François-Xavier Martin.

The history of Louisiana, from the earliest period online

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Hcec igitur formam crescendo mutat et oUm,
Iniinfiisi caput orhis erit sic dicere vates.^^

—OVID METAM. XV„ 434 and 435.


By judge W. W. HOWE,




Prom the Close of Martin's History, 1815 ; to the Commencement
OF THE Civil War, 1861,


NEW ORLEANS: ^^:5;^^;J^ashi^
JAMES A GRESHAM, Publisher and Bookseller,



3 w ,

Entered according to the Act of Congress in the year ldS-2, b;/


In the office of the Librarian of Congress, at Wasliington.

T. H. TiiOMASOx, PiU.N'TEK, New Orleaua.



The history of Louisiana will always be an interesting chapter in the
history of the world. It does not concern merely the area which is now
included within the boundaries of the present State ; it embraces of
necessity the story of the repeated and persistent attempts of France to
found an empire in the new world, which should extend from the mouth
of the St. Lawrence across the great Lakes to the mouth of the
Mississippi. The Louisiana of the seventeenth century extended from
the Alleghanies to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Rio Grande and
the Gulf to the dim regions which now constitute British America ; while
Canada or New France stretched from the upper Mississippi to the
Atlantic Ocean.'^ There have been few plans of colonization more vast,
and whatever may be the judgment of the historian upon the policy or
the work of France in this bold scheme, there can be little difference of
opinion as to the qualities displayed by the Frenchmen who were leaders
in the movement. They were certainly cast in the heroic mould. Their
voyages and their marches, their gay contempt of danger, their patience
under suffering, their cheerful adaptation of means to end, place them
easily in the front rank of pioneers. Such men as De Gourges,
Champlain, Marquette, Frontenac and Lasalle, do honor to their race.
Nor should Iberville and Bienville be omitted from the list, for though
born in Canada, they may be credited to France, and it was for her good
and glory they lived their laborious days in Louisiana.

Indeed, it seems well for those of us who have been nurtured on the
•English literature of the last three centuries to make now and then some
careful study of the lives of the French explorers during the same period,
if only to keep our perceptions achromatic respecting the French
character. Of course, we do not really think that the French have at all
times been given over now to frivolity and now to ferocity. We are not
quite sure that their character is chiefly compounded of ape and tiger.
Such an opinion would have to be relegated, now-a-days, to the limbo of
superstitions. Yet, without doubt, there are many good people of Anglo-
Saxon descent who have a vague feeling that a Frenchman has always


been, comparatively, a poor creature, a fop, a fribble, destitute of true
earnestness of character, and quite beyond the reach of saving grace,
whether of the political or the theological sort. For such an inadequate
estimate of a great nation there can be no better corrective than a study
of the story of Louisiana. When this story is diligently considered, it
will be seen that beneath the superficial errors and follies of France are
found and found abundantly those elemental virtues of courage, tenacity,
self-denial, and keen intelligence, which have made her great in the past,
and will make her great in the future.

Ten years ago it was said by many that France was ruined ; and for
some, there seemed to be a kind of satisfaction in the thought. Yet, in
July of the present year, the editor of the Fortnightly Review says of her,
in view of the adjournment of her legislature :

" The expiring parliament has remitted taxes amounting to over eleven
millions sterling, redeemed a milliard of debt, devoted £60,000,000 to
public works — spending over the latter £1,600,000 more per annum than
the Empire — and closes its accounts with a surplus of two millions
sterling. France has regained her place among the nations. Even the
deplorable Tunis expedition proved that she dare transgress with a high
hand. While absorbing Tunis, she has annexed Tahiti, and is extending
her influence in Eastern and Western Africa and the Further East. The
war against Clericalism, marked as it has been by many unfortunate
features, seems to have provoked no perceptible reaction, while it gratified
the odium anti-theologicum of the most energetic Republicans. Education
has been made free, compulsory, and secular. Steps have been taken to
shorten the period of military service. Order has been maintained
without the sacrifice of liberty, and the peasants have learned to identify
the Republic with prosperity and peace."

