You are browsing the archive for 2013 July.

The Six Crew Members Who Deserted “La Bergere” in 1785

July 28, 2013 in American History, general history, Louisiana History

There are always stories behind the story.  There are always stories hidden within the story.  This is one of them.  Let’s begin by thinking about how the headlines today often portray cruise ship horrors where passengers are stranded with non–working toilets, no hot water, no electricity, incompetent and non-responsive foreign crews and other such inconveniences for just a few days.  The passengers disembark with YouTube videos of their “trip from hell” eager to post their indignant protest over their recent voyage.  Their ordeal makes the nightly news around the country and eager lawyers even emerge to get those ship passengers their due for their ruined voyage. Ruined trips aren’t a modern problem.  Ship horror stories are nothing new, not even on the obscure pages of history, just ask any Cajun or Acadian historian.

More than 700,000 Cajun people are living today in Louisiana.  Even more of us live outside Louisiana.  Virtually every Cajun in the United States shared one common bond — their Acadian ancestors most likely arrived on one or more of these seven ships (Le Bon Papa, La Bergere, Le Beaumont, St. Remi, L’Amitie, L Ville d Archangel, and La Caroline).  They were among the survivors of Le Grand Derangement brought upon them by the British who stole their lands, burned their homes, destroyed and separated families, and sent the remainder into exile and imprisonment.  Out of eighteen thousand Acadians, more than half our ancestors perished during this cruel and tragic chapter in history that began in 1755.  Thirty years of exile later, nearly sixteen hundred of these Acadians jumped at the chance to relocate in the New World once again.  However, their journey back to the promised land began with another hardship, that of the voyage.

Fears of being ship wrecked were the least of the worries of "impressed" sailors.

Fears of being ship wrecked were the least of the worries of “impressed” sailors.

The hidden story here revolves around the second of the seven ships, “La Bergere.”  It’s not about the Acadians onboard who had no privacy with seventy-three families consisting of two-hundred and seventy-three people of all ages crowded and cramped on a small ship of three hundred tons, with two decks and one lone cannon. The passengers slept on the floor and in hammocks.  No running water of course, in 1785, but they did have barrels of water.  No toilets of course.  There was certainly no way to bathe.  The only fresh meals anyone had were what could be caught on the voyage.   This supplemented the daily ration of bread, hard biscuits, cheese, salted and dried cod fish, salt meats and light vinegar.   Taking into consideration that their voyage would last 95 long days and nights, the inconvenience of a stranded and limping cruise ship passenger of today — probably isn’t worth mentioning.  They would have laughed at modern day ideas of suffering.

On a side note, it is worth mentioning that the passengers of this ship’s ordeal did not end once they arrived in New Orleans.  You see, they traveled minus their luggage and trunks. Nothing got loaded on the ship.   They arrived in New Orleans on August 15, 1785.  Two months later, they were still in New Orleans awaiting their luggage that never arrived on subsequent ships.  All their few possessions, lost once again.  It is also interesting that while history did not record any disease traveling with this ship, as it did on some of the Acadian sister ships, it is known that six elderly passengers died during that trip.  Another aspect is that seven children were born during that voyage.  That should have made the cramped and uncomfortable accommodations quite a tale to tell for the other passengers, not to mention the women who bore those infants and what they must have endured arriving in this New World.

There is a bigger story here.  It isn’t found in the mystery about the ship that was owned by Mosneron Dupin or the elusive Captain Alexandre Deslande.  The hidden story within this Acadian story is instead — about the crew of twenty-five men, with the oldest being the cook at age 48 and the youngest crew member being a 13 year old cabin boy.  It lies in the question of why six of the crew members would abandon this ship just ten days before it arrived in New Orleans and what became of them?



CAPTAIN – Alexandre Deslandes (age 32) of Nantes

SECOND CAPTAIN – Rene Brechard (age 35) of Sables of “Olonne

LIEUTENANT – Jospeh Legle (age 19) of Paimboeuf

SURGEON – Ange Bouffart (age 24) of Rennes

PILOT – Pierre Darbefeuille (age 19) of Nantes


BOATSWAIN – Francis Frioux (age 41) of Paimboeuf

COXSWAIN – Jean Guillaume (age 34) of Montoir

FIRST CARPENTER – Julien Thaul (age 33) of Paimboeuf

SECOND CARPENTER – Luc Clereux (age 36) of Pellerin


Antoine Buchete (age 48) of Nantes


Louis Fantou (age 38) of Nantes

Guinolay Forest (age 24) of Batz,

Jean Vacares (age 23) of Genes

Renes Camus (age 47) of Vannes

Nicholas Lhuilier (age 23) of Oron in Lorraine

Felix Felon (age 24) of Avignon

Francois Sevin (age 19) of Dinan

Jean Chedanteau (age 20) of Montoir

Jean-Pierre Marchand (age 20) of Paimboeuf (2nd Cooper)

