Etienne de Boré de Mauleon
Source: US Geneweb Archives
In June, 1884, when the presentation of M. de Borés portrait was made to
the Sugar Exchange of New Orleans, Prof. Alcee Fortier wrote a biographical notice of the great pioneer planter, for the secretary of the Exchange, D. D. Colcock, which was published in the "Picayune" of June 26 that year.
This contribution to the literature of Louisiana, owing to its style and subject, is very valuable. M. de Boré's connection with the successful beginnings of the sugar industry in this state links his name with the history of the cane and its manufacture so closely that the sketch is made a part of this chapter.
Jean Etienne do Boré, also a creole, was born at Kaskaskia, in the Illinois territory of Louisiana, on December 27, 1741. His father, Louis de Boré, was of an old Norman family. His mother was Therese Celeste Carriere do Mont Brun. His grandfather, Robert de Boré, had been one of the counselors of Louis XIV., director-general of the postoffice department and one of the stewards of the king's household.
As was the custom in the colony, Jean Etienne do Borés parents sent him to France to be educated. He received the training of a military school, a circumstance which may account for the self-reliance and firmness of character which were to render his name forever memorable in the history of Louisiana. On leaving college, Mr. de Boré entered the celebrated corps of the Mousquetairies, or Guardsmen. As says Mr. Gayarré, no one could be a Mousquetaire who was not of well-established nobility. A private in the Moasquetaries had the rank of captain, and a captain of the Guardsmen held the rank of lieutenant-general. Mr. de Boré was a Mousquetaire up to l768, when he came to Louisiana on a leave of absence to see about his property in the colony.
He must have found Louisiana in a dreadful condition. It was the very year that Laferniere and his patriotic friends had tried to establish a republic in America, and failing in this, had been cruelly put to death by General O'Reilly. Mr. de Boré, finding no inducement to stay in the colony, which was no longer French, but Spanish, returned to France in 1769. He then received from Louis XV. his commission as captain of the second company of cavalry of the "Mousquetaires Noirs."
He married in 1771, the daughter of Mr. Destre'han, ox-treasurer of Louisiana, and his wife having some property in the colony, he resigned his commission as captain of cavarly and returned to Louisiana, which at that time was very prosperous under the mild rule of the Spanish governors who had succeeded O'Reilly.
Mr. de Boré settled in the parish of St. Charles, on a plantation which belongs now to Mr. Norbert Louque. He exchanged it with Mr. Piseros for a plantation situated in what was then the territory of Orleans. It became afterward a part of the parish of Jefferson, and forms now that part of the city of New Orleans which extends from the inferior limit of the City park, or Exposition ground to the upper limit of Rickerville. Mr. de Borés plantation comprised the land where are now Burtheville, Bloomingdale and Hurstville.
It is necessary to enter into these details in order to know exactly in what part of Louisiana sugar was made for the first time.
In 1794 Mr. de Boré, as all the planters in the colony, had lost a great deal of money by the failure of the indigo crop. He therefore resolved to undertake the cultivation of the sugar cane, being confident that sugar could be made in Louisiana. He bought all the cane of Messrs. Mendez and Solis and planted them on his plantation, notwithstanding the opposition of his friends, of his relatives, and especially of his wife. Mr. Morime, from the Antilles, who was then in New Orleans, found Mr. Boré in his field planting his cane, and told him that: he had come to tell him that he could not succeed in manufacturing sugar in Louisiana, because the climate being so cold the cane would never be ripe enough to produce a sufficient quantity Of saccharine matter. Mr. de Boré listened to him attentively and made the following characteristic reply: "I am very much obliged to you, sir, for your kindness in trying to induce me to abandon an undertaking which you believe to be rash and injudicious, but, as you see, my sugar-house is being built, my canes are almost all planted; I have incurred two-thirds of the expenses necessary for this year's crop; therefore I would lose much more by abandoning my cane than by attempting to grind them. Besides, I am convinced that I am right and that I shall succeed."
Mr. Morime seeing that Mr. de Borés decision was irrevocable, asked him to take him as his sugar maker. The offer was accepted. In 1793 Mr. de Boré ground his cane, and after a moment of anxious suspense the sugar maker, says Mr. Gayarre', cried out: "It granulates." Those two words rang throughout Louisiana, and in a abort time fields green with the cane, and sugar houses in full operation were to be seen in Louisiana.
Mr. de Boré made with his first crop 100 hogshead of sugar. He sold his sugar at 12-1/2 cents a pound and his molasses at 50 cents a gallon, and made a profit of $12,000. Etienne de Boré lived twenty-four years after his great success. He died on his plantation, leaving $100,000 to each one of his children.
He had born to him three daughters, who had married B. F. Le Breton, Pierre Foucher and Mr. Gayarre', the father of our great historian, Charles Gayarre'. Mr. de Boré was appointed mayor of New Orleans by Laussat, when Napoleon took back Louisiana from Spain. He resigned, however, when the colony became a territory of the United States.
Biographical and Historical Memoires of Louisiana, (vol. 2), pp. 476-477.
The following was published in the Harper's Weekly, March 1887, pp 606-621
Published by the Goodspeed Publishing Company, Chicago, 1892.
A LOUISIANA SUGAR PLANTATION OF THE OLD RÉGIME
BY CHARLES GAYARRÉ
The Boré plantation was situated on the left bank of the Mississippi, about six miles above New Orleans, taking as a point of departure the Cathedral, then the centre of the city, and following the public road that ran along the river in all its windings. The next one above was the plantation of Pierre Foucher, the son-in-law of Boré, and a portion of it is now the City Park, on which the "World's Exposition" lately took place, succeeded by the present "American Exposition." It is a spot round which cluster more historical souvenirs than about any other in Louisiana. The plantation above Foucher's, and on which has since sprung up the town of Carrollton, belonged to Lafrénière, Attorney-General under the French government, who was the principal leader in the revolution that drove away, in 1768, the first Spanish Governor, Don Antonio de Ulloa, who had come to take possession of Louisiana, transferred by France to Spain. Lafrénière had two sons-in-law—Noyan, Bienville's nephew, executed by Governor O'Reilly for rebellion against the King of Spain, and Lebreton, who had been a mousquetaire, or guardsman, in the King's household troops. He became proprietor of the plantation after his father-in-law had been shot by the same authority. The son of this Lebreton married a daughter of Boré. On his being assassinated by a petted and pampered slave, the plantation passed into the hands of Macarty, who had been the tutor of the children of the defunct, and has since become the town of Carrollton. The youngest and last daughter of Boré married Don Carlos Gayarré, the grandson of the real contador, or royal contador, Don Estevan Gayarré whose mission was to take possession of Louisiana with Governor Ulloa. This third son-in-law resided on the plantation of Boré; so that all those families were grouped in a tribe-like fashion around a central point—the head and patriarch of the family and its branches.
On the Foucher plantation, and near its upper limit, there was a very large house, occupied by one Lefort, who kept a school that was very well attended by the children of the planters on both sides of the river. It was there that I learned my A B C, before I was sent to the College of Orleans, situated where to-day stands the Church of St. Augustin, corner of St. Claude and Bayou Road, alias Hospital Street. This Lefort was a man of culture, but rather rough, and unmercifully addicted to striking his pupils. I was six years old when I attended his school, and I have not yet forgotten, after so many years, the blows which he used to give me because my young and imperfect organs of speech could not properly pronounce the English the. He was very fat and pot-bellied. When the river was high, and covered the batture in front of the levee, he took us to bathe twice a week. The way in which he floated on the river without any effort, and like a bag of wind, was to me at the time a cause of wonder and speculation. To dive would have been for him as impossible as to fly like a bird.
