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One Vote Made Thomas Jefferson President

May 18, 2016 in American History, general history, History, Legal History, Louisiana History

Claiborne and President Thomas Jefferson with a map of the Louisiana Purchase

Claiborne and President Thomas Jefferson with a map of the Louisiana Purchase

 

Astonishingly, only one vote from a very young Tennessee state representative handed Thomas Jefferson the presidency of the United States in the 1800 Election.

The 25-year-old who cast that ballot was William C. C. Claiborne, who as a direct result of his vote that spring of 1801 was appointed governor of the Territory of Mississippi a few months later by a grateful Jefferson. The Federalist governor in place, Winthrop Sargent, had faced heavy criticism for his authoritarian rule of the territory, and the residents there did not mourn his removal from office although Sargent bitterly complained in the press.

In the Presidential Election of 1800, the US Constitution had not required that electors should designate on their ballots the person they voted for as president, and the one voted for as vice president, but that the one having the highest number of votes should be president, and the one having the next highest should be vice president. This made the end vote of the Electoral College confusing, although the popular vote had given the Jefferson-Burr ticket a majority.

Incumbent President John Adams had lost the popular vote dramatically to candidates Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, which threw the final decision into the Electoral College. But the Electoral College gave Jefferson and Burr an equal number of votes, so the House of Representatives had to decide which of them should be president, the choice to be made by ballot, and each state would have but one vote.

According to a historian writing in 1830, “the contest was extremely animated, for on this occasion the great federal and republican parties came into violent conflict…when they were returned with an equal number of votes to the house of representatives, it was supposed of course that the public voice would be obeyed, and Jefferson made president. The federal party, however, determined to support Colonel Burr; they knew very well the political sentiments of every member of the house of representatives, and they early ascertained that the election depended on the vote of Mr. Claiborne, the sole representative from the state of Tennessee.”

Claiborne was thought to be especially vulnerable to being influenced as he was young with grand ambitions, plus the most important factor was he was poor. Members of the Federalist Party sent several delegations to the holder of the key vote to try to bribe him with various offers. Claiborne refused all of them, saying he thought it proper and honorable to obey the public voice on the matter.

The ballots began to be cast in eary 1801, and the states were equally divided on the first ballot; several other ballots took place, and the result was the same, when the House adjourned.

News of the tied vote spread like wildfire. The importance of Claiborne’s vote was so critical to the contest that when Congress began voting again, he went armed to the House, as no one could predict what violence might erupt. The public was barred from the proceedings as a safety precaution.

For several days and sometimes long into the nights, the votes were the same. All in all, a total of 36 ballots had been cast, with the same number of votes for Jefferson and Burr. On every vote, Claiborne had voted for Jefferson, and declared that he felt satisfied that Jefferson was the choice of the people, and that he intended to stick with that vote, no matter what the consequences.

On the last vote, the Vermont representative turned in a blank ballot, voting for no one, and Claiborne had the tie-breaking vote for Jefferson.

A native of Virginia born in 1775, Claiborne did not have the advantages of inherited wealth like some of his fellow Virginians in the late 1700s, but he made up for that by careful studies and through associations with benefactors who helped him attain important political positions while he was still a very young man.

He had attended Richmond Academy, and the College of William and Mary, then worked as a clerical assistant studying law in Congress at New York City, and then at Philadelphia. Among the prominent people at Philadelphia who noted Claiborne’s industriousness was Thomas Jefferson, who offered to lend him some books for his studies.

Claiborne returned to Richmond where he passed the bar, then at the request of his friend and later Tennessee governor General John Sevier, Claiborne moved to Sullivan County, Tennessee, where he soon was named one of the five members of the Tennessee delegation to form the newly-minted state’s constitution. Gov. Sevier made one of his first acts the appointment of Claiborne as a judge of the supreme court of law and equity of the state, citing his universally acknowledged merits despite the fact Claiborne had not quite turned 22 years old.

Even at that young age, Claiborne set his sights high, aiming to become district judge of Tennessee. He asked his influential friends in Virginia  William Fleming and Edmund Randolph to recommend him to President George Washington for appointment in 1797. Fleming said in his letter to Washington that Claiborne’s “superior talents, great sobriety, and intense application to business distinguish him from the generality of young gentlemen of his age and should he be so fortunate as to succeed in his application, I am persuaded you will never have cause to regret the appointment.”

Claiborne did not get the district judge position as Tennessee Congressman Andrew Jackson told President Washington in his letter regarding the matter that “Mr. Claibourn (sic) is an amiable young Man, but perhaps not possessed of sufficient Experience to fill such an important office (district judge).”

Somewhat ironically, when Jackson vacated his representative seat to run for senator later in 1797, Claiborne successfully ran in the special election for Jackson’s former post in the House of Representatives, winning by a large majority over more seasoned and wealthier opponents. Only 22 years old, he was the youngest man who had ever appeared on the floor of Congress. He was re-elected to a full term in the House in 1798.

Jackson and Claiborne’s lives would intertwine more than a few times in subsequent years, and they never were on friendly terms. Jackson had been an enemy of Sevier, who was one of Claiborne’s mentors.

In 1803 at the transfer of Louisiana territory from France to the United States, President Jefferson furthered Claiborne’s prominence by naming him and General James Wilkinson to accept the transfer on the part of the US. From the outset, it was understood that Claiborne was tacit governor of the Territory of Orleans, and he moved from Natchez, Miss., to New Orleans.

In 1804, Jefferson officially appointed Claiborne governor of the Territory of Orleans, although he noted in his letter that Claiborne had not been his first choice for that honor. Jefferson had wanted his old friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, for the post, but Lafayette had turned him down. An earnest applicant for the governorship had been Andrew Jackson, who must have fumed that the young man he had considered inexperienced had won the job over him, in a large part due to that presidential vote.

When Louisiana became a state, in 1812, Claiborne had gained enough respect and admiration from the French and American citizens there that he easily became the first governor.

According to a biographical entry in “The National Portrait Gallergy of Distinguised Americans” when Louisiana was invaded by the British, Gov. Claiborne “voluntarily surrendered to General Jackson, when he arrived, the command of the militia of his state, and consented himself to receive his orders, a measure which he thought a just tribute to the military experience of General Jackson, and which he adopted, also, to avoid to his state all the expenses of the equipment and movements of her militia, which would have fallen upon her alone had he kept the command.”

Jackson made sure Claiborne and his select group of militia were nowhere near Chalmette, the main scene of the action which would culminate in the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815. On Dec. 23, 1814, Claiborne and his corps had received orders from Jackson to go to Gentilly to occupy the important pass of Chef Menteur as it was feared the British might try a diversion there. Claiborne and his group stayed there and fortified it, remaining at the spot through the whole contest and missing any action against the British.

Upon the expiration of his term as governor in 1817, Claiborne was elected to represent Louisiana in the Senate of the United States but before he could do so, he fell victim to liver disease on Nov 23, 1817, at the age of 42. He had lived a relatively brief life, but had left many legacies of his skill as both a statesman and patriot.

As a youth, Claiborne had written to President Washington that the “primary object of my life is to be useful to my Country,” and that “I shall labour to acquire the esteem of the present, and of after Ages for good and virtuous Actions.”

If Claiborne had been appointed district judge by Washington, he would not have been seated as a representative during the dramatic House vote of 1801. Burr, not Jefferson, may have won by a tie-breaking vote. The Louisiana Purchase may not have occurred. The Lewis and Clark Expedition would not have happened. Everything which evolved from Jefferson’s presidency would not have occurred, or would have happened differently. The value of one vote, and one man’s decision, in Claiborne’s case, was enormous.

 

 

The Letter That Tried to Scuttle the Baratarians’ Pardon

October 10, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History

 

Poindexter Letter To Monroe

Poindexter Letter To Monroe

If George Poindexter had been Sec. of War or President during the end of the War of 1812, the Laffites and Baratarians would never have been pardoned for their past smuggling offenses even though they had given service and assistance to General Andrew Jackson at New Orleans.

Poindexter, who served as a volunteer aide de camp with Major General Carroll at Chalmette, took time away from his role as a judge at Natchez, Miss., to assist Jackson in defending New Orleans from invading British forces.

As soon as he returned home to Natchez, he wasted no time in firing off a confidential letter about his New Orleans experiences to his friend, Sec. of War James Monroe. The content about the pardon process is interesting as it contains some new information:

“Even a band of pirates was drawn into our ranks who were under prosecution of their crimes, and who had been invited to join the British while they occupied the Island near Lake Barataria. You will I hope sir, pardon me for stating to you, the manner, the circumstances of their transition from piracy to Patriotism, in the notorious Lafitte and his banditti. Edward Livingston, whose character is better known to you than myself, had contrived to attach himself and one or two of his adherents to the staff of Genl Jackson, as Volunteer Aids DeCamp (sic). The pirates had previously engaged him as their counsel to defend them in the District Court of the United States at New Orleans, and were by stipulation to give him the sum of twenty thousand dollars in case he succeeded in acquitting them. Knowing as he did that the evidence against them was conclusive, and that an impartial jury necessarily convict them, he advised the leaders of them to make a tender of their services to Genl Jackson in case he would come under a pledge to recommend them to the clemency of the Executive of the United States. Their services were accepted, and the condition acceeded to. How far the country is indebted to them for its safety it does not become me even to suggest an opinion. It is, however, a fact perfectly well known that their energy has been drawn by Mr. Livingston, their counsel; and there can be but little doubt that everything of an official stamp which is presented by the government respecting them, will emanate from the same source. If they are redeemed from  Judicial investigation of their crimes with which they stand charged, his reward will be twenty thousand dollars of their piratical plunderings.

What the practice of Civilized Governments has been on similar occasions I am not fully prepared to say, nor do I remember an instance where pirates falling into the Country and under the power of one belligerent, have been offered protection and pardon of their offences, in case they would take up arms against the other belligerent. They are considered as enemies alike to both belligerents but I have thought it a duty incumbent on me as a good citizen to state the facts which came within my knowledge, as to the motives which led to the employment of these men, without intending them to have any other, than the weight which is your Judgment they merit.

It would seem to be an obvious inference from the past conduct of this band of robbers that if Louisiana should be again invaded, and they are enlarged, they would be restrained by no moral obligation from affording facilities to the Enemy.

I indulge the hope that you will pardon the freedom with which I address you on the present occasion, from a recollection, that when I last had the honor of an interview with you in Washington, you were so good as to allow me the liberty of writing to you confidentially. In that light, I wish you will view this communication, in so far as it may conflict with the wishes and opinions of General Jackson, relative to the grant of a pardon to the pirates, whom he has thought fit to employ in our service.”

Signed, George Poindexter

Poindexter’s rather snippy revelation about Livingston’s fee for representing the Baratarians may or may not have been true. It could have just been battlefield hearsay. If the fee was really $20,000 in 1814 dollars, it would be the close equivalent to $200,000 today.

The letter implies but does not say that Livingston influenced Jackson to accept the Baratarians’ service as a way to ensure he would get his enormous fee. Poindexter hatefully says “it does not become me even to suggest an opinion” relative to the Baratarians’ contribution to the safety of the country. He conveniently forgets the vital contribution of the Laffite flints and powder to Jackson, plus the Baratarian cannoneers’ service. Without them, Poindexter likely would have found himself cooling his heels in a British prison ship on Feb. 5, 1815, instead of comfortably at home in his Natchez mansion.

Thankfully, however, Poindexter’s letter was much too late to even have a chance to stop the presidential pardons for the Baratarians. The same day Poindexter wrote his letter, Monroe sent a letter to Gov. Claiborne enclosing the signed pardons. They had been rushed through the pardon process at record speed, especially considering President James Madison and his cabinet were basically dislocated in Washington at the time and conducting business somewhat haphazardly from various houses. By the time Poindexter’s letter was in Washington, the pardons were in Gov. Claiborne’s hands.

