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ALL that extensive trect of country, formerly known by the name of Louisiana, bounded on the east by the Rio Perdido, west by the Rio del Norte, and stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the shores of the Pacific Ocean,* embracing the present disputed country of Oregon, was claimed by France, by right of contiguity, discovery and settlement, as a part of her territorial possessions in North America, in the seventeenth century.
As early as 1673 the discovery of the Mississippi river was accomplished by Father Marquette and Sieur Joliet, who explored it to the Indian village of the Kappas, on the Arkansas river; and there, having satisfied themselves that it emptied into the Gulf of Mexico, to the west of Florida, they set out for Canada on the 17th of July. Sieur Joliet returned to Quebec to announce the discovery, while the holy father tarried by the way to preach the gospel to the Miamies of the lake. For two years he toiled to convert the heathen, and expound to them the mysteries of the Catholic faith. Coasting the lake from Chicago to Mackinaw, on his holy mission, he landed on the banks of a stream, now bearing his name, which flows into Lake Michigan, and erected an altar. He then requested to be left alone; and, while offering up solemn thanks and supplication, he fell asleep to wake no more. "A light breeze from the lake sighed his requiem, and the Algonquin nation became his mourners." Thus perished the discoverer of the river Mississippi.
But the honor of perfecting the exploration of the Father of Waters, and the taking possession of the country which he named Louisiana, was reserved for the most extraordinary man of his age, ROBERT CAVELIER DE LA SALLE.
He was a native of France; and when the attention of Europe, in the seventeenth century, was directed to the colonization of North America, he turned his steps thither. Under the patronage of Louis XIV., he explored the great lakes of the North; and subsequently returning to France, he was rewarded for his services with a title of nobility, and a grant of lands around and including Fort Frontenac. He then returned to Canada, and occupied himself in rebuilding his fort, and pursuing his discoveries to the West.'
According to old documents, the bishopric of Louisiana extended to the Pacific Ocean.
In 1677, he re-visited France, and offered to Seignelay, the son of the Great Colbert, his plans to explore the river Mississippi to its mouth, and establish a chain of military posts to connect the great valley of the West with the French possessions in Canada. Letters patent were accordingly issued.
Accompanied by the faithful Chevalier de Tonty, he returned to Canada; and, in February, 1682, set out on his expedition to explore the Mississippi, the mouths of which he reached on the 9th of April, and on the same day he planted the arms of France on its banks, took possession of the country in the name of his sovereign, and gave it the name of LOUISIANA.
He once more returned to France. In 1684, he set out with an expedition of four ships and two hundred and eighty persons, with full powers from his sovereign to build forts and colonize Louisiana. On this occasion he was fortunate in selecting a friend, M. Joutel, who proved no less faithful than the Chevalier de Tonty, and who ultimately became the historian of the first colony planted in Louisiana.
The Historical Journal of M. Joutel, a work extremely rare and interesting, will be found printed in this volume.
M. la Salle finally arrived in the Gulf of Mexico, but being deceived in his reckoning, he passed the mouths of the Mississippi, and after much difficulty he effected a landing in the bay of St. Bernard (now Matagorda), where he built a fort. At this time, no Spanish settlement was nearer than Panuco and no French settlement than Illinois.
After making repeated attempts to find the Mississippi, M. la Salle, with a party of sixteen men, in 1687, set out for Canada in quest of supplies, leaving the remainder of the colony at Fort St. Louis.
On the 20th of March he reached one of the branches of the Trinity, with his party, when he was assassinated by one of his turbulent companions. "Thus perished," says Father Anastase, our wise conductor-constant in adversities, intrepid, generous, skilful, and capable of anything. He died in the vigor of life; in the midst of his career and labors, without the consolation of having seen their results."
M. la Salle was universally regarded as the father of French colonization in the great Valley of the West.
In 1698, the Canadian brothers, D'Iberville, Bienville, and Sauvole, set sail in two frigates, with about two hundred settlers, for the Gulf of Mexico, to make a settlement on the Mississippi, and to establish a direct intercourse between France and Louisiana. They reached the Chandeleur Islands in January, 1699, where the fleet cast anchor.
In two barges the brothers sought the Mississippi, and ascended it to the village of the Bayagoulas. After remaining there a few days to explore the country, they returned through the lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain, and founded the colony at Old Biloxi.
In 1712, the king of France granted to the Sieur Crozat the exclusive trade of Louisiana; and, in 1717, he relinquished it to the company of the Indies, at the head of which was the celebrated financier, John Law.
In 1722, the head-quarters were transferred from Biloxi to New Orleans ; and, in 1732, the Western Company surrendered their grant to the king.
In 1762, by a secret treaty between the courts of Versailles and Madrid, this country was ceded to Spain. The French colonists openly resisted the Spanish government, but the rebellion was finally quelled by the arrival of General O'Reilly, who took possession of the country in 1769.
In 1800, Spain retroceded Louisiana to France; and, in 1803, France sold the country to the United States for fifteen millions of dollars.
In offering these few historical remarks, my object is to point out some of the most remarkable epochs in the history of Louisiana, under which I shall arrange the materials in my possession,-first publishing those relating to the discovery and settlement of the country, and proceeding, in regular order, to the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Among these will be found many rare and important documents, calculated to throw much light on the motives and policy of France and Spain in their government of this country.
It is well known, that while this country was in their possession, it was almost inaccessible to the people of the American colonies. Their vessels were interdicted from entering their ports, and other acts of surveillance enforced.
The Spanish government, in particular, was always actuated by a jealous and intricate policy, and the colonial archives of each government, as they succeeded each other, were sent either to Paris or Madrid, and there locked up from the scrutiny of the world.
Its colonial history has been, therefore, but little understood, and much ignorance still prevails in regard to it.
In thrilling incidents, and the glitter and pomp of martial expeditions, the history of Louisiana is, perhaps, not inferior in interest to any of the states of the Union; while the records of the trial of Lafreniere, Noyan, Mazan, Marquis, Villeré, Carère, Boisblanc, Petit, Milhet, Poupet, Doucet, Foucault and Bienville, will develope a deep-laid plan to rid this country of Spanish tyranny, and establish a republic on the plan of the Swiss Cantons. In 1765, deputies were sent to the English governor of Pensacola to solicit the aid of the English government in behalf of this project; but England was at that time too much engaged in keeping down the republican spirit of her own rebellious colonies to listen to or countenance any overtures of that nature. It will thus be seen that the sentiments of Liberty and Independence were not confined, at this early period, to the master-spirits of the East, but animated alike the bosoms of patriots throughout the whole extent of North America.