History of Alabama and incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the earliest period

The French In Alabama And Mississippi

After the Spanish invasion of De Soto, to which allusion has so often been made, our soil remained untrodden by European feet for nearly a century and a half. At the end of that long and dark period it became connected with the history of the distant dark period it became connected with the history of the distant French possessions of Canada, which were contemporaneous with the oldest English colonies in America. For more than fifty years the French fur traders of Canada, associated with the enterprising Jesuit Fathers, had continued to advance southwestward upon the great lakes, discovering new regions, different races of Indians, more abundant game, and wider and brighter waters. At length, from the tribes upon the southern shores of Lake Superior, Father Allouez heard some vague reports of a great western river. Subsequently, Father Marquette was dispatched from Quebec with Joliet, a trader of that place, five other Frenchmen, and a large number of Indian guides, to seek the Mississippi, and thus add new regions to the dominion of France, and new missions of the empire of the Jesuits. Ascending Fox River to the head of navigation, and crossing the portage to the banks of the Wisconsin, with birch bark canoes, the adventurers again launched their tiny boats and floated down to the Mississippi river. Descending it to the mouth of the Arkansas, and encountering decided evidences of a southern climate, Marquette finally found himself among the Chickasaws, whose reports that hostile tribes thronged the banks upon thence to the sea, served to arrest his progress. Reluctant commencing his return up the stiff and turbid tide, he found the mouth of the Illinois river, ascended to its head, crossed the portage to Chicago, launched his canoes upon Lake Michigan, and paddled to Green Bay, where he resumed his missionary labors. Joliet proceeded to Quebec with the news of the discovery.

The young and gifted La Salle, a native of Rome, in France, educated as a Jesuit, went to Canada to acquire fortune and fame by finding an overland passage to China. Becoming fired at the discovery which Marquette had made, he returned to France and obtained a royal commission for perfecting the exploration of the Mississippi, for which he was granted a monopoly in the trade of the skins of the buffalo. Sailing back to Canada, with men and stores, and accompanied by the Chevalier Tonti, an Italian soldier, who acted as his lieutenant, La Salle proceeded, by way of the lakes, upon his important enterprise. Consuming over two years in exploring those vast sheets of water, in building forts and collecting furs, he at length rigged a small barge, in which he descended the Mississippi to its mouth. Here, upon a small marshy elevation, in full possession in the name of the King of France. The country received the name of Louisiana, in honor of Louis XIV., who then occupied the French throne; but the attempt to give the river the name of Colbert, in honor of his Minister of Finance, did not succeed, and it retained that by which the aborigines had designated it. Leaving the Chevalier Tonti in command of Fort St. Louis, which La Salle had established in the country of Illinois, the latter returned to France, where the report of his discoveries had already given rise to much excitement and joy. The government immediately furnished him with a frigate and three other ships, upon which embarked two hundred and eighty persons consisting of priests, gentlemen, soldiers, hired mechanics and agricultural emigrants, for the purpose of forming a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. But the fearless adventurer, having crossed the Atlantic, and being unable to find, from the Gulf, the entrance to that river, was forced to disembark upon the coast of Texas. Here, erecting Fort St. Louis, and leaving the larger portion of the colonists, he explored the surrounding country, with the hope of finding the Mississippi, but returned unsuccessful. Death had hovered over the colony, which was now reduced to thirty-six persons; and with sixteen of these, La Salle again departed, with the determination to cut his way to Canada by land. After three months’ wanderings, he was murdered by two of his companions, in the prairies of Texas, near the western branch of the Trinity River. In the meantime the Chevalier Tonti, with twenty Canadians and thirty Indians, descended from the Illinois to meet his old commander; but, disappointed in not finding the French fleet at the Balize, he returned to the mouth of the Arkansas, where he established a little post. The few colonists left upon the coast of Texas all perished obscurely, except the brother of La Salle and six others, who made their way to Canada. Such was the melancholy termination of the first attempt to establish Louisiana. 1

Louis XIV of France, the most splendid sovereign whom Europe had yet seen, had long been engaged in a war with William III of England, which had extended to their respective colonies in North America. In consequence of these troubles, further efforts to colonize the Mississippi were not attempted until after the peace of Ryswick. By the terms of the treaty each party was to enjoy the territories in America which they possessed before the war. The attention of the French monarch was now once more turned to the new country which La Salle had discovered. A number of Canadians had been left upon the shores of France upon the conclusion of the war, and among them was a distinguished naval officer named Iberville, who had acquired great military renown by his exploits against the English on the shores of Hudson Bay and Newfoundland, and by the capture of Pemaquid. He was one of seven sons, all natives of Quebec, all men of ability and merit, and all engaged in the king’s service.

