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.


  1. interesting! do we know where Masse lived ? what became of him?

    1. Masse died around 1772, which he know from a document from 2 December 1772 found by genealogist Winston De Ville. It appears that originally he lived around the middle Teche, then, later in his life, moved down to around what is now present-day Baldwin.