by Governor Claiborne in 1804 to become a member of the legislature. Finding the acceptance of this place inconsistent with his former views35 he retired to private life but not to obscurity nor oblivion for his name will be honored by future generations as long as the sugar industry thrives in Louisiana.
Thanks are due to Mr. Gaspar Cusachs for the loan of a valuable book written by General Collot: "Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale.
1 Houchard ('s Hist. des Girondins).
3 Sloan's Life of Napoleon.
4 Secretary Pickering.
6 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot.
7 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot.
8 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot.
9 The original held by one of Major Guilmard's heirs.
10 English agent.
12 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot.
13 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot.
14 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot; Gayarre's Hist. of Louisiana, Vol. IV, American domination.
15 Mr. Metzingue.
16 The original held by one of Major Guilmard's heirs.
17 Major Guillemard's adjutant.
18 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot.
19 Papers concerning the Mississippi.
20 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot.
21 Letter from Collot to Carondelet dated December, 1796.
22 By order of the Governor of Louisiana.
23 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot.
24 Letter from Carondelet to General Collot.
25 Letter from Collot to Carondelet.
26 Letter from Carondelet to Collot.
27 Voyages de Perrin du Lac.
28 Attested before notary as exact copies of originals.
29 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par le Général Collot.
30 Voyage dans l'Amérique Septentrionale par Général Victor Collot; Official correspondence.
31 Martin's History of Louisiana.
32 Official despatch to Spain.
33 Official despatch to Spain.
35 (There is no corresponding note in the article as printed; the preceding note may have been meant.)
a This can be compared with another etymology altogether, which, though given by the earlier explorer Le Page du Pratz, is to my mind considerably less plausible; it is reported in Gayarré's History of Louisiana (Series III, Lecture 3, p126).
b The "Genet affair" is often presented as no more than the ill-advised intrigues of one man. Citizen Genet, though, was no loose cannon: he was faithfully executing his orders from the French government, that aimed at the dismemberment, or at the very least, the control of the United States. The French involvement in the American Revolution, which generations of American children have been taught to regard as motivated only in part by hatred of the British, but in part also as altruistic assistance, was no such thing: French diplomatic policy sought in a first, successful, stage to divide and weaken British power by ensuring the secession of the American colonies; and in a second stage, that failed, to destroy the weaker part thus separated. Genet's enterprises were just part of a vast array of schemes to effect the latter end. A lucid exposition will be found in French Designs on America (Chapter 6 of H. J. Ford's Washington and His Colleagues) and the further references there.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
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: 15 Apr 16