Thomas Jefferson Papers

To Thomas Jefferson from William Bache, 29 March 1803

From William Bache

New Orleans March 29 1803.

Dear Sir.

I arrived at this place on the 27th. of this month and finding the government occupied in the reception of Mr Laussat, Colonial Prefect, who had arrived two days before, I delay’d presenting myself to the Governor by the advice of Mr Hulings Mr Clarke being absent on a visit to the Natchez. Mr Hulings, tho he has been in possession of a copy of Mr Clarkes letter to the Secy of the Treasury of August last from New York, does not know upon what grounds Mr Clarke premises that the Spanish government will permit a Hospital establishment at New Orleans. I propose to day to present my respects to Govr Salcedo to know upon what footing the business is to rest until the Final cession of this country to France, of which I will give you the earliest advice. What will be the conduct of the New Masters becomes more problematical every day. Being detained by contrary winds some days at the Balise I had an opportunity of some conversation with Citoyen Laussot, and had his assurances of the Pacific inclinations of the French Government towards the United States and of the conciliatory sentiments of the Officers of the present Mission. How far this may accord with the real sentiments of the French Government I am not competent to decide, for he has all the suavity of manners of a French courtier, and I am allways a little inclined to distrust the unofficial assertions of men who have been brought up in the vortex of diplomacy.

I have forwarded to you his proclamation to the Lousianais; by which you will see that he understands both flattering the Power that made & that which is to preside over him. This proclamation tho bearing date the 6th. Germinal has certainly been prepared in France; besides there is not a press in this place capable of executing the work. It appears capable of any construction that the French Government may please to make hereafter; and it is sincerely to be wished that they may not think themselves bound to wipe off the remaining blemishes of their history by extending their possessions to their antient Limits in this country. A sentiment which appears to be inculcated in the Proclamation.

I learn this evening from Mr Fulton; an american who formerly was commisioned by Genet, who has been with Genl Victor at the battle of Marengo &c now holds the rank of Major; that Genl. Victor was to have left Helveot Sluys about the same time that the Prefet left france. This information I had also from the Prefet & that he was only to bring with him 3600 men. He is daily expected as it is now 70 days since the embarcation of the Prefect. Major Fulton also stated that it was their intention to establish a strong military Post on the Luisiana side on the nearest high ground above the Natches, to complete which 600 men were to be dispatch’d immediately upon the arrival of the Troops. Perhaps little credit is to be placed in the accuracy of his information both from his being an American and a little inclined to talk. The Illianois was also stated as an object of great military attention. One circumstance which he mentioned & which is very strange if true is, that the Prefect has given formal notice this day to the Intendant, that tho it was not his intention to take final possession of the country until the arrival of the commander in chief; yet that the Intendant must hold himself in readiness to give up the functions of his office tomorrow after which all commercial regulations were to be made by the french. He further stated that many of the officers were already appointed. It is however difficult to credit that part of the functions are to be carried on by the Spanish & part by the French.

That portion of the Etat major which arrived with the Prefect evince some activity in investigating the state of internal defence. They have already examined into the state of the fortifications and arsenal. They are men well calculated for the defence of this country as they have all served their Military apprenticeship in Holland and Egypt; but if they have in veiw offensive measures they must learn to fight in Woods as well as in Mud.

There are upwards of 50 american vessels in the river some of which will find a difficulty in obtaining cargoes, as cotton descends but slowly, and flour is at six dollars a Barrel. Permit me to apologise for troubling you with matters which are not my concern and receive my anxious wishes for your health & happiness

William Bache.

I have been since informed that the new post up the river was to be erected at little meadows; as high up as 36°. 10.—

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ as received 2 May and so recorded in SJL.

Pierre Clément laussat, the prefect of the French colony of Louisiana, reached New Orleans on 26 Mch. On his arrival he met Governor Manuel de Salcedo and high military and civil officers of the Spanish colonial government. The municipal government received him in a ceremony the next day (Pierre Clément Laussat, Memoirs of My Life, trans. Sister Agnes-Josephine Pastwa, ed. Robert D. Bush [Baton Rouge, La., 1978], 17).

For Daniel Clark’s 16 Aug. 1802 letter to Gallatin about the intended hospital for American seamen at New Orleans, see Vol. 38:255–6.