Indigo had been the principal staple of the colony, but at last a worm which attacked the plant and destroyed it, through consecutive years, was reducing to poverty and to the utmost despair the whole population. Jean Etienne de Boré determined to make a bold experiment to save himself and his fellow-citizens, and convert his indigo plantation into one of sugar-cane.
In these critical circumstances he resolved to renew the attempt which had been made to manufacture sugar. He immediately prepared" to go into all the expenses and incur all the obligations consequent on so costly an undertaking. His wife warned him that her father had in former years vainly made a similar attempt; she represented that he was hazarding on the cast of a die all that remained of their means of existence; that if he failed, as was so probable, he would reduce his family to hopeless poverty; that he was of an age—being over fifty years old—when fate was not to be tempted by doubtful experiments, as he could not reasonably entertain the hope of a sufficiently long life to rebuild his fortune if once completely shattered; and that he would not only expose himself to ruin, but also to a risk much more to be dreaded—that of falling into the grasp of creditors. Friends and relatives joined their remonstrances to hers, but could not shake the strong resolve of his energetic mind. Ho had fully matured his plan, and was determined to sink or swim with it.
Purchasing a quantity of canes from two individuals named Mendez and Solis, who cultivated them only for sale as a dainty in the New Orleans market, and to make coarse syrup, he began to plant in 1794, and to make all the other necessary preparation, and in 1795 he made a crop of sugar which sold for twelve thousand dollars—a large sum at that time. Boré's attempt had excited the keenest interest; many had frequently visited him during the year to witness his preparations; gloomy predictions had been set afloat, and on the day when the grinding of the cane was to begin, a large number of the most respectable inhabitants had gathered in and about the sugar-house to be present at the failure or success of the experiment. Would the syrup granulate? would it be converted into sugar? The crowd waited with eager impatience for the moment when the man who watches the coction of the juice of the cane determines whether it is ready to granulate. When that moment arrived the stillness of death came among them, each one holding his breath, and feeling that it was a matter of ruin or prosperity for them all. Suddenly the sugar-maker cried out with exultation, "It granulates!" Inside and outside of the building one could have heard the wonderful tidings flying from mouth to mouth and dying in the distance, as if a hundred glad echoes were telling it to one another. Each one of the by-standers pressed forward to ascertain the fact on the evidence of his own senses, and when it could no longer be doubted, there came a shout of joy, and all flocked around Etienne de Boré, overwhelming him with congratulations, and almost hugging the man whom they called their savior—mdash;the savior of Louisiana. Ninety years have elapsed since, and an event which produced so much excitement at the time is very nearly obliterated from the memory of the present generation.
In 1796 a stirring event occurred at the plantation of Etienne de Boré. The French General Collot, on his way to New Orleans from the Western States and Territories, had stopped to visit that gentleman. As soon as this was known in the city, the Governor, Baron de Carondelet, who had received from Philadelphia a confidential communication informing him that General Collot was intrusted by the French government with a secret mission, against which the Spanish authorities were to be on their guard, sent up an armed boat by the river and fifty dragoons by land to arrest him. The General was put in the boat and taken down to New Orleans, where he was imprisoned in Fort St. Charles, situated about the spot where now stands the United States Mint. On the next day he was called upon by the Spanish Governor, who proposed to him a house ill town which he might occupy on parole, and with a soldier at his door. Having accepted the proposition, he left the fort in the Governor's carriage. Shortly after, on the 1st of November, the General, from whom some of his maps, drawings, and writings had been taken away, was conveyed on board of one of the King's galleys, and accompanied by a captain of the regiment of Louisiana, who was not to lose sight of him, was transported to the Balize, where he was detained a prisoner in the house of the chief pilot, Juan Ronquillo, "situated," he said, "in the midst of a vast swamp, and from which there was no egress except in a boat." He remained at that dismal spot until the 22d of December, when he embarked on board of the brig Iphigenia for Philadelphia.
Etienne de Boré was extremely indignant at the arbitrary arrest of General Collot, who was his guest at the time. He considered it an insult to himself, and he expressed his feelings loudly and without restraint. He was known for his intense attachment to French interests, and it is said that the Baron seriously thought of having him arrested and transported to Havana, but that he was deterred by the fear of producing a commotion by inflicting so harsh a treatment on so distinguished a citizen, who, by his personal character, his rank, his family connections, and the benefit he had lately conferred on his country by the introduction of a new branch of industry, commanded universal sympathies and exercised the widest influence.
In the beginning of 1798, when Gayoso de Lemos was Governor of Louisiana, the Boré plantation was visited by three illustrious strangers, the Duke of Orleans and his two brothers, the Count of Beaujolais and the Duke of Montpensier, of the royal house of France, who, driven into exile after the death of their father on the scaffold, were striking examples of those remarkable vicissitudes of fortune with which the annals of history are so replete. When a mousquetaire, or guardsman, in the household troops of Louis XV., and watching over the safety of the Majesty of France, little did De Boré dream that the day would come when three princes of the blood would be his guests on the bank of the Mississippi.
This plantation was sagaciously and tastefully laid out for beauty and productiveness. The gardens occupied a large area, and at once astonished the eye by the magnificence of their shady avenues of orange-trees. Unbroken retreats of myrtle and laurel defied the rays of the sun. Flowers of every description perfumed the air. Extensive orchards produced every fruit of which the climate was susceptible. By judicious culture there had been obtained remarkable success in producing an abundance of juicy grapes, every bunch of which, however, when they began to ripen, was enveloped in a sack of wire to protect them against the depredations of birds. The fields were cultivated with such a careful observance of the variable exigencies of every successive season that there was no such thing known as a short or half crop, or no crop at all. This was reserved for much later days. But under the administration of Etienne de Boré, during a period of about twenty-five years, from the first ebullition of a sugar kettle in 1795 to the time of his death in 1820, every crop was regularly the same within a few hogsheads. When, however, he ceased to exist, this seat of order and prosperity became a chaos of disorder and ruin, and the estate finally passed away from the family into the hands of strangers.
It was a self-sufficient, little domain, exporting a good deal, and importing but meagrely, so that the balance was very much in its favor. It was largely supplied with sheep and their wool, with geese, ducks, turkeys, guinea-fowls, and every variety of poultry without stint. Egg's were gathered by the bushel. Pigeons clouded the sun, and when the small black cherries (called merises in French) were ripe, those feathered epicures ate them voraciously, got royally drunk, and falling from the trees, strewed the ground beneath. A numerous herd of cattle, under the inspection of old Pompey and a black youngster called Souris (in English mouse), on account of his diminutive figure, pastured luxuriously and grew fat. What a quantity of fresh butter, rich cheese, milk, cream, and clabber! Vast barns gorged with corn, rice, and hay; hives bursting with honey; vegetables without measure, and so luscious; a varied and liberal supply of carriages always ready for use, and horses for the saddle or for driving, all glossy and sleek; spirited mules, well fed and well curried—the pride of the field hands; shrimps and fish from the river; multitudes of crawfish from the deep ditches; raccoons and opossums to gladden the heart of the most surly negro. Boré had made of his estate both a farm and plantation. Every day before dawn cart loads departed for New Orleans with diversified produce, most of which was handed over, when it reached its destination, to two old women, Agathe and Marie, who were the occupants and guardians of the town house of Boré. They admirably understood the art of selling, and were well known to the whole population, whose confidence they possessed. Going to market with baskets full, they generally brought them back empty. Josephine, a handsome, stronglimbed, and light-footed mulattress, with another female assistant of a darker color, sold the milk and butter with wonderful rapidity, and both were back at the plantation at half past 10 A.m., with the mail, the daily papers, and whatever else they had to bring. It was clock-work in everything on that plantation of the old régime. Hence the farm produced at least six thousand dollars per annum, besides supplying all the wants of those who resided on it, black or white, and the product of the plantation was almost all profit.