To Iberville was confided the project of peopling Louisiana. He sailed from Rochelle with the Badine, of thirty guns, of which he had the immediate command, and with the Marir, commanded by Count Sugeres, together with the harbor boats, each of forty tons. On board these vessels were his two young but gallant brothers, Bienville and Sauvolle, and two hundred colonists, mostly Canadians, who had gone to France to assist in her defense. Among them were some women and children. Arriving at Cape Francoise, in the Island of St. Domingo, he was joined by the Marquis Chateau Morant, with a fifty-two gun ship. There he received on board a famous buccaneer named De Grace, who had pillaged Vera Cruz some years before. Leaving St. Domingo, Iberville sailed for the coast of Florida, and after a prosperous voyage stood before the Island of St. Rosa, from which point he discovered two men-of-war at anchor in the harbor of Pensacola, at whose mastheads floated the colors of Spain. One month previous to this Don Roalli, with three hundred Spaniards, from Vera Cruz, had established a battery upon the site of the present town of Pensacola.

A deputation sent by Iberville were received with much politeness, but the Don declined to permit the French vessels to enter the harbor, for fear of a treacherous surprise. 2 The French then made sail to the west, and presently cast anchor off an island, which, from the quantity of human bones discovered upon it by Midshipman Bienville, was called the Isle of Massacre. The small vessel passed through the channel between two elevations, to which, they gave the name of Cat and Ship Islands. The fifty-two gun ship sailed for St. Domingo, while the frigate lay off a group of banks, which received the names of the Chevaliers. Iberville dispatched two boats to the main land, the crews of which found seven recently abandoned canoes, and succeeded in capturing two sick old Indians, who they left with presents. The next day, a woman being taken and likewise sent off with presents, returned with two of her people, who belonged to the Biloxi tribe, whose name was given by the French to the bay. Four Indians of this nation were then carried on board of Iberville‘s ship, while his brother, Bienville, remained upon the beach a hostage. On the same evening, twenty-four Bayagulas arrived upon the shore, being on their way to fight the Mobilians, who, they said, lived on the banks of a great river which flowed into the sea, not far to the east. 3 When Iberville had caused some huts to be erected upon Ship Island, he entered a boat with thirty men, accompanied by his brother, Bienville and Father Athanase, a Franciscan friar, the companion of the unfortunate La Salle in his descent of the Mississippi, and at the time when he was killed upon the plains of Texas. Upon the third day, Iberville made the Balize, and was the first to enter the great river from the sea. He ascended for the space of ten days, until he arrived at a town of the Bayagola nation. There he found, preserved by these Indians, a prayer book which belonged to the first expedition of La Salle, some cloaks which the discoverer had given them, a coat of mail which had belonged to the troop of De Soto, and a letter written by the Chevalier Tonti to La Salle, whom he had been disappointed in not meeting, as we have already seen. All these things combined to dispel the doubts which Iberville had entertained, that this was really the Mississippi, and re-assured the convictions of Father Athanase. Continuing the voyage to a point which he named Portage de la Croix, Iberville turned his boat down stream and touched at Bayou Manchac. Here Bienville, who was placed in command of the boat, presently descended the river to the sea, while Iberville passed through the bayou in birch-bark canoes, guided by a Bayagola Indian. Entering the river Amite, he soon fell into Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain, which he named in honor of the two principal Ministers of his King. Bienville joined him soon after he reached his shipping.

At the eastern extremity of the Bay of Biloxi and within the limits of the present State of Mississippi, a fort, with four bastions and mounted with twelve pieces of artillery, was now erected, the command of which was given to Sauvolle, the elder of the two brothers of Iberville, while Bienville, the youngest of the three, was made lieutenant. After the colonists had built huts and houses around it, Iberville and the Count Sugeres sailed in the two frigates for France. Sauvolle dispatched a vessel to St. Domingo for provisions, and Bienville, with a small command, to visit the neighboring tribes, with whom he desired to cultivate friendly relations. Visiting the Callapissas upon the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, and the Pascagoulas upon the river of that name, among whom he distributed presents, and going by land from Mobile Point to Pensacola, to observe the movements of the Spaniards, he returned to Fort Biloxi; but in a few days set off in a boat, again to explore the Mississippi River. After having ascended it some distance, and while returning, he met, not far below the site of New Orleans, an English Captain named Bar, in charge of a vessel of the same class belonging to him at the mouth of the river, and that his intention was to establish an English colony upon the banks of the Mississippi. The ingenious Bienville turned him toward the Gulf, by telling him that France had already taken possession of the river in which he then was, and above there had occupied it with a fort and garrison, and furthermore, that the Mississippi River lay considerably to the west.

