Citizen Jean Paul Blanque
…legislator and pirate
Russell B. Guerin
Hancock County Historical Society
With assistance from Marco Giardino, Ph. D.
Thirty-three years after the Battle of New Orleans, one of its participants, a highly honored citizen named Bernard Marigny, wrote a document called “Reflections on Jackson’s Campaign.” That document covered many aspects of the history of the battle and described a number of those involved.
In some ways, Marigny seems to have written a vindication of self and others. It seems odd that after three decades Marigny had enough still on his mind to write something other than a pure history.
With emphasis, Marigny disputes several items:
1st. That the Legislature wished to give up the country to the British by capitulation.
2nd. It is said that there were traitors in New Orleans.
3rd. The French in Louisiana did not wish to fight.
One person singled out was Jean Paul Blanque. Here are some of the praises sung by Marigny about this man:
He came to Louisiana with Laussat who was to exercise the office of Prefect in the name of the French Republic. He established himself and married a demoiselle Macarty, one of the most ancient families of the country….He was among the number of naturalized Frenchmen who made great efforts for the preservation of our laws and customs. Never has a naturalized citizen of Louisiana played so prominent a roll.
After telling of more of Blanque’s personal attributes, Marigny then asked a question. Nowadays, we might say that he brought the elephant into the room:
I ask all readers if a man gifted with so much intelligence, so many brilliant qualities, could have wished to ruin the state and the family to which he was allied by making overtures in order that free and independent state might become a miserable English colony?
Near the end of his essay, Marigny’s words still ring like a plea bargain:
Those who know me know that I prize the integrity of my name a hundred times more than life….Nevertheless I was named by A. Declouet in his conversation with Abner Duncan among those who desired that the country would become an English colony.
Once again, the 30-odd year gap stands out like a question mark. Perhaps Marigny had always been an upstanding citizen and had had allegiance to his country, but his name had been spoken in the same breath as Blanque’s when a man named Declouet made accusations back those many years ago, and it still bothered him.
Giving Marigny the benefit of doubt, we must wonder whether the praises above stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps he did not really know the man Blanque.
This study had its beginnings in a search for the builder of the once famous Pirate House in Waveland, Ms. The author has speculated that this person might have been Jean Blanque, but no further evidence to that effect has surfaced.
One bit of information revealed in Gayarre’s History of Louisiana may relate to an intended protection of the Mississippi Gulf Coast area. It occurred in 1812, when a committee convened to plan a constitution. It consisted of seven members, including Blanque. A suggestion was made that the preamble include the following:
That the limits of the State may be so enlarged as to embrace that portion of the country situated south of Mississippi Territory and east of the Perdido, known as West Florida….and it may be convenient to the government of the United States to annex it.
It was rejected by 24 to 14. Among nays was Blanque.
While there were other “nay” votes, Blanque’s was suspicious if in fact he owned or controlled property and pursued an illegal trade there, namely at the Pirate House.
Should readers by interested in the history of the Pirate House and the possibility of a connection to Jean Blanque, they are welcome to read the articles on the author’s web site, www.russguerin.com.
Section 1. Who was the man Blanque?
The earliest mention of Blanque has him arriving in Louisiana on the frigate Surveillant, the same voyage that brought Pierre Clement Laussat, Napoleon’s appointment to be prefect of the colony after the 1803 transfer from Spain to France. There is no indication that Blanque had any official duties relative to those of Laussat.
At the time, it was expected that Laussat would oversee the transfer from Spain to France. The purchase by the United States was not anticipated. After it was agreed upon, Laussat, in a December 11, 1803 letter to Talleyrand, the French minister of foreign relations, suggested Blanque as the commissioner of commercial relations in New Orleans. He “provided a detailed account of Blanque’s background and qualifications.” Included was the mention that Blanque was a friend of General Bernadotte. It said that Blanque was selfless, without reproach, and a strong lover of France.
[Document number 367 of A Guide to the Papers of Pierre Clement Laussat.]
After the purchase, Laussat left to undertake other assignments; Blanque remained in New Orleans.
But whether Blanque was sent to New Orleans without portfolio or whether he simply decided to move there is not clear. What is clear is that almost from the beginning he was given important opportunities by Laussat, many compensating him.
