Chapter 17: Bossu's Visit to the French Forts upon the Alabama and Tombigby Rivers

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



Dec. 20 1758: Governor Kerlerec having ordered Bossu, a Captain of the French Marines, to depart from New Orleans with a detachment, destined for Fort Toulouse, among the Creek Indians, that officer reached Mobile, and was there received by D'Aubant, adjutant of that place. The latter, the same officer who married the Russian Princess, and lived with her in Mobile, as we have seen, had recently been appointed to the command of Fort Toulouse, and was instructed to accompany Bossu to that point; but sickness, for a while, detained him at Mobile. In the meantime, Bossu embarked his soldiers and Choctaws in several boats. After a tedious voyage of fifty days, up the Alabama river, he moored his boats at the French fort, upon the Coosa. Here he had the pleasure of D'Aubant, who, having recovered from his indisposition, had come from Mobile on horseback, across the vast wilderness. Montberaut, who was still in command of the fort, received D'Aubant with politeness, and for three months previous to his departure to Mobile, instructed him in regard to the condition of the fort, and of the policy which it was necessary for him to pursue with the tribes around. Montberaut was an officer of high reputation among the Creeks and Alabamas, and "was remarkable for the spirited speeches which he delivered, in a manner analogous to the way of thinking of these nations. " * He despised the Jesuits, and, as they were formally stationed at Fort Toulouse, he always lived upon bad terms with them. Father Le Roi, one of these missionaries, wrote a letter to the Governor, in which he abused Montberant in unmeasured terms, and advised his removal. The soldier to whom the letter was delivered, and who was to convey it to Mobile, handed it to Montberaut, who noted its contents. When the Jesuit met him the next morning, he showed him many civilities, as Bossu says, "according to the political principles of these good fathers." The commandant asked him if he had written anything against him. The Jesuit, not suspecting that his letter was in the officer's hands, assured him, by all that was sacred, that he had not. Montberaut then called Father Le Roi an impositor and cheat, and fixed his letter at the gate of the fort. Since that time no Jesuits have been among the Creeks and Alabamas. *

* Bossu's Travels, vol. 1, p. 229.

When Bossu visited Fort Toulouse, upon the Coosa, he found that the Creeks and Alabamas were happy people. They lived with ease, had an abundance around them, and were at peace with the surrounding savages. While at the fort, Bossu heard a Chief deliver the following beautiful speech:

"Young men and warriors! Do not disregard the Master of Life. The sky is blue--the sun is without spots--the weather is fair--the ground is white--everything is quiet on the face of the earth, and the blood of men ought not to be spilt on it. We must beg the Master of Life to preserve it pure and spotless among the nations that surround us."

April 1759: Not only were the Creeks and Alabamas at peace with other nations, at this time, but gave evidences of warm and generous hospitality. They thronged the banks of the river, which now meanders along the borders of the counties of Autauga, Montgomery, Dallas and Lowndes, as Bossu slowly made his way up the beautiful stream--greeted him with friendly salutations, and offered him provisions, such as bread, roasted turkeys, broiled venson, pancakes baked with nut oil, and deers' tongues, together with baskets full of eggs of the fowl and turtle. The Great Spirit had blessed them with a magnificent river, abounduiing with fish; with delicious and cool fountains, gushing out from the foot of the hills; with rich lands, that produced without cultivation; and with vast forests, abounding in game of every description. But now the whole scene has changed. The coutry is no longer half so beautiful; the waters of the Alabama begin to be discolored; the forests have been cut down; steamers have destroyed the finny race; deer bound not over the plain; the sluggish bear has ceased to wind through the swamps; the bloody panther does not spring upon his prey; wolves have ceased to howl upon the hills; birds cannot be seen in the branches of the trees; graceful warriors guide no longer their well-shaped canoes; and beautuful squaws loiter not upon the plain, nor pick delicious berries. Now, vast fields of cotton, noisy steamers, huge rafts of lumber, towns reared for business, disagreeable corporation laws, harassing courts of justice, mills, factories, and everything else that is calculated to destroy the beauty of a country and to rob man of his quiet and native independence, present themselves to our view.