There also happened to be another reason the pardons were accelerated: Monroe was secretly something of an ally to the Laffites and their men, through their mutual friend, Fulwar Skipwith, president of the Louisiana State Senate in 1814, and former President of the short-lived Republic of West Florida in 1810.

Along with Magloire Guichard, Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Louisiana state legislature, Skipwith had sponsored a resolution to grant amnesty to “the privateers lately resorting to Barataria, who might be deterred from offering their services for fear of persecution.” This was done around mid December 1814, not long before General Jackson shut the legislature down due to civil unrest within it. Skipwith must have informed Monroe about this very soon after it happened, with Jackson accepting the services of the Baratarians who were freed from prison, plus others who had not been caught in the September 1814 raid on Barataria, like the Laffite brothers. Due to wartime blockades of sea traffic by the British, letters had to be sent by post rider back east, with the time to delivery often being as much as a month or more. The request for presidential pardons from James Madison must have been made before the Battle of New Orleans, given that Monroe enclosed the pardons in his letter to Claiborne on Feb. 5, 1814.

The real reason the presidential pardons were fast-tracked lies in an understanding of the web of influence and political power between the Laffites, Skipwith, and Monroe. Even if Poindexter’s letter trying to defuse any possibility of pardons for the Baratarians had been received in time for consideration, in all probability it would never have been read by President Madison.

Monroe and Skipwith were old friends, from at least their days together in France, where Monroe was ambassador in 1795 when he named Skipwith to be the US Consul-General to France. Both men worked in the Napoleonic court together, fine tuning the Louisiana Purchase. Both men were Masonic brothers. Also, both men shared strong ties to Thomas Jefferson, Skipwith by relation as a distant cousin, and Monroe as a neighbor and very close friend.

There is a question of how Skipwith became associated with the Laffites. The most likely manner occurred not long after the Virginian moved to a plantation in Spanish West Florida in 1809. He started running privateers, at about the same time the Laffites were setting up their own smuggling and privateering business. No paper proof has been found linking them, but the actions of Skipwith in 1814 favorable to the Laffites would seem to indicate that they were, indeed, associates of some kind. Thus the Laffites had friends in some very high places.

Only a handful of Baratarians ever retrieved their pardons. The Laffites never applied or received any. Nor did Dominique Youx, the main gunner at Battery No. 3, or Renato Beluche, also a gunner at Battery No. 3.

As for what happened to George Poindexter, the man who wanted to deny pardons to the Baratarians despite their service to Jackson, he became the second governor of Mississippi and had a moderately successful political career.

Skipwith and Monroe kept up their correspondence for several years and apparently were lifelong friends.

For further reading about the hidden gems of early American history, I heartily recommend perusing Daniel Preston’s fine “A Comprehensive Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe.” Thanks go to him for providing the Poindexter letter copy from the Monroe Papers. For more about Fulwar Skipwith, the man with the memorable name, and the Republic of West Florida, see William C. Davis’ “The Rogue Republic, How Would-Be Patriots Waged the Shortest Revolution in American History.”

 

 

 

 

 

John Dick’s Letter To Monroe Honoring the Baratarians

August 4, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Legal History, Texas History

 

John Dick letter to James Monroe

John Dick letter to James Monroe

John Dick, US District Attorney for Louisiana in 1815, was a man with a conscience, a strong devotion to what was fair and just, even when it conflicted with an earlier opinion that he had fostered. He had a keen sense of respect for those who had earned special consideration, like the Laffites and the Baratarians with their service and supplies in the battles against the British below New Orleans.

Even after President James Madison gave a blanket pardon to all the Baratarians who had served, Dick wanted to make sure that the powers that be in Washington knew exactly the extent of the privateersmen’s help, so he sat down at his New Orleans desk on March 17, 1815, and wrote a letter detailing the events to Secretary of State James Monroe.

It is nothing less than astonishing that Dick wrote about the Baratarians at all, considering when he had been a practicing attorney earlier, they had been thorns in his side in courtroom battles, to the extent that a man of lesser character would be loath to praise at all those from the “Isle of Barataria.” Dick had, after all, been the attorney for Commodore Daniel T. Patterson and Col. George T. Ross in their court actions the fall of 1814 for proceeds from ships and goods seized during the US raid against Grande Terre of September 1814. Moreover, Ross was Dick’s best friend.

Plus during that same fall of 1814 as the winds of war blew toward New Orleans from Great Britain, Dick had grown so exasperated by the actions of former district attorney John Grymes who had chosen to represent the Baratarians, that he openly insulted Grymes by accusing him of having been “seduced out of the path of honor and duty by the bloodstained gold of pirates.” Grymes responded by challenging him to a duel, in which both were wounded, Dick with a shot to one thigh, and Grymes with a shot to one calf.

Thus not only had Dick been against the Baratarians in court, he had even been wounded in a duel because he had insulted their attorney!

So why did Dick write to Monroe in favor of the Baratarians in March of 1815, most particularly since his friend Ross had just left New Orleans for Washington to petition Congress for monies acquired from the raid on Barataria? At the time, the Laffites were seeking restitution of these same monies in New Orleans court.

Dick heard the Laffites and Baratarians’ side in the court system,and although he took no action in New Orleans in their favor, he deliberately wrote to the secretry of state and went against the stance of Ross, who had just left New Orleans for Washington to petition Congress for monies acquired from the September 1814 US raid on Barataria. The district attorney obviously thought Ross’ motives for profiting off of the raid were personally unsettling, and wanted Washington to know the truth, least that truth be lost in the flurry of post-battle self-aggrandisements among others who had served with Major General Andrew Jackson at the plains of Chalmette. It reflects great resolve on Dick’s part that he took such an action considering he had a permanent limp from that duel he had fought regarding his insult to the Baratarians’ lawyer just a few months’ previous.

Dick’s letter to Monroe, now in the National Archives, came to light some 200 years later during a search for another research topic. Daniel Preston, editor of the wonderful annotated Complete Catalogue of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe (2001), kindly made a full copy of Dick’s letter available.

Dick begins his letter by acknowledging receipt of a letter from Monroe of Feb. 8, 1815, along with a copy of James Madison’s presidential pardon of the Baratarians.

“The measures which have already taken place with respect to some of the persons connected with the association lately existing at Barataria, and the reasons and authority upon which these measures were founded I should like the liberty to lay before you__

At the period of the late invasion of Louisiana, when the danger was imminent, and it had become necessary to call forth the whole means of the state to repel the invaders, strong appeal was made to Majr. General Jackson by the individuals composing the French volunteer companies on behalf of the Baratarians then in confinement. (Ed. Note: these men were taken during the Sept. 1814 raid on Grande Terre, Barataria, by the US forces under Patterson and Ross) These companies formed the most efficient force of the city, and they had, on this occasion, displayed great zeal, and manifested dispositions highly patriotick (sic). It was important that this spirit should be fostered and extended and no circumstance, it was imagined, could contribute more to these desirable ends than a compliance with the wishes thus expressed. [The Baratarians], although culpable, were brave, skilfull, and enterprising, and their associates were numerous, and their connexions (sic) extensive; it was felt, that, if to be depended upon, their personal exertions might be eminently useful, while their ardour and example would inspirit (sic) others.”

Dick continued that for the Baratarians’ conduct and reliability, “we had the assurances of a large and respectable portion of the community, guaranteed by their own national antipathies, domestic feelings, and private interests.”

After the state legislature passed a resolution along the same views as the French volunteers, Dick said on Dec. 18, 1814, everyone in confinement with offences “growing out of the unlawful association at Barataria” were freed.

“I need not say that the conduct of these men (Baratarians), throughout our late arduous and distinguished struggle, did not violate the confidence that was thus reposed in them. The commanding general has noticed their services,, and has done justice to them notwithstanding their circumstances.”

Dick said when he took office as district attorney in February 1815, he faced an unpleasant quandary as he felt it incumbent upon himself to prefer indictments upon presentments of the grand jury against the Baratarians, and it would have meant re-imprisoning those who had just served to help win the Battle of New Orleans. Dick wrote Monroe that such a move by the courts would have excited discontent in the community re the Baratarians “whose gallantry and patriotism had won the highest praise, and who deserved favors and indulgence even in their mistaken sympathies and opinions.”

He went on to say that he was “relieved from the embarassment arising from this apparent conflict of duty with policy and justice by the permit of a letter from the Attorney General of the United States addressed to his excellency Governor Claiborne, in relation to the Baratarians,which worked very satisfactorily and unequivocably, a disposition to lenity on the part of the President, even before the latter inducements to it existed.”

With such assurances of policy, Dick declared nolle prosequi in nine cases, including those of the Laffites and Dominique Youx, for offences growing out of the “unlawful establishment at Barataria.” (Nolle prosequi is the abandonment by a prosecutor of all or part of a suit or action in court.)

“It is a very Sensible Satisfaction to me to believe that my conduct in this subject has corresponded with the wishes and intentions of the Government; and that it has received, in addition to the sanction which immediately declared it, that contained in the President’s proclamation of the 6th of February,” Dick concluded.

A couple of weeks before Dick wrote his letter, and after the Baratarian indictments were dropped, Ross left New Orleans in March 1815 for Washington, D.C. to petition Congress with the help of a Congressional friend for the monies from the Barataria raid. The bill for the relief of Ross and Patterson was read for the first time in Congress on April 1816, a month before the sickly Ross died at a relative’s home in Pennsylvania. Jean Laffite went to Washington, too, but not until December 1815, when he wrote a letter to President Madison on Dec. 27 seeking recovery of the raid monies. Madison’s response is unknown, but at that time, he was not in Washington. On Feb. 22, 1817, President Madison signed into law an amended bill supported by Congress that directed the secretary of the treasury to pay Ross and Patterson $50,000 from the proceeds of the Barataria raid. It was, of course, too late for Ross. In his will, Ross directed Dick to see that the sum granted him from Barataria was paid to his wife and children in New Orleans, but proof that that happened is non-existent.

Dick quickly turned about once more in his estimation of the Baratarians and Laffites following the afterglow of the Battle of New Orleans, mostly due to piratical actions in the spring of 1815 by one of Laffite’s men, Vincent Gambie, who had been wounded in fighting on Jan. 8, 1815. He was unsuccessful in bringing Gambie to justice due to sympthetic jurists, but in late 1817 Gambie’s own men beheaded him with an axe following a dispute over money.

In 1819, prompted by an increasing turn of New Orleans public sentiment against the Laffites at their new base at Galveston, and the US capture of the Laffite’s newly acquired ship Le Brave after it seized a Spanish ship carrying American cargo  near La Balize, Dick successfully brought piracy charges against the captain and crew, the first time a Laffite ship had officially been found guilty of piracy. The captain and most of the crew were hanged in 1820, not long after the Laffites abandoned Galveston.

Dick married Mary Farar of Laurel Hill near Natchez in January 1820. By November of the same year, she died along with their stillborn child and her mother at the Dick’s vacation home at Bay St. Louis, victims of yellow fever. Dick also had it but recovered. Grief-stricken, he resigned his position as US Attorney and moved out of his opulent New Orleans house as it bore too many memories of his wife. However, US District Judge Dominick Hall died the next month , creating an opening, and President Monroe appointed Dick federal judge in New Orleans in 1821. In 1823, he married his first wife’s second cousin, Frances Ann Kenner. Their marriage would not last long. John Dick died April 23, 1824, of consumption.