In the meantime, Sauvolle received two Canadian missionaries, who had some time before established themselves among the Yazoos. These holy men dropped down the Mississippi, entered the lakes by the Bayou Manchac, and paid their brethren an unexpected but most pleasing visit. Upon a bluff on the Mississippi, the site of old Fort Adams, lived one of these men, Father Davion, who erected a cross in the open air, and kept his holy relics in the hollow of a large tree. Here he told the Indians who the true God was, and baptized those who were converted with the waters of the ancient Mississippi. Could a life so entirely solitary, and attended with so many dangers, have been influenced by any other motives than such as are prompted by the purest piety.

At length, the roar of distant cannon at sea announced the arrival of two large ships of war, commanded by Iberville and the Count Sugeres, direct from France, laden with provisions for the colony, and having on board thirty laborers and sixty Canadians, intended as military pioneers, with their commanders, St. Dennis and Malton, together with a person named Le Sueur, who had acquired some celebrity in his voyage to Canada. They brought the pleasing intelligence that Sauvolle had been appointed Governor of Louisiana, and Bienville, was commissioned to take command of Fort Biloxi.

Dreading the advance of the British, and determined to secure the banks of the Mississippi from their grasp, Iberville sailed, with fifty Canadians, to a point eighteen leagues above the Balize, which had been selected by the indefatigable young Bienville, who had arrived for that purpose a few days before, by way of Manchac, with some Bayagulas, who were acquainted with the inundations of the river. Here they immediately began the construction of a fort, and, after a short time, were joined by the aged Tonti, who came from Canada, down the Mississippi, with a few Frenchmen and Indians. This veteran pioneer was joyfully received by those who had so often heard of his intrepid and fearless adventures.

In the meantime Sauvolle wrote to the minister, regretting that he was not allowed to accompany Iberville upon the Mississippi, where he could have learned so much of the country, condemned the location at Biloxi as too low, sterile and sickly, and gave it as his opinion that the country offered no inducement to enterprise, except to the solitary article of hides. He closed his letter by expressing the hope that some mines of precious metals would be discovered. About this time Governor Roalli, of Pensacola, advanced to Ship Island with a man-of-war and some smaller vessels, for the purpose of expelling the French; but, deterred by Iberville‘s fleet, he hastened back leaving only a proclamation protesting against the settlement of any portion of the coast, the whole breadth of which, he contended, belonging to His Catholic Majesty’s Mexican possessions.

Taking with them the Chevalier TontiIberville and Bienville left their new fort and ascended the Mississippi, visiting the different tribes upon its shores, and finally resting at the site of the present city of Natchez, where lived the Indians who bore that name, and whose manners and customs have already been described. Delighted with this place, and resolved to plant a settlement there, Iberville marked out a town, and called it Rosalie — the name of the Countess Pontchartrain. From this place the Chevalier Tonti went up the river, and Bienville and St. Dennis, with twenty-two Canadians, started to the west, by an overland route, to reconnoiter the Spanish settlements, while Iberville floated down the river to rejoin his fleet.

Returning from the west to Biloxi, Bienville was sent to take command of the new establishment upon the Mississippi, and then Iberville once more spread the sails of his ships for beloved France. Meanwhile the colony languished; the earth was not cultivated, and, relying for supplies from St. Domingo, horrible famine and sickness reduced the number of inhabitants to one hundred and fifty souls! Sauvolle himself died, leaving the cares of the colony to the more redoubtable Bienville. The latter deploring the condition of his people, and seeing the necessity of tilling the earth, in dispatch to the French government, urged them to send him laborers, rather than the vicious and the idle, who roamed the forests in search of mines and Indian mistresses.