Such results seem surprising. They need surprise no one who is
familiar with the story of the French in America during the sixteenth,
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


Judge Martin's History of Louisiana was originally published in the
year 1827. It has long been out of print, and for some time it has been
difficult to obtain even a single copy. In republishing the work, it has
been thought proper to preface it with some details of the life of its

Fran^ois-Xavier Martin was born in Marseilles, in France, on the 17th
of March, 1762, and his boyhood was passed in that busy and cosmopolitan
seaport. His family seem to have been plain and quiet people, from
whom he derived, as his sole inheritance, a rugged physique, a keen
intelligence, and a robust will. So far as we may judge, he seems to have


been in many respects such a solid and serious youth as was Jules Grevy,
now President of the French Republic. He must have received some
early education ; but it was too brief for much exactitude or finish ; for
at the age of eighteen years, he left Marseilles for the island of Martinique,
and never afterwards returned to the place of his birth, except for a brief
visit near the close of his life. At this time Martinique was a French colony,
famous, then as now, for producing considerable quantities of sugar, coffee
and logwood, and an inordinate amount of rum. Young Martin appears
to have gone thither to engage in some kind of mercantile business, and
was not very successful ; for in the last years of the American Revolution
he had come to this countr}', landing at Nevvbern, North Carolina.

It is said that he volunteered in the Continental Army, but his military
career was short. Tradition relates that being on outpost duty, 'one day,
he came rushing in with the report that the eneni}^ was at hand. His
regiment turned out to meet the foe and found instead of the fiery coats
of the British, a row of red flannel shirts hung out to dry. The fact was that
the young scout was painfully near-sighted, and his vision was so defective
that he was entirely unfit for military service. He must have returned
at once to Newbern, for at the close of the Revolution we find him there,
endeavoring to keep soul and. body together b}'^ teaching French.

Such limited employment could not long satisfy his active and
ambitious disposition. He proposed to himself to be a printer ; and
thereafter to be whatever a printer might become. He boldly applied for
emploj'^ment as a practical printer. " Can you set type ? " was of course
the first question addressed to the applicant, who had never set a type in
his life. " Without doubt, I can," replied Martin, believing, we must
presume, that a man of sense and determination need not be daunted by
merely mechanical difficulties, but ought to be guided by the rule that
" what man has done, man may do." He was immediately employed,
and such were his ingenuity and keenness of observation, that the foreman
of the establishment, though he may have scolded him now and then, for
an error, never discovered but that his journeyman had previously learned
the trade. In after life, the Chief Justice used to tell this story with the
same gusto as that which is sometimes displayed by a bishop in relating
his college pranks.

He soon after established a newspaper of his own, which he was not
ashamed to peddle, newsboy fashion, not only in Newbern, but in the
adjoining counties ; and at the same time he published almanacs, spelling-
books, and translations from the French. But he could not rest content
with work like this. He studied law, at leisure moments, and in the year
1789, being then twenty-seven years of age, he was admitted to the bar of
North Carolina. He soon took position — not as a brilliant advocate — for
he had neither the taste nor the qualities which make the brilliant


advocate ; but as a student of laws and of jurisprudence who was destined
to become a jurist.

On the occasion of a visit of President Washington to North Carolina,
about this time, Mr. Martin was one of a committee appointed to receive
that distinguished man. Mr. Gayarre says that this was one of the events
of Martin's life of which he always loved to talk.

" When Washington, whom he had never seen before, showed himself
to his admiring eyes, in a coach and four, with that majestic bearing
which is attributed to kings, and which made that illustrious individual
look like the very incarnation of intensified aristocracy, the young French-
man, who had been dreaming of Cincinnatus with spade and plough, and
dirt-stained, hard-fisted hands, was rather disconcerted. The committee
conducted this Louis Fourteenth of republicanism to his apartments ;
but, before entering them, Washington said with a smile to those who
reverently surrounded him : ' Gentlemen, I am in the habit of attending
to the comfort of my horses before thinking of my own : please, therefore,
be so kind as to lead me to the stables.' And to the stables the founder
of an empire went with a measured and august step, not assumed, but
prescribed to him by nature. With placid dignity he patted his horses,
and gave the minutest directions to his groom, much to the edification of
the astonished committee." *

