Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More on the Elusive Andre Massé, Early Settler of the Attakapas District

In his books Athanase de Mézières and the Louisiana-Texas Frontier, 1768-1780 (1914, as editor) and Texas in the Middle Eighteenth Century: Studies in Spanish Colonial History and Administration (1915, as author), historian Herbert Eugene Bolton provided valuable information about Andre Massé, the earliest known European settler in the Attakapas District of south Louisiana.

One of Bolton’s sources about Massé was a 1756 petition that Massé wrote to the Viceroy of New Spain in Mexico City, per the governor of the province of Texas at Los Adaes (near Natchitoches in present-day Louisiana), to ask permission to move from the Attakapas to the presidio of San Agustín de Ahumada in southeast Texas.

No images of Andre Massé are known to exist,
but I like to think he looked something like this.
(Source: Frederic Remington, 1880 [public domain])

What was Massé's reason for wanting to move from French to Spanish territory?

Intriguingly, he wanted to free his slaves (more difficult to do in French territory than Spanish) and to leave them part of his estate.

Massé did eventually free his slaves, not in Texas, but in Louisiana, because the Viceroy of Mexico — no doubt suspicious of a Frenchman wanting to reside in the Spanish Empire — rejected his petition.

Last year I decided to track down Massé’s original petition to see if it contained historical information not mentioned by Bolton.  According to Bolton, the original document sat in the Archivo General de la Nación, the Mexican national archives in Mexico City. Bolton even gave very specific locations for this document, noting that it lay in the Correspondencia de los Virreyes, vol. 1, Amarillas, 1, 1755-1756, or, more specifically, in Correspondencia de los Virreyes II, serie i, folio 264.

I know one person in all of Mexico and she happens to be a professor of history in Mexico City, fluent in Spanish and well familiar with the Archivo General. At my request she went to the Archivo to search for Massé’s petition — and could not find it! The collection, she stated, was a terrible mess.  Nothing was where it was supposed to be.

It had been a hundred years since Bolton had examined Massé’s petition in the Archivo General. Who knows what could have happened to the document in the meantime?

Instead of giving up the search, I checked to see if Bolton did not leave behind his research notes. As it turned out, he left his notes to UC-Berkeley, which had compiled an extremely detailed finding aid for the collection. After studying the finding aid, I hired a graduate student at Berkeley to go to Bancroft Library and look in one particular box.

Title page of one of Bolton's books (1914).

According to the finding aid, that box contained documents pertaining to the incursion of Frenchmen onto Spanish soil.

Sure enough, there was Bolton’s typewritten transcript of Massé’s 1756 petition to the Viceroy of New Spain.

Below I post a translation of Massé’s original document, or, rather, of Bolton’s transcript of Massé’s original document.  The original was written to the Spanish in French, and not by Massé, but by his friend, the troubled French cleric Abbé Didier. (I’ll explain later why I say “troubled.”) The translation is by my acquaintance, Dr. Judith Rygiel of Carelton University in Ottawa, and myself.  (That is, I tweaked her translation.)

I might eventually post a transcript (per Bolton) of the original French document and, for comparison, a transcript (again per Bolton) of the official Spanish translation prepared in 1756. Indeed, in a couple of instances Bolton’s transcript of the original French document appears to contain typographical errors, and the only way I could figure out a misspelled or missing word was to consult the Spanish translation.

