Are you for armed guards at schools?|
Story Archives: New fort construction on Rosalie site begins in 1731
- 2013 - 290 articles
- 2012 - 856 articles
- 2011 - 635 articles
- 2010 - 1276 articles
- 2009 - 1591 articles
- 2008 - 1763 articles
|New fort construction on Rosalie site begins in 1731|
(25th in a Series)
BY JACK ELLIOTT
When thinking of Fort Rosalie, one tends to envision the rectangular palisade with bastions that was erected during the summer of 1716 and destroyed in the aftermath of the 1729 massacre.
However, this fort was very short-lived, existing for only thirteen years. On the other hand, its replacement was not so short-lived. It was built in 1731 and abandoned about 1800, seeing use for about seven decades during which time Natchez evolved from a fort to a territorial capital. The first fort was used only by the French, while the second fort was used by successive French, British, Spanish, and American garrisons. When nineteenth century accounts described ruins of the fort, they described those of the 1731 fort not the 1716 one. This is the story of the construction of the second fort.
With the return to New Orleans of Governor Étienne de Périer's expedition against the Natchez Indians in February 1731, plans were soon afoot for rebuilding the Natchez fort. Lt. Colonel Baron de Crenay was selected to serve as the commandant during the construction while a Sieur Darby was to be the contractor. A considerable number of African slaves would supply the labor force. One will recall that the first fort was constructed using Natchez Indians as labor.
Although it can't specifically be documented, the new fort was almost certainly designed by the engineer and former Fort Rosalie commandant, Ignace-François Broutin. Over the course of several years Broutin had mapped the Natchez area and had been an indefatigable proponent of rebuilding the crude palisade as a brick fortification. In early 1730 he had participated in Louboey's campaign against the Natchez and afterward designed the provisional fort at Natchez. No one else was better qualified to design the new and much more elaborate fort to be laid out in the form of a pentagon. Construction would cost much more than the 1716 fort, involving as it would considerable movement of earth and possibly the use of masonry. Interestingly one of Broutin's plan drawings identifies the new fort as "Fort Maurepas," instead of Fort Rosalie, obviously intending to rename it after the Minister of the Marine and key player in French colonial policy, the Comte de Maurepas. For whatever reason the Maurepas name was soon be dropped, and the fort would revert to the original Rosalie name. However many still called it -- and would continue to call it -- simply the fort of Natchez.
On March 25, Périer wrote to the Comte de Maurepas informing him that "I am sending Baron de Crenay with a garrison of one hundred men to build a fort at the Natchez according to the Company [of the Indies]'s orders. I shall have it built of masonry, since the works in the timber of the country last for only three or four years at the most. If no stone is found in the neighborhood of the spot that is selected it will be revetted with bricks like the one at Mobile."
One might wonder why this work was being carried out under orders of the Company of the Indies, because in January, as the result of growing financial problems, the Company had returned operation of Louisiana to the Crown. However, that change took place in France, and it took three months for word to reach Louisiana.
Upon arriving the new commandant De Crenay and Aide-major Juzan took up residence in the provisional fort that had been erected the previous year. Darby, on the other hand, erected a work camp in the form of a compound adjacent to the site of the old fort where only ashes remained. He enclosed his camp with a palisade wall for protection against marauding Natchez warriors. The compound consisted of two sections, one for Darby and the other for the African slaves who were housed in 18 buildings.
During the early stages of construction, violence once again erupted. As everyone knew there were still groups of Natchez Indians at large, a problem made more difficult because no one knew where they were. On June 14 they launched an attack on the Tunica village south of Natchez with bloody results for all concerned. About the same time 15 Natchez warriors and 20 women turned themselves in to De Crenay ostensibly to surrender. They were locked in a building that was probably in the provisional fort. What their purpose was or what happened next we can never be sure. According to the written accounts, the Indians managed to gain access to eight guns and began firing on the French from the protection of the building to which they had been confined. Unable to root them out Crenay turned the fort's artillery on the building. One can only imagine the effect of a cannon being fired at point blank range into a building. The aftermath was that the building was either destroyed or severely damaged, and all the Indians dead. French casualties were reported at 4-8 dead, with several French and Africans wounded. It was later claimed that "If there had been ten more Indians, they would have captured the fort [and] would have slaughtered M. de Crenay, his garrison, and all the Negroes who were with him."
Through such volatile conditions the work proceeded as dirt was moved and palisades constructed. The fort was laid out in the shape of a pentagon and was constructed by excavating a ditch about 6-8 feet deep in the shape of a pentagon and piling and compacting the excavated earth on the inside of the ditch to form a rampart about eight feet high. Defenders on top of the rampart were protected by a palisade parapet through which they could fire at assailants. On the outside of the ditch was another palisade known as the "advanced work" or "outwork." In sum, attackers faced tough obstacles in gaining access to the fort. While under fire, they would have to cross the outwork palisade, climb into the ditch, then scale a steep slope of about 16 feet from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the rampart, where they would then face the parapet behind which were defending soldiers. This design was quite an improvement on the 1716 fort which consisted of only one line of defense -- a palisade wall.
The fort was entered by crossing the ditch on a drawbridge. Upon entering there were several barracks, a guard house, and store house laid out near the wall leaving the center open as a "parade ground." A powder magazine was safely located under the earth of the rampart.
(Jack Elliott is historical archaeologist for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He can be reached at 662-325-7892 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
|Frank Morris Murder Series|