In one of the strangest twists of the John Dick story, although he had felt the Baratarians deserved better treatment after their role in the Battle of New Orleans, he did not feel so warm-hearted to Jackson at the time, possibly due to his unconstitutional use of martial law in New Orleans, and the incarceration of Judge Hall. As soon as peace was declared, Dick indicted Jackson on charges of obstruction of justice for imprisoning Judge Hall when he had charged Jackson with contempt of court. When Jackson appeared in court for the indictment, he refused to answer interrogations, received a fine of $1,000, paid it and left the court, carried away by a cheering crowd of Baratarians. Years later, Jackson remembered Dick as his “sworn enemy,” but Dick actually revered Old Hickory. In his will, Judge Dick left a personal library which included four portraits on the walls, depicting George Washington, President James Monroe, Napoleon, and Jackson. Dick was a complex man with mutable ideals.

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Nathaniel Pryor: the Unsung Veteran of the Battle of New Orleans

March 4, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Native American History

Three Forks area where Nathaniel Pryor had his trading post for the Osage Nation

Three Forks area where Nathaniel Pryor had his trading post for the Osage Nation

 

 

Among the American soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans, Capt. Nathaniel Pryor is one whose name shows up in no histories of that great battle. Oddly, Capt. Pryor, who served in the 44th Infantry under Col. George T. Ross, never received his rightful credit for participating, or even any special notice by Gen. Andrew Jackson. Pryor, of Virginia and Kentucky, is better known as one of the men who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and George Clark on their exploratory expedition of the Louisiana Purchase lands to the Pacific Ocean and back in 1804-1806.

He had joined the 44th Infantry Regiment August 30, 1813, as a first lieutenant, but did not go to New Orleans until September of that year. By Oct.1, 1814, he was promoted to captain, the highest post he would attain before he was honorably discharged June 15, 1815.

During the Battle of New Orleans, Capt. Pryor fought in the center of Line Jackson alongside his brothers, James Pryor and Robert Lewis Pryor, who had come to New Orleans with the Kentucky soldiers. They were placed alongside sharpshooters from Kentucky and Tennessee. Other Pryor relatives also were there, including his cousins Nathaniel Floyd, Thomas Floyd Smith and William Floyd Turley.

Pryor came to New Orleans late in 1813 from St. Louis, where he had earlier served as a special agent working for his old leader, Missouri Territory Governor Clark. He had done a secretive spying mission for Clark on Tecumseh’s camp at Prophetstown in 1811, and his report alerted Clark and Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison about the rapid advances Tecumseh was making in gathering various tribes to his cause against the white settlers. Pryor’s report was directly responsible for spurring Harrison and US forces to attack the Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana, when they burned Prophetstown to the ground in November 1811. Although Tecumseh was absent from that battle and soon rallied back, Harrison regarded the conflict as a success, and his name was so tied to it that Tippecanoe was used as a campaign slogan in his later successful bid for the US presidency.

After his discharge from the 44th, Pryor went to the Mississippi River trading center of Arkansas Post, where he operated a business with Samuel Richards for a time. After he won a permit to trade with the Osage Nation in 1817, he proceeded up the Arkansas River to the Three Forks area of the Verdigris, Neosho, and Arkansas watershed confluence, and set up a small trading post just above the mouth of the Verdigris River.

While at the Three Forks, he became friends with a fellow Indian trader, the legendary Sam Houston, during Houston’s days with the Cherokees at Wigwam Neosho. When an opening came up at the Indian Agency near Ft. Gibson, Pryor asked Houston to recommend him for the position. Houston sent letters to both Secretary of War Jonathan H. Eaton, and his old friend, Jackson, then the president of the United States.

On Dec. 15, 1830, Houston wrote from his home at the Wigwam Neosho, almost directly across from Ft. Gibson. He implored both Eaton and President Jackson to recognize Pryor’s past service to the country by awarding him the appointment as sub agent for the Osage Nation.

He reminded Jackson that Pryor served under him at the Battle of New Orleans as a captain in the 44th Regiment: “…a ‘braver’ man never fought under the wings of your Eagle. He has done more to tame and pacificate the dispositions of the Osages to the whites, and surrounding Tribes of Indians than all other men, and has done more in promoting the authority of the U. States and compelling the Osages to comply with demands from Colonel Arbuckle than any person could have supposed.”

“Capt. Pryor is a man of amiable character and disposition__of fine sense strict honor__perfectly temperate, in his habits__and unremitting in his attention to business,” wrote Houston.

Houston added on his last visit to Washington, D.C., Sec. of War Eaton had assured him that Pryor’s claim for the subagency post with the Osage Nation would be considered, yet another man was appointed, and Pryor was passed by.

“He (Pryor) is poor, having been twice robbed by Indians of furs and merchandise some ten years since…” wrote Houston. He stressed that the claim of Pryor to the subagency appointment was “paramount to those of any man within my knowledge, I can not withhold a just tribute of regard.”

Others also were struck by Capt. Pryor’s situation. General Thomas James, who met Pryor in August 1821 along the Arkansas near the present-day site of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was quite impressed by him, and disgusted by his poor recompense for past service.

“On the reduction of army after the war, he was discharged to make way for some parlor soldier and sunshine patriot, and turned out in his old age upon the ‘world’s wide common’! I found him among the Osages, with whom he had taken refuge from his country’s ingratitude and was living among them as one of their tribe, where he may yet be, unless death has discharged the debt his country owed him,” wrote James in his autobiographical book “Three Years Among the Indians and Mexicans.”

Pryor finally was appointed sub agent for the Osages of the Verdigris on May 7, 1831. The man who had been appointed sub agent for all of the Osage Nation, D.D. McNair, was struck and killed by lightning while riding near his post on Jun 2, 1831. Pryor, who had been ill since December 1830, died June 10, 1831, at age 59 at the Union Mission Indian school located on the Neosho River about 25 miles north of the Three Forks junction.

Although Capt. Pryor never received proper honors from the US government for the roles he played in the Lewis and Clark expedition and Battle of New Orleans, his life was its own reward. He became a part of history the minute he became the first man to sign up for the Corps of Discovery. His brave spirit lives on in his namesake town of Pryor, located in northeastern Oklahoma in Mayes County, and his grave is nearby not far from Pryor Creek.

Money and fame never found Pryor, but he had been wealthy with adventures. He had traveled cross-country into the unknown to help forge a path on a dangerous trip of discovery; successfully spied on Tecumseh and his warring Indian tribes shortly before the War of 1812; nearly been burned alive in his home near Dubuque, Iowa, before escaping and fleeing hostile Indians by successfully jumping across ice floes in the Mississippi River; fought the British and helped win the Battle of New Orleans; pushed to the edges of the southwestern frontier on an expedition to Santa Fe in the early 1820s, and became a friend to the warring Osage Nation of Arkansas Territory. Few have led such a vibrant, action-filled life. Remarkably, he had gone through most of it partially disabled, as during the Lewis and Clark trip, he injured one of his shoulders so severely he had only limited use of one arm for the rest of his life.

 

 Related Articles

Eyewitness Report of Jean Laffite at Chalmette Battlefield

The First Battle of New Orleans Poem

Commemoration of a Hero: Jean Laffite at the Battle of New Orleans.

The Spy Who Led the British to the Back Door of New Orleans in 1814

January 11, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History

Capt. Robert Cavendish Spencer

Capt. Robert Cavendish Spencer

Because he was multilingual and adept at spying, the 23-year-old Capt. Robert Cavendish Spencer, an ancestor of the current British royal family, was one of the most valuable assets the British forces had during their 1814-1815 campaign to take New Orleans during the War of 1812.

“Captain Spencer (of the HMS Carron)  was very usefully employed in the expedition against New Orleans. From his knowledge of the French and Spanish languages, he was selected by Sir Alexander Cochrane to obtain information respecting the state of Louisiana, and procure guides, pilots, and c. for the approaching expedition….”  according to a biographical entry about Spencer in a British book (The Annual Biography and Obituary) in 1832.

After a mission to Pensacola where he barely escaped being captured by (General Andrew) Jackson’s troops on Nov. 6, 1814,  and his participation in the British victory at the Battle of Lake Borgne on Dec. 14, 1814, “Captain Spencer was selected to reconnoitre Lac Borgne (sic), in company with Major (John) Peddie, for the purpose of discovering where a landing could be best effected. Having obtained considerable influence over the emigrated Spaniards and Frenchmen settled as fishermen, & c., he prevailed on one of them to take Major Peddie, himself, and coxswain in a canoe up the creek; and this party actually penetrated to the suburbs of New Orleans, and walked over the very ground afterwards taken up by General Jackson as the position for his formidable line of defense.”

Spencer was said to have bribed the fishermen to guide him and Peddie, and also received from them some clothing to disguise themselves. One thing Spencer could not disguise, though, was his bright red hair.

The two British spies walked around the Villere plantation all the way to the Mississippi River levee, whose waters mapmaker Peddie declared were “sweet and good.” Having discovered an eligible spot for the disembarkation, Spencer undertook, with Colonel Thornton, and about thirty of the 85th and 95th regiments (from the HMS Tonnant), to dislodge a strong picket of the enemy, a service which they performed most efficiently, without a shot being fired, or an alarm given.” (This included the near-capture of Gabriel Villere at his home near Villere Canal. Villere was ordered by Jackson to block the Villere Canal but had not fulfilled the order. He escaped from the British successfully, got a pirogue to cross the river to the West Bank, and proceeded from there quickly to New Orleans to alert Jackson to the British incursion. Denis de La Ronde, whose plantation adjoined Villere’s, also eluded the British and got to New Orleans safely. Latour made a successful spying excursion himself to the area of the LaCoste and Villere plantations to ascertain the strength of the British troops and judged their number to be around 1,800 men, reporting back to Jackson by 1:30 p.m. Dec. 23. The Night Battle of Dec. 2 happened later that same day when Jackson decided to attack the British encampment with ground troops aided by cannon fire from the US Carolina.)

The information about Spencer is confirmed in an 1818 obscure history of the War of 1812,  A Full and Correct Account of the Military Occurrences of the Late War Between Great Britain and the United States of America, Vol. 2, by New Orleans campaign veteran William James.

“This point (Villere) had been reconnoitered since the night of the 18th (Dec.) by the honorable Captain Spencer, of the Carron, and Lieut. Peddie, of the quarter-master-general’s department. These officers, with a smuggler as their guide, had pulled up the bayou in a canoe and advanced to the high road, without seeing any person, or preparations.,” wrote James.

According to Arsene Lacarriere Latour’s Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana, fishermen and part-time smugglers living in a makeshift fishing village at the Bayou Bienvenue were responsible for guiding Spencer and Peddie to the entrance from the bayou to the Villere Canal. Once the two British officers had satisfactorily surveyed the path to the Villere plantation, they returned to lead the 85th and 95th regiments, Captain Lane’s rocketeers, one hundred men of the engineer corps, and the 4th regiment by boats from Pea Island on Lake Borgne to Bayou Bienvenue to Villere Canal. The British landed at Villere plantation by 4 a.m. on Dec. 23, at which time they rested for some hours.

American General James Wilkinson, analysing the facts in his published memoir years after General Andrew Jackson’s victory at the Battle of New Orleans, said Spencer’s guidance of the British to Villere Plantation by Dec. 22, 1814, narrowly missed being a crushing blow to Jackson.

“As the enemy had, unperceived, got within two hours’ march of the city, if they had proceeded directly forward, the advantages of General Jackson’s position, which afterwards became all important, could not have availed him, because the enemy would have carried surprise with them, would have found the American corps dispersed__without concert, and unprepared for combat; and, making the attack with a superior numerical force of disciplined troops, against a body composed chiefly of irregulars, under such circumstances, no soldier of experience will pause for a conclusion. The most heroic bravery would have proved unavailing, and the capital of Louisiana, with its millions of property, would have been lost. But, blinded by confidence, beguiled by calculations injurious to the honor of the high-mettled patriot-sons of Louisiana, and considering the game safe, they gave themselves up to security, took repose, and waited for reinforcements,” wrote Wilkinson.

