In 1694 Henri de Tonty wrote to Cabart de Villermont that the French should seize Louisiana for three reasons-as a base to attack Mexico, as a trading depot for furs and lead ore, and to prevent the English from controlling the west. Sieur de Rémonville, a friend of the late La Salle, tried to organize a company to settle Louisiana in 1697, but his proposal gave way to a colony sponsored by King Louis XIV that sent Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville to build a fort before the English could get there. Iberville sailed with two frigates, and in January 1699 they were blocked by two Spanish ships from entering the harbor at Pensacola. The Spaniards had landed three hundred men and built a fort. Iberville sailed west along the coast and stopped at Dauphin Island by Mobile Bay. In March he found the fresh water of the Mississippi and sailed upstream for eleven days. The chief of the Bayagoulas wore a blue capote that Tonty had given him in 1686. Iberville's younger brother Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville gave the chief a letter from Tonty that he had bought for a hatchet. Iberville sailed back down the Mississippi River and left eighty men by the Biloxi harbor, where they built a fort. Bienville took gifts to the Colapissas on the northern bank of Lake Pontchartrain, and he made peace with them and other tribes. Bienville visited the Bayagoulas again in October and promised to reconcile them with their enemies, the Houmas. Four hundred Huguenot refugees in the Carolinas petitioned Louis XIV to settle in Louisiana, but the King's minister Pontchartrain informed them that France would not support such a republican project.
Iberville reported that in the 1690s the Chickasaws had killed 1,800 Choctaws and captured 500 while suffering 800 casualties. He returned to France but was quickly sent back to Louisiana to look for pearl fisheries and mines. He started Fort Maurepas by the Mississippi River in January 1700 to forestall the English. Tonty arrived from the Illinois territory with twenty trappers because the leader Sauvolle had promised to hire them. Iberville and Bayagoula chiefs met with the Houmas and persuaded them to release the Bayagoula prisoners. Iberville visited the Natchez, who had been reduced by war to 1,200 warriors. The Canadian missionary Saint-Cosme lived with them. When a temple was set on fire by lightning, its keeper persuaded squaws to throw four infants into the fire to appease the god; but the French got the women to stop that. On his third voyage Iberville learned that Sauvolle had died, and he moved the settlers from the unhealthy site by the Mississippi east to Mobile Bay. Iberville put his brother Joseph Le Moyne, Sieur de Sérigny in charge of a third colony on Dauphin Island. Tonty made peace between Choctaw and Chickasaw chiefs, and it was recognized at Mobile by the Mobiles, Thomés, and Alabamas. In the War of the Spanish Succession the French were allied with the Spaniards against the English. Iberville commanded the West Indies fleet and captured thirty ships and 1,750 prisoners (mostly African slaves) from the British on the islands of Nevis and St. Kitts in 1706, but he died at Santo Domingo in a yellow fever epidemic.
In 1704 Louis XIV had sent twenty girls who quickly found husbands, and the next year 23 young women were accompanied by 75 soldiers, two priests, and three nuns. The official Nicolas de La Salle complained that Iberville's brothers Bienville and Antoine Le Moyne, Chevalier de Chateaugué were involved in peculation and other offenses. Nicolas Daneaux de Muy was sent to replace Bienville, but he died on the way at Havana in January 1708. The new intendant Diron d'Artaguette told Bienville that he had orders not to tell him what the charges were, and he investigated. By 1711 Bienville, Artaguette, and the soldiers had gone several years without pay.
In 1712 Louis XIV granted the wealthy Antoine Crozat a monopoly on trade in Louisiana, but the King was to receive a quarter of the gold and silver, a tenth of other ores, and a fifth of pearls and gems. To protect the Canadian trade, Crozat was forbidden from purchasing beaver skins. Crozat was obligated to send two ships each year to the Mississippi with at least 25 tons of goods and munitions. The King paid the Governor and officers as well as the soldiers for the first nine years. Bienville remained in authority until La Mothe Cadillac arrived in May 1713. The colony was lacking corn and wheat flour, and the garrison took to hunting in the woods. No ship reached the colony in 1714. Colonial officers had been trading with Vera Cruz, Havana, and Pensacola; but now the settlers were severely restricted by Crozat's agents, and Cadillac called their petitioning seditious. Bienville blamed Cadillac's animosity toward him on his refusal to marry Cadillac's daughter. Bienville had formed an alliance with Choctaws and had won back the Alabamas in 1712; in 1715 other tribes turned against the British in South Carolina in the Yamasee War.