A delegation of Choctaws and Mobilians visited Fort Biloxi, and requested assistance in their war with the Chickasaws, These were succeeded by twenty other Mobilians, and the Chief of the Alabamas, all of whom were dismissed with presents and exhortations to remain at peace with each other, At this time, the Spaniards of Pensacola and the French colony were not only upon good terms, but of mutual assistance to each other; so much so that Bienville arrested eighteen Spanish deserters and sent them back to Don Martin, the Governor of Pensacola.

Iberville and his brother Serigny, arriving at Pensacola, direct from France on board two men-of-war, dispatched supplies to the colonists in smaller vessels, which were joyfully received, as a meager portion of corn had for a long time barely kept them alive. Having received orders to break up the colonial establishment at Biloxi, and to remove it upon the Mobile, Bienville left only twenty soldiers at the fort, under Boisbriant, and, sailed with his people to Dauphin Island, to which, as we have seen, they first gave the name of Massacre. Here he met his brother Serigny, and a person named La Salle. The latter had been sent out to perform the duties of Marine Commissary. With forty sailors and some ship carpenters, Bienville began the construction of a warehouse on Dauphin Island. With a sufficient force of soldiers, artisans and laborers he then sailed up the bay of Mobile, and at the mouth of the Dog River, commenced the erection of a fort, a warehouse and other buildings. This place received the name of Mobile, from the spacious bay upon which it was situated, which was called after the tribe of Indians who had resolutely fought De Soto upon the field of Maubila. The fort itself was long designated as Fort St. Louis de la Mobile. 4

Here was the seat of government for the space of nine years, when, in 1711, as we shall see, the French moved up to the mouth of the Mobile river, where they founded the town of Mobile, which has since become the beautiful commercial emporium of the State of Alabama. A few days of activity and bustle had scarcely been passed at the new place, at the mouth of the Dog River, before it was made sad by the meeting of Bienville and Iberville, who wept for the loss of Sauvolle while affectionately locked in each other’s arms.

Iberville had passed with his ship-of-war, the Palmier, over the bar of Mobile point, finding at least twenty feet of water. It was not long before La Salle and his family came up to Mobile, which now presented the appearance of a settlement, with houses and shelters. Bienville, anxious to obtain the friendship of all tribes upon the Mobile river and its tributaries and to institute friendly relations between the different Indian nations of the Choctaw and Chickasaw countries. They now returned, with seven Chiefs of those tribes. The Governor gave them handsome presents, and exhorted them to remain at peace with the French and with each other. The Iberville and his retinue dropped down the bay of Mobile, went to Pensacola and from thence sailed for France.

Mobile being now the seat of government, various delegations of Chiefs, Spaniards from Vera Cruz, and Canadians from the northern lakes and rivers, constantly repaired there to see Governor Bienville upon business. Among others, a delegation of eight Chiefs of the Alabamas arrived, whom his Excellency treated with kindness, and dissuaded from making war upon the Mobilians, Tomez, and Chickasaws. Don Robles came with a letter from the Governor of Pensacola, requesting the loan of provisions for his famishing garrisons, with which the generous Frenchman readily complied. Midshipman Becaucourt, commanding the colonial marine, made several trips to Vera Cruz and returned with provisions, the King of Spain having granted the French free access to his colonial ports.

Summer 1702: Father Davion, the missionary upon the Mississippi, and Father Liomoge, a Jesuit, came by way of the Bayou Manchac, and reported that one of their companions and four other Frenchmen had been killed by the Indians above the Yazoo River. News also reached Bienville, that St. Dennis, at the head of the Canadian scouts, had wantonly made war upon and killed some Indians with whom they were at peace, for the purpose of obtaining slaves. Bienville, grieved at his conduct, endeavored, unsuccessfully, to have slaves restored to their people. Governor Martin, of Pensacola, came to Mobile, with the information that France and Spain had gone to war with England, and his request to be furnished with arms and ammunition was granted by Bienville.

Autumn 1702: He was succeeded by two Spanish officers from St. Augustine, with a letter from Serda, Governor of that place, requesting military supplies, as he had been blockaded by the English and Indians, Bienville sent to be his assistance a liberal supply of powder and ball.

The English of Carolina began to disturb the French colonies, by sending emissaries among the Muscogees and Alabamas. In a very short time two artful Alabamas came down the river, to decoy the French into that country. Having assured the Governor that their homes abounded in corn, which would be furnished at the most reasonable price, the latter forthwith dispatched Labrie, with four Canadians in canoes, to procure some. They had not proceeded far, before they were all killed except one of the Canadians, who returned to Mobile with his arm nearly severed by a blow which he received from an axe.

