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|Three men at French Natchez in early 1700s: Broutin, Dumont, Du Pratz|
(Ninth in a Series)
The lives of three men who resided at Natchez in the days prior to the Fort Rosalie massacre are described this week by historian Jack Elliott in our continuing series on the Natchez fort.
Elliott says the three -- Ignace François Broutin, Jean-François Benjamin Dumont de Montigny and Antoine-Simone Le Page du Pratz -- were all talented men who left written and pictorial histories of the French settlement in Natchez.
Broutin was a commandant at Natchez as well as an architect, engineer and later Engineer-in-chief for the Louisiana Colony.
Dumont was a soldier, author and artist.
Du Pratz was a farmer, author and plantation administrator for the Company of the Indies.
Additionally this week, historian Jim Barnett of Natchez talks about the deer hunting methods used by the Natchez Indians.
BROUTIN THE ENGINEER-ARCHITECT
ELLIOTT: In surveying the roster of commandants, the one who certainly stands out the most was Ignace Francois Broutin. Born in France probably in the 1680s-1690s he was an engineer-architect by trade. By 1713 he was in military service employed in drawing up plans of attack during the War of the Spanish Succession.
In late 1719 he was employed by Monseigneur Le Blanc and the Comte de Belle Isle as a captain to organize troops to defend the concession plantations that they intended to found in Louisiana. Dumont was also involved with the same interests. So Broutin embarked for the New World along with hundreds of others bound for the concessions.
He first arrived in Natchez in late 1722 to map and inventory the Terre Blanche concession which Le Blanc and Belle Isle were in the process of acquiring. During three extended stays at Natchez, he would be involved with both Terre Blanche and the military administration and map extensively. In 1725-1726 he held the commandant's office and possibly held it again for a few months in 1729.
Following this last stay he returned to New Orleans in early August and therefore missed being there when the massacre occurred on November 28. Throughout his tenure at Natchez he constantly urged the government to restore Fort Rosalie and to even rebuild it in brick. He also proposed building a road at present-day Silver Street to expedite the movement of cargo from river to bluff top. No funds were ever allotted for any of these projects. Following the massacre he observed that because the fort's walls were in such a state of disrepair that a person could walk right through them.
After the massacre Broutin participated in the campaign against the Natchez Indians and was involved with building a provisional fort at Natchez in 1730. In 1731 he was promoted to the position of Engineer-in-Chief for the Louisiana Colony, a position held almost until his death in New Orleans in 1751.
During the course of his years in Louisiana, Broutin designed buildings, built levees, and mapped settlements. Two of his biggest building projects were (1) the barracks that used to front on either side of Jackson Square in New Orleans on the sites of the present-day Pontalba Buildings and (2) the Ursuline Convent, which remains today as the oldest standing building in New Orleans and the only building from the French period. Regarding Natchez, Broutin's most impressive achievement was his maps, in particular an enormous 1723 map showing the entire settlement with houses, fields, and trails all depicted with considerable accuracy.
DUMONT THE WRITER-ARTIST
Another notable resident of Natchez during the 1720s was Jean-François Benjamin Dumont de Montigny. A native of Paris, born 1696, he came to Louisiana in 1719 or 1720 as a lieutenant involved with the same Le Blanc-Belle Isle interest that brought Broutin to the colony. Dumont was stationed initially at the Le Blanc-Belle Isle concession on the lower Yazoo River, a few miles upriver from present day Vicksburg, Mississippi.
In late 1722 the Le Blanc-Belle Isle interest purchased the Terre Blanche concession at Natchez and moved their workers there, so Dumont spend several years at Natchez associated with the fort and with Terre Blanche. He was also a close associate there with Broutin. When Broutin was commandant, and Dumont his lieutenant, the former was often away from the fort at Terre Blanche (about three miles distant), where troops were stationed. When this occurred Broutin left Dumont as the acting commandant.
Some years later, probably early 1729, Chepart became commandant at Natchez while Dumont was still lieutenant. According to Dumont, Chepart "thought only of tyrannizing, ill-treating all whom he suspected of not being his friends, trampling on all justice and equity." Dumont opposed Chepart in perpetrating an injustice on one of the settlers, and for his efforts was locked up. Managing to escape he went downstream to New Orleans to report the affair to Governor Perier. Chepart however remained in office. The event did manage to get Dumont out of Natchez; he was not there on the morning of November 28, 1728 and so lived to write about Louisiana and Natchez.
After returning to France in 1737, Dumont wrote extensively on his experiences in Louisiana including: an autobiography that has never been published, two versions of an epic poem on Louisiana, and a history of the colony that was published as a two volume set in 1753 entitled "Mémoires Historiques sur la Louisiane," ("Historical Memoir on Louisiana"). The latter has been published in part in English translation and has served as one of the major historical sources on Louisiana, Natchez, and the Natchez massacre.