Sieur de Lépinay succeeded Cadillac in March 1716 with Marc-Antoine Hubert as intendant. Governor Lépinay was to receive a salary of 2,000 livres, and both were promised two percent of the products exported. Cadillac went back to France and spent five months imprisoned in the Bastille for having denigrated Louisiana and the Company. Bienville was sent back to replace Lépinay. The French had established a trading post among the Natchez in 1713. Two years later some warriors killed four Frenchmen in revenge for ill treatment, and in August 1716 Bienville saw the completion of Fort Rosalie in the Natchez territory. With fifty men he founded a capital at New Orleans, which was named after the regent governing for the boy Louis XV. The Alabamas helped the French build Fort Toulouse in 1717 in Creek country where the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers join. Crozat lost more than 600,000 livres trying to find mines and had tried to make up for it by charging double or triple or more for imported goods. In August 1717 Crozat relinquished his monopoly.
The Mississippi company was registered in the Parliament of Paris in 1717. The banker John Law set up the financing and gave grants to various people. He changed the name to the Occident Company and made it a joint-stock trading company,. Because Law's bank was so successful, speculators eagerly invested in the stock. The Company was given a commercial monopoly in Louisiana for 25 years with the exclusive right to purchase beaver skins from the Canadians. In that period they promised to transport six thousand settlers and three thousand Africans. Two of their ships brought the first 450 African slaves to Louisiana in 1719. In the next decade the Company imported six thousand Africans. Law founded forty villages with purchased Swiss, German, and Italian immigrants. In January 1719 he negotiated with the regent, and his bank became the Bank of France. Absorbing the East Indies and China companies, the Occident Company became the Company of the Indies in May 1719. Amid rumors that Louisiana had gold and diamonds, the shares that had been bought for 500 livres in 1719 were resold the next year for 15,000 livres in Paris.
Sieur de Serigny came to Louisiana in February 1719 with an order to take Pensacola during a brief war with Spain. The French captured the fort on May 14 as his brother Chateauguay arrived overland with Indian allies. However, fifty French soldiers deserted, and others refused to fight. So on June 29 Chateauguay surrendered Pensacola to the Spaniards. Serigny's forces were able to withstand Spanish invasions of Dauphin Island and Mobile, and the Spaniards abandoned Pensacola before September. The French arrested 140 renegades, hanged twelve, and sentenced 35 to lifetime servitude with the Company of the Indies. After all this a treaty in 1721 gave Pensacola back again as Spain and France agreed to respect each other's colonial possessions.
Two hundred German settlers survived the voyage to Biloxi, and five hundred slaves were brought from the African coast. The annual shipments of a hundred young women were coming from the Parisian hospitals and prisons, but many of them did not attract husbands. Most of the settlers were Canadians who tended to prefer Indian squaws. A royal edict in 1720 stopped the sending of male vagabonds and criminals to Louisiana, but women still arrived annually from the Salpetriere House of Corrections. Louisiana had a reputation as a penal colony, and most people did not want to go there. Five hundred of the new arrivals died in Biloxi in 1721. That year the garrison at Fort Toulouse mutinied, and 26 soldiers fled east toward Carolina. The French offered the Creeks rewards, and they killed eighteen and brought back the rest. The leading deserter was court-martialed and executed. Bienville began paying the Choctaws 80 livres for every Chickasaw captive and a gun with ammunition for each Chickasaw scalp. By 1723 the Choctaws had brought in four hundred scalps and one hundred captive Chickasaws.
The Indies Company stock went up to sixty times its original price; but in December 1721 the bubble burst when Law's opponents tried to exchange their notes for specie. The Regent proclaimed Law's bank a failure, and the next day its notes became worthless. This financial disaster came soon after the British South Sea Bubble. John Law, who had authorized the credit, fled from France. In January 1723 money in Louisiana was devalued from four livres for the Spanish silver dollar to seven and a half, but then it was gradually revalued in the next ten months. Two years of the regency ruling the Company ended. The Company of the Indies was reorganized, and new directors were appointed by a commission. Also in 1723 the regency of the Duke of Orleans ended as Louis XV began to rule for himself. The Crown, Crozat, and the Company of the Indies had spent eight million livres on Louisiana.