Here is the translation (which I consider a work in progress):
Monsieur Massé, settler, distinguished and by his birth and merit, presently on his cattle ranch in the Attakapas, a dependent of New Orleans, arriving finally at an advanced age without having effected the intention of giving liberty to his slaves, and at the same time to leave them his goods after his death, is forced and obliged to turn to his Excellency, the Illustrious Monseigneur, Viceroy of Mexico, to put him and his dependents under his strong protection. This is directed, by the intervention of Monsieur the Abbé Didier, secular priest, his partner in his cattle, to Monsieur le Gouverneur of the post of Adays, to take the action most suitable to the matter so that the affair does not transpire until after its entire execution. The said Sieur Massé reserving the right to deduce from His Excellency the legitimate reasons that commit him to this change. 
The said Monsieur le Gouverneur of Adays, to whom the said Sieur Massé is not unknown, knows well the advantages which will result from the retreat of the said Sieur Massé and of the establishment, which he can form, by himself, in the St. Augustin post, without it being necessary of the said Sieur Didier to actually describe them. That which he can truly assure is that His Majesty will find in one and the other as much and affection as in his most loyal subjects. 
1st. The said Massé possesses in common with the said Abbé Didier a considerable number of cattle, cows and horses, which can be easily transported to the citadel of St. Augustin, which will be a great benefit for the inhabitants of the post.  
2nd. The large and the small Attakapas, entirely devoted to the said M. Massé and who have their village on the other side of the River, are sure to follow him, by means of which no one will have to fear any enemy of that side. 
3rd. His male Negroes, which are for the most part already married to his female Negroes, and who have children, are one seed, these same all transported to the place, having [no] need to take them further. 
4th. The said M. Massé knows the strength and the foibles of the [Indian] Nations of the North, such as the Tavayages, the Laitas, Patoca, Icara, and Panis, because he has visited them. He is able to give a most faithful account and also the means to secure them. 
5th. The said M. Massé does not demand any recompense except the protection of his Excellency, Monsieur le Viceroy, and to be able to enjoy, he and his dependents, the same advantages as the other subjects of his Majesty, the King of Spain. 
Le Sieur Abbé Didier, who asks for the same grace for himself, is able to prove his perfect submission and indefatigable zeal for the growth of God’s domain and of the State of Spain. He will offer every day vows to God all-powerful for the prosperity of his most serene Monseigneur le Viceroy of Mexico, for whom he has the most profound respect. 

At Adayes 19th July

The most faithful, the most humble
and the most obedient servant, 
Didier, Secular Priest
Note: It is interesting to note that Didier — if Bolton’s transcript is true to the original — renders Massé’s name as I do here with an accent aigu over the “e”.  A friend of Massé, Didier presumably would have known how Massé pronounced his name and how to properly render that name in French. In short, Massé apparently did not pronounce his name as MASS or (as I’ve been pronouncing it) MAS-SUH, but MAS-SAY.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

La Chute: A Waterfall on Bayou Teche?

I became aware of claims that a waterfall once emptied into Bayou Teche while examining one of the first extremely accurate maps of Louisiana — Barthélémy Lafon’s "Carte générale du territoire d’Orléans," printed in New Orleans in 1806. On the Teche above New Iberia, and a little upstream from the site of present-day Loreauville, Lafon printed in minuscule type the word "chûtte."

The "chûtte" as shown on Barthélémy Lafon’s
"Carte générale du territoire d’Orléans" (1806).
I've labeled the present-day sites of New Iberia,
Loreauville, and Spanish Lake.
(Source: Library of Congress)

In French chute means "waterfall."

A waterfall on the Teche?  In flat coastal south Louisiana?

Later I examined a report on Bayou Teche by former British soldier and spy (and, after switching sides during the American Revolution, official geographer to the fledgling United States) Thomas Hutchins. He had gathered intelligence on the bayou from circa 1772-1784, when Spain, a major rival to the British in nearby West Florida, held much of present-day Louisiana, including the Teche country.

Title page of Hutchins' 1784 book containing
his report on Bayou Teche.

As Hutchins guided his reader up the Teche, he observed:
About 3 leagues above la Nouvelle Iberia [New Iberia] is la Force Point [Fausse Pointe]. . . . Then to la Shute branch, which passes over a fall of about 10 feet, near to where it enters the Tage [Teche] river, it is 3 leagues. . . .
Moreover, Hutchins prepared a hand-drawn map of the Teche, which shows the approximate location of the fall or “shute” (or “shout” as he spells it on the map).

