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Extract from a letter written to Miss Destréhan of Paris, sister of the deceased L. Destréhan, Chief Clerk of the Treasurer.

New Orleans, 19th March 1771

Dear Madam,

I would consider it a grave failure in the duty I owe to the intimate friendship which united me to Mr. your brother, if I did not inform you of his death. He died on Thursday, 9 of the present month, at 5:30 in the afternoon.

He did not make a will, being fully persuaded that I, in my capacity of deputy guardian of his nephews and nieces, I would have to replace him after his death, and that, consequently, without any formality whatsoever, I would have to put myself in his place and his stead to administer his assets and his business as well as those of his minors.

Before I make clear to you all the events that have passed in connection with the death of your brother, it is necessary that I give you a little information as to how Spanish Justice works in this Colony.

Mr. the Governor is the First Judge. He can, either on his own, or with his Assessor, and Registrar (or Clerk of the Court) called "Ecrivasso," judge all cases, civic as well as criminal. The Assessor is alone responsible, in his own and private name, for any judgment which he has passed, together—and the Governor answers for those which he has rendered on his own, without any Assessor. Voila, that is already one Tribunal.

Every year, on January 1st, the CABILDO (another Tribunal), nominates two Judges, who are called ALCADES, they judge, each on their own, the cases which are brought before them—of whatever nature they may be—assisted by a Clerk appointed "ECRIVASSO". They are also in charge of the Police. When an action has been started before the Governor, the ALCADES may not enquire into it. The same holds good for the Governor, with respect to the Alcades and even between two Alcades. It is said that the judgements rendered by the Alcades are less costly.

There is still a third Tribunal which is called CABILDO, formed by Mr. O'Neill, on the suggestion of the other Spanish Colonies, it is composed of the Governor, his Assessor, six "Regidores" and one Clerk appointed "Ecrivano." It is approximately what we would call "Echevin" (= to Municipal Magistrate) in France, as they serve in the same capacity. This Tribunal only handles Civic cases, below 1.654-7-6 for the purpose of appeal of judgments rendered by the Governor or the Alcades. It is said that in probate matters and other casual cases, Mr. the Governor must have preference over the Alcades.

Immediately after the death of Mr. Destréhan, Mr. Bobé who is here, in charge of all matters or business of interest to the King of France, presented himself here in order to put opposition to allowing the Spanish Justice to find out anything about the succession, but one of the two Alcades, called M. Forstan, having also presented himself together with Mr. GARIC, Registrar or Writer of the Cabeldo, summoned him, in the name of the King of Spain, to hand him over all the keys of the deceased; this being the custom here, rather than affixing the seals, as is done in France. Immediately, Mr. Bobé, fearing that he might be found guilty of some misdemeanor, handed him over the keys and, at the same time, a copy of the attachment (conservatory attachment) which had been made by M. Foucault, of all the assets of the minors, at the time of their father's death, at the bottom of which, he reiterated the said attachment and made his protestation against anything which might be done, which would be contrary to the interests of the interested parties, in view of the fact that he was competent to proceed to make a new Inventory, in order to give theMinors—and to the General Treasurer, all the required securities for the protection of their rights. The Alcado received this document and gave him his reply in writing, after which he went away, in possession of the keys. He had only just reached the bottom of the stairs, that Don André Almonaster, another Clerk of the Court or Notary, presented himself with Mr. Panis, Town Major,

and two Soldiers with fixed bayonets on their rifles, to take possession of the deceased's keys, in the name of the Governor. On this they received the reply that Mr. Forstan, Mayor, had just taken them away. On the turn, Don André, having drawn up a sort of petition in Spanish, returned to the town, in order to present it to the Governor, leaving the said Mr. Panis and his soldiers. Mr. Bobé took advantage of the occasion to write a letter to the Governor, in which he made claim to his rights. About 9 o'clock in the evening, Don André brought back the answer of the Governor in which he pointed out to Mr. Bobé, "that of whatever nature the assets of the deceased or his business and properties could be, it was him, and him only, who should take cognizance of them; that he considered him as a Vassal of His Majesty and that it behoove him to place the seals on his assets; of whichever nature his businesses and his accountancy might be, he would render good account of it." In consequence, S. Don André, in conjunction with Sneor Panis, affixed the seals on all doors and left a watchman.

