1802 – Letter from a businessman in New Orleans, New Spain to merchants in Bordeaux regarding a shipment of Indigo one year before the Louisiana Territory would officially retrocede to France and 13 months before it would be officially transferred from France to the United States
New Orleans: 1802. Unbound. This stampless folded letter from James (Santiago Pablo Francisco) Carrick in New Orleans to Messers Charles & Olivier Durand in Bordeaux is datelined “Nouvelle Orleans a 15 Novre 1802”. It bears a handstamp reading “Poste / Maritime / Bordeaux” and a manuscript rate marking. Written in French. In nice shape. A transcript and translation will be provided.
In the letter Carrick reports,
“On the 12th of the said month of October I finally settled with Mr. I. Soulié of this City the account existing between him, Mr. Danbeck & Baour brothers & the Count of Bordeaux for goods sent . . . in the year 1792. . .. For the Balance of the said account I received a barrel and two Indigo barrels . . . weighing together 736 which counts 660 piastres six reals issued. I have agreed with Captain Patrick Walsh to take on board the above-mentioned Indigo on your consignment . . . you will make the necessary insurance. Mr. Walsh’s frigate is called the Mexican & will set sail around the then of next month. Do not lose sight of the nine hundred piastres that the Captain of the American Brig named Jace was to cost [i.e., remit to] you on his arrival.”. Very good. Item #009920
Despite having been forced to cede New Orleans and Louisiana to Spain in 1763 following its defeat in the French and Indian War, France retained its Caribbean colonies, collectively a national treasure trove that provided Europe with indigo, coffee, and especially sugar from its brutal slave plantations. That all changed in the 1790s when Toussaint Louverture led a slave revolt that not only conquered Saint Dominque but the Spanish half of Hispaniola, Santo Domingo, as well. When Napoleon took power in 1799, he resolved to both seize the sugar-hub of Saint Dominique from its black rulers and restore a French presence on the continent by reacquiring the Louisiana Territory. To that end, he secretly negotiated the purchase of Louisiana with King Charles IV of Spain in 1802 and launched an invasion of Saint Dominique. However, the invasion ended in failure, mostly due to deaths from Yellow Fever, and his minister of finance began to express grave doubts about the value of Louisiana as after the loss of Haiti, there would be minimal French Caribbean sugar to market through the United States via New Orleans. Moreover, war with Great Britain was on the horizon, and the cost to protect upper Louisiana from an English invasion via Canada would have been unsupportable. So, Napoleon abandoned his North American plans.
Carrick’s letter was written in the very short span of time between the French reacquisition of Louisiana from Spain (hence the use of Spanish currency, piastres and reales), and its sale to the United States. A Scottish immigrant to New Orleans who arrived in 1791, Carrick was initially only a marginally successful merchant until he married the daughter of Pablo Segond, a wealthy ship owner, after which he rose to prominence both in trade and politics. He became the commandant of St. Bernard Parish and served in Louisiana’s first Territorial House of Representatives. Carrick died in 1806.
Bordeaux had long been the hub in France’s Caribbean and American trade. It imported indigo, coffee, and sugar from West Indies and Louisiana plantations and, in turn, supplied iron goods needed for sugar mills, luxury goods for the planters and merchants, and most importantly thousands of African slaves needed to work the indigo, coffee, and sugar fields.
(For more information, see Rodriguez’s Spanish New Orleans: An Imperial City on the American Periphery, 1766-1803, Fortier’s A History of Louisiana, Sacramental Records of the Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Volume 7 1800-1803, and Butel’s “Traditions and changes in French Atlantic trade between 1780 and 1830” in Renaissance and Modern Studies Vol 30 Issue 1.
An exceptionally scarce letter documenting New Orleans trade with Europe during the turbulent months as Louisiana was transferred from Spain to France and, ultimately, to the United States. We know of only a small handful similar letters. The one most recently sold was from New Orleans to San Sebastian via Bordeaux (2017 Siegel Galleries Sale 1171, Lot 77, $2,400). As noted in that lot’s description, like this letter, it was “a rare example of mail from colonial New Orleans during the transitional period of rule from Spain to France [when] Napoleon Bonaparte decided to sell the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, ending France’s presence in Louisiana, examples of mail from New Orleans during this brief transitional period are extremely rare. . ..”
At the time of listing, no others are for sale in the trade, and no others are listed as having appeared at auction by the Rare Book Hub or the Stamp Auction Network. OCLC suggests that similar correspondence may be included in one archival collection, the Jumel family papers, held at the New York Historical Society..