Detail of Hutchins' ca. 1780 map of Bayou Teche
showing the "Shout" (chute).  I've labeled New Iberia,
the present-day site of Loreauville, and the Teche itself.
(Source: Author's collection.)

That Lafon and Hutchins both mention the chute and show it at roughly the same location may not, however, be evidence of corroboration. I increasingly believe that Lafon used Hutchins’ report as a source in making his map. (Hutchins’ report and Lafon’s map share a few idiosyncrasies; moreover, Hutchins’ report had been published in 1784 and would have been available to Lafon.)

Enter fellow researcher Don Arceneaux, a native south Louisianian and trained biologist who works in the forests of the northwestern U.S. Don had been looking into the history of the Attakapas region and, as I had, noticed the one or two known references to the chute. But he also found another chute reference, namely, in an early-nineteenth-century land record mentioned in Glenn R. Conrad’s Land Records of the Attakapas District. That land record refers to the chute as sitting on the property of a specific landowner — which allowed Don to pin down more precisely the chute’s location.

In fact, Don believes that modern topographical maps and aerial photographs show the remnant of the chute. And that assumed remnant sits right in the area where the Hutchins, Lafon, and Conrad references said the chute had been located over two centuries ago. The feature in question is no longer a waterfall, its dirt or clay drop (no rock in south Louisiana!) having eroded away or having been removed by human activity. Rather, it is a coulee (our local word for creek) flowing into the Teche from two main branches, one coming from the direction of Spanish Lake to the west and another coming from the neck of land formed by a meander in the Teche near Loreauville.

Topographical map showing the assumed site
of the chute (coulee at middle flowing north into the Teche).  (Source:

Don theorizes that in the eighteenth century the Teche’s natural levee acted like a dam, turning this jutting neck of land into a bowl that flooded with rainwater during the region’s semitropical downpours. The water found its way through a narrow gap in the levee, and it was there that the chute poured into the Teche.

Interestingly, the word “chute” describes a particular kind of waterfall. According to James R. Penn’s Rivers of the World: A Social, Geographical, and Environmental Sourcebook (2001), a chute is "[a] ‘shortcut’ across a meander bend” or “any narrowing of a channel through which water velocity increases. In this way, water confined by protruding rocks in waterfalls or rapids produces chutes." While it is possible that the chute on the Teche was merely "[a] ‘shortcut’ across a meander bend" (since the assumed spot is indeed on a meander in the Teche), Hutchins, however, recorded that the chute had "a fall of about 10 feet," indicating clearly that it was a waterfall.

Penn is concerned with the modern definition of chute, but what did the word mean in the eighteenth-century?  Chute in French literally meant "fall" (as it still does today) and could be used in reference to any number of things. For example, "la chute de l’empire romain" — "the fall of the Roman Empire." But in a hydrographic sense, chute — used primarily in French at the time — did in fact denote a waterfall. In The Royal Dictionary (1773), for example, the English waterfall is translated into French as chute d’eau. Likewise, Le grand dictionnaire géographique, historique et critique (1768) observes, "Waterfall, dans la langue du pays, signifie chute d’eau." ("Waterfall, in the language of the land, signifies chute d’eau.")

Aerial photograph showing assumed site of the chute.
Click image to enlarge. (Source: Google Maps)

Hutchins, by original training a surveyor and cartographer, had explored the former French territories of Illinois and Ohio.  As such, he might have known the word chute before traveling to the Gulf Coast around 1772. Along with the word’s local use by francophone Acadians and French Creoles, Hutchins prior knowledge of the term would explain his use of “shute” in his report and on his bilingual (English and French) map of the Teche.

At this point Don and I cannot say for certain that the present-day coulee flowing into the Teche near Loreauville is the remnant of the eighteenth-century chute. But this modern geographic feature seems to us the only clear candidate for the chute.

Don has recently examined the area by kayak, and I plan to go there shortly by canoe.

Addendum (of 1 December 2011):

I think we just solved the puzzle!  While examining a digitized U.S. Geological Survey map, I noticed that the USGS provided a name for the present-day coulee that Don has suggested as the chute’s former location.  And what does the USGS call the present-day coulee?  "Bayou La Chute"!

Screen shot showing the identification of the assumed site
of the chute as "Bayou La Chute" (Source:

Can you imagine that?  The memory of an over two-hundred-year-old waterfall preserved in the name of a present-day waterway on the same spot!

I think this pretty much closes the case in Don's favor!

Addendum (of 4 December 2011):

Yesterday I canoed to the site of the chute with Keith Guidry and Don Arceneaux.  Don had already been to the site six days earlier, but Keith and I had never been there.  Actually, Keith had canoed passed it previously, but didn't know its significance at the time.

The entrance to Bayou La Chute and the location
(or approximate location) of the eighteenth-century
waterfall known as "the chute."
(Photo by the author)

What we saw at the site of the chute was the entrance to a small bayou [30.03667, -91.786284], about thirty-five feet wide at its mouth, running through a deep cut in the natural ridge that follows the Teche.  The banks at this spot are higher than any others I've seen along the Teche, rising about eight to ten feet above the water on the left side of the cut and about three to five feet on the right.  A prominent grassy hill or ridge tops the bluff on the right, rising perhaps another twenty-five to thirty feet above the surface of the Teche.  One can imagine a chute here two hundred years ago, spilling into the Teche over a drop that at the time connected the high lands to either side of the waterfall.

Heading upstream on Bayou La Chute.
Note the cypress trees and cypress knees
(and someone's fishing chair) on the left bank.
(Photo by the author)

As mentioned, there is no waterfall at the site today, the drop having eroded away or having been cleared by human activity.  As such, one can now canoe directly into the chute's remnant, a waterway called Bayou La Chute, and navigate a fair distance up it and its tributaries.  Kevin, Don, and I followed Bayou La Chute for about a quarter mile upstream from the Teche, stopping — though the depth of the water would have permitted us to go farther — only when we reached the fork where the bayou's tributaries turned east onto the neck of the Teche meander and west toward Spanish Lake.

Fork in Bayou La Chute, one heading east (left) onto the neck
of the Teche meander and one heading right (west) toward Spanish Lake.
(Photo by the author)

Although there is a small amount of garbage, an occasional drainage pipe, and some non-indigenous ornamental bamboo along its banks, Bayou La Chute is otherwise wild in appearance, very beautiful, and well worth diverting from the Teche for a side trip up its narrow, winding course.

Addendum (of 7 December 2011):

As lagniappe here is a detail of an 1846 plat map for the area T12S R7E (just below the Teche) showing the bayou in question as "Bayou La Chute."  Its intersection with the Teche does not appear because that feature lies slightly to the north in the next township (T11S R7E).

(Source: Office Of Public Works Plat Map
for District Southwestern T12S R7E [1846],
Louisiana Office of State Lands)

Even better: below is an 1850 copy of a 1795 French-language map of the same area, showing "la chute" as lying on the property of Monsieur Claire Dauterive Dubuclé (Dubuclet) — something Don Arceneaux pointed out to me a couple weeks ago in Conrad's land records book.  I only found the below map today, however, in the Louisiana Office of State Lands.  (Thanks to Michael Marie for telling me how to search the office's records!)  Interestingly, the surveyor who made the original 1795 map was none other than François Gonsoulin, whom I mention in a couple of previous blog articles.  By the way, the below map is oriented so that north is to the lower left.  (In other words, the map is more or less upside down.)

Map showing "la chute" near the "Rivière Thex" (Teche). Click to enlarge.
 (Source: Claim Papers S.W.D. T12S R3-7E, Vol. 24,
Louisiana Office of State Lands [1850 copy of 1795 original])