In 1723 Commissioners Jacques de La Chaise and Jean-François Choplet Du Sauvoy were sent to organize a new government in New Orleans. La Chaise took inventory, and they ordered the attorney general François Fleuriau to investigate. In March 1724 Louisiana excluded Jews and Protestants, and habitants were not allowed to leave the colony without permission. The Code Noir regulated slavery. Prices were fixed, and foreign vessels were banned. Bienville was recalled to France, and his brother Chateaugué also left New Orleans with Fleuriau in October 1724. In January 1726 the Company debt was still more than 2,600,000 livres. In 1726 almost half of the 450 Africans imported were children, and many of those transported from Africa in the next two years died of disease on the passage or after arriving.
The new commandant general Etienne Périer arrived in March 1727, and he promoted the missionary work of the Jesuits, Capuchins, and Ursulines. The nuns started a hospital and a school for girls in New Orleans, and they tried to teach the Africans and Indians. Treasury notes were used, and in 1728 France forbade the use of copper money. A French fleet brought 582 people including women from a Paris hospital, and five hundred more slaves were imported from Africa. Bernard Duvergés wanted to settle the Bay of St. Bernard west of the Mississippi, but this effort failed. In 1729 General Périer sent African slaves to slaughter Chaouachas in order to keep the little nations intimidated. Many of these Africans did not want to go back to slave labor after the army's departure. Some of the leaders were arrested and executed. The population of the tribes the French called the Petites Nations (Acolapissa, Atakapa, Bayagoula, Biloxi, Capina, Chaouacha, Chitimacha, Colapissa, Houma, Mobile, Moctobi, Mongoulacha, Ouacha, Opelousa, Pascagoula, and Tohome) was reduced by disease, violence, and alcohol from about 24,000 in 1685 to only 4,000 by 1730. The first prison in New Orleans was begun in August 1729 and was completed the next year.
The Natchez were descendants of the Mound Builders and were more advanced in agriculture than most native tribes in North America. Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz lived among the Natchez from 1720 to 1728, and he published his Histoire de la Louisane in 1758. He reported what Natchez chief Tattooed Serpent said about the influence of the French.
We did not go to seek them;
they asked for land of us,
because their country was too little
for all the men that were in it.
We told them they might take land where they pleased;
there was enough for them and for us;
that it was good that the same sun should shine upon us both,
and that we would walk as friends in the same path;
and that we would give them of our provisions,
assist them to build, and to labor in their fields.
We have done so; is this not true?
What occasion then had we for Frenchmen?
Before they came did we not live better than we do,
seeing we deprive ourselves of a part of our corn,
our game, and fish, to give to them?
Was it for their guns?
The bows and arrows which we used,
were sufficient to make us live well.
Was it for their white, blue, and red blankets?
We can do well enough with buffalo skins, which are warmer.
In fine, before the arrival of the French,
we lived like men who can be satisfied with what they have;
whereas now we are like slaves?3
In 1723 Bienville burned three of the Natchez villages and demanded that Tattooed Serpent turn over a sachem for execution even though their laws banned the death penalty for chiefs. Le Page considered Bienville's attack unprovoked. Tattooed Serpent died in 1725, followed soon after by his elder brother Great Sun. Le Page believed that only these two chiefs kept the Natchez from taking retribution against the French, and so he left the region in 1728.
Commandant Detchéparre at Natchez provoked the natives with his tyrannical ways, especially his taking land from the chief at La Pomme. The Chickasaws organized a large conspiracy of tribes to drive out the French, and they even won over some of the Choctaws. On November 28, 1729 in a surprise attack Natchez warriors massacred the French (145 men, 36 women, and 56 children) in Natchez while capturing 92 women and 55 children. They spared a carpenter and a tailor and did not injure the 150 Africans, who became their allies. The entire colony of Louisiana had only 390 French soldiers. General Périer sent out Henry de Louboey from New Orleans with 90 soldiers and 110 volunteers. On January 28, 1730 about eight hundred Choctaws on their own killed seventy Natchez and rescued 51 women and children and 106 Africans along with the carpenter and tailor. Charles Le Sueur took command of the Choctaws, and his army grew to 1,200. Many Africans fought with the Natchez, and the Natchez were able to retreat. Louboey arrived in February, making a combined force of 1,400. After besieging the Natchez for seven days they negotiated an agreement and released all the prisoners; 450 Natchez women and children surrendered, but only about forty men. Some of the Natchez took refuge with the Chickasaws. For two years the French and Choctaws pursued the Natchez, killing hundreds and enslaving about five hundred to sell in the West Indies.
