Page images




Orleans, where by natural gravitation, inhabitants, wealth and trade were rapidly accumulating. survey of the mouth of the Mississippi having been made, the commercial capacities of the port were demonstrated. An advantageous centre of operations thus gained, almost simultaneous enterprises were undertaken to establish at the margin of an immense circle of territory such forts and settlements as should secure the colony against the Spaniards to the west, northwest, and east, and the English in Carolina to the northeast, and at the same time open and protect a sure communication with the distant sister settlements in Canada. Bernard La Harpe, as we have seen, had already fortified himself upon the Red River. An attempt was made, unsuccessfully, however, to plant a fort upon the Texan coast, near the mouth of the Colorado; Le Sueur established a fort at a point estimated to be two thousand two hundred and eighty miles from the sea, among the Sioux, upon the Blue Earth River, a branch of the St. Peter's, which joins the Mississippi. Boisbriant erected the celebrated French stronghold of Fort Chartres, in the Illinois country. Fort Condé in Mobile Bay, Fort St. Louis in Biloxi Bay, and Fort Toulouse at the head of navigation in the Alabama River, all newly stored, fortified and garrisoned, completed the series of main points upon this immense semicircle; while the outer line and the radii to the centre were made good by numerous trading-posts, and rapid and constant communication was maintained on foot and in canoes, by traders, detachments of troops, official parties, priests and travellers.

In spite of the continued disappointments of the expectations of enormous revenue on the part of the Western Company at home, in spite of want and misery amongst improvident emigrants, as well as even amongst the troops and settlers, in spite of endless bickerings and pecuniary mismanagements between jealous and greedy colonial officials, of the excessive waste of strength, time, men and money in premature expeditions to distant wildernesses, and of the occasional murmurs and discontents discovered now in one Indian tribe and now in another, the progress of the colony on the whole was sure and onward.

But now the bursting of the fantastic bubble with whose gaudy hues John Law had so long fooled all France, gives a terrible blow to the struggling young commonwealth. Already the company have expended more than three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, without any equivalent receipts. With great difficulty they have from time to time continued to send uncertain shipments of supplies, and to maintain their various establishments. But the utter prostration of business which the destruction of the value of Law's fictitious money brings upon the province, holds the knife at the throat of the settlements. Every



man is loaded with debts incurred during the fatal delusion, and reckoned in paper money, which is now almost utterly worthless. Inexorable creditors, themselves hard pressed by their obligations, demand payment in silver, which does not exist in the province. The difficulty is partly evaded by despotically doctoring the currency, so as to allow the dollar, worth four livres, to pay seven and a half livres of debt, and re-establishing its former value ten months afterwards. But business is at a dead stand, and the land is full of discouraged, clamorous, starving settlers ; for the supplies from France have ceased, and the undeveloped agriculture of the little farms does not suffice to give them bread. The soldiers are dispersed amongst the friendly Indians for food, and several large bodies of them mutiny and flee to the English, or are barbarously punished. The Germans established upon Law's own colony on the Arkansas River, abandoned and distressed, return en masse to New Orleans, intending to seek again their Enropean homes. To avoid the pernicious effect of such an example, however, new grants of land close along the river, are made them, about twenty miles above that city. Their skillful industry soon changes the wilderness into gardens; and the “German coast” as it is yet called, long supplies the market of the little capital with all manner of delicious fruit and vegetables.

The wrath of Heaven seemed to join with the folly of man to afflict Louisiana. A terrific equinoctial tornado, in September, 1723, devastated all the southern portion of the province. At New Orleans the fearful blast levelled the church, the hospital and thirty dwelling-houses. Several vessels were destroyed; the crops of rice, just maturing, were swept off; farm-houses were blown down, and infinite injury done to plantations and improvements. This frightful calamity augmented both the famine and the discouragement; and dark indeed seemed the horizon of the future.

Bienville, however, unmoved as a rock, still held the helm of government, and his strong will, vigorous administrative talent, and marvellous energy were felt throughout every portion of the province. In spite of these multiplied misfortunes he persevered; and during the years immediately following, the colony gradually revived to something of prosperity, both in agriculture and in trade, and increased in population and wealth. In the midst of this happiness, Bienville's enemies, who had long and relentlessly pursued him with slanderous dispatches, sent to France, and with all manner of insults and machinations within the colony, at last succeeded in procuring his recall to answer charges of misconduct. Notwithstanding his explorations, the labors of a quarter of a century, and their promising results, he



was removed, and many of his friends with him; and the governorship bestowed upon M. Perzier. Disgusted with this usual return for faithful public services, Bienville remained in France in a private station.

For two years after the departure of Bienville, " the Father of Louisiana," the colony continued to increase and prosper under the authority of M. Perrier, his successor. But in 1729 a more fearful disaster than tornado or bankruptcy again came like a thunderbolt upon the hapless settlers; a disaster the more wretched, because it was the reaction of the fiendish passions of barbarians, roused into the most ungovernable rage by the wicked and tyrannical folly of the victims themselves.

The Natchez Indians, formerly a powerful nation, but now reduced by wars to a fighting force of about twelve hundred men, occupied the neighborhood of the present city of Natchez, named after them. Tall, strong, and active, of uncommon intellectual power,

, indicated by the high retreating forehead which was a peculiarity of the tribe, the Natchez exerted a powerful influence over the nations near them. They were, for savages, peaceful and industrious when undisturbed; but capable of the most enduring resentment, and bitter and active enemies, in revenge for an injury. After a fashion quite the reverse of the usual conduct of Frenchmen towards savages, Bienville and the


« PreviousContinue »