French Exiles in Texas 1818
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Finally the sea burst its confines and inundated the island, rushing into camp and dwellings, submerging everything. Before long we found ourselves surrounded by water four feet deep. Consternation reigned: the cries of distress and pain could be heard amid this frightful chaos, soon to be drowned in the roaring of the waves and the screaming of the wind. It is easy to understand with what wild impatience and anxiety we waited for the daylight which must follow this terrible and eternal night, whose disaster our imagination must needs exaggerate.
At last came the light to show us our losses. With dreadful misgivings we looked about us, dreading to see what might meet our gaze, yet unable to restrain our curiosity. What a sad sight! It was a picture of Nature's destruction, when her laws seemed to have gone awry. The waves striking in all directions tossed beams and kegs about the ruined walls. Galveston village looked like a fort beaten down by assault. We gazed at each other without being able to make a move to improve our condition. The currents were so swift that it was impossible to stand against them.
We saw Adrienne and her husband, whose dwelling was somewhat removed from the others, struggling with the waves. Edward was clinging with his left arm to a heavy stake, tossed by the waters, and with the other was supporting his beloved, who, pale and lifeless, seemed to have thoughts only for him who forgot his own dangers in order to shield her from them. Dear pair, so worthy of the love and interest which we bore you! I reserve for the recital of your own misfortunes, an account of all that you suffered. This episode will affect all hearts, and quick tears will damp the eye of more than one reader, which will not spring from any charm of style; but when I shall have drawn Adrienne and Edward with life-like touches, who could feel anything but a great interest in them?
We had the vain hope that the wind would calm when day came, and the tempest become less violent. Of all the houses in Galveston six alone withstood the fury of the waves which we saw break against the walls of the hospital where our sick lay, and even penetrate within. We could not bear the sight, and, throwing ourselves into the water carried the helpless to higher ground, to the house of M. Lafitte, and it was well we did so, for in a short while the sea would have become their grave.
The waves grew higher and higher, showing us at every moment the extent of our losses. The ships had not been able to withstand the repeated attacks of the waves, but dragged their anchors and were out to the open sea. [The private citizens, principally M. Lafitte, governor of the island, suffered considerable losses]. Despairing cries broke simultaneously from us all, for we still had some provisions on several of the boats, which we could not hope to recover-our ill luck had reached its climax. Every man trembled for his life, and the instinct of self-preservation made us forget that life would become a burden if famine should strike us with all its frightful train. Love of life is man's first emotion, and several of us made our way to the higher portions of the island, while others climbed atop of buildings to escape the flood of waters surrounding us, leaving nothing to hope for. We could see death on all sides, and each said to the other that it was only a few moments away for us. We spent two days in this cruel position, but the third dawned fairer: the wind calmed, the waves subsided, the sky cleared: and towards evening we were able to come together, though the water still stood in pools about us.
We were indeed a pitiable sight. As each companion joined the group he was embraced all around, and every man told of the dangers he. had sustained and of the hopes and fears that followed. After these first expressions of affection, we felt the need of restoring our strength. Hunger and thirst, those terrible scourges of humanity, tormented us, and, although we still had a little food, our tanks were filled with salt water. Fresh water was not to be found on the island, and we could hope for none from the mainland since we had lost our ships. We dug wells only to find that the sea-water had gone everywhere. Fortunately for us, some of the colonists had filled several barrels with fresh water before the storm, and this we divided equally, giving ourselves over to the hope that Providence would come to our relief.
Two days later, several of our men, in going about the island, seeking lost articles, discovered two of our boats, about six leagues inward. This was a precious discovery for us, for we were now able to go to the mainland and bring back enough water to last until our own cisterns should sweeten again.
Our provisions were exhausted, and it was impossible to procure more, for we were thirty or forty leagues from the nearest Indian settlement. We doubted if the Spanish, who had taken possession of Champ d'Asile after our departure, would come to our relief. In this uncertain state some decision had to be reached. We had to live, and wt had to provide for the needs of our ill comrades, who were in no position to share our present misfortunes. Fishing and hunting became our only occupations, and we gave ourselves up to these with an ardor born of necessity and were happy to see success crown our efforts and perseverance. When we returned to camp from our forays, we would present to the ladies the game which seemed most worthy of them; and they would call us their providers, their true friends, and sympathize with us, regretting that we were obliged to give ourselves so much trouble. But the pleasure of serving our ladies made us forget our fatigues, and we would begin the following day with the same eagerness.
