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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
Louisiana and the Natchez
by Bancroft, Hubert H.


[One more colony whose settlement was effected in the seventeenth century here demands attention,--that of Louisiana. After the death of De Soto on the Mississippi, in 1542, that great river was not visited by the whites until more than a century had elapsed. It was next reached, in its upper courses, by Jesuit missionaries from Canada, whose efforts to convert the heathen made them among the most daring and persistent explorers of the interior of America. As early as 1634 they penetrated the wilderness to Lake Huron, and established missions among the savages of that region. Failing in similar efforts to convert the Iroquois, they pushed farther west, and in 1665 Father Allouez reached Lake Superior, and landed at the great village of the Chippewas. Learning from the Indians of the existence of a great river to the westward, called by them the Mes-cha-ce-be, or "Father of Waters," two missionaries, Marquette and Joliet, set out from Green Bay to make its discovery, under the illusory hope that it might furnish the long-sought water-way to China. They reached the stream on June 17, 1673, and floated down it as far as the mouth of the Arkansas, where they found the natives in possession of European articles, and became convinced that the river must flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi was again reached, in 1680, by Father Hennepin, the advance pioneer of the exploring party under La Salle, who had set out to investigate thoroughly the great river. Hennepin ascended the stream to beyond the Falls of St. Anthony, where he was held captive for a while by the Sioux Indians. La Salle did not reach the Mississippi until two years afterwards, when he embarked on its mighty flood, and floated down it until its mouth was reached and the adventurers found themselves on the broad surface of the Gulf of Mexico. To the territories through which he passed he gave the name of Louisiana, in honor of Louis XIV. of France. In 1684 he sailed from France, with a party of settlers, for the mouth of the Mississippi, which, however, he failed to find, landing his colonists at the head of Matagorda Bay, in Texas. La Salle was afterwards murdered while journeying overland to the Illinois, and the Matagorda Bay settlement was broken up by Indian hostility.

In Upper Louisiana a Jesuit mission was established in 1685 at Kaskaskia, the first permanent colony in the Mississippi region. In 1698, Lemoine d'Iberville, a French officer, obtained a patent for planting a colony in the southern part of the territory. He succeeded in finding the mouth of the Mississippi, and was the first to enter that stream from the sea. He sailed up it as far as the mouth of the Red River, and, returning, erected a fort at the head of the Bay of Biloxi. It proved an unhealthy station, and in 1701 he removed the colonists to the western bank of the Mobile River, thus founding the first European settlement in Alabama. The colonizing of southern Louisiana proved a slow process. At successive periods colonists arrived there, but no permanency was attained until 1718, when John Law, the promoter of the notorious "Mississippi Company," sent out eight hundred emigrants. Some of these settled on the Bay of Biloxi, some on the site of New Orleans. With this party was Du Pratz, the historian of the colony. The subsequent disastrous failure of the Mississippi Company did not break up the colony, though the scattered settlements found themselves environed with many difficulties, chief among which were troubles with hostile Indians. These difficulties were principally with the Natchez, who massacred a French settlement and were in turn totally destroyed, and with the Chickasaws, who held their own valiantly against the French, after a war of several years' duration. We append, from Du Pratz's "History of Louisiana," his curiously-interesting story of the war with the Natchez, a tribe which was in several respects the most remarkable among the Indians of the region of the United States. We have already, in our article on the Aborigines of America, described its principal peculiarities.]

In the beginning of the month of December, 1729, we heard at New Orleans, with the most affecting grief, of the massacre of the French at the post of the Natchez, occasioned by the imprudent conduct of the commandant. I shall trace that whole affair from its rise.

The Sieur de Chopart had been commandant of the post of the Natchez, from which he was removed on account of some acts of injustice. M. Perier, commandant- general, but lately arrived, suffered himself to be prepossessed in his favor, on his telling him that he had commanded that post with applause; and thus he obtained the command from M. Perier, who was unacquainted with his character.

This new commandant, on taking possession of his post, projected the forming one of the most eminent settlements of the whole colony. For this purpose he examined all the grounds unoccupied by the French, but could not find anything that came up to the grandeur of his views. Nothing but the village of the White Apple, a square league at least in extent, could give him satisfaction; where he immediately resolved to settle. This ground was distant from the fort about two leagues. Conceited with the beauty of his project, the commandant sent for the Sun of that village to come to the fort.