Balize (balise) was an outpost near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Marked by a flag tower that was visible from the Gulf of Mexico, the settlement consisted of a small garrison of soldiers, some pilots’ residences, and a customs station. Sailing from Balize to New Orleans sometimes took weeks due to unfavorable winds. The French prefect was able to proceed upriver in boats rowed by sailors (E. Wilson Lyon, Louisiana in French Diplomacy, 1759–1804 [Norman, Okla., 1974], 29; Laussat, Memoirs of my Life, 12–17; Michaël Garnier, Bonaparte et la Louisiane [Paris, 1992], 87–9).

A proclamation by Laussat, written in French and addressed to the people of Louisiana—the Louisianais—was dated 6 Germinal Year 11, which was 27 Mch. Lamenting the severence of the colony from France in 1763 as a shameful act of the old regime and the result of a disgraceful peace settlement, Laussat avowed that the abandoned inhabitants of the colony had never lost courage and, in return, never been forgotten by the people of France. As soon as the French could do so after recovering their national glory, he proclaimed, they had turned their attention back to Louisiana. flattering the power to which Laussat owed his appointment, the proclamation extolled Bonaparte’s leadership and declared that the first consul controlled the destinies of France and Louisiana. Laussat also noted the accomplishments of General Victor, who was to be the capitaine général of the colony. capable of executing the work: Laussat issued the proclamation as a printed broadside. An elaborate ornamental rule separated the columns of the text. The date was inserted by hand in a blank in the printed document, perhaps reinforcing Bache’s supposition that the prefect brought the printed copies of the proclamation with him. wipe off the remaining blemishes: Bonaparte’s goals, according to Laussat’s declaration, included putting France back on its proper foundations, removing stains from the nation’s history (“laver toutes les taches de ses Annales”), and restoring the full extent of its geographical limits. While acknowledging the overall benevolence of Spain’s administration of Louisiana, Laussat’s address to the Louisianais offended Salcedo by decrying the actions of General Alejandro O’Reilly, who had decisively restored Spain’s authority in 1769 after French inhabitants drove out the colony’s first Spanish governor. The National Intelligencer published an English translation of the prefect’s proclamation a few days after TJ received Bache’s letter (Proclamation au nom de la République française, 6 Germinal Year 11, Shaw-Shoemaker description begins Ralph R. Shaw and Richard H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819, New York, 1958–63, 22 vols. description ends , No. 4559; Garnier, Bonaparte et la Louisiane, 81–3, 90–3; Laussat, Memoirs of My Life, 18; Gilbert C. Din, ed., The Spanish Presence in Louisiana, 1763–1803, vol. 2 of The Louisiana Purchase Bicentennial Series in Louisiana History [Lafayette, La., 1996], 74–6, 124–5, 370–1; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:551; National Intelligencer, 6 May 1803).

For Samuel fulton, see John Brown to TJ, 26 Nov. 1802.

daily expected: Laussat was unaware that Victor’s expeditionary force for Louisiana had been kept in the harbor at Helvoët Sluys in the Netherlands, first by ice, then by the increased tension between Britain and France. In April, after more delays, Bonaparte canceled the orders for the flotilla’s departure. Laussat could not assume authority in New Orleans until either the capitaine général or new instructions arrived. Juan Ventura Morales did not give up the functions of the intendant’s office until the Spanish formally ceded Louisiana to France in November 1803 (Lyon, Louisiana in French Diplomacy, 134–44; Laussat, Memoirs of My Life, 20; Garnier, Bonaparte et la Louisiane, 91, 103, 113, 149, 173–7; Din, ed., Spanish Presence, 118–19).

Four French army officers traveled to New Orleans with the prefect’s advance party, including two senior officers of the general staff, or etat major, of Victor’s expeditionary force: the chief engineer, Major Antoine Joseph Vinache, and the adjutant general, General Charles André Burthe d’Annelet. A bitter dispute that arose between Laussat and Burthe before they left France continued in Louisiana, where they could not cooperate in making arrangements for the army’s expected arrival (Robert D. Bush, “Civilian versus Military Prerogatives in Napoleonic Louisiana: The Laussat-Burthe Affair, 1803,” Revue de Louisiane, 6 [1977], 45–58; Garnier, Bonaparte et la Louisiane, 72–4; Laussat, Memoirs of My Life, 21, 42–7, 84–5; Madison, Papers description begins William T. Hutchinson, Robert A. Rutland, J. C. A. Stagg, and others, eds., The Papers of James Madison, Chicago and Charlottesville, 1962- , 35 vols., Sec. of State Ser., 1986- , 9 vols., Pres. Ser., 1984- , 7 vols., Ret. Ser., 2009- , 2 vols. description ends , Sec. of State Ser., 4:551–2; 5:552).

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