Collection: The Creoles of Louisiana

How Boré Made Sugar

The planters of the Delta, on their transfer to Spanish domination, saw indigo, the chief product of their lands, shut out of market. French protection was lost and French ports were closed to them. Those of Spain received them only into ruinous competition with the better article made in the older and more southern Spanish colonies. By and by kinder commercial regulations offered a certain relief; but then new drawbacks began to beset them. Season after season was unfavorable, and at length an insect appeared which, by the years 1793-94, was making such ravages that the planters were in despair. If they could not make indigo they knew not what to do for a livelihood. They had tried myrtle-wax and silk, and had long ago given them up. Everybody made a little tobacco, but the conditions were not favorable for a large crop in the Delta. Cotton their grandfathers had known since 1713. The soil and climate above Orleans Island suited it, and it had always been raised in moderate quantity. M. Debreuil, a wealthy townsman of New Orleans and a landholder, a leading mind among the people, had invented a cotton-gin effective enough to induce a decided increase in the amount of cotton raised in the colony. Yet a still better mode of ginning the staple from the seed was needed to give the product a decided commercial...

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New Orleans in 1803

New Orleans had been under the actual sway of the Spaniard for thirty-four years. Ten thousand inhabitants were gathered in and about its walls. Most of the whites were Creoles. Even in the province at large these were three in every four. Immigrants from Malaga, the Canaries, and Nova Scotia had passed on through the town and into the rural districts. Of the thousands of Americans, only a few scores of mercantile pioneers came as far as the town – sometimes with families, but generally without. Free trade with France had brought some French merchants, and the Reign of Terror, as we have seen, had driven here a few royalists. The town had filled and overflowed its original boundaries. From the mast-head of a ship in the harbor one looked down upon a gathering of from twelve hundred to fourteen hundred dwellings and stores, or say four thousand roofs-to such an extent did slavery multiply outhouses. They were of many kinds, covered with half-cylindrical or with flat tiles, with shingles, or with slates, and showed an endless variety in height and in bright confusion of color and form-verandas and balconies, dormer windows, lattices, and belvederes. Under the river bank, “within ten steps of Tchoupitoulas Street,” where land has since formed and been covered with brick stores for several squares, the fleets of barges and flat boats from the west moored and unloaded, or...

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Fauborg Ste. Marie

If one will stand to-day on the broad levee at New Orleans, with his back to the Mississippi, a short way out to the left and riverward from the spot where the longvanished little fort St. Louis once made pretence of guarding the town’s upper river corner, he will look down two streets at once. They are Canal and Common, which gently diverge from their starting-point at his feet and narrow away before his eye as they run down toward the low, unsettled lots and commons behind the city. Canal Street, the centre and pride of New Orleans, takes its name from the slimy old moat that once festered under the palisade wall of the Spanish town, where it ran back from river to swamp and turned northward on the line now marked by the beautiful tree-planted Rampart Street. Common Street marks the ancient boundary of the estates wrested from the exiled Jesuit fathers by confiscation. In the beginning of the present century, the long wedge-shaped tract between these two lines was a Government reservation, kept for the better efficiency of the fortifications that overlooked its lower border and for a public road to No-man’s land. It was called the Terre Commune. That part of the Jesuits’ former plantations that lay next to the Terre Commune was mainly the property of a singular personage named Jean Gravier. Its farther-side...

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A Hundred Thousand People

What a change! The same Governor Villeré could not but say, “The Louisianian who retraces the condition of his country under the government of kings can never cease to bless the day when the great American confederation received him into its bosom.” It was easy for Louisianians to be Americans; but to let Americans be Louisianians!-there was the rub. Yet it had to be. In ten years, the simple export and import trade of the port had increased fourfold; and in the face of inundations and pestilences, discord of sentiment and tongues, and the saddest of public morals and disorder, the population had nearly doubled. Nothing could stop the inflow of people and wealth. In the next ten years, 1520-30, trade increased to one and three quarters its already astonishing volume. The inhabitants were nearly 50,000, and the strangers from all parts of America and the commercial world were a small army. Sometimes there would be five or six thousand up-river bargemen in town at once, wild, restless, and unemployed. On the levee especially this new tremendous life and energy heaved and palpitated. Between 1831 and 1S35, the mere foreign exports and imports ran up from twenty, six to nearly fifty-four million dollars. There were no wharves built out into the harbor yet, and all the vast mass of produce and goods lay out under the open slay on...