Dec 23 1703: To avenge this outrage, Bienville began the ascent of the Mobile in seven canoes, in which were forty soldiers and Canadians. In fourteen days he arrived in the vicinity of the Alabamas, upon the river of that name, where he discovered ten canoes without occupants, but saw smoke floating upon the air and rising over the forest trees and cane, upon the bluff. St. Dennis and Tonti advised him not to make the attack until night, to which he assented, contrary to his better judgment. The night was very dark, and the path which led to the Indian camp was full of weeds and briars. However, an engagement ensued, in which three Englishmen were slain, and the Indians dispersed.

Jan 11 1704: Capturing the canoes, which were laden with provisions, Bienville returned to Mobile. But he did not relax in his efforts to be revenged, for he presently engaged parties of Chickasaws and Choctaws to pursue the Alabamas, who brought some of their scalps to Mobile, for which they received rewards. 5

An official dispatch represented the following to the condition of the feeble colony of Louisiana at this period:

“180 men capable of bearing arms.
2 French families, with three little girls and seven little boys.
6 young Indian boys, slaves, from fifteen to twenty years of age.
A little of the territory around Fort Louis (Mobile) has been cultivated.
80 wooden houses, of one story high, covered with palm leaves and straw.
9 oxen, five of which belonged to the King.
14 cows.
4 bulls, one of which belonged to the King.
6 calves.
100 hogs.
3 kids.
400 hens.”

This account did not, of course, include the officers.

The colonists, suffering from severe famine, were temporarily relieved by the Governor of Pensacola, but again became destitute of provisions; and, while forced to disperse themselves along the coast, procuring subsistence upon fish and oysters, a vessel of war from France, commanded by Chateaugné, another brother of Bienville, happily re-established abundance among them. This vessel was succeeded by the Pelican, another man-of-war, laden with provisions, and having on board seventy-five soldiers, intended, for the various posts, La Vente, of the foreign mission, sent as rector by the Bishop of Quebec, four priests, and four Sisters of Charity, together with four families of laborers. But what created more novelty and excitement than all the rest of the arrivals, were twenty-three girls, whom Bienville was informed, by the Minister’s dispatch, were all of spotless chastity, pious and industrious, and that his Majesty had enjoined upon the Bishop of Quebec to send no females to Mobile who did not bear characters of irreproachable as these. He was instructed to have them married to Canadians and others, who were competent to support them.

August: Only a few days rolled around, before they all found husbands. These were the first marriages which were solemnized in old Mobile, or, indeed, upon any part of the soil of Alabama, by Christian marital rites. 6

But sickness and disasters soon dispelled the joy which these arrivals had occasioned. Half the crew of the Pelican died. Tonti and Levasseur, invaluable officers — Father Dange, a Jesuit — and thirty of the soldiers lately arrived, soon followed them to the grave. The fort and out-houses at Pensacola were wrapped in flames. Lambert, with his Canadians, driven from the post of Washita by the Indians, had fled to Mobile, Chickasaws and Choctaws had began a war with each other, which was exceedingly embarrassing to Bienville. More than seventy of the former, of both sexes, being in Mobile, and imploring Bienville to have them safely conducted to their nation, the route to which lay over the country of their enemies, he dispatched twenty Canadians, under Boisbriant with them. Arriving at one of the Choctaw towns, the inhabitants assembled in great numbers to put them to death, but Boisbriant interposing, they fell upon a stratagem to accomplish their purposes. Pretending that they only desired to rebuke the Chickasaws for their conduct, while the Chief was accordingly making his speech to them, he let a feather fall, which was a signal for attack. The Chickasaw warriors were all instantly put to death, and the women and children reserved for slaves. Boisbriant was accidentally wounded by a ball, which was exceedingly regretted by the Choctaws, three hundred of whom carried him on a litter to Mobile, in mournful procession. Bienville was shocked and mortified at the ruthless massacre, and saw at a glance, that the Chickasaws would suspect him of decoying these unhappy people there to meet the fate which they received.