The hope of having news of our General, who had gone to New Orleans, still sustained us, and in order to hasten the help he had promised, several days after the unfortunate event which almost annihilated us, we sent General Rigaud's son on with news of what had happened. This excellent young man set out, attended by our good wishes and blessing. His father embraced him, his sister bade him a sad farewell, and he quitted the place which presented on all sides a picture of misery and desolation.
We maintained our courage, however, for it is in misfortune that one finds the strength to meet it and to show one's self superior to difficulties. Adversity had, so to speak, transformed our spirits and our dispositions; for there was not one among us who could be reproached for the slightest sign of weakness, and it was with a new-found ardor that we all prepared for work again. Gaiety soon resumed its sway, and to the singing of war songs, we rebuilt what the flood had destroyed; each, pick in hand, relating experiences under similar circumstances. One had seen a landslide on the Alps, the Simplon, or the St. Bernard passes. Another told what had happened in Italy when the Po overflowed and he nearly lost his life. A third spoke of the rampages of the Danube, whose flood, impossible to bridle, destroyed the bridges and nearly bottled up in the land of Lobau the conquerors of Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, and Friedland.
"Well, my friends," added General Rigaud, "victory, which remained faithful to our flag, triumphed over all difficulties, and the enemy armies disappeared like thin mist before our invincible phalanxes. Success will crown our efforts also, and if we here do not have to fight the enemies of our country, we shall none the less triumph over the elements that wage war upon us, and we shall say with pride that, for a Frenchmen, everything is possible." A spontaneous bravo, and prolonged applause, carried far along the native shores, proved to our General that we shared his sentiments and would not lose heart.
We had but the bare necessities and were experiencing privations of many kinds; but we agreed among ourselves that it was possible to live on very little, and that man often made himself unhappy by creating fictitious needs for himself. What a school is misfortune! And what useful lessons it teaches! Happy the man who can turn them to account. This line of thought was certainly as good for us as any other. Our deputy was already gone thirty-two days and still we had no news. Not knowing what to think, we gave ourselves up to conjecture, but it was in vain that we sought to explain the causes of such cruel abandonment. It did not occur to us to accuse those who had always inspired us with so much confidence, who had given us such touching proofs of a sincere affection. Their truth, frankness, and loyalty, proven under divers circumstances, made us think that unforeseen difficulty, not to be charged to them, was the cause of the delay. In fact, how could we dream that a French General, whose fortunes we had followed, could be capable of deserting his companions in arms, when he knew them to be a prey to all the torments of dire necessity. Appearances, though often deceiving, led us to blame criminal neglect on the one whom our hearts took a certain pleasure in excusing; but when we looked about us, when we went over the past events, when we felt the anxieties of the moment, were we not also excusable for musing and trembling as to our future? It was this cruel expectancy which brought on a general discouragement, and made us resolve to flee from those lands which seemed to repel us and mark us with the seal of disapproval. We had to give up all the plans we had made; and those sweet dreams, children of the imagination, once so near to be realized, were now as the delusions of a delirium.
Some wanted to join the settlement on the island, others wanted to go to New Orleans, while still others thought of other American cities. France was the objective of most, with whose climate, fertility, and resources Champ d' Asile could scarcely compare; the latter place, moreover, had almost been our tomb. From that time on every man was actuated by only one notion: to prepare to leave the island. sdct
We had to leave Galveston Island or die of hunger and misery; we chose the former. We did not have enough ships to go to New Orleans by water, or provisions enough for the voyage; neither could M. Lafitte, a resident of Galveston Island, fitter-out of independent Mexican corsairs, who up to that time had rendered us the greatest services, continue his help, despite his kind desires. The cyclone and flood had cost him two brigs, three schooners, and one sloop. The majority of us decided to go to the mainland, and thence overland to certain settlements where subsistence could be secured; and New Orleans was named as the general meeting-place. The unfortunate colonists were then carried across Galveston Bay to the land which was to have been their home, and each one set out in the direction he had previously fixed upon. Some, after crossing Texas, went to Alexandria, Louisiana, on the Red River; while others went to Nacogdoches, above Lakes Pisaqui and Beshonneau, being attracted to this country by its reputation for fertility. Still others, having crossed the Sabine, the Carcassiou, and the Mermentas Rivers, traversed the country of the Attacapas and the Opelousas crossed the River Aux Boefs, and skirted the banks of Lake Barataria, they headed for New Orleans. During a journey of about 150 leagues they lived solely by hunting, finding habitations only at distances of two and three days' march. The people, who were for the most part Creole and French, welcomed them and gave them hospitality; but they were themselves too poor to furnish supplies, and had to content themselves with short periods of entertainment. Finally, after suffering infinite pains and great fatigue, they reached New Orleans, where they were the object of the most lively interest. The people of New Orleans did not seek to console them with pity but thought it a duty to heap upon them everything their sad plight demanded, for kindness ruled every heart.
