THE CREOLES OF LOUISIANA.*
A BOOK of comfortable aspect, well printed on thick paper,
charmingly illustrated, and delightful to read ; above all, on a hot summer afternoon, when you can sit under the shade of some wide-spreading tree, listening to the rustle of its branches and the music of its feathered songsters, and imagine yourself in one of those sunny lands where winter is unknown and " it always seems afternoon." There is something sunny in the very look
of Mr. Cable's book, and he discourses in pleasant strain of a quaint city, a sunny country, and an interesting people, to wit,—
the Creoles of Louisiana. And what is a Creole? In the British West Indies everything born there is called a Creole. Thus there are not only Creole men and women of pure British stock, but Creole bulls and cows, Creole horses, and Creole cocks and hens. Bat, singularly enough, the people of the Spanish Main are often called Creoles, and the writer has heard a Venezuelan General with a high-sounding Spanish name describe himself as a Creole, perhaps because he thought the appellation a more honourable one than that to which his birth entitled him. It is at any rate an appellation of which Louisianians are especially proud, for, though of French descent and citizens of the United States, they invariably distinguish their fellow-citizens as "Americans "
and themselves as "Creoles." In one sense rightly, for, albeit they have long ceased to be French, they have not become true Americans del Norte, as the Venezuelans, Salvadorians, and 'Colombians call their English-speaking fellow,-republicans. While English life and inspiration in their New-World develop- ment have swallowed up all alien immigrations, this Latin
civilisation of the South, sinewy, valiant, rich, and proud, holds out against extinction. The people of Louisiana speak French, and send representatives and senators to the Federal Congress, who debate in English ; they celebrate the 4th of July, and ten days later commemorate with still greater enthusiasm the Fall of the Bastille and the beginning of the great Revolution. Americans by birth and nationality, they are French by senti- ment and blood, Creoles by predilection and descent. The history of a people so peculiar and original must needs, in any ease, be entertaining and valuable ; and, abounding as it does in moving incidents and romantic episodes, and adorned with all the graces of Mr. Cable's graphic style, it reads like an interest- ing romance.
The home and the realm of the Louisianian Creole, as distin- guished from the descendants of the Acadians and others whom, though of French blood, he refuses to recognise as his equals, is the region lying between the month of the Red River on the north and the Gulf marshes on the south, east of the Tech° and south of the Lakes Borgne, Ponchartrain, and Maurepas, and the Bayou Manchac :—
" The scenery of this land, where it is still in its wild state, is weird and funereal ; bat on the banks of the large bayous, broad fields of cotton, of cane, and of rice, open out at frequent intervals on either side of the bayou, pushing back the dark, pall-hire curtain of moss-draped swamp, and presenting to the passing eye the neat and often imposing residence of the planter, the white double row of field-hands' cabins, the tall red chimney and
broad grey roof of the sugar-house Even when the forests
* Ths Creoles of Louisiana. By George W. Cable. London: John C. Nimmo. close in on the banks of the stream, there is a wild, solemn beauty in the shifting scene which appeals to the imagination with special strength when the cold morning lights or warmer glows of evening impart the colours of the atmosphere to the surrounding wilderness, and to the glassy waters of the narrow and tortuous bayous that move among its shadows. In the last hours of day these scenes are often illuminated with an extraordinary splendour. From the boughs of dark, broad-spreading live oak, and the phantom-like arms of lofty cypresses, the long, motionless pendants of pale-grey moss point down to their inverted images in the unruffled water beneath them. Nothing breaks the wide-spread silence Now and then, from out some hazy shadow, a heron, white or blue, takes silent flight ; an alligator crossing the stream sends out long tinted bars of widening ripple ; or on some high, fire-blackened tree a flock of roosting vultures, silhouetted in the sky, linger with half-opened, unwilling wings, and flap away by ones and twos until the tree is bare. Should the traveller descry, first as a mote intensely black in the midst of the brilliancy that over- spreads the water, and by-and-bye revealing itself in true outline and proportion as a small canoe containing two men, whose weight seems about to engnlph it, and by whose paddle strokes it is impelled with such evenness and speed that a long glassy wave gleams continually at either side a full inch higher than the edge of the boat, he will have before him a picture of nature and human life that might have been seen at any time since the French fathers of the Louisiana oreoles colonised the delta."
