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 man of weight. And, as if the name of the city’s founder must be linked with all patriotic disaster, among the number were two of Bienville’s nephews Noyan, a young ex-captain of cavalry, and Bienville, a naval lieutenant, Noyan’s still younger brother.
On the 25th of October 1768, the mine was sprung. From twenty to sixty miles above New Orleans, on the banks of the Mississippi, lies the Côte des Allemands, the German coast, originally colonized by John Law’s Alsatians. Here the conspirators had spread the belief that the Spanish obligations due the farmers there would not be paid; and when, on the date mentioned, Ulloa sent an agent to pay them, he was arrested by a body of citizens under orders from Villeré, and deprived of the money.
Just beyond the German coast lay the coast of the “Acadians.” From time to time, since the peace with England, bands of these exiles from distant Nova Scotia had found their way to Louisiana, some by way of the American colonies and the Ohio River, and some-many, indeed-by way of St. Domingo, and had settled on the shores of the Mississippi above and below the mouth of La Fourche and down the banks of that bayou. Hardships and afflictions had come to be the salt of their bread, and now a last hope of ending their days under the flag for which they had so pathetic an affection depended upon the success of this uprising. They joined the insurgents.
On the 27th, Foucault called a meeting of the Superior Council for the 28th. In the night, the guns at Tchoupitoulas gate-at the upper river corner-were spiked. Farther away, along a narrow road, with the wide and silent Mississippi now hidden by intervening brakes of cotton-wood or willow and now broadening out to view, but always on the right, and the dark, wet, moss-draped forest always on the left, in rude garb and with rude weapons-muskets, fowling pieces, anything-the Germans and Acadians were marching upon the town.
On the morning of the 28th, they entered Tchoupitoulas gate. At the head of the Acadians was Noyan. villere led the Germans. Other gates were forced, other companies entered, stores and dwellings were closed, and the insurgents paraded the streets. “All,” says Aubry, was in a state of combustion.”The people gathered on the square.” Louis Quatorze” harangued them. So did Doucet and the brothers Milhet. Six hundred persons signed a petition to the Superior Council, asking the official action which the members of that body, then sitting, were ready and waiting to give.
Aubry had a total force of one hundred and ten men. What he could do he did. He sent for Lafreniere, and afterward for Foucault, and protested bitterly, but in vain.
Under his protection, Ulloa retired with his family on board the Spanish frigate, which had slipped her cables from the shore and anchored out in the river. The Spanish governor’s staff remained in his house, which they had barricaded, surrounded by an angry mob that filled the air with huzzas for the King of France. The Council met again on the 29th. A French flag had been hoisted in the Place d’Armes, and a thousand insurgents gathered around it demanding the action of the Council. As that body was about to proceed to its final measure, Aubry appeared before it, warning and reproaching its members. Two or three alone wavered, but Lafrénière’s counsel prevailed, and a report was adopted enjoining Ulloa to “leave the colony in the frigate in which e came, without delay.”
Aubry was invited by the conspirators to resume the government. His response was to charge them with rebellion and predict their ruin. Ulloa, the kindest if not the wisest well-wisher of Louisiana that had held the gubernatorial commission since Bienville, sailed, not in the Spanish frigate, which remained “for repairs,” but in a French vessel, enduring at the last moment the songs and jeers of a throng of night restorers, and the menacing presence of sergeants and bailiffs of the Council.