In addition to his participation in the Lake Borgne battle, Spencer and the HMS Carron had been among the British warships who unsuccessfully tried to take Ft. Bowyer in September 1814, and was also involved in the successful seizure of that same fort in 1815, following the Battle of New Orleans. That seizure was declared null following ratification of the Treaty of Ghent by the United States in February 1815. For his valuable assistance, Spencer received special commendation from Cochrane and was awarded the captaincy of the HMS Cydnus in early 1815..

As younger brother of  the Earl of Spencer,  Prince William and Prince Harry’s direct ancestor, Robert Cavendish Spencer was  the princes’ great-great-great  uncle.

For related articles, see:

Capt. Percy’s Folly at Fort Bowyer

The British Visit to Laffite: a Study of Events 200 Years Later

Patterson’s Mistake: the Battle of Lake Borgne Revisited

Commemoration of a Hero: Jean Laffite and the Battle of New Orleans

The Last Battle of Chalmette

January 5, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History

Jackson's Headquarters at Chalmette in the late 1800s

The Beauregard House at Chalmette in the late 1800s

The last battle of Chalmette was fought by genteel ladies wielding fountain pens, not swords, in 1935 as the site of the US triumph over the British was in the process of becoming a national historical park. The women, descendants of Battle of New Orleans participants, were incensed by former New Orleans politician Sidney Story’s notion Chalmette Battlefield  should be re-named as “Andrew Jackson National Park.”

Work had been underway at Washington, D.C., for some six years at that time to create a national historical park from the grounds where the resounding American victory of Jan. 8, 1815, had taken place.

Story, a Chicago resident who had been a prominent New Orleanian,  wrote to Louisiana Congressman J.O. Fernandez urging the change in proposed name from Chalmette National Park.  Fernandez had earlier introduced a House resolution for creation of the park. Story also sought backing for the name change from various patriotic organizations in New Orleans.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune soon evidenced irritated letters.

“Chalmette Chapter, Louisiana United States Daughters of 1812,  wishes to go on record as being unalterably opposed to any other name that may be suggested by anybody for any reasons whatsoever, believing that the proposed name, Chalmette National Historical Park, fittingly commemorates the outstanding victory gained by American arms on the plains of Chalmette, under the leadership of Andrew Jackson,” wrote Rubie G. Eustis, president of the Chalmette Chapter, Louisiana, USD of 1812.

Story, who was regional director of the United Sttes Merchant Marine League for the Great Lakes states, was all for changing the name to honor Jackson, however. In his letter to Fernandez, the native New Orleanian wrote:

“Andrew Jackson National Park would arouse the patriotic fervor of every red-blooded American, especially throughout the Mid-West and South.

I was born on the ground where that great battle was fought. My grandfather fought under Jackson. There are many interesting stories and anecdotes connected with that momentous event which history does not record but tradition has handed down,” he continued.

Further, Story asserted “I am a staunch advocate of glorifying our heroes and their valorous deeds, because they are an inspiration to our youth. This is most needed in these days, when alien propaganda, assisted by alien-hearted ‘Americans,’ is trying to disparage everything American by arousing contempt for our legislature, the government, our flag and our heroes.”

Mrs. Eustis contended in the op-ed page of the Times-Picayune that “Chalmette Chapter, Louisiana, USD of 1812, always has paid, and always will pay, full homage to the personal valor and military genius of Andrew Jackson, evidenced in its highest degree on the plains of Chalmette, where was fought and won the Battle of New Orleans, which historians have come to recognize as one of the outstanding battles of world history; which made possible the development of a small and struggling nation on the Eastern seaboard into the great and powerful United States of today.”

It was …(at) Chalmette that Jackson and his Americans triumphed over the British veterans of the Napoleonic campaigns. For more than a century, military records and historic documents have linked together Jackson’s victory and Chalmette’s plains. An ‘Andrew Jackson National Park’ might fittingly be established in the hills of his hardy boyhood or in the rich lands of his adopted state, or elsewhere in the great Middle West his prowess helped to preserve, but there was only one Battle of New Orleans, there is only one Chalmette.”

For much of the 19th century following the Civil War, Chalmette Battlefield was forgotten, allowed to be consumed with brush and weeds, its monument memorial uncompleted in the wake of the Civil War. That changed in 1894, when the Louisiana Society United States Daughters of 1776 and 1812 took charge of the upkeep from the state. Working with a meager revenue from selling pecans and wood plus a small stipend from the state, the women kept the grounds and worked on completing the monument, which was accomplished in 1908. In 1929, the mostly elderly women (granddaughters and great-granddaughters of battle participants) could no longer continue with the task of upkeep of Chalmette, so the property was transferred to the War Department.

“There is a world of pathos in the stories told by staunch members who have been at work for more than a generation for this cause, raising funds by selling pecans from the old trees on the ground, and hay grown in the wind-swept fields,” wrote Mrs. Eustis.

Taking up the ladies’ cause was James Dinkins, with a letter to the editor of the Times-Picayune in August 7, 1935:

“I learn with surprise and regret that an effort is being made to have the name of Chalmette Battlefields Park changed to Andrew Jackson National Park. To do so would seem no good purpose, nor add a feather-weight to the name and genius of General Jackson.

The battle of General Jackson__the battle of New Orleans__was one of the three greatest military achievements in the annals of the war and if General Jackson could speak he would say: ‘By the ‘tarnal, the name of Chalmette battlefield shall not be changed.’ The Chalmette Chapter of 1812 are the recognized and rightful custodians of the battlefield; every improvement that has been made there was sponsored and won by the chapter. The members of Chalmette Chapter are pledged to protect the graves that hold the dust of those who died that we would be free. I am a member of Chalmette Chapter and am acquainted with the earnest efforts of the members to make Chalmette battlefield a credit to New Orleans.”

Bending to the wishes of the women, an editoral writer for the Times-Picayune took up their standard: “There could be no more fitting name than that of Andrew Jackson for what is now Chalmette park, but the suggestion from Sidney Story has one marked disadvantage. New Orleans already has its Jackson Square and the name has been familiarized to generations as the center of the oldest and most historic part of the city. The battlefield of New Orleans has its splendid memories of the soldier and statesman who was its hero, but with both a Jackson park and a Jackson square there would be inevitable confusion of visitors and probably of our own citizens. New Orleans has worked for years to rid of duplicated or similar names for many of its streets, and some of us would regret to see a return to the doubling-up system.”

Story backed down from his proposal for the park to honor Jackson, and was not heard from again. He died at age 74 in 1937, with his main claim to fame his creation of the semi-legal Storyville redlight district in New Orleans from 1897 to 1917 to regulate prostitution and drug use in the city.

Chalmette was named a national historical park on August 10, 1939, under the name of Chalmette National Historical Park. It remained under this name until 1979, when extra cultural and historic areas of the park were created in addition to the battlefield, and Chalmette National Historical Park became a part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The name was chosen to reflect the regional nature of the new, expanded park, which encompasses the area in which the privateer and smuggler operated, plus honors him for his valuable service to the American side during the British invasion.  One can only wonder what both the Daughters of 1812 and Mr. Story would have thought about that development….

The Case of the Spanish Prize Ship at Dauphin Island

December 8, 2014 in American History, general history, Louisiana History

The HMS Sophie gives chase to a privateer

The HMS Sophie gives chase to a privateer

Capt. Nicholas Lockyer of HMS Sophie was furious when he gave the order to weigh anchor just off Grande Terre island on Sept. 4, 1814. He and his fellow British officers had been released a couple of hours earlier from a sleepless night in a crude, dirty cell where they had been subjected to threats and jeers from mostly French Baratarians throughout the night. His demands to see Jean Laffite had been steadfastly ignored until the morning, when Laffite had shown back up, profusely apologizing for his men’s behavior towards them after he had left the British suddenly following their attempt to bribe him into service.

The day before, Lockyer had brought the Baratarian leader British letters seeking to entice him to join the British campaign to seize Louisiana, but now he could tell that visit had been a precious waste of time, and he had to report empty-handed to his commanding officer Sir William Percy of HMS Hermes.

First he had to return four pilots to the Balize at the mouth of the Mississippi, where he had picked them up a few days earlier to help him navigate the tricky tides of Barataria Pass at Grande Terre. Why he needed four pilots for this job is unknown.

New research has found Army Commanding Officer Charles Wollstonecraft at Fort St. Philip had gotten word from one of these pilots about the visit Sophie made to Laffite, as he wrote about it in a letter to Gen. Andrew Jackson on Sept. 13, 1814: “About a week past, a British Schooner, the Sophia (sic), took from the Balize four pilots, she sailed for Barataria bearing a white flag & in her passage drove two privateers on shore; the Capt. of the Sophia, landed under the flag, but was detained & his flag insulted: he was afterwards liberated, & last Thursday, returned the pilots to the Balize. Since Thursday (Sept. 8), no vessel has been in sight at the Balize, except our (Patterson and Ross) squadron [on their way to raid the Laffite stronghold at Grande Terre on Sept. 16.] The smugglers have been informed of the intended attack for some time past, & it is reported, are well prepared for it, & determined to stand out to the last; it is also said, that they are very strong, in men & vessels.”

Returning back to Lockyer and the Sophie’s voyage after dropping off the pilots, fortunes improved for the beleaguered captain when he spied  one of those fast Baratarian pirate schooners in tandem with a captured Spanish prize ship not far from the mouth of the Mississippi. He ordered the men to tack toward the pirate, called everyone to battle stations, and smiled. Perhaps he could get at least one of those schooners for Percy.

According to American Major Howell Tatum’s daybook journal of General Andrew Jackson’s troops and activities, the Sophie did do battle with a Baratarian privateer which had earlier captured a Spanish ship. The privateer schooner seems to have eluded Lockyer’s grasp, probably by darting into the light draft shoal areas of the coastline where the heavy British warship dare not go. Shots may have been fired, but apparently none landed on the warship, as the Sophie bore no scars when she showed back up at Pensacola. The Baratarian prize master and crew of the heavy Spanish brig could not take advantage of the shoals without stranding, and the Sophie managed to get the prize to heave to, boarded her, and replaced Laffite’s Baratarian prize master and prize crewmen with British officer and sailors from the Sophie.

Lockyer was nettled that he hadn’t managed to get that privateer schooner for Percy, but the Spanish brig prize was at least something. The governor at Pensacola would likely be grateful to see it back with cargo intact. The trip to meet with Laffite wouldn’t have been a total loss. However, Lockyer didn’t count on the tricky waters near Dauphin Island. Absent a knowledgeable pilot, the prize master of the British ship didn’t know the lay of the shoals there, and the Spanish brig foundered__not far from the American garrison at Fort Bowyer. Lockyer could just look back in dismay as the Sophie sailed away to meet its deadline, hopeful that when the British attacked the fort in a few more days that the Sophie men could be retrieved safely. He decided it was best not to tell Percy about this misadventure until after they had captured the fort.

However, according to Tatum’s account, the Spanish prize ship was re-captured by an expeditionary party under the command of Major William Lawrence at Fort Bowyer. The prisoners taken on board were the British prize master, six British sailors, and three Spanish sailors (who had been among the original crew of the unnamed Spanish vessel).

No information is given for what transpired with the hapless prizemaster and crewmen from the Sophie, but they were likely sent to General Andrew Jackson at Mobile along with the three Spaniards. Jackson took one look at the Spaniards, and decided to use them as hostages against the irritatingly uncooperative governor of Pensacola, Don Mateo Gonzales Manrique, who had allowed the British to send armed war parties  of British and Indians into the Mobile area.