The Boré town house of which I have spoken was situated at the corner of Conti and Chartres streets, where, after its demolition, there was erected the tall brick building known as the Sarrasin Tobacco Manufactory. In front, across the street at the south corner, on the right hand in Conti Street going toward the river, there was the house of Destréhan, his brother-in-law, who was the first Senator the State elected to Congress on her becoming a part of the Union in 1812, but he declined to take his seat. This will appear strange to our modern politicians.
The house of Destrehan has also been demolished, and in its place there has been erected a vulgar three-story building with a whitewashed front, as frigid-looking as a tomb, although at night it becomes a café chantant. The ancient Louisiana name of Destréhan has also disappeared forever. As to the defunct house of Boré, its architecture was strikingly French, and had it continued in existence would have attracted the attention of those modern tourists who are so fond of antiquities. It was a massive two-story brick house, built under the Spanish government by a M. Voltaire de Fonvergne. There was a large gate-yard in Conti Street. Most of the rooms were also large, and with marquetry floors of oak—a rare thing in Louisiana, which I do not remember having seen in any other house. Everything was broad in it—broad doors, broad windows, broad chimneys, high ceilings. As to the main flight of stairs with its fantastically worked iron rails, it seemed to my young eyes to be as broad as the street itself. The roof was a solid terrace with a stone balustrade. During the summer months it was a pleasant place late in the evening when the floor had sufficiently cooled down under the fresh breeze coming from the river. The first story was occupied by a druggist named Tolozan, a man of polished and engaging manners, whose store was well patronized by the élite of the city, and where gossips of that class used to meet. Altogether the house had a peculiar physiognomy of its own. I was about seven years old when Etienne de Boré sold it to his son-in-law, Pierre Foucher. This old mansion at the corner of Conti and Chartres was inherited by Foucher's daughter, Madame de Lachaise, whose husband pulled it down, and substituted for it the ugly red thing which looks like a rampant lobster.
But to return to the plantation from which I have digressed. The discipline established on it was a sort of military one. At dawn, when it was time to go to the field and to the other labors of the day, the big bell rang. The whole gang of negroes came to the house, in front of which they all kneeled, and a short prayer was said, always in the presence of a male member of the family, who stood up with head uncovered. The same ceremony was performed in the evening before they went to their supper and their rest for the night. I vividly remember how I felt when, being about eight years old, I was for the first time called upon to preside over the prayers of the dark assemblage.
Those who administered the plantation under M. de Boré's vigilant eye were his two grandsons, Jean Baptiste and Deschapelles Lebreton, and two Frenchmen as overseers. One of them was Klein d'Alberg, a kinsman of General Klein, who subsequently became a peer of France under Louis Philippe, and whose son, many years after, I met at the palatial residence of the Baroness of Pontalba in Paris—the same lady whose name is so well known in Louisiana, and is connected with the public square on which stands in New Orleans the equestrian statue of General Jackson. The other employé, very small in stature, almost feminine in manner and appearance, the gentlest - tempered, the most modest, the most tender-hearted man I ever knew, was the son of General Duphot, who under the first French republic was assassinated in a riot in Rome, of which the French had taken possession. Each one of those gentlemen had his post of duty assigned to him, and his particular department of supervision, for which he was responsible. Every evening those subordinates came to the "lord and master of all that he surveyed," and rendered him an account of their stewardship. Then they received his orders for the next day.
I do not remember having seen a negro whipped, but I remember having been present when occasionally one of them, for some delinquency, was put in the stocks for the night or during a whole Sunday. This is the principal punishment that I have known to be inflicted. Basile, the commander of the gang, and the most boastful, the most self - important negro who ever trod the earth, although he was invested with but very limited power, was armed with an enormous whip, at least twenty feet in length, which from time to time he cracked portentously over his head with the most terrific emphasis of sound, whilst goading with threatening words
some laggard who he thought did not wield his hoe with sufficient diligence; but I never saw that whip fall on the back of any of the hands. In the field when at work they used to sing in chorus or concert, and there was in those songs a melody which lingers to this day in my heart. I now wish that I had noted down the words and the music which seemed to enliven so much those sons of Africa, and which certainly were their own composition.
This landlord of the old regime never raised hogs. I never saw one ranging and grunting at liberty on any portion of his domains. Hog-raising was a monopoly which he left to his negroes. Leading to the sugar-house and its dependencies there was a long and fine avenue of pecan-trees. In a parallel line to it there were the negro quarters, comfortable cabins with fireplaces, and drawn in a double row. Each negro had a hog-pen behind his cabin, and his small poultry-yard; each one had also a lot of ground for raising corn, pumpkins, and anything else he pleased. When fat, the hogs were sold at the market price to master or mistress, or to any other bidder, when not slaughtered by their owners for their own alimentation.
The Mississippi in those days, when high, used to carry an immense quantity of drift-wood. On Sundays many of the negroes would draw ashore with ease a quantity of logs, which they cut into cords, and sold to their master for a dollar per cord. If at any time they were forced, for the good of the crop, to do more than their usual task, they were liberally paid for it, or the number of extra hours during which they worked was returned to them out of their ordinary days of labor. They caught catfish, sheep's-head, shrimps, eels in abundance, raccoons, opossums, etc., and in my boyhood, when rambling about their quarters at the time they cooked their meals, my nostrils were frequently regaled with a savory smell. It is certain that they all looked fat and sleek, and none ran away. Therefore they must have been gently treated and well fed. There were among them masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, cartwrights, every other mechanic that might be wanted, and even an excellent shoemaker. So we were perfectly independent of the outward world.
But the negroes did not wear shoes at that antediluvian epoch. They protected their feet with what they called quantiers, made in this way: The negro would plant his foot on an ox-hide that had undergone a certain preparatory process to soften it. Armed with a flat and keen blade, another negro would cut the hide according to the size and shape of the foot, leaving enough margin to overlap the top of it up to the ankle. Holes were bored into it, and with strips of the same leather this rustic shoe was laced tight to the foot. It was rough and unsightly, but wholesome, like the French sabot, or wooden shoe. The foot in a woollen sock, or even bare, when encased in a quantier stuffed with rags or hay, was kept remarkably warm and dry. Twice a year there came numerous bales of merchandise—blankets and warm clothing at the beginning of winter, and lighter articles of dress at the beginning of spring. The thick capot de couverte was universally used by the negroes, and frequently even by their masters. It was a sort of frock with a hood, and made out of a blanket.
This population of black laborers was for a long time composed only of natives of Louisiana called Creole negroes, and of natives of Africa called Banbaras, or by whatever other names that designated the tribes they had belonged to in their country. There were distinct peculiarities and idiosyncrasies among them. On the Boré plantation there was one who pretended that he was a prince, and had ruled over numerous subjects. He was so proud and fiery that ho was named Achilles. He looked upon the other negroes as his inferiors, and exacted from them all great demonstrations of respect. When the American negroes, as they were called, began to be introduced—meaning those who came from the United States, to which Louisiana was not yet annexed—they were treated with the utmost contempt, and even deep-rooted aversion, by the Creole and African negroes with whom they had to associate. They were looked upon as thieves, and capable of every sort of villanous tricks. Whenever any theft was perpetrated or any other delinquency committed, it was immediately alleged that it was the Méricain coquin (the American rogue) who had done it. So they had at first a hard time of it. On the other hand, the Méricain coquin, being generally more intelligent than the Creole nigger and the imported African, was disposed to treat them as fools, and openly asserted his own superiority. Thus those black immigrants, when they first came to a Louisiana plantation, rather put things out of joint, from a want of affinity with the sable company into which they were introduced.