When Boisbriant recovered from his wound, he was dispatched up the Alabama River, with sixty Canadians, to fight the Alabamas and Muscogees. After a long absence he returned with only two scalps and an Indian slave. In the meanwhile the Chickasaws and Choctaws continued their war, which raged with the most Indian ferocity. The French unavoidably became implicated in these feuds. Being considered the exclusive friends of the Choctaws, on account of their proximity, they were often suddenly slain by skulking ChickasawsIberville wrote to the Minister that famine again prevailed in the unhappy colony of Louisiana; that the Spanish could afford them but little corn, which the men only had become accustomed to eat, the Parisian women eschewing it, and blaming the Bishop for not telling them what they would encounter in the “promised land”; that fifty men had come to make a settlement at Mobile from the Upper Mississippi; and that the colonists would not unite to resist the Indians and combat famine, but quarreled among themselves. At this period, Commissary General La Salle had commenced a series of vindictive and unprincipled assaults upon the character of Bienville, in his dispatches to the Court. In one of these he said that “IbervilleBienville and Chateaugné, the three brothers, are guilty of all kinds of malpractices, and are extortioners and knaves, who waste the property of his Majesty.” Father La Vente, the rector of Mobile, a man of bad temper and sordid feelings, and unpopular with the priests over whom he was placed, became a willing coadjutor of La Salle in his indiscriminate abuse of the Governor.

Oct 1706: He, too, wrote letters to the Court, the burden of which was the corruption of Bienville‘s colonial government. He essayed to persuade the inhabitants that their sufferings were owing alone to the conduct of their Governor, who too tardily ordered supplies from France. He attempted to buy up the sick soldiers who he visited by giving them (as his own) money which had been placed in his hands for charitable purposes. The Lady Superior also vented her spleen against Bienville, by writing to the Minister that Boisbriant had intended to have married her, but had been prevented by the Governor. Hence, she adds, “Bienville does not possess the qualities necessary for a Governor.”

The colonists continued to lead unpleasant lives; the Muscogees and Alabamas threatened their existence; their hearts were troubled with the Chickasaw and Choctaw war; while the quarrels among the authorities continued to increase. Father Gravier, a Jesuit, took up the cudgels for Bienville, and defended him in a letter which he addressed to the Minister. But Bienville, disdaining these cabals, continued to discharge his duty faithfully to the government, as far as it could be done with his means and ability, and in his dispatches refrained from alluding to the animosities of the commissary and rector, except casually to mention that he encountered much opposition from the former. Iberville, the indefatigable founder of Louisiana and the devoted friend of the colonists, died of yellow fever at Havana, where he touched with his fleet while on his way to attack Charleston and Jamaica. This was severe blow, added to the general suffering of the colony, and seriously retarded its advance. About the same time, Berguier, Grand Vicar of the Lord of Quebec, came from the Illinois country to Mobile, and reported that St. Come, a missionary among the Natchez, with three other Frenchmen, had been murdered, while descending the Mississippi, by the Chaumachas. This induced Bienville to send presents to all the nations of the Lower Mississippi, which would cause them to make war upon those Indians. The English from Carolina, aided by troops from Great Britain, had continued to advance upon the Spanish settlements of the Floridas, assisted by large bands of Muscogee Indians, and had overrun the greater portion of Middle and East Florida, laying waste the Spanish settlements, and forcing the inhabitants and friendly Indians almost to abandon the country. News reached Bienville that they had besieged the fort of Pensacola, which had recently been rebuilt, he advanced from Mobile with one hundred and twenty Canadians; but, on reaching that place, he found that the thirteen Englishmen and three hundred and fifty Muscogees, who for two days had lain around the fort to attack it, becoming destitute of provisions, had already retired.

In the meanwhile, Bienville, in a dispatch to the Minister, urged the necessity of sending out more colonial supplies, as the inhabitants had not yet made plantations ample enough from which to derive a support. He stated that his lands were fertile up the Mobile River, but too unhealthy during the period of cultivating the crops. The want of Negroes, horses and oxen also contributed its share in embarrassing the feeble efforts of the Louisiana planter, and failures were often made. He informed the Minister, further, that he had intended establishing a fort upon the “Tombecbe”, in the vicinity of the Chickasaws, in order to secure the friendship of those Indians, who were the most warlike of all, and who were daily tampered with by the English of Carolina, but that the distance to that point, and the general distance of the colony, had prevented it; that all the Indians were treacherous, and often assassinated the French, for whose strength they had begun to entertain a most contemptible opinion; that three-fourths of the soldiers were too young to prosecute a war, and constantly deserted, while the Canadians, whom he had declined to discharge, contrary to the orders of Begar, Intendant of Rochefort, were the sole pillars of the colony. In consequence of these things, he had been compelled to abandon the establishments upon the Mississippi. In addition, he stated that La Salle had refused to pay the colonists their just dues, and had withheld payment from those who had been sent to a distance upon important duties.