The commandant, upon his arrival at the fort, told him, without further ceremony, that he must look out for another ground to build his village on, as he himself resolved, as soon as possible, to build on the village of the Apple; that he must directly clear the huts and retire somewhere else. The better to cover his design, he gave out that it was necessary for the French to settle on the banks of the rivulet where stood the Great Village and the abode of the Grand Sun. The commandant, doubtless, supposed that he was speaking to a slave whom we may command in a tone of absolute authority. But he knew not that the natives of Louisiana are such enemies to a state of slavery that they prefer death itself thereto; above all, the Suns, accustomed to govern despotically, have still a greater aversion to it.

The Sun of the Apple thought that if he was talked to in a reasonable manner he might listen to him; in this he had been right, had he to deal with a reasonable person. He therefore made answer that his ancestors had lived in that village for as many years as there were hairs in his double cue, and therefore it was good they should continue there still.

Scarce had the interpreter explained this answer to the commandant, but he fell into a passion, and threatened the Sun if he did not quit his village in a few days he might repent it. The Sun replied, when the French came to ask us for lands to settle on, they told us there was land enough still unoccupied, which they might take; the same Sun would enlighten them all, and all would walk in the same path. He wanted to proceed further in justification of what he alleged; but the commandant, who was in a passion, told him he was resolved to be obeyed, without any further reply. The Sun, without discovering any emotion or passion, withdrew, only saying he was going to assemble the old men of his village, to hold a council on this affair.

[At this council it was resolved to represent to the French that the corn was just out of the ground and the chickens were laying their eggs, and to ask for delay. This the commandant rejected, with a threat to chastise them if they did not obey quickly. It was next proposed that each hut in the village would pay him a basket of corn and a fowl for the privilege of remaining till the harvest had been gathered. To this the avaricious commandant agreed. But the Sun had other objects in view. Meetings of the old men of the village were held, at which it was resolved to destroy the insolent intruders who had treated them like slaves and soon would deprive them of all their liberty. It was proposed to cut off the French to a man, in a single hour. The oldest chief advised that, on the day fixed for the contribution, the warriors should carry some corn to the commandant, as an instalment on their payment. He further advised them]

"also to carry with them their arms, as if going out to hunt, and that to every Frenchman in a French house there shall be two or three Natchez; to ask to borrow arms and ammunition for a general hunting-match on account of a great feast, and to promise to bring them meat; the report of the firing at the commandant's to be the signal to fall at once upon and kill the French; that then we shall be able to prevent those who may come from the old French village (New Orleans) by the great water (Mississippi) ever to settle here."

He added that, after apprising the other nations of the necessity of taking that violent step, a bundle of rods in number equal to that they should reserve for themselves should be left with each nation, expressive of the number of days that were to precede that on which they were to strike the blow at one and the same time. And to avoid mistakes, and to be exact in pulling out a rod every day and breaking and throwing it away, it was necessary to give this in charge to a person of prudence. Here he ceased, and sat down. They all approved his counsel, and were to a man of his mind.

The project was in like manner approved of by the Sun of the Apple; the business was to bring over the Grand Sun, with the other petty Suns, to their opinion; because, all the princes being agreed as to that point, the nation would all to a man implicitly obey. They, however, took the precaution to forbid apprising the women thereof, not excepting the female Suns (princesses), or giving them the least suspicion of their designs against the French.

[Within a short time the Grand Sun, the Stung Serpent, his uncle, and all the Suns and aged nobles, were brought into the scheme. It was kept secret from the people, and none but the female Suns had a right to demand the object of these many meetings. The grand female Sun was a princess scarce eighteen, but the Stung Arm, mother of the Grand Sun, a woman of experience, and well disposed towards the French, induced her son to tell her of the scheme which had been devised. He also told her that the bundle of rods lay in the temple.]

The Stung Arm, being informed of the whole design, pretended to approve of it, and, leaving her son at ease, henceforward was only solicitous how she might defeat this barbarous design: the time was pressing, and the term prefixed for the execution was almost expired.

[She vainly attempted to convey a warning to the commandant. The hints of danger she sent him by soldiers were blindly ignored.]

The Stung Arm, fearing a discovery, notwithstanding her utmost precaution and the secrecy she enjoined, repaired to the temple and pulled some rods out of the fatal bundle; her design was to hasten or forward the term prefixed, to the end that such Frenchmen as escaped the massacre might apprise their countrymen, many of whom had informed the commandant, who clapt seven of them in irons, treating them as cowards on that account. .

Notwithstanding all these informations, the commandant went out the night before [the fatal day] on a party of pleasure, with some other Frenchmen, to the grand village of the Natchez, without returning to the fort till break of day; where he was no sooner come, but he had pressing advice to be upon his guard.