The heart yearns to behold, once more, such a country as Alabama was the first time we saw it, when a boy. But where can we now go, that we shall not find the busy American, with keen desire to destroy everything which nature has made lovely? Fort Toulouse, at various times, had many commandants, who filled each others' places according to the will or whim of the colonial governor and the different companies. At one time, the Chevalier D'Ernville commanded here, when a young warrior killed a French soldier, and fled to the forests. According to an agreement formed between the French and the Indians, when the fort was first established, the killing of a person was to be atoned for by the immediate execution of him who committed the deed, whether he was a Frenchman or an Indian. D'Ernville demanded the Indian of the Chiefs, who stated that they were unable to find him. He next required that the mother of the guilty warrior should be made to expiate the crime. They replied that the mother had not killed the Frenchman; but the officer only reminded them of the agreement, and further, of the previous customs of their country. Deeply embarrassed, in consequence of the escape of the criminal, and unwilling that the old woman should be put to death, the Chiefs, to compromise the case, offered the French officer furs and horse-loads of booty. But D'Ernville was unyielding, and had the mother brought out before Fort Toulouse, to suffer death. Her relatives followed her with sad countenances, one of them exclaiming, in a loud voice, "My mother-in-law dies courageously, as she has not struck a blow." In a few minutes the son rushed through the canebrake, boldly walked up to D'Ernville, gave himself up, saved the life of his mother, and was then -- killed!

May 1759: One day it was announced at Fort Toulouse that the Emperor of Coweta, a town on the Chattahoochie, was advancing to pay the French a visit. Bossu walked some distance upon the pathway, towards the present Grey's Ferry, which was, at that early day, a great crossing place for the Indians. He was accompanied by some soldiers, and to surprise the Emperor, they fired their muskets as soon as Bossu took him by the hand, whoch was also the signal for a general discharge of the artillery of the fort. The woods presently resounded with the great noise of the cannon, and the Emperor felt that he was greatly honored. He was then mounted on a Spanish horse, with an English saddle, which was bordered with a beautiful spotted skin. He alighted from his horse, and advanced to the fort with an air of great dignity and importance. His costume was so singular as to excite the subdued risibilities of the Frenchmen who marched behind him. He wore on his head a crest of black plumes; his coat was scarlet, with English cuffs, and beset with tinsel lace; he had neither waistcoat nor breeches; under his coat he wore a white linen shirt. His attendants were naked, and painted in a variety of colors. Being only eighteen years of age, the Emperor was accompanied by his Regent, a noble and wise old man, who ruled the Lower Creeks during his minority. When they reached the fort, the old man delivered a speech to D'Aubant, which was reported by Laubene, the King's interpreter, who had been long stationed at that place.

Being anxious to alienate the Lower Creeks, upon the Chattahoochie, from the relations which they now formed with the Georgians, D'Aubant paid the visitors unusual attention. The next day, at ten o'clock, he received the Emperor, his War Chief, Regent, Doctor, and followers, in considerable state. They were marched before the officers and soldiers, who were all drawn up in full uniform. At noon they were conducted to the dining table, where they annd the officers took seats together. The Emperor was much puzzled in what manner to employ the knife and fork, and was extremely awkward and embarrassed. But the old Regent seized the backbone and breast of a turkey, and broke them in two with his fingers, saying, "The Master of Life made fingers before knives and forks were made."

Towards the end of the repast, a servant of the Emperor, who stood behind his chair, perceived that the French ate mustard with their boiled meat. He asked Beaudin what it was that they relished so much? This officer, the same who went to the Chattahoochie, and arrested the soldiers who fled from Cat Island, and who lived forty years in the Creek nation, replied that the French were by no means covetous of what they possessed. He handed the Indian a spoonful of the mustard, who swallowed it. He thereupon made many ridiculous contortions, giving several whoops, and affrording the whole company much merriment. The Indian imagined himself to be poisoned, and D'Aubant, the commandant, could only appease him by a glass of delightful brandy.*

* Travels through that part of North America formerly called Louisiana, by M. Bossu, Captain in the French Marines. Vol. 1, pp. 226-278.

About this time the celebrated Russian Princess, whom, as we have seen, D'Aubant had long since married, at Mobile, becoming tired of his protracted absence, determined to join him, which, indeed, had been planned when the chevalier left her at Mobile. Going on board a boat which was starting for Fort Toulouse, this remarkable and romantic woman, afer a long voyage, arrived at this place with her little daughter and a female servant. She was affectionately received by D'Aubant, and had many lively adventures to relate of her passage up the Alabama. Not having pleasnat quarters in the fort, a cabin was built for her in the field, not far from the fort, to which was attached a brick chimney, the fragments of which still reamain there. Here this gay woman was accustomed to converse with the Indians and prattle with their pickaninnies. So then, citizens of Wetumpka, there was once living within three miles of your city a Russian Princess, so represented to bem who married the son of Peter the Great! *

* French MS. letters in my possession, obtained from Paris.

