James Madison Papers

To James Madison from P. D. Cailleau Lafontaine, [ca. 8 December] 1813

From P. D. Cailleau Lafontaine

[ca. 8 December 1813]

The petition of P. D. Cailleau Lafontaine, Judge of the Parish of Natchitoches, State of Louisiana, in the name and at the request of the Police Jury of Said Parish, humbly shewth, that the inhabitants of this Parish, labour under numerous Grievances, from the establishment of the United indian factory in the village of Natchitoches, & the residence of the Agent in the same place. We therefore pray your Excellency to cause said factory & agency to be removed to some other place better suited to the object of such establishments.

Parties of indians going to & returning from the aforesaid factory & Agency & commonly under the pretence of trading thereto, plunder the crops of the inhabitants, Kill their Stock for their own use, burn their fences, & when in the village are continually furnished with liquor, in a clandestine manner, by persons unknown, in spite of the vigilance of the civil authorities, and they abandon them-Selves in the Streets to the most Shocking and Scandalous excesses of intoxication. At night, in that situation, they flock in crowds, obstructing the passages, shouting and hollowing in such a manner as to disturb the peaceful repose of the inhabitants, and terrify their wives and Children. In a word it is impossible to1 an idea of such disorders, Without having been an eye-witness thereof.

Three years have not elapsed Since the murder of a respectable citizen of the United-States, took place, in the vicinity of this village, by a party of Indians. The crime has been unpunished. In June last, the family of Mr Malige, would have been murdered by a party of drunken Indians, within Shot of fort Claiborne, had it not been for the vigilance of the Commander, the worthy Captain Ovorton.

A few days previous, an Indian had fired in open day, and on the public Square, at James Smith, a merchant of this place. Chance preserved him.2

It is difficult to imagine the reason which induced the establishment of the factory within this village. Had the Executive in view to Settle it in the neighbourhood of the indian Nations to preserve a Salutary influence over them? The Nations over whom it may be serviceable to the United-States to maintain an influence, are 60 or 50 leagues distant from the factory. Even they them-Selves complain of the great distance they are compelled to travel when they have occasion to travel to the place of trade: & when called in Council by the Agent, they come with reluctance. Would it not be of equal advantage to the United-States, to place the factory 30 or forty leagues above the village of Natchitoches, on Red-river; & would not the factory there place[d], be of immense Service to the friendly Indians, such as the Caddoes, whose vicinity would enable them to effect a Speedy sale of their peltry.

Behind the plantations, are, at any time, to be found small parties of vagabond Indians, who come from Mobile. These free-booters are to be found, thro’ the whole year encamped over or near the fields of the industrious planters, they pilfer their corn, potatoes and every other produce, and when they happen to get a Skin, repair to the factory, which by an exchange, affords them the means of obtaining liquor, they get intoxicated, and when so, the poor planter is insulted: Happy some times not to be turned out of his own house.3

I do not perceive the importance of the continuance of the Indian Factory within this village. What I can Say is, that it is highly prejudicial to the inhabitants, who are under a continual fear of the most fatal consequences, which have been averted till the present day only by the hand of Divine Providence.

One Single observation is left. The factory has been built on ground belonging to the Roman Catholic Congregation of this Parish, together with the woods thereon.4 This Spot is intended for a Court-House. The Congregation have never received a pecuniary compensation & will never accept of any from Congress.

Your petitionner prays that your Excellency will take the above grievances into consideration, and cause the said Factory to be removed to the frontier of the State; & if so, that the house now occupied by the factory, may be delivered to the Congregation aforesaid, as a proper compensation5 and your petitionner, as in duty bound will ever pray

P. D. Cailleau Lafontaine

Judge of the Parish of Natchitoches

RC (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, M-436:9). Undated. Docketed in an unidentified hand: “Recd. from Senator Brown in his note of Feby 23. 1814.” Conjectural date assigned on the basis of evidence in n. 2.

1Lafontaine evidently omitted a word here.

2Thomas Linnard, Indian factor at Natchitoches, wrote Superintendent of Indian Trade John Mason on 15 Dec. 1813, enclosing a copy of this memorial, which he had mentioned in his letter to Mason of 8 Dec. (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, M-436:9). He noted that the events recounted in the document were “either much over coloured, or mistated”; the murdered “respectable Citizen … was a poor discharged Soldier” keeping hogs in a remote location “out of the jurisdiction of the then Territory,” who quarreled with and was killed by two Indians; Mr. Malige and his son were accosted by a group of drunken Indians “but so faint was the attack, that they were beaten off by the two persons alone, long before the vigiliance of Capt. Overton was intervened”; and Smith, a merchant “notoriously in the practice of selling Liquor to Indians,” was on familiar terms with his would-be attacker, who was not intoxicated at the time, was prevented from even firing his gun, and was angry because Smith had struck him.

3Linnard observed that roaming Indians frequented the plantations in part because they were often employed as laborers by the planters, most of whom had learned to speak “one or more Indian tongues” to facilitate such exchanges (ibid.).

4According to Linnard, the land upon which he built the Indian factory was at that time generally considered to be public property but was claimed by the parish a year later under a new interpretation of lot boundaries. Linnard’s attempt to prevent the certification of the claim was foiled, he wrote, by the “indolence or … neglect” of his attorney (ibid.).

5This petition and that of Pierre S. Compere to JM, ca. 14 Dec. 1813, were evidently sent to JM in a cover on which he noted: “The removal of the factory from the village of Natchitoches is proper as well for the releif of the inhabitants, as with a view to the better accommodation of the Indians.” The petitions were not acted upon, however, until Mason’s successor, Thomas L. McKenney, took office. By the fall of 1816 a new location for the trading house had been selected, on the Red River nine miles above Natchitoches, and in accord with McKenney’s instructions, Linnard had offered to sell the old factory to the congregation, deducting from the price compensation for rent and for timber cut from the property to construct the building. The congregation, willing to accept indemnification only by an outright gift of the structure, declined the offer (McKenney to William Harris Crawford, 24 June 1816, DNA: RG 75, Letters Sent by the Superintendent of Indian Trade; Compere to JM, 10 Sept. 1816, Linnard to McKenney, 14 Sept. 1816, and McKenney to Linnard, 19 Oct. 1816, DNA: RG 107, LRRS, M-436:9).

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