An excerpt from one of his poems is a passage leading into the massacre account:
"And now, dear reader, has come the moment,
To describe the loss of this post, a grievous event.
Dear Lord, if I could purge from my memory.
That fatal misfortune, and silence its history,
I would believe myself happy. If I could see
The planters at home and the fort on its feet.
But it must have been written that this post would be
Destroyed from top to bottom as it came to be."
(trans. by Gordon Sayre)
Other than his writings, Dumont produced a large number of paintings and drawings of settlements, houses, Indians, and flora and fauna of Louisiana. The settlement illustrations include several versions of Natchez, along with renditions of the Yazoo settlement, New Orleans, Pascagoula Bay, and others. Although drawn in a primitive style without regard for scale, yet these drawings and paintings have considerable detail. For Natchez they show the settlement from the river back to St. Catherine Creek along with the two concessions, Indian villages, farms of the habitants, and other features.
DE PRATZ THE SETTLER-HISTORIAN
The last of the three notable Natchez residents was Antoine-Simone Le Page du Pratz who was born about 1695, in either France or the Netherlands, so he was about the same age as Dumont. He was educated to some degree in architecture, astronomy, and engineering and was wealthy enough to purchase land at Natchez.
He came to Louisiana in 1718 and settled first near the site of New Orleans, which had just been established and was at the time little more than a few huts. Upon hearing of the fertility of Natchez, he headed upriver in late 1719 with his female Indian slave -- probably his common law wife -- and two African slaves whom he had just acquired and arrived at Natchez on January 5, 1720. He purchased a small farm from a Natchez Indian and resided and farmed there for several years during which times he became friends with several Indians including the Tattooed Serpent, the brother of the primary chief, the Great Sun.
He was also involved in leading irregular troops during confrontations with the Natchez Indians. In 1728 he left Natchez to manage a plantation operated by the Company of the Indies at New Orleans. This change of jobs saved his life, taking him away from Natchez prior to the massacre. However, it appears that he had at least two children by his common law wife who remained at Natchez; there are two Du Pratz children listed among the massacre's victims.
After returning to France in 1734, Du Pratz wrote an extended treatise on the culture, history, and natural history of Louisiana, which first appeared serially in abbreviated form in a Paris periodical in 1751-1753 entitled "Memoire sur la Louisiane." In 1758 it appeared in book form in a three-volume set entitled "Histoire de la Louisiane" while a partial English translation appeared in 1763 entitled "The History of Louisiana, or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina Containing a Description of the Countries that lie on both Sides of the River Mississippi: With an Account of the Settlements, Inhabitants, Soil, Climate, and Products."
So well received was this book with its geographical, biological, and ethnographic detail that it was taken by Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery during the explorations to the headwaters of the Missouri River and beyond in 1803-1806. Du Pratz's work is especially valuable today because of its detailed descriptions of the Natchez Indian culture, perhaps the most memorable is his description of the funeral of the Tattooed Serpent with its ornate ritual and human sacrifice.
Together Broutin, Dumont, and Du Pratz translated their experience in Louisiana into the narrative and pictorial basis for much of our present understanding of the colony. All three lived for years at Natchez, knew each other, and managed to inadvertently be away from there when the death knell sounded. Much of our understanding of the doomed colony and the massacre is based upon their work.
NATCHEZ INDIAN HUNTERS & 'THE DANCE OF THE DEER'
(Editor's Note: Jim Barnett is director, division of historic properties, Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, He is the author of the book, "The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735," University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, 2007)
BY JIM BARNETT
In hunting deer, the Natchez Indians used both solitary stalking and communal hunts. Solitary hunters used a deer head decoy to lure their quarry close enough to shoot with a bow and arrow or musket. In communal hunts, several hunters fanned out to drive deer toward other hunters waiting to shoot.
The colonial French and English supplied an insatiable European market for deerskins, which were used to make everything from parchment paper to breeches to saddles. The Natchez and other tribes participated in this market by supplying tanned deerskins in exchange for manufactured trade items, especially guns, blankets, vermilion (mercuric sulfide pigment), hatchets, knives, etc. Once the French established a permanent settlement with the Natchez Indians, Natchez hunters traded deer meat for European goods.
The illustration by Du Pratz depicting Indian hunters formed in a crescent around a solitary deer may be the author's attempt to show the communal hunt, but it also closely resembles Du Pratz's description of a hunt that accompanied an event called "The Dance of the Deer," in which as many as one hundred young men cooperated to trap a deer inside a crescent formation. As the deer attempted to escape, the men would close up and chase the animal back into the center. Eventually, the crescent became a circle tightening in upon the exhausted deer. When the deer was unable to run anymore, men carried it to the Great Sun, who ordered it butchered and roasted for all of the hunters to share.
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