While at Fort Toulouse Bossu received an order to repair to Mobile, for the purpose of serving under the orders of De Ville, the King's lieutenant, stationed at that place. He entered a boat, and after a prosperous voyage reached Mobile. Some time afterwards he was ordered to command a convoy to Fort "Tombechbe." He left Mobile with three boats, in which were soldiers and Mobile Indians. He entered the Tombigby river after a voyage of seven days, whioch now can be performed in four hours. Mooring his boats near some land a little elevated above the water he picthed his camp, and prepared to pass the night on shore, as was the custom of all voyagers of that day. While wrapped in a corner of his tent cloth, and reposing upon his bear's skin, with a string of fine fish, which he designed for breakfast, lying at his feet, he was awakened from a profound sleep by finding himself suddenly carried away by an extraordinary force. Terribly alarmed he cried out for help. An enormous alligator, intent upon seizing the string of fish, had caught in his teeth a portion of the tent cloth, and was hurrying Bossu, tent cloth, bear skin, fish and all, rapidly to his accustomed elements. Fortunately, just before the alligator plunged into the river Bossu saved huimself and the bear skin, but the fish and the tent cloth disppeared with the monster.

Aug 1759: The voyage up the river was remarkably tedious, for it being at a low stage Bossu was often compelled to drag his boats over the bars. He camped upon the banks every night, and to protect himself as much as possible from the mosquitoes he placed canes in the ground, and making their tops meet by bending them over formed an arch. Over this rude frame he threw a linen sheet, and slept under it mosr comfortable, reposing on his bear skin. On one occasion provisons got so scarce that Bossu sent out soemof his men to procure game in the forests. Discovering the nest of a large eagle, built in the branches of a lofty tree, the Indians soon prostrated the latter with their axes. They obtained from this immense nest several fawns, rabbits, wild turkeys , partridges and wild pigeons, together with four young eaglets. * The old eagles fought desperately for their young, but the famished party bore off the nest and the abundance of gamne it contained, all of which had recently been taken for the eaglets to devour. Bossu and his party lived sumptuously during the remainder of their voyage, which was at leangth terminated at Fort "Tombechbe," the site is now familarly known as Jones' Bluff. De Grandpre, a Canadian of much bravery, and possessed of much experience in relation to the habits and customs of the Indians, commanded the garrison at this post. Bossu's journal, kept at this place, is wholly occupied with the manners and customs of the Choctaws. As we have already referred to him, upon this subject, in our description of that tribe, we will omit here what would be a mere repetition, only submitting to the reader the following extract:

"I saw an Indian of the Choctaws who had lately been baptized. As he had no luck in hunting, he imagined himself bewitched. He went immediately to Father Lefevre, the Jesuit missionary, who was stationed at Fort "Tombechbe," and who had for nothing, for, since he had practiced it upon him, he could kill no deer. He therefore desired the priest to take off his enchantment. The Jesuit, in order to avoid the resentment of this Indian, acted as if he had been annihilated the baptismal ceremony. Some time after this, the Indian killed a deer, and, thus thinking himself forever free from the enchantment, was a most happy fellow." *

* Bossu must be mistaken as to the number of eaglets. According to my reading of natural history, I am under the impression that not more than two eaglets are ever found in the same nest.

* *Bossu's Travels, pp. 226-318.

Feb.18 1763: But the colony Louisiana so vast in extent, and embracing within the limits the territory of our own State, and that of Mississippi, was soon to be taken from the French. It has beem seen that the English and the French had long been competitors for the commercial patronage of the Indians, in Lower Louisiana, and also for the right to the soil. Far more bitter were their jealousies, and far more bloody their feuds upon the bordesr of Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania. For some time,a serious colonial war had been raging between the Noirth American provinces of France and those of England. The French lost post after post. The victorious Britons garriosned them with troops, and then captured others. In this manner, the King of France lost all his Louisiana possessions, amd witth them, the soil of Mississippi and Alabama. Spain, too, had allied her self with France in the war. At length, the three belligerent powers concluded a peace, the conditions of which are stated in the commencement of the next chapter.

Oct.: Agreeably to the provisions of that treaty, Pierre Annibal de Ville, lieutenant of the King, commandant at Mobile, and Jean Gabriel Fazende, d'ordonnatuer, delivered that town and its dependences to Major Robert Farmer, commissary of His Britannic Majesty.

Nov. 23: Pierre Chabert, captain of infantry and commandant of Fort "Tombechbe," and Valentine Duboca, keeper of the magazine, delivered that post to Captain Thomas Ford, who garrisoned it with English troops.

Nov. 1763: The Chevalier Lavnoue, commanding Fort Toulouse, upon the Coosa, not being relieved by the appearance of any British officer, spiked his cannon, broke off the trunnions or ears, and left them in the fort. The river being shallow, during a dry fall, and having his soldiers and all the provisions and military effects to convey to Mobile, in boats, he caused to be cast into the Coosa all which the magazine contained, among which was a large quantity of powder.*

* Histoire de la Louisiane, par Charles Gayarre, vol. 2, pp. 108-9.

to next chapter
to Contents