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Burr’s Conspiracy

On one of those summer evenings when the Creoles, in the early years of the century, were wont to seek the river air in domestic and social groups under the willow and china trees of their levee, there glided around the last bend of the Mississippi above New Orleans “an elegant barge,” equipped with sails and colors, and impelled by the stroke of ten picked oarsmen. It came down the harbor, drew in to the bank, and presently set ashore a small, slender, extremely handsome man, its only passenger. He bore letters from General Wilkinson, introducing him in New Orleans, and one, especially, to Daniel Clark, Wilkinson’s agent, stating that “this great and honorable man would communicate to him many timings improper to letter, and which he would not say to any other.”Claiborne wrote to Secretary Madison,” Colonel Burr arrived in this city on this evening.” The date was June 26, 1805. The distinguished visitor, a day or two later, sat down to a banquet given to him by the unsuspecting Governor. He was now in full downward career. Only a few years before he had failed of the presidency by but one electoral vote. Only a few months had passed since, on completing his term, he had vacated the vice-presidency. In the last year of that term Alexander Hamilton had fallen by his hand. Friends and power, both,...

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The West Indian Cousin

Between 1804 and 1810, New Orleans doubled its population. The common notion is that there was a large influx of Anglo-Americans. This was not the case. A careful estimate shows not more than 3,100 of these in the city in 1809, yet in the following year the whole population, including the suburbs, was 24,552. The Americans, therefore, were numerically feeble. The increase came from another direction. Napoleon’s wars were convulsing Europe. The navies of his enemies fell upon the French West Indies. In Cuba large numbers of white and mulatto refugees who, in the St. Domingan insurrection, had escaped across to Cuba with their slaves, were now, by hostilities between France and Spain, forced again to become exiles. Within sixty days, between May and July, 1809, thirty-four vessels from Cuba set ashore in the streets of New Orleans nearly fifty-eight hundred persons – whites, free mulattoes, and black slaves in almost equal numbers. Others came later from Cuba, Guadaloupe, and other islands, until they amounted to ten thousand. Nearly all settled permanently in New Orleans. The Creoles of Louisiana received the Creoles of the West Indies with tender welcomes. The state of society in the islands from which these had come needs no description. As late as 1871, ’72, and `73, there were in the island of Guadaloupe only three marriages to a thousand inhabitants. But they came to...

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The School-Master

The year 1841 dates the rise in New Orleans of the modern system of free public schools. It really began in the German-American suburb, Lafayette; but the next year a single school was opened in the Second Municipality “with some dozen scholars of both sexes.” All the way back to the Cession, efforts, snore or less feeble, had been made for public education; but all of them lacked that idea of popular and universal benefit which has made the American public school a welcome boon throughout America, not excepting Louisiana. In 1804, an act had passed “to establish a university in the territory of Orleans.” The university was to comprise the “college of New Orleans.” But seven years later nothing had been done. In 1812, however, there rose on the old Bayou road, a hundred yards or so beyond the former line of the town’s rear ramparts, at the corner of St. Claude Street, such a modest Orleans college as $15,000 would build and equip. But it was not free, except to fifty charity scholars. The idea was still that of condescending benevolence, not of a paying investment by society for its own protection and elevation. Ten years later this was. the only school in the city of a public character. In 1826, there were three small schools where “all the branches of a polite education” were taught. Two...

