Crozat-Law-Louis XV. Charles III. Who ever at one time or another was the transatlantic master of Louisiana managed its affairs on the same bad principle: To none of them had a colony any inherent rights. They entered into possession as cattle are let into a pasture or break into a field. It was simply a commercial venture projected in the interests of the sovereign’s or monopolist’s revenues, and restrictions were laid or indulgences bestowed upon it merely as those interests seemed to require. And so the Mississippi Delta, until better ideas could prevail, could not show other than a gaunt, ill-nourished civilization. The weight of oppression, if the governors and other officers on the spot had not evaded the letter of the royal decrees and taught the Creoles to do the same, would actually have crushed the life out of the province.
The merchants of New Orleans, when Unzaga took the governor’s chair, dared not import from France anything but what the customs authorities chose to consider articles of necessity. With St. Domingo and Martinique they could only exchange lumber and grain for breadstuffs and wine. Their ships must be passported; their bills of lading were offensively policed; and these “privileges” were only to last until Spain could supplant them by a commerce exclusively her own. They were completely shut out from every other market in the world except certain specified ports of Spain, where, they complained, they could not sell their produce to advantage nor buy what was wanted in the province. They could employ only Spanish bottoms commanded by subjects of Spain these could not put into even a Spanish-American intermediate port except in distress, and then only under onerous restrictions. They were virtually throttled merely by a rigid application of the theory which had always oppressed them, and only by the loose and flexible administration of which the colony and town had survived and grown, while Anthony Crozat had become bankrupt, Law’s Compagnie d’Occident had been driven to other fields of enterprise, and Louis XV had heaped up a loss of millions more than he could pay.
Ulloa’s banishment left a gate wide open which a kind of cattle not of the Spanish brand lost no time in entering. “I found the English,” wrote O’Reilly, in October 1769, “in complete possession of the commerce of the colony. They had in this town their merchants and traders, with open stores and shops, and I can safely assert that they pocketed nine-tenths of the money spent here. . . . I drove off all the English traders and the other individuals of that nation whom I found in this town, and I shall admit here none of their vessels.” But he recommended what may have seemed to him a liberal measure, an entirely free trade with Spain and Havana, and named the wants of the people: ” flour, wine, oil, iron instruments, arms, ammunition, and every sort of manufactured goods for clothing and other domestic purposes,” for which they could pay in “timber, indigo, cotton, furs, and a small quantity of corn and rice.”
Unzaga, a man of advanced years and a Spaniard of the indulgent type, when in 1770 he assumed control, saw the colony’s extremity, and began at once the old policy of meeting desirable ends by lamentable expedients. His method was double-acting. He procured, on the one hand, repeated concessions and indulgences from the king, while on the other lie overlooked the evasion by the people of such burdens as the government had not lifted. The Creoles on the plantations took advantage of this state of affairs. Under cover of trading with the British posts on the eastern bank of the Mississippi above Orleans Island, the English traders returned and began again to supply the Creole planters with goods and slaves. Business became brisk, for anything offered in exchange was acceptable, revenue laws were mentioned only in jest, profits were large, and credit was free and long. Against the river bank, where now stands the suburb of Gretna, lay moored (when they were not trading up and down the shores of the stream) two large floating warehouses, fitted up with counters and shelves and stocked with assorted merchandise. The merchants, shut out from these contraband benefits, complained loudly to Unzaga. But they complained in vain. The trade went on, the planters prospered; the merchants gave theta crop-advances, and they turned about and, ignoring their debt, broadened their lands and bought additional slaves from the British traders. Hereupon Unzaga moved, and drawing upon his large reserve of absolute power, gently but firmly checked this imposition.
The governor’s quiet rule worked another benefit. While the town was languishing under the infliction of so-called concessions that were so narrowed by provisos as to be almost neutralized, a new oppression showed itself. The newly imported Spanish Capuchins opened such a crusade, not only against their French brethren, but also against certain customs which these had long allowed among the laity, that but for Unzaga’s pacific intervention an exodus would have followed which he feared might even have destroyed the colony.
The province could not bear two, and there had already been one. Under O’Reilly so many merchants and mechanics had gone to St. Domingo that just before he left he had ceased to grant passports. Their places were not filled, and in 1773 Unzaga wrote to the Bishop of Cuba that, “There were not in New Orleans and its environs two thousand souls (possibly meaning whites) of all professions and conditions,” and that most of these were extremely poor.
But conciliation soon began to take effect. Commissions were eagerly taken in the governor’s “regiment of Louisiana,” where the pay was large and the sword was the true emblem of power, and the offices of regidor and decide were by-and-by occupied by the bearers of such ancient Creole names as St. Denis, La Chaise, Fleurieu, Forstall, Duplessis, Bienvenne, Dufossat, and Livaudais.
In 1776, Unzaga was made captain-general of Caracas, and the following year, left in charge of Don Bernardo de Galvez, then about twenty-one years of age, a people still French in feeling, it is true, yet reconciled in a measure to Spanish rule.