Today’s installment concludes First French Colony in the Louisiana Area,
our selection from A History of Louisiana by Charles E.A. Gayarré published in 1866.
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Previously in First French Colony in the Louisiana Area.
Place: Ocean Springs, Mississippi
The year 1703 slowly rolled by and gave way to 1704. Still, nothing was heard from the parent country. There seemed to be an impassable barrier between the old and the new continent. The milk which flowed from the motherly breast of France could no longer reach the parched lips of her new-born infant; and famine began to pinch the colonists, who scattered themselves all along the coast, to live by fishing. They were reduced to the veriest extremity of misery, and despair had settled in every bosom, in spite of the encouragements of Bienville, who displayed the most manly fortitude amid all the trials to which he was subjected, when suddenly a vessel made its appearance. The colonists rushed to the shore with wild anxiety, but their exultation was greatly diminished when, on the nearer approach of the moving speck, they recognized the Spanish instead of the French flag. It was relief, however, coming to them, and proffered by a friendly hand. It was a return made by the governor of Pensacola for the kindness he had experienced the year previous. Thus the debt of gratitude was paid: it was a practical lesson. Where the seeds of charity are cast, there springs the harvest in time of need.
Good things, like evils, do not come singly, and this succor was but the herald of another one, still more effectual, in the shape of a ship from France. Iberville had not been able to redeem his pledge to the poor colonists, but he had sent his brother Chateaugué in his place, at the imminent risk of being captured by the English, who occupied, at that time, most of the avenues of the Gulf of Mexico. He was not the man to spare either himself or his family in cases of emergency, and his heroic soul was inured to such sacrifices. Grateful the colonists were for this act of devotedness, and they resumed the occupation of their tenements which they had abandoned in search of food. The aspect of things was suddenly changed; abundance and hope reappeared in the land, whose population was increased by the arrival of seventeen persons, who came, under the guidance of Chateaugué, with the intention of making a permanent settlement, and who, in evidence of their determination, had provided themselves with all the implements of husbandry. We, who daily see hundreds flocking to our shores, and who look at the occurrence with as much unconcern as at the passing cloud, can hardly conceive the excitement produced by the arrival of these seventeen emigrants among men who, for nearly two years, had been cut off from communication with the rest of the civilized world. A denizen of the moon, dropping on this planet, would not be stared at and interrogated with more eager curiosity.
This excitement had hardly subsided when it was revived by the appearance of another ship, and it became intense when the inhabitants saw a procession of twenty females, with veiled faces, proceeding arm in arm, and two by two, to the house of the Governor, who received them in state and provided them with suitable lodgings. What did it mean? Innumerable were the gossipings of the day, and part of the coming night itself was spent in endless commentaries and conjectures. But the next morning, which was Sunday, the mystery was cleared by the officiating priest reading from the pulpit, after mass, and for the general information, the following communication from the minister to Bienville: “His majesty sends twenty girls to be married to the Canadians and to the other inhabitants of Mobile, in order to consolidate the colony. All these girls are industrious and have received a pious and virtuous education. Beneficial results to the colony are expected from their teaching their useful attainments to the Indian females. In order that none should be sent except those of known virtue and of unspotted reputation, his majesty did entrust the Bishop of Québec with the mission of taking these girls from such establishments as, from their very nature and character, would put them at once above all suspicions of corruption. You will take care to settle them in life as well as may be in your power, and to marry them to such men as are capable of providing them with a commodious home.”
This was a very considerate recommendation, and very kind it was, indeed, from the great Louis XIV, one of the proudest monarchs that ever lived, to descend from his Olympian seat of majesty to the level of such details and to such minute instructions for ministering to the personal comforts of his remote Louisianan subjects. Many were the gibes and high was the glee on that occasion; pointed were the jokes aimed at young Bienville on his being thus transformed into a matrimonial agent and pater familiae. The intentions of the King, however, were faithfully executed, and more than one rough but honest Canadian boatman of the St. Lawrence and of the Mississippi closed his adventurous and erratic career and became a domestic and useful member of that little commonwealth, under the watchful influence of the dark-eyed maid of the Loire or of the Seine. Infinite are the chords of the lyre which delights the romantic muse; and these incidents, small and humble as they are, appear to me to be imbued with an indescribable charm, which appeals to her imagination.
This ends our series of passages on Louisiana’s First Colony by Charles E.A. Gayarré from his book A History of Louisiana published in 1866. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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