The next morning, 10th of the said month, Mr. Denis Braud, Regidor, was appointed by the Governor, Detenedor (Holder) of the assets of the two estates, which means Depositary (or trustee) of sequestrated property. On the same day, I had the body brought to my house, and the burial took place, with much propriety, at 6 o'clock in the evening. There were a lot of people, from all the States.

On the 11th of the said month, in the morning, I went, with your nephew, to the Governor's Assessor, Don CECILE, in order to try to get him to protect the interests of the minors; Durin the conversation, he made me understand that Spanish Law prescribed that the Judges must proceed with the sale of all the property of the minors; should they fail to do so, they will be responsible for their own and private name, for any event or occurrences which might result there from. I pointed out to him that if they followed that line, they would absolutely ruin the Destréhan minors, since the total of all legal tender circulating in the Colony, would not suffice to pay one third of their property. I reminded him that for six years now, these properties, far from being jeopardized, have considerably increased in value, by the "Ecrois" of the Slaves and by the Establishments: that they were susceptible of bringing in a considerable income which, properly administered, could alone clear the minors, if (against my own opinion) they are indebted to the Tresoriers Generaux. He answered that may be the minors would prefer to have smaller assets in France than many larger assets here: that, in any case, the Laws of Spain would not allow foreigners to own possessions in the lands of the Dominion. I replied, (always with a view to avoid a ruinous sale) that he should regard these minors, who were in France, as Vassals of His Majesty, C. (Carlos?) since they were on the point of returning to this Colony, to live on their revenue, as they had nothing in France to keep them there; that I was certain that at the first opportunity they would arrive, since you had written to that effect to your brother. In that case, said he, we will wait for another year and, having strongly appealed for his protection, I withdrew.

In spite of the strong desire which I have to oblige your minors, I would not accept any trust, in order not to place my own children in embarrassed circumstances, in case of death; moreover, being in charge of a family and without independent means, I would not have been able to devote myself entirely to the business of the succession, without heavily jeopardizing the feeble remaining means which I have, to earn my own living. Today, all the procedures are enacted in the Spanish language; the laws and customs are so different from ours, that I can no longer understand any of them; and one can only speak through interpreters. However, if I can be of any service to the person who will be placed in charge of bookkeeping and of closing the accounts, I promise you that I will help him in everything that could depend on me. Since the death of the father of the minors,

I have never ceased to protect their interest; in this connection, it is I who have guided Mr. Destréhan, the uncle, in all his transactions, since he lost his brother; it is I who have converted for him, about six million worth of Cash Bills (Bills Receivable) of which I have given the plan and a detailed list; lastly, it is I who took care of all his correspondence with Mr. the General Treasurers, and he never had anything to worry about, but the pleasure of signing them. Only the simple pleasure which I had, of enjoying his friendship, his esteem and his entire confidence, served me as near enough, my only recompense. If you have any doubts about the truth of what I am telling you, you can convince yourself by asking any of the people whom you may know in Paris and who have come from this Colony. I am sufficiently well known and I submit myself to their judgment.

On Tuesday the 12th of the month, Mr. Henri Desprez was appointed Curator (Guardian) of your nephew and the following Wednesday they started taking the Inventory. They only worked on it in the afternoons, in view of the fact that The Assessor is busy every day until midday, holding his audiences with Mr. the Governor. The sittings are two hours each. I think this transaction will be very costly on account of the length of time it will take. For each sitting 27.10 is due to the Assessor and 18.15 to the Notary. Then there are the estimators (or valuers) of various kinds, who are paid for each sitting. I do not know where there will not be something due the Governor as well as to the Town Major, for honoraria!

I cannot but reiterate my fears that these assets will be sold. In any other circumstances—and under French dominion, these same assets would be worth at least 400/M (presumably 400 Million) and it is certain that if they were sold today, one would not get 100/M for them. We have a striking example of this in the sale which was made of the assets of those poor chaps who were put to death or sent as prisoners to Havana, for the revolutions which happened in that Colony. The property of Mr. de Mazan, one of these unfortunates, the value of which was at least 100/M by the beauty of the grounds, by its extent and by the immense establishments which existed on it, was sold for about 10/M only which hardly represents a quarter of the price of the material used in the buildings. The same holds good for the properties of all the others. The Slaves under guardianship, who were always worth from 2000 to 4 and 5000, were sold at from 1000 to 1400, and even then it was the interested parties themselves who pushed up the values. You can imagine what the position was for those who had no guardian. As to their cattle, tools, implements, furniture, etc., they were almost given away.