The French settlement of Louisiana dates from 1699. Its founder was a brave and adventurous Canadian naval officer, whose family name seems to have been indifferently D'Iberville and Bienville. While Spain and England, each for itself, were endeavouring to pre-empt the southern outlet of the Mississippi valley, France sent a small fleet to the Gulf for the same purpose, under D'Iberville's command. Finding the Spaniards in possession of Pensacola, he sailed further west, and planted his colony upon some " low, nnfertile, red, sandy bluffs, covered with live oaks and the towering yellow pine, on the eastern shore of a beautiful sheltered water, naming the bay after the small tribe of Indians that he found there, Beloxi." When D'Iberville went away, after a very short sojourn, he left his brother, Sanvalle, in charge, who, dying two years later, was succeeded by another brother, Bienville, then little over twenty. But Bienville ruled the colony wisely and well, and did not finally leave his post until, an old Knight of St. Louis turning his sixty-fifth year, he had more than earned the title fondly given him by the Creoles, of " the father of Louisiana." He it was who projected and founded New Orleans, and if there had been more men like Bienville, and the French kings had left them more to their own devices and meddled less with the home affairs of their colonies, France would not now be utterly excluded from the North-American continent. Bat from its very beginning
French colonial policy was essentially bad, and is bad still. England profits by experience, but France seems to be almost as unteachable as Spain. Bienville advocated the immigration of agriculturists and their settlement on the alluvial banks of the Mississippi ; yet for years he was overruled by the commercial policy of the merchant monopolist, Anthony Crozat, to whom the King had farmed the province. But when Crozat's privileges fell into the hands of John Law, Director-General of the famous Mississippi Company, Bienville's counsels prevailed, and in 1718 the city of New Orleans was founded. The site,
though in a swamp, and only ten feet above sea level at the water's edge, and liable to frequent inundation, was so far well chosen that nobody has ever been able to point out a better. The first clearing was made by a detachment of twenty-five convicts, as many carpenters, and a few voyageurs, under Bien- vine's personal command. The scattered huts they built on the banks of the great river were the beginnings of a city destined in a later age to become the capital of a new civilisation, and the greatest trade emporium of the Southern States. But Bienville, more than once superseded, and perpetually thwarted and harassed, was at last finally dismissed; and after sixty-three years of floods, famines, Indian wars, and corrupt government—despite which the colony contrived to exist and even to grow—it suited the purpose of an unprincipled Court secretly to convey Louisiana—land and people, all and singular —to the King of Spain. Dire was the dismay of the Creoles.
Bad as had been the rale of France, they preferred it to that of Spain. But all their efforts to evade the stroke were in vain.
Their petitions to the French King remained unanswered, their envoy was refused an audience, and they were compelled to submit. But after a short experience of their new masters the colonists rebelled, and drove the Spaniards out of the colony, yet only to be reconquered and severely punished, so that their second condition was worse than their first.
The commercial policy of Spain was, if possible, more repres- sive and benighted than that of France. Yet there was little to choose between them. Says Mr. Cable :—
" Crozet, Law, Louis XV., Charles III., whoever at one time or another was the transatlantic master of Louisiana, managed its affairs on the same bad principle. To none of them had a colony any inherent rights. They entered into possession as cattle are let into pasture or break into a field. It was simply a commercial venture projected in the interest of the sovereigns' or monopolists' revenues, and restrictions were laid or indulgences bestowed upon it merely as those interests seemed to require. And so the Mississippi Delta, until better ideas could prevail, could not show other than a gaunt, ill- nourished civilisation. The weight of oppression, if the governors and other officers on the spot had not evaded the letter of the royal decrees and taught the Creoles to do the same, would actually have crushed the life oat of the province."
In fact, the France of Louis XV. and the Spain of Charles IlL tried by turns to convert the nascent settlement into a
volonie d'exploitation, precisely what the Third Republic is trying to do with Tonquin. But the system did not pay then
more than it pays now. Antony Crozat, the monopolist, became bankrupt, Law's Company was driven to other fields of enter- prise, and the French King lost by Louisiana millions more than he gained. As for Spain, the Spanish governor, O'Reilly, wrote in 1764 :-
" I found the English in complete possession of the commerce of the colony. They had in this town their traders and merchants, with open stores and shops, and I can safely assert that they pocketed nine•tenths of the money spent here I drove off all the English traders and other individuals of that nation whom I found in this town, and I shall admit here none of their vessels."
With very slight alteration this description would apply to the present French colonies of Cochin-China and Tonquin, so slow are Governments to learn that freedom is the only sere guarantee of prosperity.
In 1801 Louisiana was ceded to France by a secret treaty, which, however, did not take effect until March, 1803 ; and the month following Napoleon sold the newly-recovered colony to the United States for four millions sterling. He was about to rush into war with the English, and saw that it would be sure to fall into their hands. "They have twenty war-ships in the Gulf of Mexico !" he exclaimed passionately to his Ministers.
"I have not a moment to lose in putting it out of their reach. The American Commissioners only require of me one town in Louisiana ; but I already consider the colony as entirely lost." Walking in the garden of St. Cloud, he said to Marbois, whom he trusted more at the time than Talleyrand,—" Well, you have charge of the treasury. Let them give you one hundred million francs, pay their 'own claims, and take the whole country." When the Minister said something about the rights of the colonists, " Send your maxims to the London market," retorted the future Emperor with characteristic cynicism.
And so Louisiana became a State of the Union before France became an empire, thereby escaping many tribulations and securing a prosperity which, notwithstanding wars, foreign and civil, tornadoes, floods, epidemics, and some other vicissitudes, has gone on increasing, and, so far, shows no sign of having reached its apogee. Bienville's huts have developed into a city
of 216,000 inhabitants, with 560 miles of streets, 140 miles of tramways, and property estimated at $112,000,000. Though the imports of New Orleans are light, no other American city save New York has so great an annual export. Her magnificent harbour is crowded with shipping, and in 1883 more than two
million bales of cotton passed her gates for home and foreign markets.
All this and much more concerning the Creoles of Louisiana, their habits, their history, and their characteristics, on which considerations of time and apace forbid us to dwell, are told in Mr. Cable's lively and entertaining pages.