M. Lafitte, despite the considerable sums owed him by the General-in-Chief, did not limit his generosity, but made still another sacrifice for the benefit of those who remained in Galveston, of whom I was one. He gave us, as means of conveyance to New Orleans, the sloop St. Antonio de Campeche, a Spanish prize, taken from that nation by one of the freebooters.
Placing aboard the supplies which he could spare us, and taking with us a captain and six Spanish sailors, whose liberty he restored, we set sail. Unfortunately we met contrary winds, and the food was about to give out completely when, after twenty days sailing, we sighted La Balise at the mouth of the Mississippi. Ascending the river, we were reunited with our comrades who had preceded us to New Orleans. We had aboard all the sick who had been attacked by the scurvy, and the children, and the women, who nursed the unfortunates, undeterred by fear of the disease. If a stricken one was heard to complain, they came near, and their very presence soothed his pain. How affecting kindness is in the guise of beauty!
We did not lose one of our comrades, for the aid which they received in New Orleans, rest and abundant food, soon restored them to health. We forgot some of the hardships we had endured, and our recital of them seemed dreamlike. It was hard to believe that so many calamities could afflict men; and we were regarded with compassion when we passed along the street. How many tears our story caused to flow, we who looked as if we had returned from another world! The women above all, aroused pity, their pale features, melancholy aspect and weakened voices evoking a respect which cannot be described. People followed us with their eyes, as far as they could see us, and our every word was received with extraordinary eagerness. Kind Creoles! The refugees from Texas will never forget that you were more than friends, more than brothers to them! sdct
I stayed on several days at New Orleans, but finally home-sickness got the better of me and I decided to return to France. The brig, Edward of Bordeaux, captain, Alige, was to sail for Havre, and after having made arrangements with him for my passage, I set sail the 8th of March. Until the 19th, they were busy making repairs in the rigging, and we drifted with the current as far as La Balise, at the mouth of the Mississippi. On the 20th we took aboard a pilot to steer us into the open sea, but the wind and current drove us against the shore, where we were obliged to anchor.
The pilot ordered the second anchor to be carried into the open water to assist in floating us, but the wind would not allow of this. He himself, with the boat, was thrown across the cable and, together with four of our best soldiers went under; but fortunately, we succeeded in saving them, and then drew in the boat.
Nothing new happened to us until the 1st of April. On the 2d we recognized the Los Rokos Bank, and came in sight of the Cayo de Sal on the east quarter S.E. Longitude 83° 4, S. Latitude 24.s.
On the 10th of April, we doubled the Bermuda Islands, and until the 2d of May there was nothing new, with the weather stormy and the seas high, for sounding showed sand with black spots at 83 fathoms.
On the 3rd of May, at 6 o'clock in the morning, we sighted the Scilly Islands; and at 8 the lantern of the ship showed us St. Agnes; towards noon the point of Lands' End showed itself to the northeast.
At 3 o'clock we sighted the light tower on the N. 8 miles in the distance.
We still sailed along the coast; at 6 o'clock we caught sight of the fires on Lizard Cape and Point New Keyan and 1 o o'clock saw the lights of the Plymouth beacon. Rounded Star Point and Point Hope at a distance of 9 miles.
On the 7th of May, rounded Portland Point on the N.N. E.
In the evening, being near the Alderney Islands on the S. S. E., we put about.