Martin was a man whose industry could not be appeased by any single
employment. Moreover, he Avas fond of money as well as of fame, as we
shall have occasion to notice more especially hereafter. While practicing
law he continued to carry on business as a printer, and began to busy
himself with the composition and publication of books. Among these
may be mentioned a collection of the Statutes of the Parliament of
England in force in the State of North Carolina, published according to a
resolve of the General Assembly, at Newborn, from the Editor's Press,
1792 ; a Treatise on the Powers and Duties of a Sheriff, according to the ■
laws of North Carolina ; and a Treatise on Executors.

In 1802, he published a translation of Pothier on Obligations, a book
for w^hich he had a profound respect ; and at this time so complete was
his skill as translator and type setter, that in executing the work he used
no manuscript, but rendered the French directly into English type in the
composing stick.

In 1804, he published a revision of the Statutes of North Carolina, and
some three years after issued a second edition. The copy to be found in
the Law Library of New Orleans is a stout quarto, two volumes in one,
with an appendix, which brings the work down to 1807. It is printed by the
firm of Martin & Ogden, Newbern. Between the revision proper and the

* Lemos : p. 245.


appendix is a page, which shows that the senior partner of the house
while on jurisprudence bent, yet had a frugal mind. This page is not
wasted by being left blank, but is discreetly filled with a list of " Books
printed and for Sale at this Office," and in which we find not only
Martin's Sheriff, and Martin on Executors, but a list of novels which, it
is to be hoped, amused and instructed the literary people of North
Carolina in that day, such as "Lord Rivers, " "The Female Foundling, "
" Delaval," and so on. There is even announced, " The Rural Philos-
opher, a Poem." Who the poet was is a mystery which remains unrevealed.
It is quite certain that it was not Martin himself.

Those who visit the Land of the Sky, and breathe the pleasant air of
Buncombe County, might l)e interested to know, that as appears by this
volume, the county was established in 1791, and included the larger part
of western North Carolina, extending from the head of "Swannanoe
Creek " to the Tennessee line on the west, and to South Carolina on the
south. It was a magnificent domain, for scenery at least, and the
member who insisted at every turn on sa3ang something "for Buncombe,"
had a large and interesting subject.

In 1806, Mr. Martin was elected and served for one term as a member
of the Legislature.

His researches into the statutes of North Carolina suggested to him a
collection of materials for a history of that State, which he published some
years later, chiefly in the form of annals.

In this busy and useful method, he passed, in North Carolina, some
twenty-eight years of his life. The youth who had come to Newbern, a
forlorn and friendless foreigner, had grown to be a man of mature years
and assured position. He had wasted no time. He had become a proficient
in the common law and in the laws of the United States, and had not neg-
lected the j urisprudence of Rome and of his native country. He had learned
to express himself with force, if not with perfect purity of idiom. He
had acquired a wide knowledge of history. He had attained the age of
about forty-seven years, and had, with an economy like that of a French
peasant, laid up a modest competence. To some men it might have
seemed that the work of life was about completed, and that it was nearly
time for rest. For Martin, life had just begun. His work thus far had
been provisional and preparatory. He Avas to live and labor for nearly
forty years longer, and was to use his acquirements and talent in a very
different field. He had exhausted the possibilities of the little town
of Newbern, and the same spirit of intelligent enterprise which led him
from Marseilles to Martinique, and from Martinique to North Carolina,
prompted him to leave North Carolina for newer fields.