On a certain occasion one of those Africans, named Big Congo, a field hand, was the hero of an amusing anecdote. The overseer had sent him to M. de Boré with a message to which an answer was desired. The barbarian returned after a while and informed the overseer that he had found master in the parlor, that he had delivered the message, that the old man had looked at him straight in the face, but had not answered anything.
"Brute! what story is this ?" exclaimed the overseer, getting angry.
"It is true," insisted the negro, in his peculiar lingo, which I translate into English. "Master was in a gold window. He looked at me good, but would not talk."
"What! what! are you drunk?-' said the overseer, who was fast losing his temper.
But the negro stuck to it. "Pray come with me," he said, imploringly. "Don't get angry. I will show you master in the gold window."
The overseer went with him, and entering the saloon, found hung up to the wall an oil portrait of Boré in a gilt frame that had just been brought home from the city. The African pointed to it with intense satisfaction in proof of his having told the truth. "A la li," he said; "here he is."
It was a living likeness and a fine specimen of art, executed by a most skilful painter named Mouchette, who was on his travels,and merely passing through Louisiana. Big Congo was comically bewildered when assured that no flesh and blood stood before him.
I have already intimated that the former mousquetaire or member of the royal body-guard, and ex-captain of cavalry in the French army, kept up a complete military discipline on his plantation. It is true to the very letter. Every evening after supper sentinels were stationed at every point where depredations might be committed. They were two by two, armed with stout clubs—never a sentinel alone. At midnight they were relieved and replaced by others, and so on in turn, going through the whole gang successively, a new set every night. Thus every trespass, every violation of law or order, was well guarded against.
One day, however, the habitually quiet denizens of the Boré plantation were thrown into commotion. Boré had bought a magnificent pair of carriage - horses. They had not been one week at home when they disappeared at night. The stables were found locked. All the gates of the yard in which stood the stables looked as if their padlocks and bars had not been tampered with. There was not the slightest sign of effraction anywhere. The walls could not have been over-leaped. The sentinels had seen and heard nothing, and their fidelity was not doubted. The whole affair was extremely mysterious and puzzling. One thing, however, was certain. The thief, who evidently was a most expert one, had only the choice between two roads in his flight—down to the city or up along the bank of the river. On close inspection, tracks were discovered on the way up, and the pursuit began. But the thief had the advantage of several hours in his favor. The stolen horses were fleet, and the thief managed to keep ahead in the race. He had been seen by many, but not suspected. The pursuit ceased at Baton Rouge without success. Unfortunately there were no telegraphs in those days. Our bewildered negroes, unable to account for this bold and extraordinary deed, which appeared marvellous to their superstitious imagination, attributed it to Zombi or Bouki, who rank among the mischievous spirits in which they believe.
A magnificent avenue of pecan-trees led from the public road alongside the bank of the river to the vast enclosure within which stood the house of M. de Boré, with its numerous dependencies. That part of the enclosure which faced the river presented a singular appearance when approached from the public road through the avenue of pecan-trees. It was that of a fortified place, for there was to be seen, with a revetement of brick five feet high, a rampart of earth about fifteen feet in width and sloping down to large moats filled with water and well stocked with frogs, fish, and eels. The rampart was clothed in clover, and at its foot, on the edge of the moats, there grew a palisade of the plant known in Louisiana under the name of "Spanish-daggers," through which it would not have been easy to escalade the parapet. In their season of efflorescence their numerous clusters of white flowers were beautiful. They stood in bold relief from their background of green clover, and towered proudly above the stout and sharp-pointed leaves by which they were protected. This picturesque and uncommon line of fortified enclosure extended a good deal more than three hundred feet on both sides of the entrance gate that opened into the court-yard at the end of the pecan avenue. This may have been in reminiscence of France, where such château-like sights were frequent. On the opposite side, in front of this line of enclosure, there was another, consisting of a well-trimmed and thick orange hedge four feet in height. Beyond were the gardens and several alleys of superb grown-up orange-trees, gorgeous in turn, according to the season, with their snowy blossoms and their golden apples, reminding one of the fabled ones of the Hesperides.
Whenever the pecans began to ripen, this grand avenue from the public road to the house was invaded by thousands of crows, which broke the shells of the nuts with their strong beaks, and ate the luscious substance inside. The incessant caw, caw, could have been heard, it seems to me, at the distance of a mile or two. No Englishman could have boasted of a more splendid rookery. The crows were as talkative and boisterous as politicians on election day.
Among the sensational occurrences which I remember whilst a boy, and enjoying the sweet spring life of youth on the Boré plantation, was the shock of an earthquake, which was distinctly felt in lower Louisiana—the same which so terrified New Madrid, further up on the Mississippi. Next came the tremendous hurricane which did so much damage below the city, in the parish of Plaquemines, by causing the river to overflow, and by precipitating the waters of the Gulf upon the low lands, whereby many families were drowned. This hurricane was a fine specimen of the kind, and raged on our plantation with fearful sublimity. It began early in the morning. A dense pell-mell mass of white and dark clouds, strangely mixed, under the whip and spur of a furious wind, was driven in a helter-skelter race so close to the earth that a tall man might have fancied that he could touch it with his hand. I remember to have repeatedly and gleefully jumped up as if to accomplish it myself, although a little boy, and whenever the irresistible1 grasp of the' hurricane, lifting me above the ground, carried me onward ten or twelve feet, and tumbled me down heels over head on the greensward, I shrieked with delight. There was not a drop of rain; it was all blow. When night came, the battering blows of the giant became more terrific. The house shook to its very foundations, and in every point of its structure. It seemed to be assailed by an infuriated multitude of winds that rushed from every quarter of the horizon to engage in a demoniacal conflict on our premises. Notwithstanding this war of the elements, I had fallen asleep, when my father waked me up suddenly, and apparently in great alarm carried me in his arms to what was probably thought a safer portion of the building.
My family was at the Boré plantation when, in the afternoon of the 23d of December, 1814, General Jackson was informed that the British had lauded in Louisiana, and that a portion of their troops had been seen on the Villeré plantation below the city. I was then at the College of Orleans, corner of St. Claude and Bayou Road, alias Hospital Street, when, at 3 o'clock P.m., a great commotion was observed within its learned precincts. All studies were suspended; the class-rooms shut up; the pupils hurrying to and fro in evident alarm; parents pouring in and taking their children away. My cousin, Frédéric Foucher, the son of Pierre Foucher, and myself were beginning to fear our being forgotten and left to shift for ourselves, instead of being as well cared for as most of our companions—both our families being six miles above the city, and ignorant of the exciting news—when there came a messenger from Madame Porée, the sister of Pierre Foucher, and the aunt of Frédéric, to tender us the shelter of her house at the corner of Dumaine and Royal streets, which is still in existence, with the same antiquated front painted yellow, and with the same balcony on which the two boys stood and saw Major Plauche's battalion of uniformed, well-equipped, and well-drilled militia pass under it. That corps was composed of the elite of the young men of the city—la jeunesse doree—and it seems to me that I see now as vividly as I saw then the handsome Edmond Foucher conspicuous in the ranks of those who were thus marching rapidly to meet the enemy. Looking up to the balcony, he saluted his old aunt with a cheerful smile and a wave of the hand that seemed intended to comfort her and dispel her alarms.
