The subject of paper and card money in colonial Louisiana has been a source of interest, fascination and frustration for many in this age when we are tryingto accumulate as much information about the lives of our ancestors as we can.
Following is a chapter reprinted from “The Last Years of French Louisiana,” written by Baron Marc de Villiers due Terrage.” The work was translated by Hosea Phillips, edited by Drs. Carl A. Brasseaux and Glenn R. Conrad in 1982.
Of special added value is the informative annotation by Dr. Brasseaux.
This material is reprinted with special permission and may not be used other than as a source for private research. The copyright is owned by the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana University) in Lafayette.
The decision behind the issuance and use of paper bills of exchange and card money came to a head during a long fractious relationship between Gov. Kerlerec and Vincent-Gaspard-Pierre de Rochemore, the son of the marquis de Rochemore, a Nimes resident. The younger Rochemore was not thought well of in Louisiana and posed a continuous problem when it came to money matters as will be seen in the exerpt.
I have chosen to place all of the end notes referred to in the body of the test at the end rather than where they appear so as to facilitate the reading by the researcher. The opening quotes from the direct text have also been left out, but not from quotations within the text.
The first few paragraphs which lead to the beginning of the text about paper money is given only as a source of relativity to the overall issue.
Referring to Rochemore, we learn that:
(He was) principal scribe (1738). That same year, he was graduated from the University of Avignon. This allowed him to become ordonnateur.
He served (Eats de service) in various workshops of the port of Toulon from 1731 to 1740. During this period, he fought in four sea campaigns.
In 1740, he went into the Ministry of Colonies at Rochefort.
In 1742, as the head of the general supply warehouse at the hospital, and also chief supply officer.
In 1745, on the warship Eliphant, going to Louisiana.
In 1747, as head of the general supply house, for construction and (military) batteries.
In 1750, in the Bureau of Troops.
In 1751, financial commissioner (commissaire-ordonnateur)
In 1754, in the Bureau of Funds and in Finance.
In 1757, he requested the post of finance officer (ordonnateur) at Marseille.
He had 26 years of service;---a very fine noble man had a brother who was a ship captain, and a nephew who was an ensign.
Rochemore has much rectitude and honesty; he likes to work; he has rather good judgment; he is fit for research in business matters and to set them in order. He has not had enough training in this respect,but be will become more capable; in future, be will be an individual who can be very appropriate for service in the colonies.
On the other hand, the testimony of his other superiors is far from flattering.
He had a good enough mind to make himself efficient; however, having neglected to apply himself to his trade, today he is too old to learn it, and he will never be anything but an ignorant commissary. (Mr. [Lefevrej de Givry, )(1751).
Rochemore entered the service; he was from a noble family and had some training. He was of an age to reason and to act. However, it seems that, up to now, he has not developed his early disposition so that I do not believe him capable of advancement.
It is a pity that a man from such a fine family and who, everyone admits, has common sense, some intelligence and who merits consideration that one gives to good persons, is one whose fate will be to remain boxed in the lower levels and render very little service to the king. I do not doubt that he is to blame for some of this, but so are the men under whom he served. If they had been willing to make him work properly, they would have received some good out of him. In a similar way, most of the time, the best plants do not produce anything at all, which represents a rather large loss for the service.(18) However, it is a matter of repairing the harm done in sieur de Rochemore's case. I shall make him worthy of advancement, unless he lacks enough good will and I have no reason to suspect this. (De Ruis-Embito.)
Although the minister forgot to send troops and merchandise, promotions, as well as the Cross of Saint Louis to be awarded and bonuses to be granted; if it sometimes took him fifteen months to answer Kerilerec's letters, sometimes he loved to attend to the smallest details. He sent, therefore, a letter of reprimand to Kerlerec, because he got involved in things that did not concern him, "when he signed, jointly with Rochemore, the order to receive the orphans of the King."
Some time later, he sent instructions to determine the amount of wood and candles which would thenceforth be delivered gratuitously to the governor, the ordonnateur and the principal officers. There was, one must admit, considerable waste of these supplies. The governor annually used 227 cords of wood and 340 pounds of raw candles; the ordonnateur burned 221 cords and 450 pounds of candles; a simple supply house guard received 280 pounds of candles, etc.
