CHAPTER 12 [Vol. III, pp. 222-229]

Third Phenomenon; The author assumes management of the King’s plantation.

I’ve said elsewhere that all the Naturals, generally speaking, were very superstitious; some more so than others. The Natchez were not exempt from this weakness. However, to do them justice, it was only in those cases where Europeans were just as susceptible as they were, such as when certain events occur, so extraordinary that it seems Nature is threatened in some way, that it suffers at its core.

I’ve reported in their proper place on two events that made all of Louisiana tremble, including the French. The one that I'm going to describe now was neither so encompassing nor so striking, so it only frightened the most timorous Naturals and Frenchmen.

Near the end of the month of May 1726, the sun was hidden all day by big clouds, each one quite distinct from the others. These clouds left [223] little empty space between them, permitting one to see the azure sky in a very few places. The whole day was very calm. Particularly at night the clouds joined entirely together; one simply could not see the sky. However, one could distinguish all of the clouds’ different configurations: I noticed they were quite high above the earth. The solitude I had been in all day led me to notice this, otherwise I never would have paid any attention.

The weather thus disposed, the sun prepared to set on the horizon. I saw the sun in the instant it touched it, because there was a little blank space between the clouds and the horizon. The weather was beautiful and tranquil, and I sat down to dinner in my courtyard. Shortly, the clouds became luminous, or reflective of light; the contours of most of the clouds seemed to be bordered in gold, while the others only had a weak tinge of color. It would be very difficult to describe all of the beauties that these different colorations brought to the eyes. But all of it together was the most beautiful sight of this type that I had ever seen in my life.

[224] I had my face turned to the direction of the sun's rising. In the brief time that the sun was making this display, it moved further and hid itself more and more. When it was low enough that the shadow of the earth was appearing on the convexity of the clouds, it looked as if a sail, stretched from North to South, had hidden or taken away the light from under the part of the clouds extended toward the east, and rendered them somber. This did not prevent the clouds from being perfectly visible, in such a way that all those that were on the horizon were partly luminous and partly shadowed. This charming spectacle lasted for too little time, as with all objects that strike the senses so strongly, which one never wants to see end. This one did not last longer than the time needed to describe it.

At the end, my two closest neighbors arrived, completely afraid. Finding me quietly dining, they said to me that doubtless I had not seen the signs that had appeared in the sky. I told them that it was impossible for me to have seen anything in the sky since the clouds hid it, but that fear had made them see figures that simply had not existed.

[225] I told them that what they had seen was natural and had nothing that should frighten them; that on the contrary, I had been charmed by it. I explained what had made it happen and they turned back home a little more assured. However, the Natchez did not take it this way: All that I could tell them did nothing to dissuade them from the idea they had that the red men were menaced by some bad luck because, they said, the sky had looked red and as though it were angry.

This simple story can serve to disabuse many Habitants of that time of the idea they still have that this was a phenomenon that announced something sinister for Louisianans. And though the massacre of the French establishment at the hands of the Natchez would not come until almost four years later, most of those who escaped it, are still persuaded that this was a warning of that disaster. So much is it true that superstition takes hold of most minds with such force that neither religion nor reason has yet been able to destroy these unfortunate remnants of ignorance and peasant credulity.

[226] The same year, I was seized by a strong desire to leave the Natchez post where I had lived for eight years. I resolved to do so, despite the attachment I had for this establishment. I communicated my idea to a friend who approved of it and who wanted to do the same. We sold our belongings and descended to New Orleans, which on the surface had improved greatly, as it had been entirely rebuilt. I found the director of concessions M. de la Chaise, who knew me for having done research for him on herbal remedies that were sent to France by order of the Company of the Indies. I had counted on returning to Europe with my friend who was going there. However, Governor Périer and M. de la Chaise implored me to stay, so strongly that I accepted the administration of the plantation belonging to the company, which shortly thereafter became the plantation of the king.

The plantation looked like a forest half-cleared; the slaves’ cabins were scattered about here and there. These blacks had several little pirogues that they used for crossing the river, to go steal from the habitants on the other side, where [227] the town is. Every Sunday, at least four hundred slaves could be found on the plantation, of whom two hundred and fifty belonged there. I ordered the land cleared and and cultivated. I broke up the slaves' pirogues and forbade them to ever have them again. I convened with the other settlers about what we had to do to prevent slave gatherings, which could only lead to trouble for the colony, and I succeeded in abolishing them. I made a camp for the blacks of the plantation. It was comprised of a square in the middle, and three large streets along which I layed out their cabins, between which I left a suitable amount of space. I surrounded this camp with strong palisades, with only one door, the only place through which they could get out. Then, outside this door I built two cabins, one for the white commander and the other for storing the medications and making remedies. A young slave who served the surgeon slept and lived in this last cabin, in order to do bleeding or apply first aid if a case was pressing. I learned [228] several years later that this slave was one of the few good surgeons in the colony. I paid close attention to taking care of sick and pregnant women; I ordered that milk be given to the latter and that their rations be increased. However, this is not to say that if they failed to perform their duties, whatever those might be, I did not chastise them as they deserved. Seeing that I took pleasure or that I punished them as events warranted, they adapted in spite of themselves. Still, there were disputes amongst them about women, and these disputes were occasions for fights, which could go so far as to result in crippling or even death. I reprimanded them but gained nothing, especially in the case of two men who wanted the same woman. I had the woman come to me and asked her which one she preferred. Once she had named him, I alerted the man, who told me he loved her. I brought the men together and suggested that they be calm, otherwise I would be obliged to take action. I have used the same method with regards to many others, and peace reigned among them.

In the shallow waters, across from my house, I dug a little port [229] that could contain a vessel and the plantations' pirogues, so that I need not fear the trees that the river carries along when it overflows. Thus, things were in order and I found myself more comfortable and satisfied. This tranquility lasted up until the conspiracy of the slaves against the French, which I will discuss after I have reported on the following wars.