The continued reports of the malpractices of Bienville, which had reached the ears of the Minister, induced the French government to order his arrest. DeMuys was appointed Governor of Louisiana, “to prove the facts charged against this person, to arrest him if they were true, and to send him a prisoner to France,” Thus the unjust and singular position was assumed, of leaving to Bienville‘s successor to decide whether he was guilty or innocent! In the meantime, Bienville, hearing of his disgrace at Court, demanded to be dismissed from his post, to enable him to return to France. This startled the inhabitants of Mobile, who were warmly attached to him, and who immediately petitioned the government that, if Bienville‘s request should be allowed, he should immediately be sent back to them as their Governor. But DeMuys, his successor and his judge died at Havana on his passage out. Diron D’Artaguette was appointed Commissary General in the place of the growling La Salle, whom the government had also removed. D’Artaguette, more fortunate than his companion, had reached Mobile in safety, and was directed to investigate the charges against Bienville, without letting him know what they were. However, fortunately for the cause of justice, and perhaps the welfare of the colony, D’Artaguette, in the report of his investigations to the Minister, was enabled to close by saying, that “all the accusations brought against Bienville were most miserable calumnies.” Subjoined to this statement was the attestation of Boisbriant, now Major of the fort at Mobile. But the disappointed and vindictive La Salle renewed his accusations, in which he assured the Minister that an understanding existed between Bienville and the new Commissary, and that the report of the latter was not to be believed. At the same time he denounced Barrot, the surgeon of the colony, as “an ignorant man–a drunkard and a rogue, who sold, for his own profit, the medicines belonging to the king.”

The following is a statement of the condition of the colony of Louisiana at this period:

14 superior officers, comprising a midshipman attending on the commandant.
76 soldiers, comprising four military officers.
13 sailors, comprising four naval officers.
2 Canadians, serving as clerks in the warehouses, by order of Bienville.
1 superintendent of the warehouses.
3 priests, comprising one rector.
6 workmen.
1 Canadian, serving as interpreter.
6 cabin boys, learning the Indian language, and intended to serve by land and sea as workmen.

24 inhabitants who have no grants of land, which prevents the majority from working plantations.
28 women.
25 children.
80 slaves, men and women, of various Indian nations.

TOTAL 279, of whom six are sick.

In addition to these there are more than 60 Canadians who live in the Indian villages on the Mississippi, without the permission of the Governor, and who destroy, by their evil and libertine life with the Indian women, all that the missionaries and others have instructed them in the mysteries of religion.

50 cows.
40 calves.
4 bulls.
8 oxen, four of which belong to the King.
1400 hogs and sows.
2000 hens, or thereabouts.

In consequence of the death of the recently appointed Governor of Louisiana, and the complete overthrow of the charges brought against the old one, the French government permitted the latter to continue at his responsible and thankless post. Knowing that the colony could not prosper unless the earth was cultivated, Governor Bienville endeavored in vain to make the whites under him labor in the fields. On the other hand, the Indians, who the French had endeavored to enslave, would escape to their native woods, at the slightest appearance of coercion. In a dispatch to the Minister, Bienville recommended that the colonists be allowed to send Indians to the West India Islands, and there to exchange them for Negroes, asserting that these Islanders would give two Africans for three Indians. His proposition was laid before M. Robert, one of the heads of the Bureau of the Minister of Marine, who pronounced against it, upon the ground that the inhabitants of the West Indies would not part with their good Negroes, and that the only way to obtain such was by purchasing from Guinea. Another idea of Bienville‘s seemed still more unreasonable. He had given orders to watch several inhabitants of Mobile, to prevent them from leaving the country. As they had “amassed considerable property in the colony, by keeping public-house, it was but just,” said he to the Minister, “to compel them to remain.”