At seven o'clock the battle began, and the roar of the artillery, with the discharges of musketry, was almost as distinctly heard as if in our immediate neighborhood. There was not the slightest noise in the apparently dead city. It held its breath in awful suspense. There was not a human being to be seen moving in the streets. We, the two boys and the ladies of the household, petrified into absolute silence by the apprehensions of the moment, stood on the balcony until half past nine, when the firing gradually ceased. But still we continued to remain on the same spot; for what was to happen? Were our defenders retreating, pursued by the enemy? These were hours of anxiety never to be forgotten. About eleven o'clock the oppressive silence in the city was broken by the furiously rapid gallop of a horseman shouting as loud as he could, "Victory! victory!" He turned from Chartres Street into Dumaine, and from Dumaine into Royal, still shouting "Victory!" The voice had become hoarse, and yet no human voice that I ever afterward heard was fraught with more sweet music. That night we went to bed with thankful hearts. The two boys soon slept soundly, as boys sleep, with that blissful unconcern which appertains to their age. But I doubt if our kind hostess and her daughters closed their eyes, for they had husbands, brothers, sons, on the battlefield, and they did not know at what cost to them the victory had been achieved.
Early the next morning the two boys departed to meet their respective families, one on the Foucher plantation and the other on the adjacent plantation of Boré. The 9th of January was to be the tenth anniversary of my coming into this world. In the morning of the preceding day the famous battle of the 8th was fought on the plains of Chalmette, four miles below the city. In a bee-line the distance must have been very short between the field of action and the Boré plantation, six miles above New Orleans by the windings of the river, for the furious cannonading and the discharges of musketry were prodigiously distinct. The ladies of the family, pale with the natural emotions of fear produced by the dangers of the situation, were grouped on the broad gallery in front of the house. No man was visible, for the only one who had remained at home (on account of his age) had, when the battle began, ascended with slow but firm steps a flight of stairs which led to the top of the portico. At every volley of artillery or musketry I flung myself on the floor, exclaiming, "Ten Englishmen killed!"' "Twenty Englishmen flat on the ground!" and so on. I continued rejoicing in the fancied destruction of our invaders, notwithstanding the remonstrances of my poor mother, in whose alarm I very little participated. The battle had not yet ended when my grandfather Boré came down from his post of observation with the same measured step and the same self-possession with which he had ascended, and said to his daughters, who anxiously interrogated his looks, "Dismiss your fears; the Americans are victorious."
"But, father, how do you know it?" inquired my mother.
"You forget, my dear child," replied M. de Boré, with a calm smile, "that I have some military experience. My practised ear has not been deceived, I am sure. The American guns have silenced the English guns. The enemy is defeated."
These words had hardly been spoken when, in the long avenue of pecan-trees that led to the river, there appeared a troop of about a hundred men rushing toward the house. "The English! here come the English!" was the simultaneous cry of the women. M. de Boré stretched himself up to his full height, shaded his eyes with his hand, and after having looked steadily at the advancing crowd, said, contemptuously, "These men the English! bah!"
They came rapidly to the piazza, about six feet high, on which we stood, and along which ran a wooden balustrade. M. de Boré did not understand one word of the language spoken by these unexpected visitors, whose ragamuffin appearance was no recommendation. But if they were bandits, it was comfortable to see that they all were unarmed.
"Who are they, and what do they want?" inquired M. de Boré, surveying them evidently with no friendly eye. He was informed by one of his family that they were fugitives who reported that the Americans had been completely routed, that they themselves were a portion of the defeated, and that they begged for food. The blood ran to the cheeks of the old soldier, his eyes flashed, and he shouted in French to the men: "You lie! The Americans are victorious. You have run away; you are cowards. Never shall it be said that I gave a hospitable welcome to dastardly fugitives from the battle-field. Hence, all of you, or I will call my negroes to drive you away." His words were not comprehended, but his indignant wrath was visible, and his pantomime was expressive. One of the beggarly crew seemed to apprehend his meaning, for he took oil his hat and pointed with his index finger to a hole which looked as if made by a ball. He no doubt intended to intimate that he had faced danger, and that he was not as cowardly as supposed. In making this exhibition he had approached close to the piazza and held his hat aloft. The old gentleman retreated a few steps; then rushing back to the balustrade of the piazza, on which he leaned forward, and looking down upon the suppliant below, shouted: "In thy hat! in thy hat!"—striking his breast violently—"there is where the ball should have been received, and not through thy hat, when probably thy back was turned to the enemy. No! no food for cowards. There is food in the British camp; go and get it."
He was superb at that moment, and turning his back upon the pitiful-looking postulants, he kept up pacing the piazza like a chafed lion in a cage. My mother followed him a few feet behind, as he walked to and fro with a hurried step, and thus expostulated all the while:
"Father, they look so miserable."
"No! no food for cowards. I have said it."
"They seem to be so jaded and hungry."
"No! I say no!"
"Father, they are so wet. and shivering with cold."
"No! no food for fugitives from the field of honor."
"But, father," continued my mother, in a piteous tone, " they may not have fled, after all. Perhaps they only retreated."
Grandfather, wheeling round, with a smile on his lips, and with the usual expression of benevolence on his face, said: "Daughter, I am inflexible. No food shall I give to those wretches. But I am going away, and in my absence you may deal as you please with those heroes of retreat" (avec ces héros de la retraite). True to his word, he disappeared, and was not seen for the remainder of the day.
Meanwhile the little boy, who has grown up to be the octogenarian who writes these lines, had a grand time of it, for big fires were lighted over the vast court-yard, calves and sheep were killed and roasted, huge pots of hominy and of rice were prepared; and he keenly enjoyed the barbecue, if he may be permitted to use this well-known modern expression, that was given to those men, who were a detachment of the Kentuckians that had fled from Colonel Thornton's attack upon General Morgan's command on the right bank of the river, as related in history.
When the war was over, the Tennesseeans, before they were permitted to go home, encamped for some time on the plantation adjacent to the lower line of the Boré plantation. That plantation then belonged, or had belonged, to the Ducros family, and subsequently became the property of Captain Beale, who at the head of the Orleans Riflemen had distinguished himself under General Jackson in the defence of our city. Beale had married a daughter of the Spanish Governor, Don Carlos de Grandpré.
Generals Coffee and Carroll, who commanded the division of the Tennessee troops, together with their military suite, were tendered by M. de Boré the hospitality of his house, where they were luxuriously entertained for several months. General Jackson was a frequent visitor, and the writer of these lines, although more than once kindly patted on the head by the hero, remembers that he stood much in awe of the warrior who was reported to have killed so many men. I remember even to have been considerably excited on one occasion, when he, jestingly no doubt, proposed to my mother to take me with him to Tennessee. On that day I felt strongly inclined to begin hostilities against the hero.
As a social incident, I may be at liberty to mention that at dinner, the dessert being over and coffee served, M. de Boré would rise and retire with the ladies, after having with a bow taken leave of his military guests, whom he left to the enjoyment of their bottles of wine placed on the "bare mahogany," after the American fashion. The same formality was observed every day. This convivial privilege seemed to be relished by those officers, who frequently would linger an hour round the board, conversing freely together in a language entirely unknown to the family of whose hospitality they partook. They were courteous and tolerably well bred, gentlemanly in many respects, but some of them had peculiar habits, among which the most eccentric was for one of them to throw himself back in his chair and elevate his feet to the level of the table, on which these extremities of the human body were made to repose in apparent comfort. If anybody happened to indulge in a sneering remark on the subject, M. de Boré would deprecatingly say, with a gentle smile: "Eh bien! Que voulez-vous? Ils n'en savent pas davantage. C'est la coutume de leur pays." As to General Jackson, he was conspicuous for his courtly manners. It was due to instinct or inspiration. He was nature's nobleman.
