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"Part V, Chapter 47." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 47
THE MISSISSIPPI BUBBLE

BEING thus encroached upon by the British the French became more determined to shut them out from the south. Already twelve years after La Salle's death another attempt had been made to found a town at the mouth of the Mississippi, and this time the attempt was successful.

 

This time the expedition was led by Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville.

d'Iberville's expedition, 1698

With two ships he sailed out from France and, after some trouble, found the mouth of the Mississippi. He did not, however, build his fort here, but on the coast of what is now the State of Mississippi. Then, leaving one of his officers and his brother in command, he sailed home again to France.

 

While d'Iberville was away, his brother Bienville started on an expedition to explore the Mississippi. And he soon discovered that the French had taken possession none too soon, for not far from where New Orleans now stands, he fell in with a British ship. On board were a lot of French Huguenot families who had come to found a settlement on the Mississippi. Bienville talked to the captain, who told him that this was one of three ships sent out from England by a company formed of Huguenots and Englishmen who intended to found a colony on the Mississippi. They were not sure, however, whether they were on the Mississippi or not.

Bienville, 1680-1768

Bienville at once assured them that they were not, but were instead on a river which belonged to Louis of France, where already the French had several settlements. The British captain believed what he was told and, much to the Frenchmen's delight, turned back. Just at the spot where this took place the river makes a bed, and because of this it was given the name of English Bend, by which name it is known to this day.

English Bend

D'Iberville only stayed long enough in France to gather more colonists and returned at once to Louisiana, where he founded two more towns along the coast. But the colonists sent out by Louis were of the lowest. Many of them were little more than rogues and vagabonds. The mere off-scourings of the towns, they were idle and extravagant, and the colony did not prosper.

 

Instead of putting gold into Louis' pockets, as he had hoped, he had constantly to pour it out to maintain the colony. Of that Louis soon grew tired. Besides this he wanted all the money he could gather to carry on the war (Queen Anne's War), which was still raging. So, in 1712, he handed Louisiana over to a wealthy merchant named Crozat to make what he could out of it.

 

Such great power was given to this merchant that he was little less than a king. He had every monopoly. Nobody in the colony could buy or sell the smallest thing without his permission, and every one had to work for him and not for themselves. But the people were by no means willing workers. They were, said one of their priests, "nearly all drunkards, gamblers, blasphemers and foes of everything that was good," and when they found that they are expected to work merely to put money into the proprietor's pocket they would not work at all.

Crozat, 1655-1738

So very soon Crozat found he could make nothing out of the colony. And after some vain efforts to make it pay he gave up his charter, and Louisiana once more became a royal possession.

 

Meanwhile France itself was in sore straits for money. Louis XIV, that magnificent and extravagant monarch, had died and left his country beggared and in want. The Duke of Orleans now ruled as Regent for little Louis XV. He was at his wit's end to know where to find money, when a clever Scots adventurer named John Law came to him with a new and splendid idea. this was to use paper money instead of gold and silver. The Regent was greatly taken with the idea, and he gave Law leave to issue the paper money. It was quite a good idea had it been kept within bounds. But it was not kept within bounds. All France went mad with eagerness to get some of the paper money which was, they thought, going to make them rich forever.

John Law, 1671-1729

Besides issuing paper money, Law started what was known as the Mississippi Scheme or Company of the Indies. Louisiana, which had been received back from Crozat, was handed over to John Law, who undertook to settle the country, and work the gold and silver mines which were supposed to be there.

The Company of the Indies, 1717

Law began at once to fill all France with stories of Louisiana and its delights. Gold and silver mines, he said, had been discovered there which were so rich that they could never be used up. Lumps of gold lay about everywhere, and one might have them for the picking up. As for silver, it was so common that it had little value except to be used for paving the streets. In proof of these stories lumps of gold said to have come from Louisiana were shown in the shops of Paris.

 

As to the climate, it was the most perfect on earth. It was never too hot, and never too cold, but always warm and sunny. The soil was so fertile that one had but to scratch it to produce the finest crops. Delicious fruits grew everywhere, and might be gathered all the year round. The meadows were made beautiful, and the air scented, with the loveliest of flowers. In fact Louisiana was painted as an earthly paradise, where nothing the heart could desire was lacking.

 

People believed these stories. And, believing them, it was not wonderful that they desired to possess for themselves some of these delights. So, rich and poor, high and low, rushed to buy shares in the Company. The street in Paris where the offices of the Company were was choked from end to end with a struggling crowd. The rich brought their hundreds, the poor their scanty savings. Great lords and ladies sold their lands and houses in order to have money to buy more shares. The poor went ragged and hungry in order to scrape together a few pence. Peers and merchants, soldiers, priests, fine ladies, servants, statesmen, labourers, all jostled together, and fought to buy the magic paper which would make them rich and happy beyond belief. Fortunes were made and lost in a day. Some who had been rich found themselves penniless; others who had always lived in poverty found themselves suddenly rolling in wealth which they did not know how to use.