I would thus urge you, Mademoiselle, as soon as possible to take the safest and surest steps to dave from the wreck the fortune of your minors. Time is a pressing factor, I consider it to be almost expiring. You will have to obtain, through means of the Spanish Embassy, the most formal orders from H.M.C. expressly forbidding all the Governors, Alcades and any other Judges of this Colony, past or present or to come, to order or permit the sale of the said assets and properties, under any pretext whatsoever; giving them Order, to this effect, to derogate or depart from any Laws or Customs which might be contrary to this order, unless the said Governor, Alcades or Judges should be required, judicially, by the nearest relative of the minors and to the best advantage of the latter, under penalty of being held responsible in their own and private name; that, in consequence, H.M. declares that He expects you to see that the said assets be manages and governed in the same manner in which they were found at the time of the inventory and in the manner desired by the nearest relative, confirmed by the judicial deliberation, as under this Government nothing is done by simple deliberation between friends and relatives of the minors. It is the Governor who appoints the guardian, the Curator, the Administrator, etc. He takes everything upon himself, everything emanates from him. If he is an honest man, it is great good fortune, but on the other hand, if he is not, it is even greater misfortune.

You will at the same time point out that the disruption of an heritage as considerable as this, could cause grave prejudice to the prestige and the commerce of this young Colony.

In short, do not neglect anything in the effort to keep the Estate intact until such time as things seem to have a more favorable outlook. If necessary, make up your mind to marry one of your daughters to someone well versed in business who will come over here with the other minors and, placing himself at the Head, will take charge of all matters and protect their interests.

It is necessary that the one who will be in charge of the affairs of your minors, be provided with the Orders which you have been able to obtain from the Spanish Court, in connection with their interests, in order that he may be in a position, if necessary, to claim their execution.

Let us now speak of the Accounting matters! All the documents relating to Receipts and Payments, since 1760, until and including 1770, are nearly ready for signature; in a few months from now, this formality only will be missing. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that you do the impossible to obtain the orders of the King and have them passed on over here to Mr. Bobé, to enable him to sign the said documents in his capacity as "Ordonnateur" and to Mr. Fazinde, Scribe (Notary) (ministry) of the Navy, to sign them in his capacity as "Controleur." When these gentlemen will be provided with these Orders, it will be possible to settle (terminate) in a few months all accounts of the Colony and pass them over to France. While waiting that these Orders arrive we will put the finishing touches to all these documents.

We must see MM. the General Treasurers and try to persuade them to co-operate in speeding up all this work, by sending out here a person who is capable and well versed in these matters and understands this kind of Bookkeeping, so that he can close the accounts and sign them in the name of the two deceased. Then there will be the accounts of the Managing Clerk (or lawyer), which will be no small matter by any means! It might be considered a good thing, if these gentlemen would be willing to have the accounts drawn up for the Financial Years previous to the 1760 one, for which the accounts were rendered in proper form, but without the charges appertaining to the succession, to take into account the cost that the work would involve, without (or before) proceeding with it. I also think I must inform you of the "rights" which Mr. Braud, holder of the Assets of your minors, has on the said assets; he has 3% on the ready cash, on the working capital, on the jewellery and other chattels and he has 5% on the proceeds of the revenue (income); he also has 3% on the amount of the estimated value of all property, chattels, and real property. It is said that he can keep such articles as he desires, by paying for them at the price of the estimated value, because the auction is not practiced among the Spaniards. He must render account to the Judge who has appointed him, when he is required by the latter to do so.

Mr. Braud has promised to allow Madam de Gauvry, grandmother of your minors, to live in the house with Mr. Destréhan, her grandson, who will have the direction of it, until further notice. I advised her very strongly to behave in such a fashion as not to place the said Mr. Braud in the position of having to put her out of his home, because he is master, by paying him an allowance (for board and lodging) in proportion to the revenue.

They are still continuing to draw up the Inventory and they have found about 12.000 in ready cash and about 900 Pounds of Indigo.

I have already brought forward the necessity of sending you some funds, in order to facilitate things for you in sending your minors to this Colony and, without promising me anything, they have not or did not appear to reject my proposition. If they do not follow it up, it won't be my fault.


  
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