On the 8th, at 7 o'clock in the morning, we rounded the Cape de Hague on the S. S. E.
On the 9th of May, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, we took the pilot aboard and spread sails for Le Havre.
At 8 o'clock we turned to the S.E. a quarter E. in order to pick up the. lights of Le Havre. The weather was superb.
On the 10th we anchored in the roadstead of Le Havre and a health official was sent aboard to keep us in quarantine.
When this was over, we went ashore; and when I touched again the soil of my native country my joy was difficult of expression. After many vicissitudes, I was to be restored to my family and enjoy the repose and tranquillity I had vainly sought in the new world, and, cured of the mania for traveling, I could say with Virgil "Per varios casus, per tot discrimina rerum Forsan et haec olim meminisse juvabit." sdct
I was in Paris without employment, having resigned from the Army, enjoying a very modest income; my time slipped by with a monotonous and boring uniformity. After having spent a portion of my life in the midst of the tumult of the camps, and finding myself incapable of devoting myself to other occupations, and being unable longer to support this idle state, I decided to leave Europe, to go to America, and there to join the French Refugees who were founding a colony in Texas. This last decision was not the result of discontent; for it was with pleasure that I saw the French Government strengthen itself in the confidence and the love of the French people. I was urged on by that curiosity which at times governs a man who is free and master of his own destinies. Although I was not entirely without personal ties, having put my affairs in order, I left Paris a-foot on the 18th of November, 1817, headed for Bordeaux and arrived in that city on the 29th of the same month.
I shall not speak of my stay in Bordeaux. The ship, The Hunter, of Philadelphia, was about to set sail, and after making arrangements to cross on the boat, I boarded her, together with several Frenchmen. Madame Vasquez, wife of the Spanish colonel of this name, was aboard and bore with much courage and strength the fatigues and dangers to which we were exposed during the crossing. We had several blows which as many times almost shipwrecked us. These preliminaries did not bespeak good luck, but as I am not superstitious, and had for a long time been accustomed to facing death on the field of battle, death could not dismay me on the bosom of the deep, and the tempest appeared to me less to be feared than gunpowder, shell, and grapeshot.
Finally, after having long been the plaything of the wind and waves, our vessel entered the harbor of Philadelphia, on the 4th of May, 1818.
We disembarked, and, as soon as I was ashore, I sought Mr. Dirat, Secretary of the French Society, for whom I had letters of recommendation; these I presented to him and was welcomed with especial kindness. He, knowing the reason for my voyage, told me the French refugees had been gone for several days, having at their head Generals Lallemand, brothers; that they were going to the Province of Texas to establish there a colony which was to have the name of Champ d' Asile. He also apprised me of the fact that I would be obliged to remain in Philadelphia until a new contingent of French should leave for Texas, at the same time offering me his services and promising to do everything to make my life agreeable: I can not say too much of his kindness and the proofs of friendship which he gave to all with whom he came in contact.
I had time to visit Philadelphia, its public buildings and, above all, its port, where there is constant activity and where the flags of all nations are to be seen. I admired the industry of this people whose freedom the French insured, who employ this liberty only to further its prosperity by each day widening its commerce. The Americans, thanks to the good sense which guides them, will soon become one of the most formidable maritime powers of the world, and will rival, without pursuing the same methods, the people whose yoke they threw off. As I strolled along the docks, I recalled Telemachus, discoursing with Narbal on the commerce and government of the Phoenicians.
Fortunate country, said I to myself, you have gone through a revolution, but it is all over. Those who sought to impose their laws on you were obliged to restore to you those rights, yours from God, which they tried to wrest from you, and which you enjoy in the midst of peace. You now afford an asylum to the sons of those who shed their blood for your independence, and it was such thoughts as these that led me to bless the memory of Washington and Franklin, and to give heed to the memory of those Frenchmen who were their friends and their rivals in glory.
General Henry Lallemand soon returned to Philadelphia in order to take to Champ d' Asile the French who had stayed behind, together with those who were arriving almost daily in that city. I was associated with several of these, and amongst us there existed the greatest intimacy, each of us having but one desire; to work for the prosperity of the colony, and collectively but one wish: that success should crown our efforts.
I went to see General Lallemand and was welcomed with that frank kindness which characterized him. I begged him in the name of my friends-who had so charged me-to inform me as to what was necessary to be done.
