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Story Archives: World happenings in early 1700s when French built Fort Rosalie at Natchez
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|World happenings in early 1700s when French built Fort Rosalie at Natchez|
(Sixth in a Series)
In 1714, two years before the French built Fort Rosalie at Natchez, a man named John Reading was surveying land in the British colony of New Jersey. On part of this acreage a short time later the Swayze and Ogden families settled.
By the mid-1770s, two descendants of these families -- the Rev. Samuel Swayze and Captain Amos Ogden -- would arrive in Natchez during the British days to settle Ogden's 25,000-acre land grant given by the King of England.
Rev. Swayze would become the first Protestant preacher in this region of America and his flock would settle a community that became known as Kingston in southern Adams County.
Also in 1714, a world away in northeastern Scotland in a region along the North Sea, Archibald Dunbar was serving as mayor of Elgin and Justice of the Peace in the County of Moray. Archibald was a man's man, a hunter, fishermen, sportsman. He was playful and rowdy and was a risk-taker.
This well-liked citizen and leader also had an illegal sideline. He smuggled wine into northeastern Scotland to avoid paying British import fees. When a friend of Archibald's involved in the scheme was arrested, it was Archibald's duty as Justice of the Peace to prosecute the man.
When he didn't, custom inspectors exposed the scam in 1716, the year the French built Fort Rosalie. This revelation didn't hurt Archibald a bit, much less his pocketbook. He remained esteemed in the eyes of his fellow Scots.
One of his sons would grow up to be very different from Archibald. The son would also love the outdoors, but would develop many other interests, few involving fun or sport.
This son would come to America in 1771 and would settle in Natchez during the Spanish days in the 1790s. He would become a well-respected planter, businessman, scientist, astronomer, public servant, surveyor and slave-owner.
During the winter of 1804-1805, this son of Archibald's -- William Dunbar -- would do something unique for America. He would be one of only eight men hand-picked by President Thomas Jefferson to explore the reaches of the Louisiana Purchase. Of the four explorations, Lewis and Clark would lead the exploration west to the Pacific Ocean, while William Dunbar and Dr. George Hunter would explore the Ouachita River to the hot springs.
But in 1714, almost 300 years ago, while John Reading was surveying in New Jersey and William Dunbar's father Archibald was smuggling wine into Scotland, the French leader Bienville was just two years away from building Fort Rosalie at Natchez in French Louisiana.
As the French began the settlement of Natchez with the construction of Fort Rosalie, much was happening in the world. Historian Jack Elliott answers our questions this week about the state of the planet three centuries ago as we continue our series on the Natchez fort.
WORLD EVENTS WHEN LOUISIANA FOUNDED
ELLIOTT: Louis XIV, the Sun King, who reigned from 1643 through 1715 was in power during the years of La Salle's explorations and the founding of Louisiana under the LeMoyne brothers, Iberville and Bienville. Royal absolutism achieved its pinnacle in France under the Sun King, who in 1682 -- the year of La Salle's trip down the Mississippi River -- moved his government to his magnificent new palace at Versailles.
The founding of Louisiana was conducted against the backdrop of competition for power and land between European powers such as Spain, Portugal, England, the Netherlands, and France. During this time the threat of Muslim invasions which had hung over Europe for a millennium was beginning to vanish. In 1683, the year after La Salle's voyage down the Mississippi, the Turkish army was defeated following its attack on Vienna. Afterwards the Turkish Empire was in decline economically and militarily so Europe didn't have to constantly be watching the Muslims in fear of invasion.
Colonies had been founded earlier primarily on the Atlantic seaboard of North America beginning with St. Augustine (Spain) in 1565 and continued during the 1600s with Acadia and Quebec (France); Virginia, Plymouth, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Carolina (England); and New Netherlands (Netherlands). When in 1698 Spain received word that France was preparing to send four ships to the Gulf of Mexico to establish the Louisiana colony, Spain countered with a royal initiative that established Pensacola in 1698 (a year before Ft. Maurepas) as a counter to France's colonizing effort. In 1699, the year of Fort Maurepas's founding on Biloxi Bay, the capital of the Virginia colony was moved from Jamestown where it had been since the founding of the colony to a site a few miles inland at Williamsburg.
The dynastic dispute that followed the death of Spain's King Charles II in late 1700 led to the War of the Spanish Succession that lasted from 1701-1714. The war signaled the beginning of a long decline of French power; as the result of one of the concluding treaties, the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), France ceded its North American lands of Acadia (present Nova Scotia) and Newfoundland to England. So at the very beginning of French Louisiana's history, New France was beginning to decline. The cession of Acadia through a long-term chain reaction affected Louisiana; following the British expulsion of the Acadians many migrated to what was then Spanish Louisiana and established the Cajun population.
BIENVILLE, NATCHEZ, WORDS & MUSIC
ELLIOTT: More than any other person, Bienville (1680-1767) looms large over the history of French Louisiana. Several times governor, he was present when his brother Iberville established Fort Maurepas in 1699. Later Bienville would found Fort Rosalie (1716) and New Orleans (1718). However, Louisiana's history was so short that when it came to an end in 1763 Bienville –- who was there at its beginning –- witnessed the end from France. He died in 1767, only 22 years before the reign of the Bourbon kings was brought down in blood and chaos with the onset of the French Revolution.