James Madison had just been inaugurated President of the United
States, a judge was needed in the territory of Mississippi, and the new
President offered the place to Mr. Martin. He accepted the position and
filled it about one year, when he was transferred, on the 21st of March,
1810, to the bench of the Superior Court of the territory of Orleans, and
this brought him to the city of New Orleans. He found himself once
more in a strange city, a place most singular in its peculiarities of situation
and of histor}', but one for whose advantage he was peculiarly fitted to

The territory of Orleans then embraced the present limits of the State
of Louisiana. * Its previous history had been such as to produce a remark-
able complexity in its population, its society and its laws. States, like
individuals, are largely a result of race tendencies and of the modifying
power of events and circumstances. In these respects few modern States
have been subjected to such peculiar and varied influences as Louisiana ;
and this fact should be borne in mind, even in any estimate of its present
condition, and any comparison with the other parts of our Union. Its
principal river was opened to the world in a peculiar way. For more than
a century the Spanish navigated the waters of the Gulf without seeming
aware that the largest river in the world was pouring into it. For nearly
two centuries after the discovery of Aixierica, the great stream was not
entered from its mouth for commercial purposes, and it was not until that
heroic pioneer, Lasalle, in the year 1682, picked out his perilous path from
Canada, by the way of Lake Michigan and the Illinois river, and
descended the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico, that the world began to
dimly conjecture the capacity of this vast natural highway, and the
possibilities of the valley through which it flows.

Lasalle was exploring under the patronage of Louis Fourteenth and
the Prince of Conti. He gave the name of Louisiana to the region he
passed through, while in after years the name of his other patron was
given to one of the streets of New Orleans.

The first important settlement resulting from these discoveries was
made at Biloxi, on the northern shore of the Gulf, and now in the State
of Mississippi. It was founded by Iberville in 1699, and was the chief
town until 1702, when Bienville moved the headquarters to the west bank
of the Mobile River. The soil of Biloxi is exceptionally sterile, and the
settlers seem to have depended mainly on supplies from France or St.
Domingo. The French government, so distant and necessarily sq
ignorant of the true interests of the colony seemed intent on the search

* This is understood to be the legal eflfect of the Act of Consress of March 26, 180 1 ; and it
is not deemed uecessary to discuss here the question of the " Florida Parishes."


for gold and pearls. " The wool of buffaloes," says Martin, "was pointed
out to the colonial officers as the future staple commodity of the country,
and they were directed to have a number of these animals penned and
tamed." To those who know Biloxi, there is something delicious in tl e
idea of building up a colonj - there on pearls and " buffalo wool."

On the 26th September, 1712, the entire commerce of Louisiana, with a
considerable control in its government, was granted by charter to Anthony
Crozat, an eminent French merchant. The territory is described in this
charter as that " possessed by the crown, between Old and New Mexico
and Carolina and all the settlements, port, roads and rivers therein —
principally the port and road of Dauphine Island, formerly called
Massacre Island, the river St. Louis, previously .called the Mississippi,
from the sea to the Illinois, the river St. Philip, before called Missouri,
the river St. Jerome, before called the Wabash, with all the lands, lakes
and rivers mediately or immediately flowing into any part of the river St.
Louis or Mississippi."

The territory thus described " is to be and remain included under the
style of the government of Louisiana, and to be a dependence of the
government of New France, to which it is to be subordinate." *

By another provision of this charter " the laws, edicts and ordinances of
the realm and the custom of Paris were extended to Louisiana." f

The grant to Crozat, so magnificent on paper, proved of little use or
value to him, and of little benefit to the colony, and in 1718 he surrendered
the privilege.

In the same year, on the 6th September, the charter of the Western or
Mississippi Company was registered in the Parliament of Paris. The
history of this enormous scheme, with which John Law was so closely
connected, is well known. The exclusive commerce of Louisiana was
granted to it for twenty-five years, and a monopoly of the beaver trade of
Canada, together with other extraordinary privileges, and it entered at
once on its new domains. Bienville was re-appointed governor a second
time. He had become satisfied that the chief city of the colony should

* A young French engineer, Franquelin, hydrographer to the king at Quebec, made, in
1 684, an interesting map, which is still preserved in Paris in the DepOt des cartes of the Marine.