By 1730 the Company of the Indies had transported 5,400 colonists and 6,000 African slaves to Louisiana; about 1,300 of the settlers were German Catholics. The mortality rate in Louisiana was high, and in 1731 only two thousand Europeans and four thousand Africans were still alive. Louisiana began maintaining 650 French troops and 200 Swiss. Baron de Cresnay took command of Fort Rosalie in May 1731, and the next month three hundred Natchez attacked the main village of the Tunicas. In October they attacked the Natchitoches fort. Périer sent Louboey with forty men to relieve the garrison; but he brought them back when he heard that Saint-Denis had defeated the Natchez. Saint-Denis estimated that less than 250 Natchez warriors remained. Louis XV announced that starting in July 1731 commerce in Louisiana would be open to all his subjects. The Crown purchased the remaining property of the Company for 263,000 livres. In 1731 Abbé Prévost's novel Manon Lescaut about a courtesan scandalized France and portrayed New Orleans as a refuge for outcasts.
Périer's army increased to a thousand men, but he had little confidence in them and tried to make the Indians fight each other. The Choctaws defeated and killed about four hundred Chickasaws in a single battle. Périer was recalled in 1732, and once again Bienville became governor. He arrived the next year with D'Artaguette as intendant. In 1735 Louis XV authorized the issuing of 200,000 livres in card money, and two years later he granted Louisiana freedom for ten years to import and export from and to the islands of the West Indies. Poverty reduced the French population, and the Africans massacred them along the Mississippi. D'Artaguette, who had fought bravely against the Natchez, brought about fifty troops and a thousand Indians from Illinois, and Bienville organized campaigns to wipe out the Chickasaws with 1,200 French troops and twice that number of Indians and Africans. In May 1736 they invaded the Chickasaws, who had been well-armed by the English. D'Artaguette was wounded and captured along with the Jesuit Senat and François-Marie-Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes; these three were burned at the stake. Another campaign led by Bienville against the Chickasaws in 1739 also failed and cost 800,000 livres. The Choctaw chief Red Shoes tried to negotiate a peace agreement as many men died from disease and famine. Bienville made a peace treaty with the Chickasaws in March 1740 that gave up the fort at Memphis. The French had lost control of a large area between Kaskaskia in Illinois and Baton Rouge in Louisiana. Bienville offered his resignation, and it was accepted.
French Royal Coat of Arms, 1727
In 1741 Pierre, Marquis de Vaudreuil-Cavagnal, was appointed governor of Louisiana; his father had been governor of Canada. Louisiana cultivated indigo, rice, and tobacco, and they also exported timber, tar, and pitch. The exemption on commercial duties granted Louisiana in 1731 was renewed for another ten years in 1741 and again in 1751. That year the Jesuits began experimenting with Malabar sugar cane from Santo Domingo, and in 1758 Claude-Joseph Dubreuil de Villars built the first mill to manufacture sugar in Louisiana. In 1746 Chief Red Shoes led a Choctaw rebellion that killed three French men and traded with Carolinians. The French offered the loyal Choctaws generous gifts and bounties, and they brought in 233 rebel scalps and three from English traders. The surviving Choctaw rebels surrendered in November 1750. [source: http://www.san.beck.org/11-6-NewFrance1663-1744.html]
1. Denonville a Seignelay, 12 Juin, 1686 tr. Francis Parkman in France and England in North America, Vol. 2, p. 95.
2. Quoted in Canada Under Louis XIV 1663-1701 by W. J. Eccles, p. 203.
3. Histoire, 1: 203-205 by Le Page du Pratz in The Colonial Legacy, Volume 3: Historians of Nature and Man's Nature ed. Lawrence H. Leder, p. 90.