In the spring of 1760 Kerlerec received letters which gave him very broad powers and placed the ordonnateur completely under his control. The governor acknowledged receipt of these letters in the words given below:
”. . .Incapable of taking undue advantage of the greater authority that you sent me, I shall use it only for the greater advantage of the King's service. I have shown moderation and consideration due to the position of an ordonnateur, but the one who occupies it now, in truth, has neither of those qualities. . .
You recommend that I pay particular attention to trading in letters of credit which you consider excessive, and not without reason. I have just forbidden a new printing of them. I do not know if my order will be obeyed. . .
You addressed to Mr. de Rochemore an order to have Sieur Carlier take over the functions of secretary. We received your orders on January 2. We are now in March, without it being possible for the said Carlier to take over these functions, because the ordonnateur does not want his receipts to be subject to checking.”
Since the governor's work load was now much greater and since his secretary, Thiton (de Silegue), had remained in France, Kerlerec took a supply house keeper named [Francois] Caue (19) to help him. Caue had, for a long time, been lodged in rooms adjacent to the ordonnateur's offices. Rochemore told him immediately that he must move out without delay. This offense to the governor's protege was hardly one to appease resentement. Accordingly, Kerlerec put an interdiction to appointment as commissary for the Illinois post of De Normand,
Rochemore's brother-in-law, "a young man without any ability who, even with the enormous amount of material which he wanted to take with him, would not have been anything but the ordonnateur's straw man."
At his response to this, Rochemore decided immediately that no more letters of exchange drawn on the Illinois post would be accepted. This tended, by ruining this establishment, to create insurmountable difficulties for Neyon de Villiers, the governor's brother-in-law.
So, Kerlerec continued to complain. On December 20, 1760, he wrote to one of the minister's cousins:
Mr. de Rochemore does not obey the orders he receives. . . . Mr. de Berryer, with his usual understanding, and for the greater good of the king, did not hesitate to pass over the usual rules by assigning the commissary to my judgment and approval, in several areas of his administration, through orders which are just as direct as they are clear, and which he sent directly to Rochemore who keeps them in great secrecy.
Rochemore, confident in his family's influence, paid no attention to the minister's orders. He became less aggressive in his official correspondence, but he and his companions continued their campaign against the governor. [Paul de] Rocheblave, (20) “Mme de Rochemore's squire," sends to Paris voluminous letters of denunciation against the governor, in which he does not denounce anything of consequence.
One finds in them reflexions like the following about the Texel affair which will be sufficient and we shall dispense with the others: "Last year, foodstuffs being a little more expensive than usual, the shortage served as a pretext for his ambition. . . . He had some Indians come to New Orleans to ask for presents, only to show the public that it was necessary to receive the cartel ships. . .etc."
Mandeville also denounced Kerlrec, but he adds rather naively, "It is because I wrote him in vain two letters of submission to which he refused to attach any importance. . ."
From his prison into which he had been placed by order of his colonel, the Swiss officer Grondel, one of the leaders in the Trois-Freres affair, wrote a letter addressed to Kerlerec. In this letter, much more dishonest in its form (21) than its content, Grondel, among other things, announces to the governor that he will be able to get justice "through the thirteen [Swiss] cantons."
He submdtted his draft to his colonel, Volant, who hastened to answer him in these terms:
I would very much regret, Monsieur, advising you to write a letter as impertinent as the sample letter you sent me. So that you may no longer be able to say that I attack you underhandedly, I am warning you now that, if ever you dare to write a note or letter to our governor or to me, which is not couched in the terms that you should use with either of us, I shall put you in a jail that is extremely dark and well guarded. You will not be able to read or write there, much less communicate with your damnable advisers who daily lead you astray. Moreover, you will not leave it, except to board the first boat that leaves this colony, no matter its destination. . .
Grondel spent his time searching for reasons to write attacks against Kerlerec. He used any and all means, witness the following declaration by one of his comrades in the Swiss regiment.