The rush for wealth

And John Law was the wizard whose magic wand had created all these riches. He was flattered and courted by every one. The greatest princes in the land came to beg favours of him. They came to him to beg, and he treated them haughtily as beggars, and bade them wait.

 

Day by day, and month by month, the madness increased, and the gigantic bubble grew larger and larger. Bienville, meanwhile, who had been deprived of his governorship, was once more made Governor of Louisiana. With a company of settlers, he returned again to the colony, and he at once set about building a capital, which, in honour of the Regent, he called New Orleans. The place he chose for a capital was covered with forest. So before any building could be done fifty men were set to fell the trees and clear a space. And then the first foundations of the new great city of New Orleans were laid.

New Orleans founded, 1718

But still the colony did not prosper. For the colonists were for the most part rogues and vagabonds, sent there by force, and kept there equally by force. They looked upon Louisiana as a prison, and tried constantly to escape from it.

 

Meanwhile no ships laden with gold and gems reached France, for no gold mines had ever been discovered. Then people began to grow tired of waiting. Some of them began to suspect that all the stories of the splendours of Louisiana were not true, and they tried to sell their paper money and paper shares, and get back the gold which they had given for them. Soon every one wanted to sell, and no one wanted to buy. The value of the paper money fell and fell, until it was worth less than nothing. People who had thought themselves millionaires found themselves beggars. Law, who had been flattered and courted, was now hated and cursed. And in terror of his life he fled from France to die miserably in Italy a few years later.

Law flees from France, 1720

As to Louisiana, a new set of stories were told of it. Now it was no longer described as a sort of earthly paradise, but as a place of horror and misery. It was a land of noisome marsh and gloomy forest, where prowled every imaginable evil beast. At certain times of the year the river flooded the whole land, so that the people were obliged to take refuge in the trees. There they lived more like monkeys than men, springing from tree to tree in search of food. The sun was so hot that it could strike a man dead as if with a pistol. This was called sunstroke. Luscious fruits indeed grew around, but they were all poisonous and those who ate of them died in agonies. In fact Louisiana was now pictured as a place to be shunned, as a place of punishment. "Be good or I will send you to the Mississippi" was a threat terrible enough to make the naughtiest child obedient.

 

The Mississippi bubble burst,–but still France clung to Louisiana. Once again it became a royal province, and at length after long years of struggle it began to prosper. The French had thus two great centres of power in America, one at Quebec amid the pine trees and snows of the North, and one at New Orleans amid the palm trees and sunshine of the South. And between the two fort after fort was built, until gradually north and south were united. Thus La Salle's dream came true.

Louisiana again a royal province, 1731

It was during the time of peace after the end of Queen Anne's War that the French had thus strengthened their hold on America and joined Canada and Louisiana. They had also built a strong fortress on the Island of Cape Breton which commanded the mouth of the St. Lawrence. This fortress was called Louisburg in honour of King Louis, and it was the strongest and best fortified in the whole of New France. The walls were solid and high, and bristled with more than a hundred cannon. The moat was both wide and deep. Indeed the French believe that this fort was so strong that no power on earth could take it.

Louisburg built, 1715

But the days of peace sped fast. Soon once more Europe was ablaze with war, France and Britain again taking opposite sides. In Europe this war is called the War of the Austrian Succession, because it was brought on by a quarrel among the nations of Europe as to who should succeed to the throne of Austria. In America it is called King George's War, as King George II was King of Britain at the time.

King George's War, 1744-48

Like the other wars before it, it was fought in America as well as in Europe. The chief event in America was the capture of Louisburg. That redoubtable fortress which it was thought would hold off any attack, yielded after six weeks to an army chiefly composed of New England farmers and fishermen, and led by Maine merchant who had no knowledge of war.

Louisburg taken, 1745

When the news that Louisburg was taken reached New England the people rejoiced. Bells were rung, cannons were fired and bonfires blazed in all the chief towns. In England itself the news was received with surprise and delight, and Pepperell, the merchant-soldier, was made a baronet and could henceforth call himself Sir William Pepperell.

 

But when the French heard that they had lost their splendid American fortress they were filled with dismay. One after another, three expeditions were sent to recapture it, but one after another they miscarried. And when at length peace was agreed upon, Louisburg was still in the hands of the New Englanders. The peace which was now signed is called the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. By it, it was agreed that each side should give back all its conquests, so that after all the terrible loss and bloodshed neither side was one whit the better.

Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, 1748

The New Englanders had been greatly delighted at their conquest of Louisburg. The French, on the other hand, were greatly grieved, and when terms of peace were discussed Louis XV insisted that Louisburg should be restored. "That cannot be," said King George. "It is not mine to give, for it was taken by the people of Boston."

 

The French, however, were firm. So King George gave way, and Louisburg was restored to France, and Madras in India, which the French had taken, was in exchange restored to Britain. When the New Englanders heard of it, they were very angry. Madras was nothing to them; it was but a "petty factory" on the other side of the globe; while Louisburg was at their very doors, and of vast importance to their security. They had to obey and give it back. But they did so with bitterness in their hearts against a King who cared so little for their welfare.

Louisburg given back to France

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom