HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS IN NEW ORLEANS

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  • North Carolina Office of Archives and History

    HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS IN NEW ORLEANSAuthor(s): John S. KendallSource: The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 7, No. 4 (October, 1930), pp. 463-476Published by: North Carolina Office of Archives and HistoryStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23515093 .Accessed: 10/06/2014 12:35

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  • HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS IN NEW ORLEANS

    By John S. Kendall

    In spite of the ravages of the Civil War and Reconstruction, and

    the carelessness and ignorance .of state and city officials since then, the primary material for a history of Louisiana is still to he found

    in New Orleans in considerable quantity. Part of this exists in the

    archives at the City Hall, part in the State Museum, housed in the

    Cabildo, on Jackson Square; part in the custody of the Louisiana

    State Historical Society, quartered on the top-floor of the same

    edifice ; and the remainder in private collections not easily accessible

    to the student. It is regrettable that Tulane University, the logical

    agency for the collection of this matter, has been prevented by a lack

    of funds from taking part in the work. No service more useful to

    the community could be done than for some wealthy individual to

    endow a department of Louisiana History at this institution, with the

    express object of bringing together, in one easily accessible spot, in

    original or in copy, the documents, etc., on which the inevitable re

    writing of the history of the State must be based.

    The most important group of manuscripts in New Orleans at

    the present time is the collection of legal documents in the custody of the State Museum. These are the records of the French colonial

    Superior Council and the Spanish colonial judicial records. They are housed in a building adjoining the Cabildo, generously presented to the Museum by the late W. R. Irby. Here, under the direction of

    Henry P. Dart, archivist of the Louisiana Historical Society, a

    calendar of these documents is being prepared, the French by Mrs.

    H. H. Cruzat, and the Spanish by Miss Laura Porteus. This work

    of cataloguing and indexing these papers has been in progress for

    many years. It was begun in the early part of the present century, under the auspices of the Historical Society, and carried on until a

    lack of funds interrupted it. In 1920 it was resumed with means

    contributed by Mr. Irby, at which time Mr. Dart was put in charge. Under Mr. Dart's direction the scope of the work was extended, and

    the Spanish records were brought under examination for the first

    time.

    [463]

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  • 464 The North Carolina Historical Review

    Mr. Irby's gift was by its terms recognized to be insufficient. It

    was, in fact, intended merely to give the work an impetus, in the

    hope that in this way attention could be attracted to it, and further

    assistance, either from other private benefactors or from the State, would provide for its completion. The Irby gift was exhausted in

    1925. The State Museum thereupon came to the rescue, and it

    seems now, under its auspices, this difficult and enormous labor will

    not again be interrupted. The publication of the calendar of this collection of documents

    was begun under the direction of Miss Grace King, in the Louisiana

    Historical Quarterly in November, 1916, and then continued in

    January, 1917, in accordance with the enlightened policy of its

    then editor, the late John Dymond. It has been continued on a more

    elaborate scale since the death of Mr. Dymond, in 1922, when he was

    succeeded in the editorial control of this magazine by Mr. Dart.

    The French calendar lias thus been printed down to and including

    June, 1743. The remaining twenty-five years of the French colonial

    era have also been indexed, though partially. This was done by Wil

    liam Price, who had charge of the work prior to the date when Mrs.

    Cruzat and Miss Porteus were enlisted therefor. At the time when

    Mr. Price undertook the task, it was expected that only an index to

    the subject matter would be necessary; but as the work proceeded, it

    was seen that, in order to be of real value, its scope in each section

    would have to be broadened, and it now includes a succinct statement

    of the contents of each recorda statement necessarily succinct, or

    the vast number of these papers would make the completion of the

    undertaking something not to be looked for within the present

    generation. The Spanish Index, or Calendar, has likewise been printed in the

    Quarterly, beginning with the number for January, 1923. This

    record, which now forms a feature of each issue of this magazine, has been carried as far as May, 1776. The remaining twenty-seven years of the Spanish period have still to be compiled.

    It is not too much to say that the investigation of these records, as far as it has gone, has changed our ideas regarding the colonial

    history of Louisiana, and made necessary the eventual retelling of

    many chapters of the story. This is especially true of the Spanish time. The Spanish records begin with some scraps of material

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  • Histokical Collections in New Oeleans 465

    relative to the legal investigation of the personal affairs of the

    Intendent Foucault, initiated shortly after the arrival of Governor

    O'Reilly, in 1769. There is, however, nothing regarding the prose cution of Lafrenire and his associates, accused of rebellion against the Spanish government; these men were tried before special tribu

    nals, created for the purpose, and the original proces-verbals of the

    proceedings are extant in France and Spain. The first document in the Louisiana State Museum collection,

    in the Spanish section, is the original oath of allegiance of the

    inhabitants of Pointe Coupee and Fausse Rivire (two old Louisiana

    settlements), dated September 10, 1769. Then follow numbers of

    notarial acts, found among the court records, some sewed together in paper covers and arranged in strict chronological order. These

    documents were evidently overlooked when, years ago, the French

    and Spanish notarial acts of the colonial period were bound and

    turned over to the custodian of Notarial Records of the Parish of

    Orleans, and archived by him at the new court building, in New

    Orleans.

    It is impossible in the narrow limits of the present article to

    enumerate a tithe of the documents already available in the Spanish section of the Calendar, but we may instance a few, as showing in

    a general way the nature of the material thus being made available.

    There is, for example, a conventional special mortgage by authentic

    act, dated February 27, 1787, based upon a security on real estate

    created by a contract before a Notary Public. This is of value as

    showing that, even at this early date, the essential forms of mortgage in Louisiana were the same as those of any similar instrument in

    1930. We have also the complete documentation of the trial of Mary

    Glass, for murder, in 1780, interesting because the crime was com

    mitted in "English Pointe Coupee in the District of Baton Rouge," after the capture of Baton Rouge by Glvez, but while the English officers were still permitted to exercise their functions. The last

    document in the set describes the execution of Mary Glass, who,

    by the way, was a "free quadroon" from the "North of the Caro

    linas." She was hanged in the public square in New Orleans July

    26, 1781, before "a considerable concourse of people." Another interesting document is the record of a case involving the

    use of torture in criminal proceedings in Louisiana in 1771. This

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  • 466 The North Carolina Historical Review

    is from the files of the Governor's Court, and is entitled "The

    Criminal Proceedings officially Brought to Find the Aggressor who

    killed Juan Baptiste Cezaire Lebreton, on the night of May 31 just

    passed, by the discharge of a gun." It established under the signa ture of the judge and the prosecuting officers that the rack was used

    to extract a confession from two Negro slaves upon whom suspicion had fallen.

    A considerable portion of the Spanish records, of course, deals

    with matters of minor interestwills filed for probate, suits for

    debts, etc. Some of these, however, in spite of the relatively unim

    portant character of the subject, have interest and value as illustrating

    points in Spanish legal procedure, often of significance for the proper

    interpretation of questions in fields of historical inquiry quite other

    than the legal. One of these, selected quite at random from the col

    lection, but indicative of the nature of the material, is a suit for

    debt brought in the Governor's Court in 1770, which establishes the

    usage when the litigants did not happen to reside in the same place. In this case, the suit was begun in New Orleans, and then sent

    to the Post of Opelousas, where the Post Commander heard the plead

    ings of the defendant.

    Among the numerous marriage contracts, those of Juan Benoit

    and Elena Montanary, dated November 17, 1770 ; of Carlos Felipe Favre Daunoy and Maria Elizabetha Destrehan, dated March 15, 1773 ; and that of Francisco Daspit and Maria Barba Zeringue, dated March 12, 1779, are typical. They either reveal curious turns of legal phraseology, or relate to old Louisiana families represented today by numerous descendants. It is interesting to note that few of the Spanish judicial records were written upon stamped paper. Elsewhere in the Spanish colonies the paper used in legal work was taxed and a stamp was affixed to each sheet, but for some reason

    Louisiana was exempt from this requirement, a fact which, perhaps, accounts for the great length and sometimes wearisome detail with which the documentation of practically every proceeding was set forth.

    The documents which have come down to us from the French

    Superior Council are, in number, probably greater than the Spanish collections, although of no deeper interest. They begin with the year 1717. Among the very earliest are papers relative to the punish

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  • Histoeical Collections in New Orleans 467

    ments visited upon offenders against the local regulations at Old

    Biloxi, one culprit being "keel-hauled," apparently for having com

    mitted a theft. Many of these papers shed light upon the treatment

    of slaves during the French regime. A curious series of documents

    has been found setting forth the complaint of the engineer Pauget,

    against a certain Mme de Verteuil. Pauget ivas Bienville's chief

    engineer and is credited with having laid out the city of New

    Orleans. He and the lady seem to have had a difficulty, and she

    scratched his face; whereupon he laid a charge against her before

    the authorities.

    The French records contain a number of interesting documents

    regarding the massacre of 1729, including a list of the unfortunates

    butchered by the Indians at Natchez. In this connection it is odd

    to note that subsequent documents include the marriage contracts

    of all the widows created by this sanguinary event, every one of

    whom found new husbands within the year. We find in the collec

    tion also an example of a very early will, that of a man named

    Le Juif, drawn up by a priest in the absence of a notary. This

    instrument was admitted to probate in due course. Kegarding the

    Chevalier d'Arensbourg, a picturesque personality of great import ance in the early part of the French period, we have a large number

    of papers dealing with practically every phase of his career in Louisi

    ana; and, among other interesting items, establishing the fact that

    he was a Protestant, not a Catholic, as has been erroneously

    conjectured. Interest also attaches to the elaborate record of the first suit ever

    brought in Louisiana for separation of bed and hoard. The defendant

    was a physician, the Chevalier Manade, probably the first medical

    practitioner in the colony. Mme Manade wanted her husband to

    return her dowry, but he refused, on the ground that to do so would

    encourage "immorality," and offer a precedent for other wives who

    had wearied of the holy estate of matrimony. It seems that the lady

    eventually repented of having made so much trouble, returned to

    the Chevalier, and lived more or less happily with him ever after.

    Other matters regarding which the French records contain much

    material are the case of the French soldiers who deserted with the

    intention (apparently not realized) of joining the British in North

    Carolina, in 1725-28; the difficulties which arose between the Capu

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  • 468 The North Carolina Historical Review

    chins and their parishioners, and, later on, between them and the

    Jesuits, about 1726; the personal affairs of Father Baudoin, superior of the Jesuits in 1766; and the suit brought by Lafrenire against the Jesuits in 1763. The argument of Lafrenire in this case, which

    affected the vast property owned by the order in what is now the

    upper part of New Orleans, has been preserved and forms intensely

    interesting reading. We may also cite briefly the record in a case in admiralty, affecting

    the two-master "Snow," tried in 1741, before Salmon, Commissary of the Marine and First Judge of the Superior Council, interestin...

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