Yves Goudelin (age 21) of Diocese of St. Brieuc

Pierre Marce (age 20 of St. Mars-du-Desert

Nicolas Blouin (age 25) of Angers


Jean Normand (age 15) of Bourgneuf

Francois Friou (age 13) of Paimboeuf

Francois Audat (age 14) of Clisson

The exodus of seamen began in August 4th, 1785 when Louis Fantou and Nicolas Lhuilier deserted the ship at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  The very next day — Francois Seven, Jean Chedanteau, Yves Goudelin, and Nicolas Blouin would also abandon ship.  That was half of the seamen onboard “La Bergere.”  Did they swim to shore?  Did they row ashore?  Where did they go?  Remember, in 1785, the penalties for deserting ship were not only the loss of pay, but also under penalty of probable hanging.  Were conditions that awful?  Was there a mutiny involved?  Or did these men plan all along to seek their fortunes in the New World and never intended to go back to France?  What would become of them?

Only one of them, Nicolas Blouin, would emerge in official records to go on living in New Orleans and to have descendants today.  Two others, however, unofficially would re-emerge as crew members some thirty years later under the employ of Jean and Pierre Laffite.  They were both in their fifties when they fought in the Battle of New Orleans.  The other three disappeared from all known recorded history.  One single fact emerges about the seamen, both those who stayed with the ship and those who deserted — all of the twelve seamen started that voyage as “impressed” sailors — meaning that they were forcibly placed into service onboard that ship.  It was a voyage that unlike their passengers they did not take willingly.  One can only suppose that this was the story beneath the reasons they may have deserted.

Gideon Granger, a Postmaster General with an Intelligence Gathering Mission

July 24, 2013 in American History, general history

Gideon Granger (wikipedia)

Gideon Granger received his appointment as Postmaster General from the newly elected president,Thomas Jefferson, in 1801. Because Granger had been instrumental in helping Jefferson obtain the office of President in a highly contested and extremely confusing election — his running mate Aaron Burr very nearly beat him to the presidency — Jefferson was very much beholden to Granger. It was understood between the two of them that some very high office would be awarded to Granger as a reward for his services, but which office exactly it was not immediately clear.

Here is a copy of the letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote Granger offering the job with the United States Postal Service, reproduced here from the Raab Collection.

A facsimile of the original letter from Jefferson offering Granger the job

A facsimile of the original letter from Jefferson offering Granger the job (from the Rabb Collection)

The letter is dated October 12, 1801. Jefferson writes: “Since my letter of this day sevennight [sic], the question as to the public office has taken a turn different from what was then expressed.  Neither of the two then named is to be vacant, but instead thereof the Postmaster general’s place, this being of equal grade, emolument and importance. I propose it to your acceptance with the same satisfaction as either of the others. Perhaps you will consider it as more eligible than the treasury, as that would have obliged you to call on your friends to become your sureties for of 150,000 D, that being the sum fixed by law. Judging the feelings of others by my own, this would not have been pleasant. Let me hear from you immediately while the same reserve as to others is kept up.” Jefferson closes with “affectionate respect.”

 Gideon Granger served as Postmaster General from November 28, 1801 to March 17, 1814. He was still the Postmaster General during most of James Madison’s presidency. Here is a letter from Gideon Granger to President James Madison from 1811.


A letter from Gideon Granger to James Madison (from eBay)

Granger writes: “in consequence of receiving the enclosed note I have diverted the mails to be kept open this night, except the express mail — “.

What were the duties of the Postmaster General during the tenure of Gideon Granger?  When was it all right to divert the mail, express or otherwise? What sorts of  direct communication between the President and the Postmaster General concerning the mail, its delivery and its content would have been appropriate? Was intelligence gathering part of the mission of the Postmaster General’s Office?

The historian Henry Adams had this to say about Gideon Granger: “…the most active politician was Gideon Granger, the Postmaster-General, whose ‘intimacy with some of those in the secret,’ as Jefferson afterward testified, gave him ‘opportunities of searching into their proceedings.’ Every day during this period Granger made a confidential report to the President ”

Granger had Jefferson’s ear, and when he wanted to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 1809, Jefferson wrote to the then current  president, James Madison, in support of Granger’s bid for that high judicial office. Madison did not accede to this suggestion, and instead he appointed Joseph Story, even though Story had not supported the Embargo Act sponsored by Jefferson.

Historian Roger Kennedy writes: “Granger remained Postmaster General but went into skulking opposition to Madison. There is strong evidence that he conspired with Clinton to replace the president in 1812, but  until 1814 Madison still deferred to Jefferson’s expressed confidence in Granger. In that year .. the Postmaster went into outright revolt, appointing Madison’s political enemies to lucrative postmasterships. Madison had had enough and threatened to fire him. Granger turned … to blackmail. First he attempted to terrify Madison himself with disclosures about his wife. While Dolley Madison was a widow under reduced circumstances, Burr may have been only a friend, but , Granger let it be known, others had been more than friends, and he had letters to prove it.” (Kennedy 276).