At supper at Mme Grondel's home, some people took advantage of a situation which I can admit only with regret, but it was one which nobody should have abused. They made me sign a retraction of the letter which I had written along with my comrades, petitioning Mr. d'Hallwyl, our colonel, for justice concerning the behavior of Mr. Grondel. Being quite drunk with wine, I was weak enough to write everything they wished.
July 29, 1760, Jean-Louis] du Billeau”
Mr. Etcheverry, commander at Balise of the warship Biche, went through a similar change of heart. This officer had long supported Grondel and had even written several times to Kerlerec, asking for greater powers for Grondel. However, he ended up by sending to the governor some very compromising letters written by Grondel who requested not only copies of all the governor's letters, but all orders, even the secret ones, given by the governor.
Grondel had a Swiss soldier named Louide as his agent to get signatures and, if need be, to intercept letters. This good man was caught in fragante delecti and was condemned to hang; however, Volant had mercy on him.
What was even more unfortunate for Rochemore is that he was on the very worst terms with his subordinates. On December 12, 1760, the cashier, Comptroller [Alexis] Carlier, played a dirty trick on him, by signing the register of the minutes of discussion, adding, "Signed at the control register, by direct order of M. Ie Ordonnateur, without having been called to the meeting."
Rochemore, who had already had Carlier arrested, suspended him from his functions and went to Carlier's house to get all the king's papers. On giving an account of his decision, Rochemore added ingenuously, "I shall give an accounting of the other reasons for this act, if there are any."(22)
Already in conflict with Carlier, Rochemore was soon on the worst possible terms with Chermont, (23) Carlier's successor who wrote to the minister, on December 20, 1760:
. . . I shall not keep from you, Monseigneur, information on the traps which have been set for me by the ordonnateur, when it is time for me to take part in the unlawful acts in which he is constantly engaged against all parties, without distinction.
Destrehan himself, his most devoted follower, abandoned him. He wrote to [Charillo Antoine] Thomassin, (24) on December 5, 1761:
. . . I am sending for your signature letters of exchange demanded by Mr. de Rochemore. Never in my eighteen years as treasurer, did his predecessors receive this salary as counselor.
Finally, to protest against the accusations of Rochemore's partisans, a certain number of the colony's inhabitants, and among them the most highly qualified, sent to Paris the following protest.
We the undersigned declare and attest that it is within our knowledge that, since Mr. de Rochemore has been in this colony, he has never ceased to hinder and countermand all the operations of Mr. de Kerlerec, governor, and the wise precautions that he has, to our knowledge, taken to save the colony from the shortage it suffers today and in order to be ready for all eventual attacks by our enemies. In all parts of his administration, when he was unable to refuse to follow the order given by the said Sieur Kerlerec, Rochemote has carried them out with marked and affected dilatoriness. He has also publicly announced that he did not recognize the validity of the orders. This has happened often, to our knowledge.
This attestation bears a number of signatures, among which we find those of Volant, colonel of the Swiss guards, (Pierre) Marquis, (Pierre) Caresse, (Jean) Milhet, Desmaziliares, De Verges, Pontalba, Macarty, La Perlire, Chermont, Mazan, Raguet, (Jean-Franpis) Huchet de Kernion, etc. Later other letter was also handed to Kerlerec:
We, the undersigned businessmen, established in New Orleans, declare that it has become known to one of us that ill-intentioned persons had presented or caused to be presented to the Minister of Marine that Mr. de Kerlerec, our governor, hindered and harassed us in the conduct of our businesses in this province. We have had no part in such statements which are as indecent as they are slanderous. We declare that, far from complaining directly or indirectly about the sage and prudent administration of Mr. de Kerlerec, our governor, or of any act prejudicial to our business committed by him, we have only the highest praise for the protection of his good offices which he has granted us on all occasions during the course of the war which has just ended, both for the relief from suffering of inhabitants who were in need and for the advantages which have resulted for each of us. In virtue of which, we hasten to seize the occasion of expressing our most complete gratitude, etc. April 29, 1763
Braquier, L. Milhet, Caresse, Blache, Joseph Millet, La Forcade d'Argenton, (Gabriel) Fuselier de la Claire, (25) Gaillardie, Baure, (Antoine Gilbert del St. Maxent), (26) ([Henri) Voix, Olivier, (Francois) Caminade, Braquier, Jr., (Pierre) La Clelde (Liguest) (27) (Denis) Braud,(28) Raguet, (Jean-Arnould-Valentin) Bobe (Descloseaux), (29) Lauthe, Frolio, Giraudeau, (Isaac) Monsanto, (30) Viviat, Le Comte, Marmajou, Riviere, Goyan (Pierre) Cadiz, (31) Poulangrand.
