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The Creoles Sing the Marseillaise

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The Spanish occupation never became more than a conquest. The Spanish tongue, enforced in the courts and principal public offices, never superseded the French in the mouths of the people, and left but a few words naturalized in the corrupt French of the slaves. To African organs of speech cocodrie, from cocodrilo, the crocodile, was easier than a caiman, the alligator; the terrors of the calaboza, with its chains and whips and branding irons, were condensed into the French tri-syllabic calaboose; while the pleasant institution of ñapa – the petty gratuity added, by the retailer, to anything bought – grew the pleasanter, drawn out into Gallicized lagnappe.

The only newspaper in the town or province, as it was also the first, though published under the auspices of Carondelet, was the “Moniteur de la Lonisiane,” printed entirely in French. It made its first appearance in 1794.

Spanish Ursulines, sent from Havana to impart their own tongue, had to teach in French instead, and to content themselves with the feeble achievement of extorting the Spanish catechism from girls who recited with tears rolling down their cheeks. The public mind followed – though at a distance – the progress of thought in France. Many Spaniards of rank cast their lot with the Creoles. Unzaga married a Maxent; Galvez, her sister – a woman, it is said, of extraordinary beauty and loveliness; Gayarre wedded Constance de Grandpré; the intendant Odvardo, her sister; Miró, a de Macarty. But the Creoles never became Spanish; and in society balls where the Creole civilian met the Spanish military official, the cotillon was French or Spanish according as one or the other party was the stronger, a question more than once decided by actual onset and bloodshed. The Spanish rule was least unpopular about 1791, when the earlier upheavals of the French revolution were regarded distantly, and before the Republic had arisen to fire the Creole’s long-suppressed enthusiasm. Under Galvez, in 1779-82, they rallied heartily around the Spanish colors against their hereditary British foe. But when, in 1793, Spain’s foe was republican France, Carondelet found he was only holding a town of the enemy. Then the Creole could no longer restrain himself. “La Marseillaise! La Marseillaise!” he cried in his sorry little theatre; and in the drinking shops – that were thick as autumn leaves – he sang, defiantly, a “Ca ira, ca ira, les aristocrates d la lanterne,” though there was not a lamp-post in his town until three years later, when the same governor put up eighty.

Meantime Spain’s hand came down again with a pressure that brought to mind the cruel past. The people were made to come up and subscribe themselves Spaniards, and sundry persons were arrested and sent to Havana. The baron rebuilt the fortifications on a new Dower river corner was Fort St. Charles, a five-sided thing for one hundred and fifty men, with brick-faced parapet eighteen feet thick, a ditch, and a covert way; at the upper river corner was Fort St. Louis, like it, but smaller. They were armed with about twelve eighteen- and twelve-pounders. Between them, where Toulouse Street opened upon the river-front, a large battery crossed fires with both. In the rear of the town were three lesser forts, mere stockades, with fraises. All around from fort to fort ran a parapet of earth surmounted with palisades, and a moat forty feet wide and seven deep. “These fortifications,” wrote Carondelet, “would not only protect the city against the attack of an enemy, but also keep in check its inhabitants. But for them,” he said, “a revolution would have taken place.”

This was in 1794. The enemy looked for from without was the pioneers of Kentucky, Georgia, etc. The abridgment of their treaty rights on the Mississippi had fretted them. Instigated by Genet, the French minister to the United States, and headed by one Clark and by Anguste de la Chaise, a Louisiana Creole of powerful family, who had gone to Kentucky for the purpose, they were preparing to make a descent upon New Orleans for its deliverance; when events that await recital arrested the movement.


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