Breakfast was at eight in the morning, dinner at two P.M., and supper at seven in the evening. It was seldom that there was not some guest or guests at every one of those meals, either from the immediate neighborhood or from distant parts. In those days travelling between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, now the capital of the State, and both situated on the left bank of the Mississippi, was generally on horseback, or in a land vehicle of some sort; rarely by water. Some of the planters who lived at a distance of thirty or forty miles from New Orleans drove to it with four in hand, and it was not merely for show, considering that the road was occasionally in a very poor condition. All of them knew very well that they would offend if they passed by the Boré plantation without stopping to rest for the night, or at least to take refreshments. Peddlers going up or down what was then called the "Coast," carrying their wares on their backs or in carts, and in boats pulled up against the current à la cordelle—that is to say, by a rope thrown over the shoulders of men who footed it on the levee—frequently halted at Boré's gates with full reliance on the hospitality of the old mousquetaire. They always found a comfortable room at their service, and were kindly admitted to the family table. They belonged by virtue of their white skin to the aristocratic class, and it was the prevailing feeling not to degrade the poorest and humblest of the Caucasian race by lowering him to the level of the servile blacks. In this matter there was no difference of treatment in the homes of our wealthiest planters. This democratic hospitality was universal. Was it because there was no democracy, and because social position was unquestionably better defined than at present? Certain it is that those who at a more recent epoch were qualified with the appellation of "white trash" never or seldom suffered in the old régime from the insolence of birth, rank, or wealth. Almost all of those peddlers were foreigners, and it has been more than once my pleasant luck, in the course of years, to meet them or their descendants in palatial mansions both in New York and in Paris, or to hail their elevation to high official station in Louisiana.
Before retiring for the night all the members of the family respectfully saluted M. de Boré, and affectionately greeted one another. The same ceremony was repeated in the morning. It was a rule not to be infringed, and it had the good effect of preventing quarrels from being of long duration, for a reconciliation not merely apparent, but real, no doubt, would soon have been a forced conclusion. As to myself, boy that I was, in return for a kiss on my forehead I imprinted my lips on his caressing and paternal hand morning and evening, as if he had been a monarch to whom I paid a willing homage. I never heard him use a harsh word. His blue eye was calm and benevolent; but although I was inclined to have too strong a will of my own, yet such was the loving awe with which I regarded him that I would have preferred facing an infuriated bull than incur his displeasure, and I am conscious that the same feeling of veneration was shared by all those who approached him and fell within the reach of his moral influence.
He occupied at the table of refection a seat larger than any other, and appropriated to his own special use. It was placed at the centre of the long table, my mother sitting in front. When the bell rang, he was very punctual. His habit was to stand up a minute or two, until everybody was at his respective post. Then he waved his hand as an invitation to sit, and all sat down. After this had been done, any vacant seat remained unoccupied, because the slothful delinquent shrank from encountering a cold rebuke.
It was a fundamental rule that the Police Jury of the parish should meet at the sugar-house of M. de Boré, and after adjourning, repair to his mansion for dinner. Whilst waiting for the convivial hour, the guests either remained gossiping on the broad piazza—I will not say smoking, for I never saw on such occasions the indulgence of so rare a habit at that epoch—or entertained themselves in the billiard-room. For any one of them to have retired before having staid to dinner would have been an infraction of decorous regard not to be thought of for one instant. Once, however, after the sitting of the Police Jury was over, and most of its members had assembled on the piazza, waiting for the grateful sound of the dinner-bell, one of that body, who had lingered at the sugar-house, was seen approaching on horseback, and wheeling into the pecan avenue which led to the public road, instead of coming to the house, where was the rest of the company.
"Who is he that is going away without taking leave of us?" asked M. de Boré, shading his eyes with his hand, the better to see.
"It is Mr. Avart," answered somebody.
"Well,"exclaimed the old gentleman, "I will favor him with a lesson that will, I hope, turn to his profit." He jumped on a chair, on which he stood as erect and conspicuous as possible, and shouted to the horseman who was slowly trotting away, "Mr. Avart! Mr. Avart!" The person thus addressed stopped and turned round as if to respond to the call. "No, no!" continued M. de Boré; "don't come back! don't come back! I hailed you merely to request you to carry my respects to your family''—with still greater emphasis—"my respects to your family! That's all. Now you may go."
M. de Boré, although of the old régime, was an enthusiastic admirer of Napoleon. He had in his parlor a fine engraving of the battle of Austerlitz at the moment when General Rapp, on horseback and bareheaded, rushes with fiery haste into the presence of the Emperor, shouting, "Victory! victory! the enemy is annihilated!" To which Napoleon replies, "I never saw thee, Rapp, looking so handsome." My father, born in Louisiana, was of Spanish origin, and loyal to his race to the very core of his heart. At the head of his bed there was hung up in a wooden frame his old coat of arms, in which figured the crowned head of Sultan Abderahman, defeated in the valley of Roncal, in Navarre, when attempting to cross the Pyrenees and penetrate into France, about the year 800 of our Lord. When Napoleon pushed his legions into Spain, Don Carlos Gayarré suppressed his feelings in the presence of his father-in-law, and out of respect for him. But at the announcement of any French triumph in the land of his ancestors he would retire moodily to the privacy of his bedchamber; then the angry tones of a guitar were heard, and a manly voice sang all those patriotic hymns which responded to the popular cry of "Death to the foe! war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt!" Thus the same family presented a rather strange compound. M. de Boré, the noble of the old régime and mousquetaire in the household troops of a Bourbon king, carried away by military enthusiasm, had become an imperialist and Bonapartist; Pierre Foucher, one of his sons-in-law, was a red republican, who had no liking for kings and priests; the other son, my father, was an intense royalist. And yet they all lived in perfect harmony, which shows that they possessed at least a large fund of good-breeding and forbearance.
There bubbles up in my memory at the present moment the recollection of an anecdote concerning this mousquetaire grand father of mine. There was in France, under the reign of Louis XV., a bright complexioned and educated mulatto from San Domingo or some other French West Indian island. He was named St.-George, and is mentioned in some of the memoirs of the epoch as the most wonderful fencer that had ever appeared since the famous Creighton. Like this prototype, so far as manly exercises went, he was as skilful a shot as a swordsman. At twenty paces he never failed to hit a small nail on the bead. He swam like a fish; and as to his feats of horsemanship, they were prodigious. One night, at a theatre in Paris, M. de Boré having the bad luck of displeasing a gentleman who occupied the next seat to his, they went out and crossed swords in the street by the light of the lamp-post. This was the way at that epoch to settle the slightest unpleasantness of this kind. M. de Boré was soon run through the body and stretched on his back. He was, however, consoled by the information that if vanquished, it had been by the invulnerable St.-George. This colored duellist, who acquired quite a reputation for his exploits, as such, never was even scratched in his innumerable encounters. But it is reported that, on his having succeeded in obtaining a commission in the French army, he showed the white feather in the first general engagement with the enemy. On that occasion he felt, no doubt, that the marvellous skill on which he had hitherto so successfully relied could be of no avail to parry death.
M. de Boré was about thirty-two years old when he obtained permission to pay a second visit to Louisiana, where he was destined to settle at last and end his career. He was ready to embark, when he received the following note from the Comtesse de Rochechouart Montboissier, the wife of the Minister of War, addressed to him as Mousquetaire Noir, a la Rochelle, Hôtel du Bien Nourri (hotel of the well fed). These guardsmen were called black on account of the color of the horses they mounted.
"Pairs, 9th January, 1772. "It is with great pleasure, sir, that I have undertaken to inform you that the commission of Captain which you seemed so much to desire has been granted to yon par le dernier travail de M. de Montboissier. When the brevet is ready, he will forward it to yon. He is very glad to have been able to render you this service. We both wish yon a happy voyage and a speedy return to us, after having arranged your affairs in that country sufficiently to your satisfaction. If it should be possible for you to send me a hundred feathers like those with which you had the kindness to favor me, my obligation to you would be very great. The trimming of my dress is finished; it is superb; and as I am afraid of losing some of the feathers, I should be happy to be able to replace them. I beg to be excused for thus taxing too much your gallantry and generosity, for you have given me such a large quantity of those feathers that it looks as if I needed no more. I return to you my thanks in advance, and I entreat you to be convinced of the very great sincerity of the sentiments with which I have the honor to be, sir, your very humble and very obedient servant.