We have seen, in the minister's letter of reprimand to Rochemore, that last issuance of paper money had been severely criticized. Kerlerec had constantly pointed the ever increasing number of cash bills in circulation. (There were then, in the colony, cash bills amounting to the respectable sum of 5,646,000 livres.) He complained also that the letters of exchange were d only for Rochemore's proteges.
This question of paper money, of card money, as it was called, and its conversion at certain times to letters of exchange drawn on the treasury of the Ministry of Marine, comes up so often and is of such great importance in history of Louisiana, that we must furnish a few explanations on this subject.
We shall first give one of Rochemore's letters which gives a good explanation of the situation, and reveals his views on the question, at least at the woment he arrived.
Bills of paper money, which are a sort of receipt given by the treasurer for purchases, or a statement of receipt of goods, until he can furnish letters of exchange to the suppliers, are defective in several respects. After a very short time in circulation, they become worn and torn, to the point that it is difficult, especially for the common people and Negroes, to determine their value. It is also certain that the paper on which they are printed seems somehow to depreciate them, to the point that individuals would be more restrained in their purchases and their other expenses, if they had only gold or silver money to pay for them; and the merchant would be satisfied with a smaller profit when selling to the crown or to individuals. However, the greatest inconvenience which necessarily results from this is the agio, (32) or trading of letters of exchange and silver specie from Spain, for this paper money which loses a great deal in discounts in the transaction. This agio has become a branch of the restricted commerce of Louisiana. A part of these bills, in circulation in the market place, which one could not convert to letters of exchange at the time of their being printed, because of the great expense, were the first motives. Their appeal increased gradually as French and foreign ships, doing business in the colony, had to sell their cargoes and they did not find any in locally produced merchandise. Moreover, the colony's inhabitants, who after several years' stay, wished to enjoy in France the fruit of their farms or businesses, sought to get letters of exchange. They bought them at a loss, with their paper money which had become of no value or use to them.
Mr. (Sebastien-Francois-Ange) Le Normand, ordonnateur of this colony from 1744 to 1748, realized all the disadvantages of paper money and found the means to replace it with Spanish silver which was on deposit in this town, and for which he furnished letters of exchange on the general treasury. This expedient could not continue after he left, especially since it was temporary and each ship sustained a loss of part of its funds.
I shall therefore take the liberty of proposing to Your Grace, for the advantage to this colony and for the King's interests, the one of two plans which may merit his approval. The first is, for this colony, in the king's name, to turn over every year to the Spaniards of Havana or Veracruz two million livres, for example, in letters of exchange drawn on the treasurers general for an equal sum which they would remit here in piastres gourdes with the reciprocal agreement of the two nations. The second is to procure every year, for the cash reserves of this colony, from Saint-Domingue and Martinique, approximately the same amount in silver in the currency of those two colonies, taking it from a share of the concessions or a share of the revenues from public property which these colonies must remit to France. This annual disbursement would not create as great a financial shortage as one might think, because the most important trade of Louisiana is with the islands of Saint-Domingue and Martinique, and their ships would bring back with them a part of the funds that those colonies would let us have. Furthermore, the treasurer of this colony could draw drafts or receipts on the collectors of taxes for concessions and the taxes from use of public property, for payment of goods bought from the ships for the king's account, as well as for value received from individuals who might travel from Louisiana to the aforementioned islands.