The General told me to advise them to be ready to leave for Texas at any moment, and to make their plans accordingly. After a rather long talk with the General, in which I had the opportunity to observe that he joined to the widest information a mellowed philosophy and rare modesty, I left him, and went immediately to report the result of my mission to my friends, telling them we would soon be leaving for our new country.
Each then abandoned himself to his thoughts, and spoke of his plans and the scheme of life he had formulated, based on his conception of the place we were to inhabit; and there was not one among us who did not see in the future inexhaustible happiness and content. sdct
The General, who lost sight of nothing and showed as much energy in the execution of his projects as sagacity in their conception, hired a ship to transport us to New Orleans and we left the 10th of May, arriving the first of June, 1818. Madame Vasquez, who accompanied us, fell ill during the voyage, and in spite of the desire she felt to rejoin her husband, it was impossible for her to think of leaving New Orleans, her illness growing more grave, until we despaired of her life. This lady gave us every moment an example of the greatest courage, and can be cited as a model of conjugal love.
On the 4th of June, thanks to the attention and solicitude of M. Lafitte, a resident of New Orleans, who secured us everything needed for our voyage, we went down the Mississippi which flows into the Gulf of Mexico near La Balise, and we headed straight for Galveston.
We were approaching the end of our voyage, and on the 14th of June, 1818, we arrived at Champ d'Asile, where we were reunited to our comrades in glory and misfortune.
How can one depict, express, or convey an idea of the way in which we were received by General-in-Chief Lallemand, General Rigaud, and all the members of the colony. A father does not view with more joy and delight his dear children, brothers do not meet again with more pleasure. The General pressed us all to his breast with an expression of the warmest friendship; and wishing to calm our fears as to our fate and to make certain himself that we would be as comfortable as circumstances and surroundings would permit, he assigned us to the several cohorts.
The colony was organized on a military basis, the strictest discipline existing, having as its basis friendship and confidence.
The fortifications which were to insure the safety of the colony and to protect us from attacks by neighboring peoples had already begun. As early as the day after our arrival, we set to work, and all the refugees, without distinction of rank or grade, were busy there. The General-in-Chief and other superiors themselves afforded an example, and each vied with the other in zeal, activity and devotion. We rested only when rest was indispensable, for we were persuaded that by putting ourselves in a position of practical defense we were taking a step in the direction of the happiness which could be assured only by the peace of the colony. I used moments of rest to make observations of the country that I was destined to inhabit, and I shall set these down, imperfect as they may be. sdct
The province of Texas, situated in the most northerly and easterly portion of the dependency of San Luis Potosi, in Mexico, touches on the north the wild country of Louisiana; on the east, New Orleans; on the south, the Gulf of Mexico; on the west, Santander and Coahuila, separated by the Del Norte River. Texas extends between 27° and 38° latitude, and between 96° and 100° longitude, meridian of Paris. But since it is irregular, it varies from north to south from 75 to 150 leagues; its length from east to west is from 135 to 140 leagues. Texas was discovered in 1522 by the Spanish, who made successive voyages there in 1528 and 1539, and the French founded a colony there in 1535, under the reign of Francis I, but were expelled by the Spanish in 1595.
The coastline of Texas is low, sandy and swampy. As one goes into the interior, he finds vegetation and a great quantity of shrubs; but to find fertile land one has to go from thirty to forty leagues. The temperature of Texas is that of the south of France, and many trees preserve their foliage throughout the year. Texas is crossed by a great number of rivers; the Sabine which bounds it on the east, and the Barosso on the N.E. which flows into the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston Bay. The surrounding country offers enchanting views, carpets of green adding to the richness of the landscape, while beautiful plants and the rarest birds made this section a delightful spot.
Forests, which the ax has spared until the present day, cover a part of Texas, and from time to time prairies are found, where European crops could be grown. Through the foliage of trees a column of smoke often betrays the presence of savages. A great number of animals and wild beasts are encountered in these forests, above all the wildhorses, which the natives have been skillful enough to capture and tame.
There are still to be found in Texas many rattlesnakes; the congo and the egg-eater are likewise very numerous, several of the colonists having been bitten by the reptiles. Only one was in anywise disabled, he having been treated for the bite before we discovered its proper remedy. This remedy is a root which grows abundantly on the plains, and its identification by the Indians is not the least of the services they rendered us.