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The General in Natchitoches

Late in September the General had arrived at Natchitoches, and had taken chief command of the troops confronting the Spanish forces. On the 8th of October, one Samuel Swartwout brought him a confidential letter from Colonel Burr. He was received by Wilkinson with much attention, stayed eight days, and then left for New Orleans. On the 21st, Wilkinson determined to expose the plot. He despatched a messenger to the President of the United States, bearing a letter which apprised him of Colonel Burr’s contemplated descent of the Mississippi with an armed force. Eight days later, the General arranged with the Spaniards for the troops under each flag to withdraw from the contested boundary, leaving its location to be settled by the two governments, and hastened toward New Orleans, hurrying on in advance of him a force of artificers and a company of soldiers. Presently the people of New Orleans were startled from apathetic tranquillity into a state of panic. All unexplained, these troops lead arrived, others had re-enforced them; there was hurried repair and preparation; and the air was agitated with rumors. To Claiborne, the revelation had at length come from various directions that Aaron Burr was plotting treason. Thousands were said to be involved with him; the first outbreak was expected to be in New Orleans. Wilkinson had arrived in the town. In the bombastic style of one...

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Spain Against Fate

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. 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 . ....

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The Americans

Carondelet had strengthened the walls that immured the Creoles of New Orleans; but, outside, the messenger of their better destiny was knocking at the gate with angry impatience. Congress had begun, in 1779, to claim the freedom of the Mississippi. The treaty of 1783 granted this; but in words only, not in fact. Spain intrigued, Congress menaced, and oppressions, concessions, aggressions, deceptions, and corruption lengthened out the years. New Orleans – “Orleens” the Westerners called it – there was the rain difficulty. Every one could see now its approaching commercial greatness. To Spain it was the key of her possessions. To the West it was the only possible breathing-hole of its commerce. Miró was still governing ad interim, when, in 1785, there came to him the commissioners from the State of Georgia demanding liberty to extend her boundary to the Mississippi, as granted in the treaty of peace. Miró answered wisely, referring the matter to the governments of America and Spain, and delays and exasperations continued. By 1786, if not earlier, the flat-boat fleets that came floating out of the Ohio and Cumberland, seeking on the lower Mississippi a market and port for their hay and bacon and flour and corn, began to be challenged from the banks, halted, seized, and confiscated. The exasperated Kentuckians openly threatened and even planned to descend in flat-boats full of long rifles instead...

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The Insurrection

New Orleans, in 1768, was still a town of some thirty-two hundred persons only, a third of whom were black slaves. It had lain for thirty-five years in the reeds and willows with scarcely a notable change to relieve the poverty of its aspect. During the Indian wars barracks had risen on either side of the Place d’Armes. When, in 1758, the French evacuated Fort Duquesne and floated down the Ohio and Mississippi to New Orleans, Kerlerec added other barracks, part of whose ruin still stands in the neighborhood of Barracks Street. Salients had been made at the corners of its palisade wall; there was “a banquette within and a very trifling ditch without.” Just beyond this wall, on a part of the land of the banished Jesuits, in a large, deeply shaded garden, was a house that had become the rendezvous of a conspiracy. Lafrenière sat at the head of its board. His majestic airs had got him the nickname of “Louis Quatorze.” Foucault was conspicuous. His friendship with Madame Pradal, the lady of the house, was what is called notorious. Jean Milhet and a brother, Joseph Milhet, and other leading merchants, Caresse, Petit, and Poupet, were present; also Doucet, a prominent lawyer, and Marquis, a captain of Swiss troops; with Balthasar de Masan, Hardy de Boisblanc, and Joseph Villere, planters and public men, the last, especially, a...

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The End of The Pirates

New Orleans emerged from the smoke of battle rather the tardy news of peace, which had been sealed at Ghent more than a fortnight before the battle. With peace came open ports. The highways of commercial greatness crossed each other in the custom-house, not behind it as in Spanish or embargo days, and the Baratarians were no longer esteemed a public necessity. Scattered, used, and pardoned, they passed into eclipse-not total, but fatally dark where they most desired to shine. The ill-founded tradition that the Lafittes were never seen after the battle of New Orleans had thus a figurative reality. In Jackson’s general order of January 21st, Captains Dominique and Beluche, “with part of their former crew,” were gratefully mentioned for their gallantry in the field, and the brothers Lafitte for “the same courage and fidelity.” On these laurels Dominique You rested and settled down to quiet life in New Orleans, enjoying the vulgar admiration which is given to the survivor of lawless adventures. It may seem superfluous to add that he became a leader in ward politics. In the spring of 1815, Jackson, for certain imprisonments of men who boldly opposed the severity of his prolonged dictatorship in New Orleans, was forced at length to regard the decrees of court. It was then that the “hellish banditti,” turned “Jacksonites,” did their last swaggering in the fatuous Exchange Coffee-house,...