A memoir, dating from the year 1760, again takes up one of Kerlerec's ideas and stresses
the practicality there would be in having paper money fabricated with the imprint of the king's arms, which would be sent directly from France. It would not be permitted, except in the case of absolute necessity, to manufacture here treasury paper money certified by the signature of the ordonnateur. For the colony's needs, it would be necessary to issue 55,300 bonds for a total value of 4,000,000 livres, divided in the following way:
100 bonds of 5,000 livres
100 bonds of 4,000 livres
200 bonds of 3,000 livres
300 bonds of 3,000 livres
600 bonds of 1,000 livres
1,000 bonds of 500 livres
1,000 bonds of 300 livres
1,000 bonds of 200 livres
1,000 bonds of 100 livres
1,000 bonds of 50 livres
1,000 bonds of 40 livres
1,000 bonds of 20 livres
2,000 bonds of 12 livres
3,000 bonds of 6 livres
10,000 bonds of 3 livres
10,000 bonds of 48 sols
10,000 bonds of 24 sols
10,000 bonds of 12 sols
10,000 bonds of 6 sols
The memoir adds,
The present bills of currency were introduced into the colony by Messrs. les ordonnateurs for lack of other currency to pay service expenses.
In earlier times, these bills were cashed in every year and were instantly converted into letters of exchange; but now, it is no longer the same. Everyone is suspicious of the bills,
1. because they are signed only by the ordonnateur and the comptroller, and because the ordonnateur and the comptroller who signed the first are no longer here:
2. because their successors increase the number of these bills by their own authority;
3. because they fix at will the dates of issue of the letters of exchange and give them only to their friends and their cronies;
4. because people suppose that none of these bills is authorized by His Majesty and fear, as in 1745, devaluation of their money.
. . .We observe further that there can be abuses in expenses and consumption which caused the number of bills to increase, and also in the number of letters of exchange which derive from them. If that is the case, the authorities must seek out and interrogate those who are guilty of this, and to punish them by making them pay. However, the public and the business people, bearers of this paper money, and who accepted it in good faith, like cash, can not, without injustice, be denied their payment.
However, not everybody was against paper currency. A certain Thomas Smith, an English trader, defended it, perhaps simply because he was gambling on its value.
The small amount of gold and silver that the Spanish bring to the colony is exchanged for paper currency; the paper, for merchandise. The merchandise goes to a foreign country (first advantage); the money, which is useless in the colony, passes on into France (second advantage). If the invention of paper money is admirable, if it is useful in finance, advantageous in commerce, it is even more useful than than at the time thar one has to draw ip letters of exchange for the amount which is either assessed then or already established. Without this the problem caused by uncertainty on such an important subject and the risks that are taken by the public in good faith removes all profits, thus bringing the price down to a very reasonable level.
It is certain that the time allowed to present the paper currency to the treasury, to convert it to letters of exchange, was almost always too short. It was often reduced to twenty days, and even to twelve.
These time periods were absolutely insufficient to allow the majority of merchants to collect their bills; only the ordonnateur's friends, notified in advance, profited from them.
"To announce the drawing up (of the letters of exchange), they waited for the arrival of one of the king's warships, instead of setting definite and fixed dates."
Further, since the number of letters of exchange was always minimal, with respect to the paper currency in circulation, all those who were refused exchange for their paper money, were frustrated and could certainly suspect favoritism, but that was still not the most important disadvantage.
If fewer goods arrived in the king's supply houses, fewer old bills returned to the treasury, because of the reduced amount of sales. The less the merchants sold, the more they had to buy. Since there was no money coming in anymore, (33) it became necessary constantly issue new paper money which accumulated in the public's hands. If, each year, the authorities had exchanged the entire amount, or at least half of the letters of exchange payable in France and in specie, there would have been no problem. However, the ordonnateurs knew from experience that all arrivals in France of letters of exchange, no matter how small the amounts, resulted in their being severely reprimanded. Further, the merchandise sent was not very well received and most often went unpaid. From this resulted the need to reduce the number of letters of exchange drawn up. However, the fewer letters delivered to the public, the more paper money was discredited and more of it had to be printed. It was a vicious circle.