" It exhibits the political divisions of the continent, as the French then understood them ;
that is to say, all the regions drained by streams flowing into the St. Lawrence and the Mis-
sissippi are claimed as belonging to France, and this vast domain is separated into two grand
divisions. La Nouvelle France and La Louisiane. The boundary line of the former, New
France, is drawn from the Penobscot to the southern extremity of Lake Champlain, and
thence to the Mohawk, which it crosses a little above Schenectady in order to make French
subjects of the Mohawk Indians. Thence it passes by the sources of the Susquehanna and the
Alleghany along the southern shore of Lake Erie, across southern Michigan, whence it
sweeps northwestward to the sources of the Mississippi. Louisiana includes tlie entire valley
of the Mississippi and the Ohio, besides the whole of Texas. The Spanish province of Florida
comprises the peninsula and the country east of Mobile drained by streams flowing into the
Gulf; wliile Carolina, Virginia and the other English provinces form a narrow strip between
the Alleghanies and the Atlantic." — Parkraan: Discovery of the Great West, p. 411.

t Martin : Vol. I., Chap. viii.


be established on the Mississippi, and so, in 1718, New Orleans was
founded. Its location was plainly determined by the fact that it lies
between the river and Lake Pontchartrain, with the Bayou St. John
forming a natural connection which extends a large portion of the way
from the lake to the Mississippi. And even at this early day there was a
plan of constructing jetties at the mouth of the great river, and so making
New Orleans the deep water port of the Gulf. It was about this time
that the engineer, Pauger, reported a plan for removing the bar at the
mouth of one of the Passes, by a system substantial!)^ the same as that so
successfully executed recently, under the Act of Congress, by Captain
James B. Eads.* It was a mooted question for some time, however,
whether New Orleans, Manchac, or Natchez should be the colonial capital ;
but in 1722 Bienville had his way, and removed the seat of government
to New Orleans.

. In the same year, the place was visited by the Jesuit traveller,
Charlevoix, who speaks of it as " this famous town which has been named
New Orleans," having been so called in compliment to the Regent Duke
who was at the head of the French government during the minority of
Louis Fifteenth. It was famous, probably, at that time only, because the
speculators of the Western Company had puffed it into a premature
reputation. Charlevoix hin^self was grievousl}' disappointed with the
town, and says in a melancholy way :

" It consists really of one hundred cabins disposed with little regularity,
a large wooden warehouse, two or three dwellings that would be no
ornament to a French village, and the half of a sorry warehouse which
they were pleased to lend to the Lord," — for a church — " but of which he
had scarcely taken possession, when it was proposed to turn him out to
lodge under a tent."

He goes on, nevertheless, to make the prediction, that " this wild and
dreary place, still almost covered with woods and reeds, will one day be
an opulent city and the metropolis of a great and rich colony."

The Western Company possessed and controlled Louisiana some
fourteen years, when, finding the principality of little value, it surrendered
it in January, 1732. The system which thus came to an end was essen-
tiall}^ vicious, yet the supply of means to the colony was advantageous,
and " it cannot be denied," says Martin, " that while Louisiana was part
of the dominion of France, it never prospered but during the fourteen
years of the company's privilege." f

In 1732, Le Page Du Pratz describes Ncav Orleans in these words :

*' In the middle of the city is the Place d' Amies," — now Jackson

* Martin : Vol. I., CLap. ix.
t Martin : Vol. I., Chap. ix.


Square. " Midway of the rear of the square is the parish church dedicated
to Saint Louis, where the reverend fathers, the Capuchins, officiate.
Their residence is on the left of the church, on the right are the prison
and guard house. The two sides of the square are occupied by two sets
of barracks. It is entirely open on the side next the river. All the
streets are regularly laid out in length and width, cross each other at right
angles, and divide the city into sixty-six sc^uares, eleven in length along
the river, and six in depth."

In 1763, occurred an event which left a deep impression on the history
of Louisiana. On the third of November of that year, a secret treaty
was signed at Paris, by which France ceded to Spain all that portion of
Louisiana which lay west of the Mississippi, together with the city of
New Orleans, " and the island on which it stands." The war between

Online LibraryFrançois-Xavier MartinThe history of Louisiana, from the earliest period → online text (page 1 of 69)