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The Price of Half Convictions

The next move on the part of all concerned was to hurry forward messengers, with declarations, to the courts of France and Spain. The colonists sent theirs, Aubry and Ulloa, each, his; and Foucault, his a paper characterized by a shameless double-dealing which leaves the intendant-commissary alone, of all the participants in these events, an infamous memory. The memorial of the people was an absurd confusion of truth and misstatement. It made admissions fatal to its pleadings. It made arrogant announcements of unapplied principles. It enumerated real wrongs, for which France and Spain, but not Ulloa, were to blame. And with these it mingled such charges against the banished governor as: That he had a chapel in his own house; that he absented himself from the French churches; that e enclosed a fourth of the public common to pasture his private horses; that he sent to Havana for a wet-nurse; that he ordered the abandonment of a brick-yard near the town, on account of its pools of putrid water; that he removed leprous children from the town to the inhospitable settlements at the mouth of the river; that he forbade the public whipping of slaves in the town; that masters had to go six miles to get a negro flogged; that he had landed in New Orleans during a thunder-and-rain storm, and under other ill omens; that lie claimed...

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Count O’Reilly and Spanish Law

“Cruel O’Reilly,” (From a miniature in possession of Hon, Charles Gayarre, of Louisiana.) One morning toward the end of July 1769, the people of New Orleans were brought suddenly to their feet by the news that the Spaniards were at the mouth of the river in overwhelming force. There was no longer any room to postpone choice of action. Marquis, the Swiss captain, with a white cockade in his hat (he had been the leading advocate for a republic), and Petit, with a pistol in either hand, came out upon the ragged, sunburnt grass of the Place d’Armes and called upon the people to defend their liberties. About a hundred men joined them; but the town was struck motionless with dismay; the few who had gathered soon disappeared, and by the next day the resolution of the leaders was distinctly taken, to submit. But no one fled. On the second morning Aubry called the people to the Place d’Armes, promised the clemency of the illustrious Irishman who commanded the approaching expedition, and sent them away, commanding them to keep within their homes. Lafreniere, Marquis, and Milhet descended the river, appeared before the commander of the Spaniards, and by the mouth of Lafrénière in a submissive but brave and manly address presented the homage of the people. The captain-general in his reply let fall the word seditious. Marquis boldly but...

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French Founders

Let us give a final glance at the map. It is the general belief that a line of elevated land, now some eighty or ninety miles due north of the Louisiana coast, is the prehistoric shore of the Gulf. A range of high, abrupt hills or bluffs, which the Mississippi first encounters at the city of Vicksburg, and whose southwestward and then southward trend it follows thereafter to the town of Baton Rouge, swerves, just below this point, rapidly to a due east course, and declines gradually until, some thirty miles short of the eastern boundary of Louisiana, it sinks entirely down into a broad tract of green and flowery sea-marsh that skirts, for many leagues, the waters of Mississippi Sound. Close along under these subsiding bluffs, where they stretch to the east, the Bayou Manchac, once Iberville River, and the lakes beyond it, before the bayou was artificially obstructed, united the waters of Mississippi River with those of Mississippi Sound. Apparently this line of water was once the river itself. Now, however, the great flood, turning less abruptly, takes a southeasterly course, and, gliding tortuously, wide, yellow, and sunny, between low sandy banks lined with endless brakes of cottonwood and willow, cuts off between itself and its ancient channel a portion of its own delta formation. This fragment of half-made country, comprising something over seventeen hundred square miles...

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