From the establishment of Fort Rosalie in 1716 to the massacre of the Natchez Colony in 1729, other events of note were numerous. The English writer Daniel Defoe published his novels "Robinson Crusoe" in 1719 and "Moll Flanders" in 1722. In 1717 G.F. Handel's "Water Music" was first performed, while in 1721 J.S. Bach composed "The Brandenberg Concertos" and followed that in 1729 with "The St. Matthew Passion." Also in 1729 Benjamin Franklin and his brother James began publishing the newspaper "The Pennsylvania Gazette."
FRENCH PEOPLE'S THOUGHTS ON NATCHEZ
ELLIOTT: In general the feeling of the French toward their Louisiana colonies was mixed at best. There certainly was not an overwhelming enthusiasm to emigrate to the new settlements. This was in part due to rather discordant accounts presented to them. The accounts on one hand depicted Louisiana as a land abounding in good soil and mineral wealth, such as silver mines. On the other hand there was a steady stream of reports that portrayed the colony as being a vast and dangerous swamp inhabited by giant alligators and dangerous "savages."
I'm certain that news of the 1729 Natchez massacre probably did little to dispel this image. Furthermore, the French government through obsessive control of its colonial ventures stymied the independence and initiative that are essential to developing a viable economy in an undeveloped wilderness.
The largest emigration to Louisiana was instigated by the Company of the Indies between 1717 and 1721. About 302 skilled workers voluntarily came as the result of large monetary inducements. However, it has been noted that they were largely from a part of France that was unaware of Louisiana's reputation.
Another 1,278 settlers, consisting of "salt smugglers, defrauders and exiles," only came to Louisiana in lieu of prison sentences. Of course many of these initially landed on the beaches of New Biloxi to wait for transportation to their concession (plantation). However, most were stuck there for months because there weren't boats enough to transport them and where there was inadequate food and shelter and where, consequently, hundreds died.
All was less than good advertising for Louisiana. After 1721 voluntary emigration was practically non-existent. It has been noted that despite the hardships of life in France, most preferred the known hardships to the unknown hardships of Louisiana.
This explains much in understanding Louisiana's perennial problem: underpopulation. By the end of French Louisiana in 1763, its population consisted of only a few thousand scattered between the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. By way of comparison, at the same time, the population of England's thirteen Atlantic seaboard colonies was approximately 2,000,000.
TENSIONS MOUNTS AT NATCHEZ
ELLIOTT: There was tension between the French and the Indians from the very beginning of the Natchez colony. After all, the fort was constructed as part of the peace treaty that ended the First Natchez War in 1716, so there were undoubtedly hard feelings at its origin. Furthermore, when people with completely different languages and world views live in close proximity misunderstandings leading to animosity can often develop.
There were certainly mutual economic benefits to the French settling in the vicinity of the Indians, primarily deriving from the trade between the two group. The Indians provided agricultural products which were traded to the French for a variety of European goods including guns, fabric, and brandy. There were also friendships between certain French and certain Natchez, with the best example being that between the Frenchman Le Page du Pratz and the Tattooed Serpent, a Natchez leader.
Furthermore, certain Indian groups tended to be fairly pro-French such as the Tioux and the Flour village while others including the White Apple Village and the Grigra tended to be anti-French. So relations between the French and the Indians were very mixed.
Most of the settlement districts associated with these groups were fairly close to St. Catherine Creek, which was early called, appropriately, the River of the Natchez. According to Jim Barnett and others the Flour village was closest to the Grand Village and generally to the east. Tioux was further down the creek, not far from where it currently enters the Mississippi; Grigra was probably between Natchez and Washington; White Apple was northeast of Natchez in the vicinity of Foster; while Jenzenaque was even further to the northeast in the vicinity of Emerald Mound.
However, the negative aspects of the relationship began to dominate. This was in part due to the 1725 death of the Tattooed Serpent and his brother the Great Sun soon after. These two leaders had struggled for years to restrain the anti-French elements. With their disappearance a powerful force for peace vanished.
COMMANDER CHEPERT THE TYRANT
ELLIOTT: The massacre of November 28, 1729 arose out of the aforementioned explosive conditions. However, the spark that ignited it was apparently struck by Commandant Chepart. He apparently knew little about effective leadership and was arrogant to both French and Indian alike. A lieutenant at the fort, Dumont de Montigny, aroused the commandant's ire as the result of defending a settler against him. Consequently Chepart had Dumont locked up, but he escaped and fled to New Orleans where he reported the commandant's abuses to Governor Perier. Chepart was summoned to New Orleans but unfortunately was allowed to return to Natchez as commandant.
Lieutenant Dumont did not return to Natchez and therefore escaped the massacre. He went on to become one of the key chronicler's of French Louisiana history and along with Le Page du Pratz -- who had farmed at Natchez from 1720 to 1728 -- one of the two primary chroniclers of the massacre. Neither of the two men had anything good to say about Chepart. Dumont wrote that "instead of seeking to secure the friendship of the people. . . [Chepart] thought only of tyrannizing, ill-treating all whom he suspected of not being his friends [and] trampling on all justice and equity."
The commandant planned to establish a large farm under his jurisdiction and to do this planned to confiscate land belong to the White Apple (Indian) settlement. Upon ordering them to vacate, they seemed to vacillate, but were in reality fomenting a plan to wipe out the French settlement.
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