Eventually Madison dismissed Granger, and the  Postmaster ended his days as a country squire. However, for twelve years the United States Postal Service was presided over by a blackmailer, a letter opener and a government spy. What effect did this have on the correspondence between and among citizens?

One thing that people did was to write in cipher. These ciphers were often simple substitutions and not as sophisticated as today’s encryption. But such attempts to deal with government surveillance of private communication were sometimes met with countermeasures from the US government and by other governments. Sometimes when a letter was opened and found to be in cipher, it was simply not delivered.


An Excerpt from the Google Books version of Charles Felton Pidgin’s “Theodosia: The First Gentlewoman of her time”

Corruption begets corruption. A system of rewards of  public office  for political allies can have a lasting effect on the communication and morale of an entire nation, and this can lead to disastrous results both in times of peace and during war.


 Adams, Henry.

Kennedy, Roger G.

Pidgin, Chares Felton.

Suggested Reading

If you are interested in reading a fictional account of how Gideon Granger’s postmastership inhibited communication during the war of 1812, try this book:

Julian’s Sophistic

July 1, 2013 in Ancient History, general history, Roman History

The First Sophistic was in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, including such Sophists as Gorgias, Protagoras, Isocrates and Antiphon.

In the Second Sophistic of the early Roman Empire, the study and practice of classical Greek rhetoric and oratory was encouraged by the Patrician class in all the cities of the imperial provinces. Wealthy Plebeians were also well educated.

The main figures of this second era of Sophists are described in Philostratus’ book, Lives of the Sophists, which was written a hundred years before the birth of Julian in 331.

As a descendant of Constantine the Great, Julian was tutored by the most learned bishops of his time. Eusebius of Nicomedia, a famous Christian writer, was his first teacher. Later he studied under the Arian bishop, George of Cappadocia, whose library of classical books was quite extensive.

When Julian studied in Athens, which was still the center of learning, he met Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Aedesius, a Neoplatonist, whose influence was deep.

In 361 Julian assumed the throne of empire in Constantinople. Perhaps his most important edict as emperor was to disallow Christian teachers from using the pagan classics in their schools. As most Greeks and Romans devoutly valued the ancient literature, they would then not send their children to schools without it.

During his retreat from Persia in 363, he was killed by a spear, perhaps from a Persian hand as his troops were always loyal to him.

Had Julian reigned for many years, a Third Sophistic might be named for him.

The Loeb Library has published Julian’s surviving works in three volumes.

Some fifteen years ago in the fifth volume of Cleopatra’s Kingdom of Idolatry, I wrote a long series of sonnets on Julian.
Book Seven No. 10
The Julianic Choir

“As shapeable as sculpture is the soul,”
Said Julian, who exposed ideals, on Rome
Impressing idols, nobleness in whole
Composure bodily conveying home.

As subject as a masterpiece to shape
He thought the soul, who framed her by the best
Distinctions, if at effigies she’d gape.
The fairest mythic forms he proffered, lest

Upon mistaken wrenches she be wrought,
Ignobly rapt, unspritely rendered, roused
By Christian promises, which come to naught.
An unmistaken beauty he espoused,

Poetic comeliness preferring, not
Fanatic odium in its faction hot.”
Book Seven No. 11
The Julianic Choir

“In Julian’s unmistaken kirk see Zeus
The king. This dome, where heaven is redone,
Olympian in design, may prayer induce,
As humble recognitions are begun.

This house, which shapes our hearts, where loveliness
Is most idolatrous and pulchritude
Divinely prayerful, we observers bless,
In upward adoration unsubdued.

Here guiltless effigies of God are meant
In bodily monition to bestead
Mankind. Their moderate physiques prevent
Excess, propitious regimens instead

Presenting. Shapeable they find us, showing
Their tutorage, the best advice bestowing.”
Book Seven No. 12
The Julianic Choir

“Uncouth religion, quelling reason, far
Too ardent for the tolerance of wit,
Mankind’s incognizance exerting, war
Against cognition winning, opposite

To visual truth, adept in threats, bad dreams
Adopting, draws the Roman Empire from
Her rational pursuits. Unfit extremes
This faith pursues, in fixity become

Vexatious. Its ungodly certitude
Can brook no Gods of poetry. They are chilled,
Parnassos is congealed, as priests detrude
The fluency of thought, so lightly stilled.

A creed, too priestly for the craft of verse,
Pretends to sanctity, a sacred curse.”
Book Seven No. 15
The Julianic Choir

“Romans, lest icon-crackers, masterpiece-
Beheaders, marble-bursters in their kirks
Return, to Julian cry, beseeching, ‘Cease
These shivers of perfection, graven works

Protect!’ Thereat this perspicacious guard
Of pagan wellness pacifies the sect
Of threats. His peaceful stature can retard
The waste, which monkish routs in disrespect

For Zeus amass. A tranquil rescue from
Their rage he shall provide, of bright avail
Averse to darkness. Dim with odium,
As hatred stultifies their heads, these pale,

Monastic militants dissolve like clouds,
When as a facial Helios Julian faces crowds.”

Skip to toolbar