On the night of September 3, 1814, a considerable firing of musketry was heard from the east side of Mobile Bay in the direction of the houses and mill of Jean D’Olive of the Town of Mobile. According to Tatum, early the next day, Jackson learned an attack had been made on d’Olive’s house, where an overseer and three black slaves had been taken and carried off for Pensacola by Indians and British of that place, part of Woodbine’s hostile corps. Another slave who had escaped related the information, and although a party was immediately sent in pursuit, due to the tedious delay in crossing the bay for want of a proper boat, the raiding party completed their mission in safety across the Perdido and escaped to Pensacola with their prisoners.

As the Indians previously had been allowed by the British to commit such acts of violence as scalp-taking and the like, Jackson determined to hold the luckless Spanish seamen from Penscola as hostages to insure the safe return of the men taken from d’Olive. In a scorching hot letter to Manrique, Jackson wrote that if anything happened to d’Olive’s men, the Spanish governor was assured that the hostages Jackson had would be made to answer, “Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth and Scalp for Scalp” for injuries suffered by the d’Olive group. Jackson was particularly incensed because a few days earlier, Manrique had sent him a letter in which he claimed he had armed those Indians who later had committed the attack, with his excuse being that he had armed them as a measure of precaution to meet any attempt of the American government to invade Pensacola as they had formerly done to Mobile. Jackson quite naturally considered this breakdown in trust as overwhelming evidence that the Spanish were placing themselves in a “belligerent” state against the US, and validated his response in holding the Spanish crewmen as hostages.

Thus the first strike that warned Jackson of the true intentions of the British and Spanish was the raiding party on the d’Olive plantation.

As Tatum, Jackson’s topical engineer, states: “Serious apprehensions were now entertained, by many, for the safety of Fort Bowyer. The (British) vessels lying at Pensacola were believed to be merely the van of a much larger naval force destined to act in these seas, and accompanied (perhaps) by land forces intended for the reduction of Mobile and occupation of West Florida.”

The Sophie joined with Percy as he led the Hermes along with two other British ships from Pensacola to Fort Bowyer on Sept. 11.  The first battle of Fort Bowyer a few days later was lost by the British when Percy’s Hermes grounded twice right in front of raking fire from the Americans, and he was forced to abandon ship and set fire to her.

No mention is made in any records of exactly what happened with the  Spanish prize ship that grounded near Dauphin Island. There are some indications in the New Orleans Notarial Archives that maybe boats under Comm. Daniel T. Patterson’s direction offloaded the ship, as mention is made of a Spanish ship in distress on Dauphin Island at that time. The ship seems to not have been there when the British ships made their attack a few days after it foundered, and there are no records of Lockyer ever telling Percy about capturing the ship from the Baratarian privateer.

Jackson never did get a satisfactory reply from Manrique, and by late November 1814, the Spanish prisoners still lingered in irons in his camp. They had first been captured by Laffite’s men, then rescued by the Sophie, then captured by the Americans, then held in strict privations in what must have been miserable conditions. Their fate, like the fate of the British prize master and Sophie crewmen from the Spanish ship, remains shrouded in mystery.

 

Additional Historia Obscura articles for more information:

The British Visit To Laffite: A Study of Events 200 Years Later

Capt. Percy’s Folly at Fort Bowyer

Commemoration of a Hero: Jean Laffite and the Battle of New Orleans

Daniel Todd Patterson’s Secret Visits to Dauphin Island in 1814

 

Andrew Jackson’s Fine and the Place of Martial Law in American Politics

November 21, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Legal History, Louisiana History

 

Andrew Jackson by Thomas Sully From Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Jackson resented mightily the fine imposed on him by Judge Dominick Hall in New Orleans in 1815 for contempt of court. At the very end of his life, with death approaching, Jackson campaigned for the return of the thousand dollar fine through an act of Congress, and his efforts were rewarded. “He viewed the return of his fine as a larger statement about the legitimacy of violating the constitution and civil liberties in times of national emergency.” (Warshauer, p.6) That is the crux of the problem presented in Matthew Warshauer’s Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law: Is it ever all right to violate the constitution? Did Andrew Jackson set a precedent that it was, a precedent later followed by Abraham Lincoln and every wartime president since?

The fine was levied by the Federal District Court in 1815. It was refunded to Jackson by Congress in 1844. But did this refund really serve as a justification of martial law? Or was it just a sign of appreciation for a dying former president and national war hero?

The term “martial law” was at one time a synonym to “military law” and used to describe the legal tradition of absolute law – one characterized by a lack of civil liberties – that applied to those who served in the military while they were in active service. Only later, after the Congressional debates concerning the refunding of the Jackson fine, did “martial law” come to mean giving the military absolute authority over civilians in times of emergency. (Warshauer, p. 17).

Nationalism, according to Warshauser, was the force that allowed the constitutional limits on military authority to be breached, not just in the case of Andrew Jackson, but for every member of the executive branch since who has invoked emergency powers:

To many, Jackson represented the pinnacle of American nationalism. The Battle of New Orleans had invested him with the highest claims of patriotism and devotion to country… Jackson’s understanding of his nationalist appeal is one of the items that made him a formidable politician and president. Subsequent presidents have embraced the same political use of nationalism. Lincoln focused on the sanctity of the Union during the Civil War and … embraced martial law. Consider also the nationalism fomented by Franklin Roosevelt in the midst of the Great Depression. He utilized the overwhelming nationalist support of the 1936 election to challenge the Supreme Court’s threats to his New Deal legislation. … [E]ngagement in World War II was impossible without nationalist sentiment … in the form of … Pearl Harbor…Similarly, George W. Bush could not possibly have engaged in a war against Iraq … or curtailed civil liberties with the Patriot Act without the nationalism spawned by [9/11]. (Warshauer p. 18)

Did Andrew Jackson really invent American nationalism? Did it not exist before that moment in 1814 when he arrived in New Orleans? When exactly did American nationalism come into being? And what does the term mean in this context? Is it just a another word for patriotism? Or does it mean loyalty to one’s nation of origin?

It was not that sense of nationalism that led to the American Revolution. Abigail Adams, writing to her husband John, on November 12, 1775 referred to the common origin of the Americans and the British: “Let us separate, they are unworthy to be our Brethren. Let us renounce them and instead of supplications as formerly for their prosperity and happiness, Let us beseech the almighty to blast their counsels and bring to Nought all their devices.” Notice that there is no question that the British were the brethren of the American colonists. It was just that they weren’t worthy! If on national grounds alone, the Americans and the British were one people. But the American colonists’ insistence on the civil liberties secured to all Englishmen applying also to themselves was the reason for the separation. If anything, this was anti-nationalism. Civil liberties trumped national unity.

Andrew Jackson, while still a minor, served in the Revolutionary War. He defied the British, his brethren, at the risk of his life. When exactly did he become a nationalist? Could it be when he entered the City of New Orleans and realized that he would need to get Edward Livingston to translate everything he said to French before he could address the people of the city and hope to be understood?

To an ill-educated boy from the rural south, New Orleans was cosmopolitan and foreign. It was filled with people who had just recently been French and only a little earlier had belonged to Spain, and it was more foreign by far than the invading British forces! “Concerns over spies and dissent within the largely foreign city prompted Jackson to proclaim martial law.” (Warshauer p. 19). Jackson did not trust the people of New Orleans precisely because they were not his brethren!

While Jackson’s feelings of being outnumbered by foreigners in a city whose defense was chiefly his responsibility might be quite understandable, both retrospectively in 1842 when the congressional refund debates began and maybe even prospectively in 1814, the situation he was placed in came about through the extra-constitutional machinations of Thomas Jefferson in 1803.

There was no provision in the constitution for new territories –and the human population that lived within them– to be bought and sold at taxpayer expense . The provision for new states to be brought into the Union presupposed that the majority of those living there would petition to join of their own free will. And it was probably presumed, at the time of the writing, that these new people would be brethren who had colonised large wilderness areas and had come to outnumber the natives who were there first.

But Anglo-Americans in New Orleans were outnumbered by French Creoles and Cajuns, free blacks, Spanish merchants, Catholic clergymen and nuns, both French and Spanish, whose oath of loyalty was to the Pope before any State or monarch, and any number of other “foreigners” or at the very least, people who sounded and looked foreign, even though they were now legally American citizens, Louisiana having just joined the Union as a state in 1811.

Would Andrew Jackson ever have considered imposing martial law if he had been stationed in a state such as South Carolina during the beginning of the War of 1812? There, it was the local free white males who had failed to obey the orders of their governor, Joseph Alston, thereby leaving the state without a defense force during the beginning of the war. A writ of habeas corpus had been issued to free deserters from the militia, because the possibility of dying of malaria was felt to be much more real than any just-declared war against Britain. 

 The unusual state of affairs in New Orleans due to the Louisiana Purchase is one of the factors that led to Jackson’s decision to invoke martial law. He did not trust the citizens of New Orleans, because they seemed foreign. It is not, however, something that comes into the legal argument that was derived from this precedent, which was later applied against his own brethren by President Lincoln in the context of a civil war.

Andrew Jackson was not, in fact, the first American general to attempt to impose martial law on New Orleans, although he was the first to make it stick as a legal precedent. The first to impose martial law in American held New Orleans was General James Wilkinson, who was also, at the time, the Governor of Louisiana Territory, and his purpose in so doing was not to repel a foreign invasion, but to apprehend and disenfranchise Aaron Burr and his friends Erich Bollman and Samuel Swartwout, whom he accused of plotting to take over the Western territories and separate them from the United States.

At the time, Edward Livingston, also a friend of Burr’s, had just barely escaped being summarily arrested as well. Writs of habeas corpus were ignored and the attorneys presenting them threatened with arrest. Deprived of the right to counsel, the prisoners were transported by the military branch of the government and kept without right to trial. As it happens, James Wilkinson had been a Spanish spy, and it was in his capacity of an agent of Spain that he acted to repel Aaron Burr’s attempt to filibuster his way through Texas and Mexico. Which is a reminder that a person does not necessarily need to be a foreigner to serve as both a spy and a traitor.

Andrew Jackson was aware of these past events, for he, too, just like Bollman and Swartwout and Edward Livingston, was a good friend of Aaron Burr and a supporter of his would-be venture against Spanish held Mexico. He stood by Burr during the treason trial in Richmond, and he was aware of the Supreme Court decision in Ex Parte Swartwout and Ex Parte Bollman that stated that the right to habeas corpus may not be infringed by the executive branch unless Congress passed a law suspending the writ of habeas corpus. Thomas Jefferson had wanted to pass such a measure through Congress in his eagerness to foil Burr, but Congress did not grant his wishes.

So here was Andrew Jackson, like James Wilkinson before him, suddenly declaring an emergency and suspending the writ of habeas corpus. What would be the right course of action for anyone disagreeing with Andrew Jackson’s imposition of martial law? To file a motion for a writ of habeas corpus? It was exactly the right so to do that had been suspended. To openly rebel against the armed forces of the United States? Even if successful, that would open anyone so doing to a charge of treason.

The right to a writ of habeas corpus and to be free of martial law is one of those things that get hammered out in a court of law after the fact. They cannot under normal circumstances be resolved in the heat of the moment. Even in Ex Parte Bollman first the right to habeas corpus was suspended, and only later was this ruled to be unconstitutional.

One difference between the two cases was that the United States was not in fact at war when James Wilkinson tried to suspend the writ, so that the Supreme Court was still sitting, and it was possible to appeal directly to the highest court on a question of jurisdiction, even if lower court judges were imprisoned for speaking up in New Orleans. But America was under siege in 1814, and in August of that year the capital had been burned by the British. Government buildings were still in shambles at the time of the Battle of New Orleans.