Although discharged from La Salle, far from remaining quiet, continued to complain of the administration of the colony. He urged the Minister to send thirty females to Mobile, to prevent by marriage, the debauchery which was committed with Indian women. He said that such an importation would serve to keep at home a number of Canadians who roamed the country in search of female slaves. He agreed in opinion with Bienville that Negroes were indispensable to the prosperity of the colony; and in this he was right, for experience has proved that neither South Carolina, Louisiana, nor any other Southern State, with such low, rich lands, and with a humid atmosphere so destructive to the constitutions of the whites, could ever have been successfully brought into cultivation without African labor.

Commissary D’Artaguette, visiting the country lying between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi river, now a portion of New Orleans, found there seven Frenchmen, who had each planted an acre of Indian corn, brought from the Illinois, and which grew most luxuriantly. He wrote to the Minister, as Iberville and Bienville had often done before, urging the establishment of colonies upon that river, and for their protection against the floods, the erection of embankments along the margin.

Although La Salle had died at Mobile early in the year 1710, a short time after the death of his second wife, who, like the first, had been reared in the hospitals, yet Bienville failed not to find those who were equally willing to comment, in the most illiberal manner, upon his administration. Marigny, an officer of the garrison, in a dispatch to the Minister, accused him with disregarding the interests of the colony. La Vente, the curate, who appeared officiously desirous to attend to the temporal as well as the spiritual affairs of Louisiana, also abused him without measure, attributing to him every misfortune which attended the inhabitants of Mobile. He assured the Minister, that if the permission of the government could be obtained, they had determined to form a colony upon Dauphin Island, where there were twenty fortified houses, for the purpose of catching fish, and being more convenient to the supplies which might be sent to them from Pensacola and France. Under these repeated assaults, Bienville lost the dignity and patience which had formerly characterized his conduct, and now retorted upon his adversaries with considerable acrimony. In one of his dispatches, he said, that “the curate, La Vente, endeavored to excite everybody against him;” that the curate was “not ashamed to keep an open shop and sell like an avaricious Jew.” Verily, this father must have been a man who possessed too much malignity, avarice and bad temper, to have been a successful missionary in the holy cause in which he was ostensibly engaged.

Thus the year 1710 closed with such controversies, while Bienville had been obliged to distribute his men among the Indian towns to procure something to eat. 7 How unfortunate that the colonists, like mere children, should have depended upon the mother country for everything which went into their mouths, when moderate industry, bestowed higher up the Tombigby and Alabama rivers, upon the more elevated and less sickly lands, would have ensured them an abundance.Citations:

  1. Hildreth’s History of the United States New York: 1849, vol. 2 pp. 81-99. Historie de la Louisiane, par Charles Gayarre; vol 1, pp. 23-61. Journal Historique du Dernier Voyage que feu M. de la Sale, fit dans le Galfe de Mexique, pour trouver l’embouchure, et le cours de la Riviere de St. Louis, qui traverse la Louisiana A Paris: 1713, 386 pages. The History of Louisiana from the earliest period, by Francois Xavier Martin, vol. 1, pp, 59-121. New Orleans: 1827. Also many other authorities.[]
  2. The Spaniards, who still claimed the whole circuit of the Gulf, had hastened to occupy the Pensacola harbor, the best upon it. The barrier thus formed, made the dividing line between Florida and Louisiana.[]
  3. Journal Historique de l’Etablissement des Français a la Louisiane, par Bernard de la Harpe pp. 4-8. La Harpe was one of the first French settlers in Mobile, and he kept a journal of all he witnessed in that place, at Dauphin, Biloxi, Ship Island, etc.[]
  4. In 1777 Bartram being on a voyage from Mobile to Pearl river, in a French trading boat touched at the mouth of Dog River, and saw there the ruins of old Fort St. Louis de la Mobile where lay some iron cannon and some immense iron kettles, formerly used by the French for boiling tar into pitch–Bartram’s Travels, pp. 416-417[]
  5. Journal Historique de l’Etablissement des Français a la Louisiane, par Bernard de la Harpe, pp. 35-83[]
  6. “The first child born in the colony, and, consequently, the first ‘Creole,’ was named Claude Jousset, and was the son of a Canadian who carried on a small trading business at Mobile” — Louisiana, its Colonial History and Romance, by Charles Gayarre. New York, 1851, pp. 464-465.[]
  7. Histoire de la Louisiane, par Charles Gayarre, vol. 1, pp. 78-91.[]

Pickett, Albert James. A transcription from the manuscript History of Alabama, Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, From the Earliest Period. Charleston: Walker and James. 1851.

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