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|Spanish arrive in 1767, construct fort below Vidalia, prepare for Acadians|
ACADIANS IN CONCORDIA: 1768-1769
(FIRST IN SERIES)
A long forgotten Spanish fort constructed in the late 1760s a few miles below Vidalia just north of Natchez Island was, for a short time, the home of soldiers, craftsmen and skilled laborers representing the nation of Spain.
Below the fort on land that is remembered today as the old Willett and Morville plantations were farms -- one after the other -- along the Mississippi River. Living there during this time were 149 Acadian exiles -- men, women and children -- part of a larger group of refugees who had been forced out of Canada in 1755 and out of the colonies a few years later.
These Acadians didn't want to come to Concordia for many reasons, partly because they didn't want to be isolated on the wild frontier and more importantly because they didn't want to be separated from their families. They stayed less than two years, many in the colony died, and what happened in Concordia 240 years ago helped fuel a revolt in New Orleans against Spanish authority.
Arriving here "with virtually nothing," the Acadians, says Carl A. Brasseaux, "had to live off the land by hunting and fishing. The fact that they were sent to this post caused a great deal of dissension and resulted in the October 1768 uprising that drove the first Spanish governor out of the Louisiana colony."
Brasseaux is director of the Center for Louisiana Studies in Lafayette, which works in a number of ways to help the world understand the history and culture of Louisiana, including the Cajuns, descendants of the Acadians. He said last week that the Acadians expressed to the Spanish authorities two centuries ago that the Concordia settlement "was too far from their relatives down the Mississippi. They viewed this relocation as another forced dispersal by another unfriendly government. They wanted to join their relatives on river front properties between Baton Rouge and New Orleans."
World events brought the Acadians to Concordia, but before they arrived the Spanish army and navy came first with instructions to construct a fort on the opposite side of the river from the old French fort known as Rosalie.
On Sept. 29, 1766, the British sent a detachment of Scottish Fusiliers -- four officers and 44 soldiers -- to man the long abandoned Natchez fort that they renamed Fort Panmure. Forts in those days served as outposts for trade with the Indians and as remote headquarters for European governments where their military personnel developed alliances with Native Americans.
In the meantime, these governments often opened the doors for settlement, developing colonies for agriculture production and trade to fuel the mother country's economy. The military presence at the fort was designed, too, to provide protection to the developing colonies.
Following the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763 for control of North America, the British emerged victorious and the French were driven from the continent. The English got most of the real estate east of the Mississippi and the Spanish the land west of the Mississippi as well as the Isle of New Orleans, the city itself, and both sides of the river from there to its mouth.
The British through its provincial government in West Florida, headquartered in Pensacola, determined to man forts at a few locations on the Mississippi, including Natchez. Gen. Thomas Gage said the Natchez post was of "consequence" primarily because of the large number of Indians in the region.
MAY 27, 1767, MARKS SPANISH ARRIVAL
When Louisiana's first Spanish governor, Antonio de Ulloa, arrived in New Orleans in March 1766, he was charged with not only governing the vast expanse of Louisiana but of also making sure the British stayed on the east side of the Mississippi River. Historian Brasseaux wrote in an article on the Acadian settlement in Concordia that the "British maintained designs on Spanish Louisiana, which constituted the eastern gateway to Mexico's fabulous silver-producing regions, and Ulloa's most pressing responsibility was establishment of a defensive perimeter along an exceedingly porous international border stretching from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Great Lakes region."
In the months before and after Ulloa's arrival, the British were in the process of manning forts on the Mississippi at Manchac, Baton Rouge, Natchez and Cahokia (Illinois). While these were defensive installations, the worry was, writes Brasseaux, that England's work to ally with Indians up and down the river at various outposts, such as Natchez, "could easily serve as staging areas for offensive forays into the Spanish's empire's newest acquisition." In Natchez, the British's alliance with 2,000 Indians who hunted in the region was a source of alarm.
That's why, writes Brasseaux, on May 27, 1767, at 8 a.m., "a motley contingent of Spanish soldiers, administrators, and support personnel gathered on the west bank of the Mississippi River" just below present day Vidalia "to conduct a formal act of possession" of the region "in the name of King Carlos III of Spain."
The Spanish commander was Lt. Pedro Piernas. Although the fort was named San Luis (Saint Louis) de Natchez, we refer to it here as the Concordia fort to avoid confusion with the fort across the river in Natchez.
Piernas, a native of Spain, was 38-years-old and had studied math at Barcelona Academy before being commissioned a cadet in the Spanish army in 1746. In the spring of 1765, he accepted a reassignment across the Atlantic in Spain's new colony in Louisiana.
The land for the new fortress in Concordia, Piernas informed Gov. Ulloa, "was laid out" and "has been marked and cleared..." Two engineers designed the fort in which soldiers, sailors and craftsmen cleared the site with tools stored in a warehouse, one of the first buildings constructed.
Tools dispersed for the work included 24 axes, 18 shovels, 12 hoes, 12 clippers, knives and stakes. Brasseaux wrote that Piernas "assigned two soldiers and one sailor to establish an orchard and a vegetable garden to feed the garrison. These...laborers were ordered to sow the garden with seeds transported from New Orleans...Meanwhile, because the construction site lacked both stone and bricks, Piernas ordered the brick and stone masons to construct a temporary oven outside the fort and the blacksmith and his assistants to construct a forge."
Almost immediately, there was dissension in the ranks. The craftsmen by early June wanted extra income and work clothes.