Before the Battle of New Orleans the pragmatics of the situation and the extreme gravity of the British threat allowed Jackson to do whatever he chose without real resistance. Any checks and balances to his actions of a constitutional nature could only come too late and after the fact. This meant that restitution and/or a fine could be levied against Jackson later, but nobody could get an injunction to prevent him from doing whatever he chose to do right then.

Jackson was fully aware of this state of affairs. He asked the counsel of two legal advisors before he took this step:

 Jackson’s advisors, Edward Livingston and Abner Duncan, ultimately concluded that martial law suspended all civil functions and placed every citizen under military control. The lawyers disagreed, however, on the legality of the proclamation. Livingston believed that it was “unknown to the Constitution or laws of the U.S.”… (Warshauer p.23)

On December 16, 1814 Andrew Jackson issued his proclamation imposing martial law on the City of New Orleans. “All who entered or exited the city were to report to the Adjutant General’s office. Failure to do so resulted in arrest and interrogation. All vessels, boats and other crafts desiring to leave the city required a passport, either from the General or Commodore Daniel T. Patterson. All street lamps were ordered extinguished at 9:00 p.m., and anyone found after that hour without a pass was arrested as a spy. New Orleans was officially an armed camp and General Jackson the only authority.” (Warshauer p.24)

It was ironic that Daniel T. Patterson was given almost equal authority with Andrew Jackson, since if there was ever a British sympathizer in the city of New Orleans, he, rather than the French speaking populace, must surely have been guilty. It was after all Patterson who attacked the Baratarian privateers, destroying their base, and capturing their ships, when Jean Laffite informed him that the British were anchored off Mobile Point and about to attack Fort Bowyer and offered to help him fight the British. But Daniel T. Patterson was an American naval officer, and Jackson trusted him implicitly. There was nothing foreign about him.

Among other powers that Jackson summarily granted himself with this proclamation of martial law was the power to draft into the militia or impress into naval service any person and to confiscate property, which included fencing, the wood in the walls of “negro houses”, muskets and flints, and even bales of cotton. Nothing taken was paid for, though receipts acknowledging the confiscations were provided.

 Every slave, horse, ox, and cart was requisitioned for military use, and the general authorized the enlistment of all Indians within the district to serve on the same footing as the militia. Mayor Nicholas Girod received orders to “search every house and Store in the City for muskets, Bayonets, Cartridge boxes, Spades, shovels, pick axes and hoes”…

From the point of view of second amendment rights, it seems interesting that arms were being confiscated from their owners, rather than the owners simply being enlisted in the militia and asked to bring along their own weapons in the service of their country. This does not seem like the well-regulated militia contemplated by the second amendment. Instead, arms were taken from the people who owned them and being redistributed to other people who were considered more trustworthy.

While all this conscription and confiscation was going on under the guise of martial law, the thing that truly saved the city came in the form of a donation freely given. Jean Laffite and his Baratarian artillery unit were eager to serve and happy to donate flints and powder and artillery – if only the General would allow them to enter the city! As there were not enough flints available in the city, this donation was indispensable. It was in grudging cooperation with the Baratarians that Jackson was able to win the Battle of New Orleans and with that the undying gratitude of the nation. The glorious battle culminating in an American victory on January 8, 1815 led to much rejoicing, including public displays in the the Place d’Armes in which Baratarians alongside other American volunteers marched proudly, and at a banquet for high ranking officials, Jean Laffite stood side by side with Andrew Jackson as an honored hero. And then… everything should have gone back to normal, only it didn’t.

The citizenry of New Orleans may have grumbled, but they were by and large accepting of Jackson’s actions imposing martial law prior to the Battle of New Orleans. Despite his suspicion of them, most did not want to submit to the British and did everything they could to support the defense of the city. It was only after the American victory and when rumors that a peace treaty had been signed began to circulate that people started to openly rebel and inquire as to why it was that in peacetime martial law had not yet been lifted. “Desertions and mutiny among American troops prompted even more arrests. No longer perceiving a threat to their city after the January 8 victory, the citizens of New Orleans demanded a return to their former lifestyles.” (Warshauer p.31)

Businesses had been neglected. All commerce had ceased. Families lost their breadwinner. All this was acceptable during the thick of war, but the sooner things went back to normal once the war was over, the less suffering to the citizenry. Jackson, however, held onto wartime measures without any compunction for the suffering he was inflicting, long after the danger from the enemy was past. He ordered deserters imprisoned, then shot. One man, Pvt. James Harding, who deserted to help his wife who had been evicted from their home, was granted a reprieve from execution only at the last moment. These deserters were not career military, but ordinary citizens who had been glad to serve their country when the help was needed, but who had obligations in civilian life that were now pressing. Many residents of New Orleans of French and Spanish origin who had been happy to serve in the thick of battle were now starting to ask the French and Spanish consuls to provide them with exemptions on the grounds that they were really French or Spanish citizens. Everything that had united the residents in defense against the enemy was now conspiring to separate them in light of the continued iron rule of Andrew Jackson’s martial law. (Warshauer pp. 32-33.)

In mid-February, more than a month after the British had retreated for good, boarded their ships and disappeared, Jackson attempted to scare the citizenry into obedience by saying that “the enemy is hovering around us and perhaps meditating an attack.” (Warshauer p.32). Rather like an incompetent parent conjuring up the bogeyman to get children to obey, Jackson needed an invisible enemy to keep the people of New Orleans in line.

On February 24 Governor Claiborne wrote to exiled Attorney General Stephen Marerceau: “I can no longer remain a Silent Spectator of the prostration of the Laws. – I therefore request you, Sir, without loss of time to repair to this city… and resume your official duties…. And on receiving any information of any attempt of the Military to seize the person of any Private Citizen, not actually in Military Service of the United States, you are specially instructed to take for his protection, and for avenging the Injured Laws of this State such measures as your knowledge of the laws will point out.” (Warshauer p.34)

On March 3, an article appeared in the Louisiana Courier signed anonymously by “A Citizen of Louisiana of French Origin”:

 [I]t is high time the laws should resume their empire; that the citizens of this state should return to the full enjoyment of their rights; that in acknowledging that we are indebted to General Jackson for the preservation of our city and the defeat of the British, we do not feel much inclined, through gratitude, to sacrifice any of our privileges, and less than any other, that of expressing our opinion of the acts of his administration….

The article was penned by state senator Louis Louaillier, and one of the chief acts of the administration that he complained of was bringing citizens before military tribunals “a kind of institution held in abhorrence even in absolute governments.” Two days after the article appeared, Jackson had Louaillier arrested and warned that any person serving a writ of habeas corpus to free Louiaillier would also be imprisoned.

If Jackson wanted to prove himself a tyrant, then there could have been no better way to do it. A request for a writ of habeas corpus had in fact already been made before Federal Disrict Court Judge Dominick Hall. Hall, who had been appointed by none other than Thomas Jefferson in 1804. Hall equivocated momentarily on the issue of jurisdiction – was this a Federal or a State matter? – then granted the request. No sooner had Judge Hall granted the motion for a writ of habeas corpus, then Andrew Jackson had him arrested for “aiding and abetting and exciting mutiny within my camp.” In Jackson’s mind, the entire city of New Orleans was his camp and every citizen, from Federal Judges to state senators to the lowliest householder – was a soldier at his beck and call. (Warshauer pp.35-36)

And this might never have ended, if not for the arrival of an official notification on March 13 to Andrew Jackson of the ratification of the Treaty of Ghent.

Signing of the Treaty of Ghent
Wikimedia

But as soon as the treaty, which had already been signed on December 24, 1814, while the Battle of New Orleans was ongoing, by Ambassador John Quincy Adams for the Americans and by Admiral of the Fleet James Gambier, and that was ratified by the Prince Regent ( aka George IV) on January 30, 1815, was also ratified by the U.S. Senate on February 18, 1815, it was in fact the law of the land. There was only one problem: Jackson had not been told about it through proper channels. Yes, he’d heard about it. But not through official channels. And Andrew Jackson always went by the book.

As soon as Jackson received notification of the peace of Ghent being ratified by all parties, he revoked martial law and all the many prisoners were released, those exiled were allowed to come back to the city, and the case against Jackson was brought to court. United States v. Major General Andrew Jackson was what it was called, Judge Hall presided, and when all the legal arguments were settled Andrew Jackson was found in contempt of court and fined one thousand dollars, which, without admitting any wrongdoing, he paid.

Jackson was not forced to spend a single day in prison, despite the many he imprisoned. He was not forced to undergo any corporal punishment such as a flogging that many an impressed sailor had to undergo, he was not court martialed, nor executed summarily like the men had shot, he was not stripped of rank and dignity, he was not forced to go into exile like Aaron Burr after his acquittal for treason, and he did not lose his military pension. For violating the most important provisions of the constitution, including the first and second amendments, while in the pay of the United States, it was a mere slap on the hand.

But to Jackson it rankled, and so he hoped that one day he would be vindicated. In fact, he has been, not merely by the Congressional award in 1844 of his fine with interest, but by the political reality and even by the narrative that is told today by historians.

The argument on either side has always been a question of constitutionality versus necessity, as first formulated by Edward Livingston. Those who felt Jackson’s imposition of martial law was not constitutional to this very day seem to argue that it was nevertheless necessary. Matthew Warshauer is certainly one example: “Can one violate civil liberties if doing so saves the government that provides those civil liberties? …However much one might like to disdain Jackson for military rule, he did in fact save the city in a victory that was unprecedented and perhaps impossible without martial law.” (Warshauer pp. 44-45.)

Do governments provide civil liberties? Or do the best of them merely stand aside and not infringe on civil liberties that the people are already endowed with? The declaration of independence seems to argue for the latter and to deny the former. Is the rise of American  nationalism referred to earlier in the text by Warshauer in fact just a rise of statism, having nothing to do with nationality or patriotism, but with the state’s supremacy over individual citizens?  And did Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans because he imposed martial law or despite his unpopular and unconstitutional wielding of absolute power? This depends on whether one acknowledges the contributions of Jean Laffite and the Baratarians.

 

James Wilkinson — What a real spy looks like

Warshauer distinguishes between unfortunate excesses to be deplored — the jailing of a Federal judge and a state senator in time of peace for expressing opinions or issuing writs — and the need for thwarting spies and saboteurs. But the belief that martial law is a good deterrent against spies or saboteurs (today known as terrorists) is misguided. In a war against the British, the enemy looked and acted just like us. It would not have been possible to tell who was a British sympathizer based on their place of origin or the accent they used when they spoke, the clothes they wore, their twirling mustaches or their overall manner. The man issuing passes was just as likely to be a British sympathizer as the lowliest citizen with a foreign accent. Foreign-sounding names like Louaillier and Laffite did not necessarily imply lack of loyalty, when real spies during that era had names like Arnold or Wilkinson, and British sympathizers were often called something like Patterson. The color of a person’s skin meant nothing when real spies — whether for England or Spain — had the rosy complexions and the clean shaven faces of Englishmen. You simply could not look at someone and tell that he was a spy, and while there were in fact spies (it was not all paranoia), no spy was ever caught thanks to the unconstitutional measures imposed by martial law.