The commandant, still flustered with his last night's debauch, added imprudence to his neglect of these last advices, and ordered his interpreter instantly to repair to the grand village and demand of the Grand Sun whether he intended, at the head of his warriors, to come and kill the French, and to bring him word directly. The Grand Sun, though but a young man, knew how to dissemble, and spoke in such a manner to the interpreter as to give full satisfaction to the commandant, who valued himself on his contempt of former advices: he then repaired to his house, situate below the fort.

The Natchez had too well taken their measures to be disappointed in the success thereof. The fatal moment was at last come. The Natchez set out on the eve of St. Andrew, 1729, taking care to bring with them one of the lower sort, armed with a wooden hatchet, in order to knock down the commandant: they had so high a contempt for him that no warrior would deign to kill him. The houses of the French filled with enemies, the fort in like manner with the natives, who entered in at the gate and breaches, deprived the soldiers, without officers or even a sergeant at their head, of the means of self-defence. In the mean time the Grand Sun arrived, with some warriors loaded with corn, in appearance as the first payment of the contribution; when several shots were heard. As this firing was the signal, several shots were heard at the same instant. Then at length the commandant saw, but too late, his folly: he ran into the garden, whither he was pursued and killed. The massacre was executed everywhere at the same time. Of about seven hundred persons, but few escaped to carry the dreadful news to the capital; on receiving which the governor and council were sensibly affected, and orders were despatched everywhere to put people on their guard.

The other Indians were displeased at the conduct of the Natchez, imagining they had forwarded the term agreed on, in order to make them ridiculous, and proposed to take vengeance the first opportunity, not knowing the true cause of the precipitation of the Natchez.

After they had cleared the fort, warehouse, and other houses, the Natchez set them all on fire, not leaving a single building standing.

[Steps were immediately taken by the French to revenge themselves upon their enemies. A force, partly made up of Choctaw allies, assailed the fort of the Natchez, who offered to release the French women and children prisoners if peace was promised them. This was agreed to, and the Natchez took advantage of the opportunity to vacate the fort by stealth, under cover of night, with all their baggage and plunder, leaving only the cannon and ball behind. They took refuge in a secret place to the west of the Mississippi, which proved difficult to discover. As soon as the place of concealment was found, the French set out to chastise the murderers.]

The Messrs. Perier set out with their army in very favorable weather, and arrived at last, without obstruction, near to the retreat of the Natchez. To get to that place, they went up the Red River, then the Black River, and from thence up the Silver Creek, which communicates with a small lake at no great distance from the fort which the Natchez had built in order to maintain their ground against the French.

The Natchez, struck with terror at the sight of a vigilant enemy, shut themselves up in their fort. Despair assumed the place of prudence, and they were at their wits' end on seeing the trenches gain ground on the fort: they equip themselves like warriors, and stain their bodies with different colors, in order to make their last efforts by a sally which resembled a transport of rage more than the calmness of valor, to the terror, at first, of the soldiers.

The reception they met from our men taught them, however, to keep themselves shut up in their fort; and though the trench was almost finished, our generals were impatient to have the mortars put in a condition to play on the place. At last they are set in battery; when the third bomb happened to fall in the middle of the fort, the usual place of residence of the women and children, they set up a horrible screaming; and the men, seized with grief at the cries of their wives and children, made the signal to capitulate.

The Natchez, after demanding to capitulate, started difficulties, which occasioned messages to and fro till night, which they wanted to avail themselves of, demanding till next day to settle the articles of capitulation. The night was granted them, but, being narrowly watched on the side next the gate, they could not execute the same project of escape as in the war with M. de Loubois. However, they attempted it, by taking advantage of the obscurity of the night, and of the apparent stillness of the French; but they were discovered in time, the greatest part being constrained to retire into the fort. Some of them only happened to escape, who joined those that were out a-hunting, and all together retired to the Chickasaws. The rest surrendered at discretion, among whom were the Grand Sun, and the female Suns, with several warriors, many women, young people, and children.

The French army re-embarked, and carried the Natchez as slaves to New Orleans, where they were put in prison; but afterwards, to avoid an infection, the women and children were disposed of in the king's plantation, and elsewhere; among these women was the female Sun called the Stung Arm, who then told me all she had done in order to save the French.

Some time after, these slaves were embarked for St. Domingo, in order to root out that nation in the colony; which was the only method of effecting it, as the few that escaped had not a tenth of the women necessary to recruit the nation. And thus that nation, the most conspicuous in the colony, and most useful to the French, was destroyed.

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