"ROCHECHOUART DE MONTBOISSIER.
"P.S.—M. de Montboissier requests me to address to you a thousand compliments on his behalf."
Now that it is the raging fashion for women to adorn themselves so much with feathers of all sorts, it would probably interest our Louisianians of the fair sex to know, if possible, what were those colonial feathers which so vividly excited the gratitude of Comtesse Rochechouart de Montboissier, and no doubt the admiration of the court of Versailles in the days of Louis XV., one hundred and fourteen years ago.
On the Boré plantation, midway between the river bank and the cypress swamp, there was a depression in the land, where, in consequence of it, a large pond of standing water had been formed. All around this pond to some distance the soil was of a marshy nature, full of tall weeds, sheltering a multitude of wild game, such as snipes, water-hens, rails, etc. The portion of the ground beyond the marsh, extending to the forest, with another gradual depression, was cultivated, and called La Terre Haute (the high land), although it was not more elevated than the other part running to the public road and the river on the other side of the pond and its immediate surroundings of reeds. This expression was used, we suppose, as a mere designation of the locality situated beyond the intervening low lands. This pond and marshy ground was a famous shooting spot at that epoch. During the winter it was the resort of innumerable flocks of ducks, that successively came to it in the evening until it was completely dark. As they passed over their expected shelter, probably for examination before alighting, the ambuscaded hunters rose from their concealment and emptied their guns. Hence this was called La Passée.
This pond, known far and wide, was called La Mare à Boré (the Boré pond). In any other country this sporting ground would have been jealously guarded, but in Louisiana this would have been looked upon with extreme disfavor. Hence this pond, or Mare a Boré, was treated as public property, without any interference from the owner. On Saturdays in particular, late in the afternoon, there used to come quite a battalion from New Orleans, mostly composed of the élite of the population of that city—lawyers, physicians, commission merchants, brokers, bankers, e tutti quanti. Among the members of the bar, Mazureau and John R. Grymes, who were celebrities, and Morel, also distinguished, may be cited as the most prominent. On such occasions we could hear from our dwelling-house a lively rattle of gun-firing, as if a skirmish was going on. Some even camped there, to be ready for the sport early on the next morning.
Fires were lighted, tents erected, and the comforts and wants of the human body attended to with proper care. Sober and grave heads of families of high social standing, when in their hunting dress, not unfrequently thought themselves free to assume the liberties of a somewhat rakish crew; jokes were cracked, tales related by the blazing piles, pranks perpetrated, and to speak the unpleasant truth, there ensued, although rarely, quarrels that led to duels. Page after page could be written about the many occurrences which in those days contributed to the fame of La Mare a Boré. The negroes themselves had all sorts of tales to relate about it. Their superstitious imagination, which is always at work, connected that spot with hobgoblins and apparitions, among others the ghost of a colossal raccoon that seems to have claimed special jurisdiction over La Mare a Boré".
Once or twice a year there was on the plantation an occurrence which excited the most intense interest, particularly among the youthful portion of the population, white and black. It was when a drove of wild horses came from Texas or some other Mexican territory. Those animals looked so fiery and ungovernable that they seemed to have the devil himself in their bodies, and the men who led and owned them were evidently the denizens of some weird wilderness. They wore the broad Spanish sombrero, or hat; their faces were bronzed, and their eyes dark and piercing. They wore soft leather gaiters up to the knee, and that part of their breeches which was destined to an inevitable friction when they rode was lined also with leather. Stout and rough-looking brogans enveloped the foot up to the ankle, and their heels were armed with spurs six inches long, called rakachias. At their sight the joyous exclamation was heard, "Here are the ouachinangs!" All the juvenility of the locality and its neighborhood clapped their palms and shouted in anticipation of fun. These horses were for sale, and driven from plantation to plantation, where a market for some of them was always found.
It is remarkable how trifling events, apparently not worth remembering for more than a day, remain fresh in one's memory during a long life. Who knows what subtle influence for good or for evil such things may have? May not what appeared to the youthful mind but an unmeaning incident yet contribute by an unfelt process to the formation of character, and to habits of deportment in after years? One day as our family, seated on the front piazza, was enjoying the balmy atmosphere of a bright May morning, there came on a visit from New Orleans M. de Boré's favorite nephew, whose name was Bernard de Marigny. He was one of the most brilliant and wealthiest young men of the epoch. He drove in a dashing way to the house in an elegant equipage drawn by two fiery horses. Full of the buoyancy of youth, he jumped out of his carriage and ran up the broad steps of the brick perron that ascended to the piazza. As he reached the top of it he said, with a sort of careless and joyous familiarity, "Bonjour, mon oncle, bonjour," and bowed slightly round to the family without removing his hat. "Chapeau bas, monsieur!" responded a calm voice of command. "Toujours chapeau bas devant une femme, et il y en a plus d'une ici." (Hat off, sir! Always hat off before a woman, and there are more than one here.) A fitting apology was instantly made by the youthful delinquent. Was the old mousquetaire, or guardsman, influenced on that occasion, unknowingly to himself, by the remembered example of Louis XIV.. the gorgeous "roi soleil," who never failed to bow to any woman, whatever her condition, whom he chanced to meet?
As to Madame de Boré, I was so young when she died that I have no distinct recollection of her. There remains in my mind but a sort of dim vision of a lady seated near a small round table with a white marble top encircled by a diminutive copper railing of half an inch in height. On that table there used to be a work-basket, and also a beautiful gold snuff-box in what is called the style Louis Quinze. I long preserved that snuff-box with infinite care; but during the war of secession a light-colored slave of the name of Wilson, whom I had drilled to be as accomplished a servant as could be found in any luxurious home, logically came to the conclusion that I was getting too poor to need his talents any more, and to satisfy his own epicurean tastes by high living. He had taught himself to read and write, and having by this means risen above the prejudices of his former ignorance, he determined to secede from me, and with much prudential foresight he
suddenly and clandestinely departed, with my grandmothers snuff-box, together with an additional supply of diamonds and other trinkets. Being tender-footed and accustomed to ride like a gentleman, he considerately took two of my best mules, one for himself and one for a companion whom he invited to join him, for he always was very fond of society. After having disposed of the mules in a way of which I know nothing, he carried the rest of his plunder to New York, where he completed his education, and then returned to New Orleans. He now flourishes here like a green bay-tree, and is constantly employed as an indispensable attendant at balls and dinner parties given in the fashionable world. Considering his incontestable abilities, the seduction of his winning manners, and his everlasting smile, which would have secured him much profitable success in a certain line of business, I feel under no small degree of obligation to him for not having turned politician, and plundered the State with as much dexterity and impunity as he plundered me. It shows great moderation on his part, for which he is to be commended.
But to return to Madame de Boré, who had been educated at Versailles in the St.-Cyr Institution, founded by Madame de Maintenon. She must have been a prodigy of fascination, if I am to believe the old men who so frequently described her to me. One of them once exclaimed in a fit of enthusiasm, interrupted by an octogenarian cough, "Cela eut valu la peine de faire cinquante lieues seulement pour voir Madame de Boré prendre une prise de tabac" (it would have been worth while to travel fifty leagues merely to see Madame de Boré take a pinch of snuff).