The ministers said to the principal officials in Louisiana: Defend yourselves against the English; make the Indians rise up against them; try to keep alive, but do not let it cost us anything. They could also have added: If we do not send you any help, it is because we cannot spend anything on you. Consequently, we do not want your letters of exchange which would force us to pay here what we do not want to spend there. The result of this policy was that the uncertain reception in France of letters of exchange caused them to be discounted ftom ten to twenty percent.
Since France no longer sent either money or merchandise, while war tripled the colony's expenses, a continual issuance of paper money became indispen.sable.
We must praise Kerlerec for having taken the strict measures necessary to the colony's defense, but we must admit that Rochemore did not have the choice of means to execute them. When the minister reprimands him for having issued paper money, without his authorization, the reproach is unjust. Kerlerec thought he had issued too many of them; that is an evaluation, but it is quite difficult now to make a firm judgment on the question.
The governor's opposition to the issuance of paper money; the refusal of the ordonnateur to come to an agreement with him on the subject, the inhabitants' knowledge of the minister's anger--all that did not help to diminish the growing discredit of the bills.
Here is the amount of bills printed from 1748 to 1765, by the various ordonnateurs>.
1. Michel ....... 715,062
2. Descloseaux . .1,319,000
3. Rochemore. .3,505,266
4. Foucault ....1,547,366
5. D'Abbadie ........618294
FOOTNOTES:18. The writer, De Ruis-Embito, mixes his own metaphor.
19. "It seems that Sieur Caue," Rochemore writes, "the governor's new secretary, was demoted or dismissed for improper behavior." Kerlerec was dead wrong in placing his confidence in Caue. He was a very intelligent man, but was often completely without scruples.”
20. [Annotator's note: Rocheblave had been commissioned lieutenant in France on April 17, 1748. He was transferred to Louisiana in 1753, and, five years later, Kerlrec made the following observations about him: "An intelligent officer, but he uses them [his wits] to do harm. . . ." The 1763 census indicates that he was the absentee owner of an English Turn farm. In 1766, he appears as the captain of the Ste. Gencvieve, Missouri, militia.
21. This letter bears no resemblance whatsoever to the one which Baudry de Lozieres published in his panegyric on Grondel. Sure to the point of impudence, Grondel recast and augmented the text, which, if it had been accurate, would have been brought up by the author in a 1759 Council of War.
22. Carlier was restored to his position in 1762 by Rochemore's successor, Denis-Nicolas Foucault.
23. (Annotator's note: Actually Pierre Clermont, a resident of New 0rleans' third militia district.)
24. (Annotator's note: Royal notary of the Superior Council and, from February 1765 to August 1769, treasurer in French Louisiana's caretaker government.)
25. (Annotator's note: Fuselier (1722-?), a New Orleans merchntp and, from 1770 to 1774, commandant of the Attakapas post.)
26. (Annotator's note: St. Maxent, a New Orleans merchant who later befriended and provided financial assistance to Spanish governor Antodo de Ulloa.)
27. (Annotator's note: La Clede-Liguest (1724?-1778), a native of Bedous, France, founded St. Louis, Missouri, in 1764.)
28. (Annotator's note: Brand, a native of Martinique, was given, in, 1764, a printing monopoly in Louisiana. In October 1768 ' he printed a memorial containing the grievances of the Louisiana rebels against Governor Antonio de Ulloa.)
29. (Annotator's note: Bobe-Descloseaux had served as ad-interim ordonnateur from March 15, 1757 to April 15, 1758.)
30. (Annotator's note: Monsanto, a native of the Hague, established an unsuccessful mercantile business at Curapa in 1755, and moved to New Orleans two years later. He was temporarily exiled from the Crescent City in 1769 because of his Jewish faith.)
31. (Annotator's note: Cadiz unsuccessfully attempted to smuggle slaves into Louisiana in 1768. Ulloa's opposition to Cadiz's venture was cited as one ofthe colonists' main grievances during the Rebellion of 1768.)
32. (Annotator's note: Agio is the difference between the face value and the real value of currency.
33. The taxes were minimal and the tariffs were drastically reduced by the war. To compensate partially for the deficit, Kerlerec proposed a tax of 6 livres on each slave, as well as the sale of certain buildings which were worthless and expensive to maintain.