Chapter 15: Bienville Leaves the Colony-- His Character

Albert James Pickett: HISTORY OF ALABAMA.
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)



In our investigations of the French Colonial History of Alabama and Mississippi, for a period of sixteen years from the conclusion of the campaigns of Bienville and D'Artguette, in the Chickasaw nation, we find but little to interest the reader. The same difficulties as heretofore continued to exist with the Indian tribes, with the colonial authorities, and with the English of Carolina. Bienville began, soon after his defeat near Pontotoc, to lose favor with the King and the West Indian Company. To recover the ground which he had lost in their confidence, he exerted himself to organize another expedition against the Chickasaws; and having perfected it, he sailed up the Mississippi to Fort St. Francis, and disembarking, brought his army to a place near the mouth of the Margot or Wolf river. Here his troops remained a long time, until, reduced by death from various diseases, and by famine, he was left with but few soldiers. Finally, with these M. Celeron was ordered to march against the Chickasaw towns. As he advanced, the Chickasaws, supposing that a large French army had invaded their country, sued for peace. Celeron took advantage of their mistake, and immediately came to terms with them. The Chickasaws promised to expel the English traders from their country, and from that time, to remain true to the French interest. When the result of this expedition, which terminated forever the military operations of Bienville, became known in France, the governor began to receive despatches ina spirit of much harshness and censure. The pride of Bienville was wounded--his spirit was humbled; and, being too sensible a man to retain a position the duties of which it was believed he had failed creditably to perform, he now requested to be recalled. Mar. 26 1742: He wrote to the Minister as follows:

"If success had always corresponded with my application to the affairs of the government and administration of the colony, and with my zeal for the service of the King, I would have rejoiced in devoting the rest of my days to such objects; but, through a sort of fatality, which, for some time past, has obstinately thwarted my best concerted plans, I have frequently lost the fruit of my labors, and, perhaps some ground in your excellency's confidence, therefore have I come to the conclusion, that it is no longer necessary for me to struggle against my adverse fortune. I hope that better luck may attend my successor. During the remainder of my stay here, I will give all my attention to smooth the difficulties attached to the office which I shall deliver up to him; and it is to me a subject of self-gratulation that I shall transmot to him the governmnety of the colony, when its affairs are in better condition than they have ever been. *

* Louisiana, its Colonial History and Romance, by Charles Gayarre, pp. 526--.527. See also Bienville's letter in French, contained in Histoire de la Louisiane, par Charles Gayarre.

Bienville was, unquestionably, not only a great and good man, but a modest one. We find in this letter none of that disgusting cant indulged on by American politicians and American officeholders, when they lose their places. In these days it is common for such men to say that they have been treated with ingratitude by the government, if they are removed from an office -- or by the people, if an opposing candidate is elected to Congress, and to whine and complain about having "grown gray in the service of their country," when intruth, they have lived at their ease and feasted upon the contents of the public treasury, time out of mind. Some of these men have received over a hundred thousand dollars for occupying seats in the Senate and the House of Representatives, and much larger sums for filling the office of President, and for foreign missions; and yet, after all these favors, from the government and the people, they complain of being treated with ingratitude, if they lose their position. The people who permitted them so long to hold these trusts, often to their own injury, should never be charged with the crime of ingratitude; but the recipients of all these political favors should ever feel grateful, and retire with dignity and grace, like the good and wise Bienville. *

* If Alabama should, hereafter change the names of any of her present counties, or form new ones, we very respectfully suggest that one be named "DeSoto," and another "Bienville". The former was the first to discover our territory, and the latter was the French governor of it for forty years! We have a sufficient number of counties, rivers, creeks and towns bearing Indian names to preserve a remembrance of the former residence of the Red Men here. We have counties also named for politicians and warriors, but unlike Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia, we have not one named for a person whose name would lead us to think of the history of our country.

The successor to Bienville, the Marquis De Vaudreuil, arrived at New Orleans, and shortly afterwards the former sailed for France. Although sixty-five years of age when he left the colony, Bienville lived to the advanced age of ninety. What a constitution for amn who had passed through such trials and hardships! In the whole of the twenty-five years that he passed in France, he never, for one moment, forgot the colony in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. He nursed it in his remembrance, as does the aged grandfather who is far off from his beloved descendants. He sympathized with its misfortunes, and exulted in its triumphs and prosperity. Whenever a vessel, from the colony, reached the shores of France, Bienville was the fisrt to go on board, and learn tidings of his beloved bantling. And when the French King, towards the last of Bienville's days, ceded the colony of Louisiana to Spain, the good old man implored him with tears in his eyes, nit to place the French subjects of the colony under control of the tyrannical Spaniards.

Another distinguished person departed from our country about the time that Bienville sailed for France--Diron D'Artaguette, the royal commissary, who had lived so 1742 long at Mobile. As we have seen, he came to our country in 1708, where he filled several high offices until 1742. It was his younger brother whom the Chickasaws burned to death, near Pontotoc, in the present State of Mississippi. It is not known whether the royal commissary and Bienville ever again became friends. They ought, really, never to have disagreed, as they were both men of ability, honor and fidelity.

The colony, at length, became prosperous. Capitalists embarked in agriculture and commerce, after the restrictions upon the latter had been set aside by the King. Cargoes of flour, hides, pork, bacon, leather, tallow, bear's oil and lumber found their way to Europe. These articles came chiefly from the Illinois and Wabash counties, and the inhabitants of that region, in return, received from New Orleans and Mobile, rice, indigo, tobacco, sugar and European fabrics. But a war broke out between France and Great Britain, and the Chickasaws, again becoming the allies of the English, the Marquis de Vaudreuil determined to invade their country. He organized his army, and embarking in boats, at Mobile, made his way up the Tombigby river. After resting a few days at Fort "Tombechbe," he renewed his voyage until he reached the place where Bienville, sixteen years before, had diembarked his army. Marching from this point with his troops, composed of French and Choctaws, he reached the Chickasaw towns, and was finally beaten, and compelled to retreat to his boats near Cotton Gin Port. All he accomplished was to destroy the fields and burn some cabins of the enemy. Arriving at Fort "Tombechbe," he caused it to be enlarged and strengthened -- leaving there a strong detachment to prevent the incursions of the Chickasaws. Like Bienville, the Marquis returned to Mobile, not all satisfied with the laurels which he won in his expedition against the Chickasaws. *

* It has been stated to me, by several persons, that cannon have been found in the Tombigby, at or near Cotton Gin Port, and it has been supposed that they were left there by De Soto. De Soto brought from Cuba but one piece of artillery, and that he left behind him in Florida. If any such cannon have been found in the Tombigby, they belonged to the Marquis De Vaudreuil. He carried with him a few pieces to operate against the Chickasaws upon the occasion just referred to. After he had fought the Chickasaws, and returned to his boats, he found that the Tombigby had fallen considerably, and it is probable he threw these cannon into the river to lighten his boats.

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