« PreviousContinue »
34 Mississippi Company.
1717. Crozat, with whom was associated Cadillac, the founder of Detroit and governor of Louisiana, relied mainly upon two things for success in his speculation ; the one, the discovery of mines; the other, a lucrative trade with New Mexico. In regard to the first, after many years' labor, he was entirely disappointed; and met with no better success in his attempt to open a trade with the Spaniards, although he sent to them both by sea and land.
Crozat, therefore, being disappointed in his mines and his trade, and having, withal, managed so badly as to diminish the colony, at last, in 1717, resigned his privileges to the king again, leaving in Louisiana not more than seven hundred souls.
Then followed the enterprises of the far-famed Mississippi Company or Company of the West, established to aid the immense banking and stock-jobbing speculations of John Law, a gambling, wandering Scotchman, who seems to have been possessed with the idea that wealth could be indefinitely increased by increasing the circulating medium in the form of notes of credit. The public debt of France was selling at 60 to 70 per cent. discount; Law was authorized to establish a bank of circulation, the shares in which might be paid for in public stock at par, and to induce the public to subscribe for the bank shares, and to confide in them, the Company of the West was established in connection with the Bank, having the exclusive right of trading in the Mississippi country for twenty-five years, and with the monopoly of the Canada beaver trade. This was in September, 1717; in 1718 the monopoly of tobacco was also granted to this favored creature of the State; in 1719, the exclusive right of trading in Asia, and the East Indies; and soon after the farming of the public revenue, together with an extension of all these privileges to the year 1770; and as if all this had been insufficient, the exclusive right of coining, for nine years, was next added to the immense grants already made to the Company of the West.* Under this hotbed system, the stock of the Company rose to 500, 600, 800, 1000, 1500, and at last 2050 per cent. ; this was in April, 1720. At that time the notes of the bank in circulation exceeded two hundred millions of dollars, and this abundance of money raised the price of every thing to twice its true value. Then the bubble burst; decree after decree was made to uphold the tottering fabric of false credit, but in vain; in January, 1720, Law had been
After 1719, called the Company of the Indies.
New Orleans laid out.
made minister of finance, and as such he proceeded first, to forbid all persons to have on hand more than about one hundred dollars in specie, any amount beyond that must be exchanged for paper, and all payments for more than twenty dollars were to be made in paper; and this proving insufficient, in March, all payments over two dollars were ordered to be in paper, and he who dared attempt to exchange a bill for specie forfeited both.
Human folly could go no farther; in April the stock began to fall, in May the Company was regarded as bankrupt, the notes of the bank fell to ten cents on the dollar, and though a decree made it an offence to refuse them at par they were soon worth little more than waste paper.
Under the direction of a Company thus organized and controlled, and closely connected with a bank so soon ruined, but little could be hoped for a colony which depended on good management to develop its real resources for trade and agriculture.* In 1718, colonists were sent from Europe, and New Orleans laid out with much ceremony and many hopes; but in January, 1722, Charlevoix writing thence, says, “if the eight hundred fine houses and the five parishes that were two years since represented by the journals, as existing here, shrink now to a hundred huts, built without order,--a large wooden magazine,-two or three houses that would do but little credit to a French village,—and half of an old store-house, which was to have been occupied as a chapel, but from which the priests soon retreated to a tent as preferable,if all this is so, still how pleasant to think of what this city will one day be, and instead of weeping over its decay and ruin to look forward to its growth to opulence and power.”+ And again, “The best idea you can form of New Orleans, is to imagine two hundred persons, sent to build a city, but who have encamped on the river-bank, just sheltered from the weather, and waiting for houses.—They have a beautiful and regular plan for this metropofis, but it will prove harder to execute than to draw.”# Such, not in words precisely but in substance, were the representations and hopes of the wise historian of New France, respecting the capital of the colony of Law's great corporation; and we may be sure that with the chief place in such a condition, not much had been
A set of regulations for governing the Company, passed in 1721, may be found in Dillon's Indiana, 41 to 44. + Charlevoix, iii. 430_ed. 1744.
Charlevoix, iii. 441-ed. 1744.
Massacre by Natchez.
done for the permanent improvement of the country about it. The truth was, the same prodigality and folly which prevailed in France during the government of John Law, over credit and commerce, found their way to his western possessions; and though the colony then planted, survived, and the city then founded became in time what had been hoped,—it was long before the influence of the gambling mania of 1718, 19 and 20, passed away. Indeed the returns from Louisiana never repaid the cost and trouble of protecting it, and, in 1732, the Company asked leave to surrender their privileges to the crown, a favor which was granted them.
But though the Company of the West did little for the enduring welfare of the Mississippi valley, it did something; the cultivation of tobacco, indigo, rice and silk, was introduced, the lead mines of Missouri were opened, though at vast expense and in hope of finding silver; and, in Illinois, the culture of wheat began to assume some degree of stability, and of importance. In the neighborhood of the River Kaskaskias, Charlevoix found three villages, and about Fort Chartres, the head quarters of the Company in that region, the French were rapidly settling.
All the time, however, during which the great monopoly lasted, was, in Louisiana, a time of contest and trouble. The English, who, from an early period, had opened commercial relations with the Chickasaws, through them constantly interfered with the trade of the Mississippi. Along the coast, from Pensacola to the Rio del Norte, Spain disputed the claims of her northern neighbor: and at length the war of the Natchez struck terror into the hearts of both white and red men. Amid that nation, as we have said, D'Iberville had marked out Fort Rosalie, in 1700, and fourteen years later its erection had been commenced. The French, placed in the midst of the natives, and deeming them worthy only of contempt, increased their demands and injuries until they required even the abandonment of the chief town of the Natchez, that the intruders might use its site for a plantation. The inimical Chickasaws heard the murmurs of their wronged brethren, and breathed into their ears counsels of vengeance ; the sufferers determined on the extermination of their tyrants. On the 28th of November, 1729, every Frenchman in that colony died by the hands of the natives, with the exception of two mechanics: the women and children were spared. It was a fearful revenge, and fearfully did the avengers suffer for their murders. Two months passed by,