The population of Texas, before we established ourselves there, numbered about 7000 souls. The wild tribes of the Tankards, the Panis, Apaches, and Camanches often showed themselves near the frontiers of the country, and, if they were not withheld by threats and fear, they gave themselves up to outrages.
The Karankavès were a barbarous tribe of cannibals, constantly on the move. It was they who, having surprised two of our unfortunate comrades, devoured them---the remains of their quivering limbs were found still on the ground. The most important posts are those situated on the Trinity, and Naquidoches, situated on a little stream which empties into the Toya in the center of Texas.
The choice that General Lallemand had made of Texas as a suitable place for the founding of a colony led one to hope that success would crown his efforts. With the Gulf of Mexico on one side, the Sabine and Baosso Rivers on the other, and between them two other streams and prairies, ample supplies were insured by means of frequent communications with the continent as well as with other nations. Through what fatality did we fail? We lacked neither courage nor strength. Fate should not have persecuted us. If it accords its favors to those who live a blameless life, who could have a greater claim on its bounty than Frenchmen who have always been faithful to flag and honor, who expatriated themselves only to live in peace from the fruits of their labors, and whose sole wealth consisted of memories? Had they disturbed their country? No; they wished to oppose themselves to its slavishness and repulse for the last time those whom for twenty-five years they had repeatedly defeated. Destiny betrayed them, and they succumbed; if only France might be happy, they would bless their defeat, and echoes of Texas would learn to repeat the sacred words: Honor and Country, which are engraved on the bark of trees whose tops tower toward heaven; and those who shall visit those countries which we have been compelled to abandon will give homage, we are certain, to the generous sentiments which animate the French.
I will not go into any great detail as to the advantages of Texas. Nor shall I repeat what M. Hartmann has had to say in his journal of all our misfortunes. Having escaped as if by a miracle from all those scourges which assailed us, what thanks do we not owe to Providence! I left Galveston Island and embarked for New Orleans on a boat commanded by Captain Devis, whom chance led into those parts and who saved me from a death which would have soon stricken me, since I was without resources. What obligations am I not under to him! With what kind generosity did he receive me!
We anchored in New Orleans in the month of October, 1818. The inhabitants of that city were generous with all possible attentions, giving me both clothes and money; and it is to them that I owe the happiness of seeing my country again.
I left New Orleans to return to France, after having expressed my thanks to the colonists who had so generously aided me. It is a pleasant duty to set down here their names. They are: Messrs. Dubueys, Fortier, Michel---thus can I partially repay the debt I owe them. After a fortunate crossing, I landed at Nantes the 3rd of May 1819, and I am now sharing the happiness that the French owe to a monarch whose new benefits they are daily learning to appreciate. sdct
When we left we learned that General Lallemand had retired to a dwelling about ten leagues from New Orleans, which he had purchased. General Rigaud was on his death bed, his daughter was a teacher in a private home at Opelousas and his son a clerk in a business house.
Most of the Texas colonists, without work and consequently a prey to the greatest poverty, languished in New Orleans, desiring to return to a country which several among them had but too lightly quitted. All were most anxious to devote to her their days which they now found all the more precious since they had had the misfortune to spend part of them away from her.
It is only fair for the subscribers to the Champ d' Asile Fund to remember that is was no other than these very refugees that they tried to help. Since their purpose was not achieved, how much better it now is to restore these colonists to happiness by bringing them again to their homes than to have aided them on a distant shore, where the silence of despair would stifle the gratitude whose happy expression their benefactors may now easily hear.
We cannot bring this epilogue to a close without begging our readers' pardon for not having given them the story which we had promised, of the love of Edward and Adrienne. Being unfamiliar with literature, we consulted a man of letters, who advised us that such an account of a romantic affair would belie our preface. The chief object of our work is to make known the causes of our failure; to set them forth in strictest truths so that eventually, feeling people may hasten to the relief of our unfortunate companions, and restore to the fatherland Frenchmen who have never ceased to be such, for death alone-as chance a thing as birth-can take away distinction which no living man would willingly renounce. sdct
SONS OF DEWITT