Another admirer related to me the following anecdote as a specimen of her tact and dignity. In those days, which we may call remote, because between that past and the present there seems to be a lapse of five hundred years, it was the invariable custom at a set dinner to have the dessert enlivened by songs from the male guests. Once it happened that one of them hazarded a song which would not have been objectionable to a generation familiar with La Belle Helene and La Fille de Madame Angot. It seemed indelicate to Madame de Boré. She hastened to interrupt the singer with these words: "Sir, I am so charmed with your song that I cannot resist the impulse to toast you at once. Ladies and gentlemen, fill your glasses, and let us drink to the singer's health." It was difficult to convey reproof more gracefully.
Years had elapsed. I was in Paris, and visiting an aged relative of mine, a Louisianian, in her palatial mansion, Avenue de Marigny. I was alone with her in the reception saloon. In front of us, in a smaller saloon, in sight but not within hearing, there were two of her married daughters with the Comte de Talvande and the old Prince de Bethune—he whose red tomato face, strikingly framed with a profusion of snow-white beard and hair, was so exquisitely and amusingly reproduced in terra-cotta by Cham, the artist, and exposed in so many of the glass windows of Parisian shops. I noticed that my relative would now and then cast an uneasy glance at the group, who were talking and laughing a little rompishly. At last she said to me: "I am thinking of Aunt Boré. What would she have thought of such manners? One day a gentleman offered me a bouquet in her presence. She intercepted it before I could take it, and said to him, 'I thank you on behalf of my niece; but it would have been better to have presented the bouquet to me with a request to hand it over to her." I have mentioned these anecdotes as illustrative of an epoch which has passed away forever. I close what I have to say about this lady of the old régime by mentioning that my mother assured me of her never having been able to discover the smallest speck of a cloud in the conjugal sky of her parents.
M. de Boré had two male cooks with the necessary aids; one was a negro, and the other of a lighter color. The negroes are born cooks, as other less favored beings are born poets. The African brute, guided by the superior intelligence of his Caucasian master, in the days of slavery in Louisiana, gradually evolved into an artist of the highest degree of excellence, and had from natural impulses and affinities, without any conscious analysis of principles, created an art of cooking for which he should deserve to be immortalized. And how is it possible to convey to this dyspeptic posterity of our ancestors, to a thin-blooded population whose stomach has been ruined by kitchen charlatans, sauce and gravy pretenders, kettle and pot druggists, any idea of the miracles of the old Creole cooking transmitted from colonial days, and growing fainter and fainter in dim traditions which have no meaning and no sense for this coarse-feeding generation? It had nothing in common with the much - vaunted culinary science of France. It was sui generis; it was not imitative; there was no traditionary lore about its origin; it had no ancestry; it sprang from itself. Pierre or Valentin, the colored cook, had not been taught by any missionary from foreign climes; he had not studied the records of roasting, baking, and boiling from the age of Abraham to the days of Master Jean or Mistress Jeanne on the banks of the Mississippi. He could neither read nor write, and therefore he could not learn from books. He was simply inspired; the god of the spit and the saucepan had breathed into him; that was enough. Good heavens! with what supreme, indescribable contempt would Aunt Heuriette or Uncle Frontin have looked down upon the best French cordon bleu that had presumed to teach her or him! Sufficient to say that Marc Antony, if he had known a Creole cook of the old regime, would have given him two or three of his best Asiatic provinces as a reward for feasting Cleopatra.
Gombo file! Gombo févis! Gombo aux herbes! Gombo chevrettes, ou aux huitres! What do these things mean at present but vapidity of taste, instead of the licking of one's lips? And the soups?—the soups! not a ghost of them lingering on earth. Who knows how to roast? Who knows how to season juste à point? And the flavor?—the flavor! whither has it evaporated? How many delicious dishes have vanished forever of which the best cooks of France have never dreamed! To invent them it had required the constantly improving genius of several generations of apron-girt Sambos. Where is the last of them? What of a turkey fattened, stuffed, and roasted by him? Who but Sambo knew how to bake rice in an iron pot? I say iron, because it must be nothing else, and that rice must come out solid, retaining the exact shape of the pot, with a golden crust round its top and sides. You think this easy, presumptuous mortal. Well, try it, and let us see if your farinaceous production will have its required shape and color, and its precise proportion of salt and lard. I give it to you in a thousand. Who but Sambo ever made grillades de sang de dinde, looking and tasting like truffles? What a sauce! Where did he get that sublime composition? But time and space do not permit me to continue a description which, after all, is inadequately descriptive. I will content myself with saying that black Pierrot or yellow Charlotte, as a cook in the days of the Egyptian fleshpots in Louisiana, is not within the comprehension of any one born since the firing of the first-gun against Fort Sumter. The effort must be given up. It would be attempting to grasp the infinite space. The last Brutus, alas! perished with the liberties of Rome, and what is perhaps more deplorable, the last Creole cook could not survive the acquisition of his own liberty in Louisiana.
The furniture of M. de Boré, although abundant and comfortable, was very plain when compared with the exigencies of modern times. It was in the style of simplicity which prevailed in the dwellings of the wealthiest planters; but the table and the wines were superb. Every Sunday there were regularly, without any special invitation, a dozen or two of guests, who generally came from New Orleans. Among them the most assiduous were some Knights of St. Louis, who on such occasions never failed to carry their decoration dangling from the button-hole, such, for instance, as the Hazures, two brothers who dwelt, I believe, near Bayou St. John, on the Gentilly road. There was something in all those waifs of another age—in their appearance, in their dress, in their physiognomy, in their manners, in their peculiarities of conversation and language, in their bows and greetings, in their accent and modulations of voice—something which produced on me the most vivid impressions. They were monuments of the past, pyramids not in stones and cement, but in flesh and bones. There was in them what might have been called a lofty je ne sais quoi, to use a French locution. These men of the old régime seemed to entertain more esteem and respect for one another than we do now for our contemporaries. They evidently loved more to look up than to look down. They were not prodigal of their demonstrations of regard, but when expressed, it could be relied on as sincere, for they never hesitated to manifest their feeling of antipathy, reprobation, or opposition when necessary. As I grew in years I became more deeply struck with the faith which the men of that epoch reposed in one another, the more so because of the universal distrust of man's honor and integrity which I have observed spreading in later times over the whole surface of our community, like a stain of oil over a piece of carpeting. Well do I recollect when, in my youth, I delighted to listen to the conversation of those old men who still lingered on the stage after the days for acting were past. When they engaged in discussions on some point or other, I have sometimes seen the controversy settled at once by one of them observing, ''I remember M. de Boré having said so and so on this matter." "Ah, indeed! did he say so?" "Certainly." "Well, then, of course—" And there was no more questioning of this and that.
"A change has come over the spirit of my dream." The scenes I have witnessed, the things I have seen, have vanished forever. There is not a vestige, not a wreck's fragment, left of the Boré plantation, save myself, standing alone in the arid and parched wilderness of the past, forgotten, but trying in vain to forget and to close my eyes to the shapeless shadows that beckon me away. But enough. M. de Boré died seventy-eight years old. When on his death-bed, at his very last moments, he summoned me, boy that I still was, to his presence. Putting his hands on his grandson's head, he blessed him, and gave him his parting instructions and recommendations with a firm voice, a serene brow, a clear limpid eye, through which his soul eloquently spoke. I will repeat only his very last words: "Let no temptation ever betray you out of the path of honor and virtue. Keep your conscience always free from self-reproach, so that your death may be as calm as mine. Trusting in the mercy of God, I fear not to appear before His tribunal, where I hope not to grieve for you, when in due time we are to meet again, and when you shall render your accounts to Him. Farewell! Let your motto in this world ever be, 'Sans pear et sans reproche.'"
M. de Boré ordered that his funeral and his tomb bo as plain as could decently be, but that a thousand dollars, which might be spent in these vanities, be saved for a better use, and given to the Charity Hospital of New Orleans. It was done according to his request.
Harper's Magazine, Volume 74, pp 606-621 @ Google Books