It is true that when Andrew Jackson entered the city in December of 1814, there was a spirit of disaffection between the people of New Orleans and their American-imposed government, but it was not because they were sympathetic to the British. On the contrary, they hated the British fiercely, and it was only to the extent that the Americans behaved like the British that this disaffection carried over. Tax collectors and revenuers, men of the Revenue Cutter Service, were thwarting the commerce of the United States, first under the color of the Embargo Act, and later the Non-Intercourse Act,  laws which were in fact unconstitutional and contrary to the spirit of the American revolution. Governor Claiborne’s real difficulty was in getting rid of smugglers and privateers who fought the British and then sold their goods to the citizens of New Orleans at a fraction of the cost. This was galling both to the tax collector and to the American merchants who had bought British goods at full price despite the embargo, but it was in fact a service to nation in its fight against the British. The crux of the disagreement between the people of New Orleans and their state Governor and with Commodore Patterson of the Federal government was who should pay for waging war.  But to suggest that the citizens of New Orleans would not have fought to defend their city from the British unless they were conscripted under Jackson’s martial law is deeply misleading and offensive. 

Who fights better, conscripts or volunteers? You can lead a man to battle, but can you force him to fight? How helpful were the bales of cotton, the fencing and the muskets and cartridges that were confiscated, when not placed in the willing hands of their owners to do battle for New Orleans? How many men who wanted to serve were alienated by being forced to serve?  How many “foreigners” were sacrificed so that native born double dealers like Daniel Patterson could make money off stolen goods from Barataria? Wasn’t the Battle of New Orleans won largely through the generosity of Jean Laffite who donated flints and powder, artillery and trained men, who had learned professional shooting as privateers and could make important contributions to both tactics and strategic planning? Didn’t Andrew Jackson himself commend the dedication of Dominique You and Renato Beluche?

We don’t have to question the good intentions of  Andrew Jackson to note that what he did was wrong. The excesses under martial law that we deplore are the natural and inevitable consequence of absolute power, and even the most well-intentioned man will fall into them as a result of wielding that power. When President Madison asked that Congress approve a declaration of war against Britain, it was impressment of sailors by the British that served as a pretext. Can impressment of sailors by Andrew Jackson be justified as a response to that? Or was the willing contribution of privateers to the success of the Battle of New Orleans the real reason the war was won?

References

Davis, William C. 2005. The Pirates Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. Harcourt.

Hunt, Charles Havens. 1864. Life of Edward Livingston. D. Appleton and Co.: New York.

Kennedy, Roger. 1999. Burr, Hamilton and Jefferson: A Study in Character. Oxford University Press.

Warshauer, Matthew. 2006. Andrew Jackson and the Politics of Martial Law. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/abigail-adams-reveals-anger-toward-great-britain.html

http://www.historiaobscura.com/commemoration-of-a-hero-jean-laffite-and-the-battle-of-new-orleans/

The First Battle of New Orleans Poem

September 16, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History

jacksonportrait

Andrew Jackson After the Battle of New Orleans, 1815, from a miniature

The following is believed to be the first poem written about the Battle of New Orleans, published in the New Orleans Gazette in either late February or early March 1815, and reprinted widely in newspapers throughout the United States in April and May, 1815. The author, sadly, is unknown, but from the content of the poem, was likely an American soldier who served with Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.

THE RETREAT OF THE ENGLISH

 

-A YANKEE SONG-

 

The English mustered mighty strong’,

And bro’t their choicest troops along,

And thoght it but a little song,

To take our town of Orleans.

 

From Plymouth and the Chesapeake,

From Portsmouth, too, and Cork, so sleek,

All came to take a Christmas freak

In our gay town of Orleans.

 

See Cochrane, who is stiled Sir Knight,

With Gordon too, that naval wight,

And Packenham, all full of fight,

To have a dash at Orleans.

 

With Gibbs and Keane and Lambert too,

And others, who kept out of view,

Making, in all, a pretty crew,

To take our town of Orleans.

 

To Ile au Chat their fleets first steer’d,

Where near a hundred sail appear’d;

And, from their numbers, many fear’d

Th’ impending fate of Orleans.

 

They entered Bayou Bienvenue,

Where there were traitors not a few,

To help them on and bring them thro’

To this our town of Orleans.

 

They to the Levee quickly come,

And made, a tho’ they were at home_

Indeed, they were but eight miles from

The very town of Orleans.

 

The news at last to Jackson came;

His mighty soul was in a flame;

He swore an oath, I dare not name,

He’d save the town of Orleans.

 

The town was in a mighty rout’;

He ordered all the forces out

His troops so steady and so stout,

To fight and bleed for Orleans.

 

Away went Jackson at their head,

And many a gallant man he led;

All swore they’d fight till they were dead,

To save the town of Orleans.

 

The English camp he’s soon among;

And found them near five thousand strong,

From swamp to river stretch’d along

Against the town of Orleans.

 

And now began a bloody fight;

The English heroes tried their might,

But many think, the coming night,

Did save these foes of Orleans.

 

Then Jackson, not to risk the town,

Reined for a while his spirit down,

And trenches dug, and raised a mound,

To save the town of Orleans.

 

The English grown twelve thousand strong,

The Twenty eighth again came on,

And tho’t our lines would soon belong

To them, as well as Orleans.

 

Repuls’d:-on New-Years next they came,

But on that day were serv’d the same,

And met a loss, they do not name

From those who fought for Orleans.

 

But ‘twas the Eighth they tried their might,

And brought their army all in sight,

And swore our men would at the sight,

All fly toward New-Orleans.

 

That morning’s sun did rise in blood:

For all our men right valiant stood,

As every honest Yankee should,

Against the foes of Orleans.

 

The muskets and the cannons roar,

Our men most dreadful volley pour;

A rolling fire, unknown before,

Upon the foes of Orleans.

 

Sir Edward led the eager crew,

And pointing to the town in view,

Gave them the sack and pillage too,

If they would get to Orleans.

 

But see! his threatening spirit’s fled;

And Gibbs too lies among the dead,

With many more who boasting said,

They’d dine that day at Orleans.

 

Such carnage ne’e was known before;;

More than three thousand stain our shore,

And some assert a thousand more

Of the proud foes of Orleans.

 

Soldiers! you’ve had no vulgar game!

Wellington’s troops here yield their fame;

Invincibles was once their name,

But this they’ve lost near Orleans.

 

A bloodless victory, on our side,

May well increase our general’s pride;

For see_the field is only dyed

With English blood near Orleans.

 

The proud, but disappointed foe

Is now well taught our worth to know,

And all they ask, is but to go

Far__far away from Orleans.

 

See how these heroes scour the plain!

Their boats can scarce their haste restrain,

So anxious now their fleet to gain,

And get away from Orleans.

 

Aboard, and sick of Yankee sport,

They’re dressing up a long report,

To suit their gracious sovereign’s court,

Of their great feats near Orleans.

 

Here’s to the EIGHTH! a brilliant day!

‘Tis pride to have been in that affray,

Which drove these Englishmen away,

From this our town of Orleans.

 

Here’s to the gallant GENERAL! who

Has saved our town and country too!

A braver man the world ne’er knew

Than he who fought for Orleans.

 

Brave Sons of Tennessee! a toast!

Of you your country well may boast,

She cannot find a braver host

‘Mong those who fought for Orleans.

The British Visit to Laffite: A Study of Events 200 Years Later

August 25, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Nautical History

Jean Laffite, the privateer "bos" of Barataria

Jean Laffite, the privateer “bos” of Barataria

When Commander Nicholas Lockyer sailed in HMS Sophie from Pensacola towards Jean Laffite’s Grande Terre encampment on Sept. 1, 1814, he already knew that the Baratarian privateer base might soon be blown to bits, and that the Sophie would not be the instrument of that destruction, despite his written orders to that effect from his superiors. There was only a modest chance that Laffite would agree to their terms and assist the British by letting them use his light draft schooners that could navigate shallower water in the shoals. Success depended largely on how susceptible the man would be to betray his friends and clientele.

Lockyer was willing to do everything necessary to entice someone he regarded as a pirate, even though he must have felt a modicum of hesitation about approaching the buccaneers’ smuggling stronghold due to the way five Laffite-connected ships had soundly defeated British sailors of boats from HMS Herald near Cat Island and the mouth of Bayou Lafourche in June of 1813.

The Sophie by herself would be no match for the Baratarian ships. Although she carried 18 guns, her gun carriage timbers were rotten, and so shaky the carronades could not fire accurately no matter how skilled the gunners. Thus it was with more than a little trepidation on Lockyer’s part that the Sophie entered Barataria Pass that Saturday morning, Sept. 3, 1814, firing a warning shot at a privateer ship a little too close for comfort.

Jean Laffite saw a British brig in Barataria Pass, and couldn’t immediately discern the captain’s intentions as first the ship fired at one of his privateers, then the British vessel acted friendlier and non-attacking, anchoring at the opposite shore, then setting down a pinnance bearing both British colors and a white flag of truce, with some men onboard.

Laffite set off in his boat at once to find out who this was, and what was the meaning of this visit. As he neared the pinnance, the men’s uniforms made it clear at least two high-ranking British officers were on the boat heading to him, and so curious was he at this development that he accidentally let himself get too close to the ship, away from the safety of the shore. The British hailed him and asked to be taken to see Laffite to give him some official communications on paper. Since he was too close to the Sophie to risk being identified, Laffite told them they could find the person they wanted on shore. As soon as they were within the confines of his power, Laffite identified himself and led them to his home while close to 200 very agitated privateer crewmen milled around, voicing intentions to imprison the British and send them to New Orleans as spies. Captain Dominique You was all for seizing the British ship as retaliation for the skirmish between the Baratarians and British at Cat Island the year before, a mini-battle which the Baratarians had won, but not before the British nearly sank two of their fast schooners. Handling a visit from obvious British officers around such a group of mostly Napoleonic sympathizers was going to require finesse, but first Laffite needed to learn the precise purpose of the visit, and what the papers said.

Accompanying Capt. Lockyer was Capt. John M’Williams of the Royal Colonial Marines, most recently stationed at Pensacola. M’Williams was a special envoy from Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Nicolls, commanding officer of the Royal  Colonial Marines at Pensacola,. His duty was to present official British letters to Laffite requesting that he join the British, stop harassing Spanish shipping, release any Spanish property he currently had back to its owners, and allow the British the use of his light draft ships. In return at the conclusion of the war, Laffite would receive a captaincy, land in America controlled by the British, have his rights and property protected as a British citizen, and be recompensed for the use of his ships. According to Laffite’s later recollection of the visit, the bribe also included $30,000, payable at New Orleans or Pensacola, but this was not stated in any of the British letters

An interpreter was also with the officers, but his services were not needed as Jean was fluent in English. Lockyer seized the advantage of a common language to earnestly entice Laffite to join the British against the Americans. Apparently Lockyer added the bribe money only as a spoken extra inducement to get Laffite starry-eyed about impending wealth. If Lockyer did verbally commit to a monetary bribe, there could have been little truth to it, since no one else who had helped the British in the Gulf had been paid even a tiny fraction of that amount, plus Nicolls was on a strict budget for his part of the Gulf war campaign, and could not exceed even $1,000 at the time. The only way such a bribe could have been possible is if it was to be paid after the successful conclusion of the campaign, when goods, plantations, etc., had been seized by the British, especially at New Orleans. In that event, $30,000 would have been small reward for assisting accomplishment of  such a lucrative and important military goal. Regardless, the monetary bribe was worthless as it had never been commited to paper, and it was somewhat insulting for Lockyer to think Laffite was so naïve as to trust the word of even a British officer.

Lockyer pressed Laffite to join the British,  especially to lay at the disposal of his Britannic Majesty the armed vessels he had at Barataria, to aid in the immediate intended attack of the fort (Fort Bowyer) at Mobile. According to Laffite’s later account of Lockyer’s manipulative spiel, he insisted much on the great advantage that would result to Laffite and his crews, and urged him “not let slip this opportunity of acquiring fortune and consideration.” Laffite cautiously demurred, saying he would require a few days to reflect upon these proposals, to which Lockyer bluntly stated “no reflection could be necessary, respecting proposals that obviously precluded hesitation, as he (Laffite) was a Frenchman, and of course now a friend to Great Britain, proscribed by the American government, exposed to infamy, and had a brother (Pierre) at that very time loaded with irons in the jail of New Orleans.” (Obviously, British spies had informed Nicolls and/or Percy about Pierre’s incarceration to use as a leverage tool with Jean.)