"The resulting turmoil and internal dissension," Brasseaux says, "was compounded by problems resulting from the fort's location. Piernas initially boasted that the site was a 'healthful' location with a 'pleasant vista,' and bountiful fishing and hunting, but evidence makes it abundantly clear that the spot was less than ideal.
"In selecting the fort site, the judgment of the post's engineers and officers appears to have been clouded by expediency, for they evidently selected a highly insalubrious location primarily on the basis of its proximity to the British outpost" at Natchez.
"In addition," wrote Brasseaux, "the lack of potable water at the construction site, on low, frequently inundated ground facing the imposing east-bank bluffs, more than offset the location's advantages. Indeed, throughout the post's existence, letters from...officers are replete with references to illnesses, particularly dysentery, associated with the lack of portable water."
Many of these Spanish workmen and soldiers got their first taste of a Louisiana/Mississippi summer in 1767. The heat was stifling and dangerous and "bad" water made them sick. These accounts and those from others for years to come would lament the great numbers of travelers and settlers in this region who fell victim to the heat and diseases of the hot Southern summers.
BRITISH GOVERNOR VISITS BOTH FORTS
During June 1768, England's soldiers at Fort Panmure were visited by West Florida Lt. Gov. Monfort Browne from the capital in Pensacola. Browne reported that more than 2,000 Indians from different tribes hunted every winter in Natchez and "take shelter under our fort on purpose to barter for our goods."
Browne also exercised some diplomacy during this visit and crossed the river to visit with the Spaniards manning the Concordia fort. Browne reviewed the troops, was given "an artillery salute," and, said Lt. Piernas, "was treated with the greatest respect." The lieutenant governor also obviously saw the sad state of affairs for the Spaniards and newly-arrived Acadians and glowed in the prospects of Natchez country, which he represented.
Brown wrote that he "should be happy to spend the remainder of my days in this most delightful country" of Natchez, where a man with his gun "may plentifully supply a family of twelve or fourteen" with buffalo, bear meat, venison, geese, turkeys and ducks year round and "fish of the most excellent kinds may be catched in the greatest abundance."
On the way up river in route to Natchez, Brown visited an Indian village, was honored with the "Calumet dance," adopted by the tribe and presented one of the virgin daughters of a chief who was promised Brown in marriage once she turned 12. Later, he arrived at the Natchez fort and found it in much need of repair.
But in all directions he saw "the most charming prospects in the world, extensive plains, intermixed with beautiful hills and small rivers," fruit "of most excellent kinds" including grapes, peaches, plumbs, apricots, apples, pears, figs, mulberries, persimmon, medlar and strawberries -- "as good in their kinds as any in the world and in the greatest abundance." He saw "a whole field" of asparagus "in the highest perfection" planted years earlier and nuts "common in this province" were walnut, chestnut, hickory and filbert.
DISMAL START FOR CONCORDIA FORT
A year earlier in July 1767 across the river at the Spanish fort in Concordia, soldiers and workmen were suffering from high fevers and dysentery, including the post engineer and its physician. Pienas had temporary shelters built on a dryer site nearby, but the illness continued.
More than 50 men initially arrived, including army and navy personnel, government officials, engineers, craftsmen, laborers and other skilled personnel on two Spanish vessels -- the Principe and the La Fiera.
Much of the garrison was confined to a makeshift hospital by late July, and Piernas wrote Gov. Ulloa that only nine men were able to work or perform any duties. Because of the heat, humidity and rainfall, Piernas halted fort work and ordered the healthy to replace "leaky temporary dwellings with more substantial structures..."
A riverside bastion had been completed by July 18 and in early August, said Brasseaux, "the third and fourth bastions were completed, but around September 10, work on the post ground to halt, and the installation temporarily remained incomplete." Dysentery and even malnutrition continued to weakened the Spanish post, including Piernas' son.
Piernas was able to provide the ill with chicken broth from a few hens he procured, but supplies were dwindling. The post was down to two barrels of flour in early August and Piernas was scanning downriver every day looking for a supply boat expected from New Orleans.
Food was rationed and each man reduced to a half-pound of bread a day. One officer said they were "without meat and without lard." In desperation, Piernas asked for some provisions from the British garrison across the river at Fort Panmure in Natchez, but the commander there refused, blaming it on bureaucracy by explaining that he could not "divert anything from the royal warehouse without orders from the general..."
It was a dismal beginning. A year after the British occupied Fort Panmure in 1766, the Spanish had staked their military presence across the river in Concordia. Now they were awaiting arrival of about 27 Acadian families with plans to establish a Spanish colony in Concordia.
In the mid-1760s, some of the first land grants were being issued in Natchez but only a handful of settlers lived there. By the early to mid-1770s, Anthony Hutchins would be settling on Second Creek 12 miles southwest of the Natchez fort, Sam Gibson would be settling near Natchez in the years before he founded Port Gibson, and Rev. Samuel Swayze and his New Jersey Settlers would be planting corn along the Homochitto in the Kingston area.
But before they were here, the largest European settlement in the Natchez region was being developed across the Mississippi south of Vidalia where Spanish soldiers and craftsmen occupied San Luis de Natchez. There along the river south of the Concordia fort lived several Acadian families -- 149 men, women, and children -- many of whom died and almost all despised being there as they longed to reunite with their families.
Spanish officials quickly grew weary of the Acadians, and these exiles would be the reason Antonio Ulloa was unseated as Spain's first governor of Louisiana. A brilliant man who some say was the greatest scientist from Spain in the 18th Century, Ulloa was an insensitive and clueless colonial administrator and what happened in Concordia would cost him his job.
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