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[MANUSCRIPT LETTER, SIGNED, FROM PIERRE LAUSSAT, THE COLONIAL PREFECT OF LOUISIANA, TO FRENCH GENERAL ROCHAMBEAU, INFORMING HIM OF THE IMPENDING TRANSFER OF LOUISIANA TO THE UNITED STATES, AND OF HIS INABILITY TO SEND SUPPLIES TO ROCHAMBEAU IN HAITI]
New Orleans. September 30, 1803 [i.e. 7 Vendémiaire, an 12].. [3]pp. letter on a folded folio sheet, with engraved scene entitled "Republique Francaise" at the top of the first page. Addressed in manuscript on the fourth page: "au General en chef Rochambeau, Capitaine General de l'Ile St. Domingue." One-inch tear in center vertical fold (with some small tape repairs), where wax seal had been affixed, not affecting any text. Very good. An excellent letter from the French Colonial Prefect of Louisiana, informing the French general in charge of suppressing the slave uprising in Haiti that he has few supplies to send him, and also transmitting information of the impending transfer of Louisiana Territory to the United States. Laussat's letter to Rochambeau, informing him that he has little in the way of supplies to send and that Louisiana will soon be given to the United States, is a prime example of the United States finding advantage in Europe's distress. The Louisiana Purchase Treaty had been signed on April 30, 1803, and though rumors of the transaction were rampant, official news of the transfer circulated slowly throughout French political and military circles. At the time the letter was written, the impending transaction was still a state secret; the treaty would not be ratified by the U.S. Senate until the next week. The sale was partially motivated by circumstances in Haiti, where France was losing the struggle to put down the independence movement. The fight against the Haitians was costing the lives of thousands of French soldiers and putting a strain on the treasury. The resumption of European hostilities meant that the Royal Navy could cut off any supplies from Europe, and Napoleon had decided to abandon his American strategy. Within three months of this letter Louisiana would belong to the United States and Rochambeau would surrender his forces in Haiti to the British rather than be massacred by the insurgents. Pierre Clément de Laussat, the last French Colonial Prefect of Louisiana, arrived there in late March 1803, just a month before the Louisiana Purchase Treaty was signed. This letter, on his official letterhead (with the seal of the French Republic and the engraved text, "Marine. Colonie. Louisiane."), is written to the French general in command of Saint Domingue (Haiti), Donatien-Marie-Joseph de Vimeur, the Vicomte de Rochambeau (son of the Comte de Rochambeau, who led French forces in the American Revolution). Rochambeau had been made commander of French forces following the death of General Leclerc in 1802. He initiated brutal tactics against the Haitians, which only served to unite the island's blacks, mulattos, and mestizos against the French. The British navy had curtailed supplies to Haiti from France, and Rochambeau turned to Laussat for supplies to feed his troops. Laussat writes (in translation from the French): "I've learned with a great deal of probability of the cession of Louisiana to the United States, but up until now I have neither orders, nor instructions, nor official advice of any kind. If the cutter could have been loaded with flour, as proposed...I would have taken upon myself to send you some....In the event that the Government authorizes me to use my resources to assist you, I would try at once to combine the liveliest and most eager zeal with the necessary prudence; these resources, I must tell you, General, are fewer than you would think." Laussat also criticizes the actions of the captain of the French cutter that had come to New Orleans to receive the supplies. Dramatic events would take place in Louisiana and Haiti over the next few weeks. On November 18, 1803 the French army under Rochambeau was devastated by Haitian forces at the Battle of Vertieres, and proclaimed its independence shortly thereafter. Laussat had been hearing rumors since his arrival of a potential sale of Louisiana to the Americans, and those rumors were officially confirmed to him in August. On December 20, 1803 he presided over the ceremony officially transferring Louisiana Territory to the United States. This letter from Laussat, sent less than three months before he officially transferred Louisiana to American control and less than two months before France's ultimate defeat in Haiti, is a remarkable document. It ably demonstrates the shifting balance of power in North America as the United States more than doubled its size, and France lost control of its colonies in the Caribbean.
      [Bookseller: William Reese Company - Americana]
Last Found On: 2013-07-20           Check availability:      Biblio    

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