Tile port of New Orleans was neither closed nor open. Spain was again in fear of Great Britain. The United States minister at Madrid was diligently pointing to the possibility of a British invasion of Louisiana from Canada, by way of the Mississippi; to the feebleness of the Spanish foothold; to the unfulfilled terms of the treaty of 1783; to the restlessness of the Kentuckians; to everything, indeed, that could have effect in the effort to extort the cession of “Orleans” and the Floridas. But Spain held fast, and Miró, to the end of his governorship, plotted with Wilkinson and with a growing number of lesser schemers equally worthy of their country’s execration.
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Difficulties were multiplying when, at the close of 1791, Miró gave place to Crondelet. Some were internal; and the interdiction of the slave-trade with revolted St. Domingo, the baron’s fortifications, the banishment of Yankee clocks branded with the Goddess of Liberty, etc., were signs of them, not cures. In February, 1793, America finally wormed from Spain a decree of open commerce, for her colonies, with the United States and Europe. Thereupon Philadelphians began to establish commercial houses in New Orleans.
On the side of the great valley, the Kentuckian was pressing with all the strength of his lean and sinewy shoulder. “Since my taking possession of the government,” wrote Carondelet, in 1794, “this province . . . has not ceased to be threatened by the ambitious designs of the Americans.” “A nation,” as Navarro had earlier called them, “restless, proud, ambitious, and capable of the most daring enterprise.” Besides them, there were La Chaise, also, and Genet, and the Jacobins of Philadelphia.
It was to President Washington’s vigilance and good faith that the baron owed the deliverance of the province from its dangers; not to his own defences, his rigid police, nor his counter plots with Thomas Power and others. These dangers past, he revived the obstruction and oppression of the river trade, hoping, so, to separate yet the Western pioneers from the union of States, to which they had now become devoted.
But events tended ever one way, and while Carondelet was still courting Wilkinson through Power, a treaty, signed at Madrid October 20, 1795, declared the Mississippi free to the Americans. New Orleans was made a port of deposit for three years, free of ail duty or charge, save “a fair price for the hire of the store-houses.” The privilege was renewable at the end of the term, unless transferred by Spain to some “equivalent establishment” on the river bank..
Still Carondelet held the east bank of the river, temporizing with the American authorities through his colleague, General Gayoso de Lemos, the Spanish commissioner, for making the transfer. He spent bribes freely, and strengthened his fortifications, not against Federal commanders only, but against the western immigrants who had crowded into the province, and against the renewed probability of invasion from Canada.
He made two other efforts to increase his strength. At the request of the cabildo he prohibited, for the time, the further importation of slaves, a plot for a bloody slave insurrection having been discovered in Pointe Coupée, a hundred and fifty miles up the Mississippi from New Orleans, and put down with much killing, whipping, and hanging. And he received with extravagant hospitality certain noble French refugees, who had sought asylum from the Reign of Terror on the wild western border of the United States. They were furnished with transportation from New Madrid to the Washita, and were there to receive two hundred acres of land and one hundred dollars in money for every mechanic or farmer brought by them into the projected colony. The grant to the Marquis of Maison Rouge under these conditions was to embrace thirty thousand acres. That to the Baron de Bastrop was to cover one hundred and eight square miles, and there were others of less imperial extent. The royal approval was secured upon these grants, but the grantees never fulfilled the conditions laid upon them, and these great enterprises melted down to famous lawsuits. French emigrés, nevertheless, did and had already settled, in Louisiana under more reasonable grants got with more modest promises. The town of St. Martinsville, on the Bayou Têche, was settled by them and nicknamed le petit Paris – the little Paris; and a chapter might well be devoted to this episode in the history of the Creoles. New Orleans even had the pleasure at length of entertaining for many weeks, with great gayety and social pomp, the Duke of Orleans, afterward King Louis Philippe, and his two brothers, the Duke of Montpensier and the Count of Beaujolais. Boré and the Marquis Marigny de Mandeville were among their entertainers.
The Creoles’ republican enthusiasm found vent in a little patriotic singing and shouting, that cost six of them twelve months each of Cuban exile; otherwise they remained, through all, passive. We have seen how they passed through an agricultural revolution. But they ware no more a writing than a reading people, and what tempests of emotion many of them may have concealed while war was being waged against France, while the Gulf was being scoured by French privateers, and when one of these seized, and for eight days held, the mouth of the Mississippi, may only be conjectured. We know that Etienne de Boré escaped arrest and transportation only by reason of his rank and the people’s devotion to him as a public benefactor.
In 1797 Carondelet gave place to Gayoso de Lemon Wilkinson, who was in chief command of the American forces in the West, grew coy and cold. The encroachments of the double-dealing general’s subordinates could be resisted by the Spaniard no longer, and in March, 1798, he abandoned by stealth, rather than surrendered, the territory east of the Mississippi, so long unjustly retained from the States.
All the more did the Creole city remain a bone of contention. On the close of the three-years’ term named inn the treaty of 1795, the intendant, Morales, a narrow and quarrelsome old man, closed the port, and assigned no other point to take its place.
But the place had become too important, and the States too strong for this to be endured. The West alone could muster twenty thousand fighting men. John Adams was President. Secret preparations were at once set on foot for an expedition against New Orleans in overwhelming force. Boats were built, and troops had already been ordered to the Ohio, when it began to be plain that the President must retire from office at the close of his term, then drawing near; and by and by Spain disavowed her intendant’s action and reopened the closed port.
Meanwhile another eye was turned covetously upon Louisiana, and one who never moved slowly was about to hurry her fate to a climax.