Lockyer also added that everything was already prepared for carrying on the war against the American government in that quarter with unusual vigor; that they (the British) were nearly sure of success, expecting to find little or no opposition from the French and Spanish population of Louisiana.

At the end of his recruitment speech to Laffite, Lockyer made a colossal error by telling what the British intended to do to absolutely guarantee success: their chief plan and crushing blow would be to foment an insurrection of the slaves, to whom they would offer freedom. In other words, the British would stir up a slave revolt resulting in brutal murders of innocent civilians at the plantations and New Orleans, given that three-fourths of the population of the New Orleans area at the time was composed of slaves.

One can only imagine the disgust and horror that Laffite must have felt when he  heard Lockyer say the British were going to incite (and probably arm) a slave rebellion. They were wanting him to sell out his friends and other smuggling customers and allow them to be hacked to death like the French planters on Haiti years earlier, or those families that suffered on the German Coast near New Orleans in 1811. No wonder Laffite got up and said he had to leave for a bit, leaving the British group alone snd perplexed. Laffite said in his account he left the officers because he was afraid of his privateers rising up against him, but most likely as soon as he left the house, he told his Baratarian crewmen to imprison the officers and threaten them overnight, but not to physically harm them. Laffite thought more information may have been gained by their intimidated response to the threats,  that perhaps they would reveal who their spies were in the New Orleans area. He left the British alone all that night in their uncomfortable and guarded cell, even though they continually demanded to be released from custody.

Early the next morning, Laffite let the officers out of their cell, apologizing profusely for their treatment of the past night, about which he claimed he could do nothing due to the temperament of some of his men. He gave Lockyer a letter of apology in which he asked for a fortnight (15 days) to arrive at a decision about their offer, claiming the delay was necessary to send away “three persons who have alone occasioned all the disturbance” and to “put my affairs in order.”

When the British returned to the Sophie, Lockyer weighed anchor and left Barataria Pass as soon as possible around noon Sept. 4, according to the master’s logbook of the ship. They wanted nothing more to do with Laffite or the Baratarians.

Lockyer was at a loss as to how to save face re his failure to immediately enlist the Baratarians and their ships into British service. He knew Percy had ordered him “in case of refusal, to destroy to the utmost every vessel there as well as to carry destruction over the whole place,” but the Sophie by herself couldn’t do that, plus Laffite had said he couldn’t give a firm decision until a fortnight later. A fortnight later would be too late, Lockyer knew plans were already firm for an attack on Fort Bowyer before then.

The Sophie didn’t arrive back at Pensacola until Sept. 11, taking seven days, five more than necessary, to sail between Barataria Pass and Pensacola. This is odd, as Percy had requested Lockyer to return to him at Pensacola at utmost speed following the visit to Barataria. Something  hidden happened in those five extra days of travel. Lockyer may have stopped somewhere along the Louisiana coast and M’Williams may have disembarked on a spy mission, as M’Williams appears not to have been with Lockyer once he returned to Pensacola. M’Williams could have gone to New Orleans, or the rest of the bayou country to reconnoiter.There is no documentation for what happened to him. The Sophie ship logs only record what transpired onboard or with the ship and its crew.

The only British account of the visit to Grande Terre was a letter written by Lockyer to Percy upon his arrival back at Pensacola on Sept. 11. Unwilling to fully admit his failure to gain the schooners quickly, Lockyer said nothing about even meeting Laffite, perfunctorily glossing over that bit entirely. Instead,  in a unusually brief, terse note about the visit, he said he and the other British were immediately jailed, the British letters and order he brought to show Laffite were torn before his face plus he was insulted and had his life threatened. He wrote that the following day the Baratarians had a sudden change of mind and released them to return to the Sophie. He reported there were nine schooner privateers with six to sixteen guns each in Barataria Bay.

Lockyer’s letter was enclosed with a later report written Sept. 17 by Percy to his superior, Sir Alexander Cochrane, British commander in chief of the North America station, in which Percy says only of the letter that it acquainted him with the “ill success of his (Lockyer’s) mission (to Laffite).” Oddly, the whole Laffite issue and the matter of acquiring the light draft schooners of Barataria was dropped by Percy and became a non-issue, even though he could not have known that the Americans would destroy Barataria within a few days. Or did he know? Was there a double agent in New Orleans? What was Laffite’s reaction to the British offer?

Before Lockyer and the others had been freed from their Baratarian jail, Laffite wrote a letter Sept. 4 to his friend and Louisiana legislator Jean Blanque of New Orleans, requesting advice about what to do with the British, and enclosed all of the British papers in the packet. (All of the British papers and orders were intact, they had not been torn up like Lockyer claimed to Percy.)   A courier delivered the packet by late Sept. 6 to Blanque at his home on Royal Street.

Coincidentally, that same day, Sept. 6, Dominique You, who had threatened the British officers, arrived in New Orleans. Jean’s brother, Pierre Laffite, mysteriously broke out of the Cabildo jail along with three blacks that night. Pierre had been incarcerated since July 1814 on a grand jury indictment. Dominique had been away on a cruise when this occurred, and had only returned to Barataria on Sept. 1. No one knows how Pierre broke out of jail, but both Dominique and jailer J.H. Holland were Masons, so perhaps there was some fortuitous collusion, with Holland just happening to leave the keys temporarily unguarded. At any rate, both Pierre and Dominique were back at Grande Terre within a couple of days. It seems likely Dominique saw to it that neither the British nor Claiborne could use Pierre as a bargaining chip to gain Jean’s help.

Blanque presented the letters packet  the next day (Sept. 7) to Gov. Claiborne, who quickly called for an emergency meeting of his informal board of officers, consisting of Commodore Daniel T. Patterson, Col. George Ross, Customs Collector Pierre Dubourg and Jacques Villere, commander of the Louisiana militia. There was some discussion about whether or not the letters were genuine. Apparently no one thought to just hold the paper to the light to see the royal watermarks  found on all British naval writing paper of the time. Claiborne worried that the letters perhaps were authentic, plus he decided from Jean’s letter to Blanque that the privateer would take no part with the British. However, he abstained from voting on what to do about the letters. Only Villere, a friend of the Laffites, and a voting member of the group, thought the British documents were genuine. Still, Claiborne vacillated about what if Villere was right.

Patterson was absolutely livid when Claiborne said it might be a good idea to postpone his planned expedition against Barataria in light of the new situation. In August, in response to myriad complaints about Baratarian smuggling against Spanish ships, Patterson had received a direct order to break up the Grande Terre base from Secretary of the Navy William Jones, who had provided him with a schooner, the USS Carolina, to accomplish the mission.  A British blockade at the Balize had postponed the raid, but word had been received that British ships had moved off eastward, towards Mobile, and  Patterson’s little Navy was ready to pounce. Besides, Patterson told the group his orders to attack Barataria left him no alternative but to do so, and Ross agreed.  Claiborne couldn’t argue with an order from the Secretary of the Navy, even though circumstances had dramatically changed.

Ross cinched the vote by saying Laffite’s letter to Lockyer of Sept. 4 showed “Laffite’s acceptation” so for all they knew, the Baratarians were co-operating with the British.  (If this were the case, it made no sense to let Blanque or the state officials see the letters,  but then Patterson and Ross clearly had their minds made up before they even saw the contents of the packet or entered the governor’s chambers.) The meeting ended with Patterson and Ross announcing they would set off for Grande Terre as soon as possible. On Sept. 8, Claiborne sent copies of the packet of letters to Major General Andrew Jackson.

Meanwhile, Pierre Laffite was apprised  at Grande Terre of what had transpired with the British, whereupon he wrote a letter of entreaty to Claiborne, praising the way his brother Jean had handled the situation by sending the letters to the US authorities, and saying in somewhat dramatic fashion for emphasis that he was the “stray sheep wanting to return to the fold,” offering to be of service. Claiborne didn’t get the letter until Sept. 12, and by then it was too late to stop the raid expedition.

Due to the logistics of getting the men of the 44th US infantry together, along with enough sailors, the expedition wasn’t ready to weigh anchor and go until around 1 a.m.on Sept. 11.  They left in the middle of the night to ostensibly avoid spies for the Laffites, but by Sept. 13 or 14, the Laffites knew from spies that they were coming. They managed to get a portion of their goods moved to other warehouses away from the island, but a large lot remained, such as a great deal of German linen, glassware, cocoa and spices, silver plate, and some bullion specie.

The Patterson-Ross expedition took the long way to Grande Terre, down the Mississippi River to the Balize, spending nearly five days on the trip. Once at the mouth of the Mississippi, considering they had all of the American forces with them, including all of the gunboats, they could have gone to the aid of the 130 men at Fort Bowyer, but instead, they headed west, toward Grande Terre and the riches to be found there.

It is true that Patterson and Ross didn’t know Fort Bowyer was being attacked at the very moment their US expedition approaching the delta mouth of the Mississippi, but they did know from the British letters that such an attack was imminent. Luckily the men at Fort Bowyer managed to beat back a land and sea attack by the British, and were saved when the lead ship, Percy’s HMS Hermes, managed to get stuck on a sandbar. Percy was forced to set fire to his own ship and retreat. Nicolls had even worse fortune in the fray, getting ill and having to watch his Royal Colonial Marines from the supposed safety of one of the ships, only to lose the sight in one eye permanently after a stray splinter hit him.

Both Jean and Pierre Laffite managed to escape the Patterson-Ross raid that arrived the morning of Sept. 16, taking refuge at  a plantation along the German Coast above New Orleans. They would remain there until sometime in mid December, when a deal would be struck with Jackson and Claiborne to provide men and supplies to assist the American forces. Captured in the raid were Dominique You and about 80 other Baratarians, who would spend nearly three months in the Cabildo jail before getting amnesty to serve under Jackson. Per Laffite’s order, Dominique made sure that none of the Baratarians at Grande Terre fired a single shot at the Americans. The raid netted five of the fast privateer schooners the British had so desired, with Patterson ordering another one, the Cometa, burned as it wasn’t ready to sail yet. Those five ships would spend several months at dock in New Orleans, and were not used to fight against the British, so effectively they had been negated. It seems odd how this played into the British scheme for Barataria. It took the men of the 44th a week to thoroughly comb through the wreckage for all the prize goods.

If Jean Laffite had decided, like Lockyer and Percy wished, to hand over the privateer schooners to the British, the first Battle of Fort Bowyer might have been won by the British, who would have proceeded from there to Baton Rouge, and down to New Orleans by the river and land, according to their campaign strategy. If Patterson and Ross had not destroyed Barataria and confiscated those privateer ships, the Baratarians could have assisted the American gunboats to rout the British warships from even approaching Lake Borgne; they also could have woven around  and worried the heavy British ships from disembarking troops to attack Fort Bowyer.

The British visit to Laffite set in motion a chain of events, a domino effect, that resulted in the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans. The “what ifs’ of history are myriad: the results are what the true patriots create.

Today, almost exactly 200 years later, the area of Grande Terre where the British sat down with Laffite at his home is under the oily sludge-stained waters of an encroaching Barataria Bay. Soon, the island will be swept over into oblivion as hurricanes and time take their toll, but the memory of what happened there will live on.

FOR FURTHER READING:

Davis, William C.  The Pirates Laffite, the Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf. Harcourt, 2005.

Latour, Arsene Lacarriere. Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15. Expanded edition, The Historic New Orleans Collection and University Press of Florida, 1999.

 

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