Whatever Blanque’s plans had been in coming to Louisiana, he wasted no time in getting deeply involved as a lawyer and legislator and as a successful banker, merchant and businessman. There are numerous records of his holding sway over a group of government officials, with mentions such as, “those who always voted with Blanque.”
He lived in one of the finest houses in the French Quarter and married into one of the leading old families. His wife was Delphine Macarty, who later became the infamous Madame Lalaurie, the mistress of the haunted house of Royal Street.
Blanque made his home in the city, at 400 Royal St. There is mention of a “country place,” called “Villa Blanque,” just downriver from New Orleans. There is other evidence that in addition he owned a large plantation.
He claimed to have become a citizen from the earliest time of his residence.
He wasted little time in becoming active in the political and commercial scenes of New Orleans. Within months of his arrival, W.C.C. Claiborne copied in his letter books a letter to Blanque about his ship The Citizen being moved to let others empty their cargo. The date was June 12, 1804.
In August 11, 1804, Blanque wrote a letter to the city of New Orleans protesting the seizure of his storehouse by the custom officers.
A more sinister story comes in private correspondence with a collateral descendant of a man named Songy. Following is his offering:
The next year (1804), Songy took a ship owned by Jean Blanque, the James Rinker, to Martinique. On the return voyage, the vessel was captured by a British privateer and taken to Tortola. The vice-admiralty court in Tortola declared the ship a "good prize" since she was owned by an enemy of Great Britain.
In New Orleans, Blanque filed suit against one of the insurers, Reynaud and Peytavin (both of whom were also brothers-in-law of Joseph Songy). In his defense, Blanque presented a sworn statement saying that he "was a citizen of the province of Louisiana prior to the 30th day of April 1803, and has resided in this place ever since." Blanque eventually lost the case. The Louisiana Supreme Court held that the ruling of any admiralty court in such a case was binding on the United States
I think it speaks strongly to the character of the man that he was willing to swear that he was a citizen (not just a resident) of Louisiana barely a month after he had arrived there, despite the fact that he was acting as an agent for the French government. It is also ironic that he was on the receiving end of the work of privateers.
[n.b. It is known that Reynaud and Peytavin operated a partnership in New Orleans in which one of their activities was trading in slaves. In addition, Antoine Peytavin was accused by Spanish authorities in 1807 of illegally transporting slaves to the Pirate House area in what is now Waveland, MS. It was reported that the authorities had seized the house of Peytavin. More information on this connection can be found in this editor’s web site in an article called “Pirate House Revisited.”]
The above information reveals that within a year of his arrival, he had at least three ships. Historians would later write that he allowed pirates to use those ships, undoubtedly to share in the profits.
Analysis of Blanque’s actions indicates that he continued his allegiance to France in important ways. Whatever his relation to France, he was rising among the elite of Louisiana, not only among the citizenry but also in government circles. Recognizing that he practiced law there, became a member of the legislature, married in New Orleans and fathered four children, it may be argued that he genuinely changed his allegiance to the United States. However, if he was slave-dealing through pirates he was not operating within the law.
Most accusatory of Blanque’s character was a statement made just before the battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. It was a report that came out of a meeting of the legislature involving Col. Declouet, who accused several members, including Blanque, of being willing to surrender the country to the enemy. It was often stated that Blanque was the most influential member of the group.
It may be difficult to reconcile how respected, financially successful men of high places could double in endeavors of ill repute, giving the lie to their supposed patriotism. Examples, however, abound. About the same time, there was General Wilkinson, who worked both for the United States and Spain. Vice-president Aaron Burr came through Louisiana attempting to form a filibuster group and was tried for treason. Barthelemy Lafon had been a successful New Orleans architect, engineer, surveyor, cartographer, and scholar before he lost his wealth and took to pirating, and his venture did take him into waters just off our coast.
Perhaps obligations to country were not yet engrained in citizens of the young republic. In the case of Blanque, such an assumption can be understood in light of his having just come to Louisiana in 1803. In addition, there are indications that he was less committed than many to the causes which he expressed outwardly.
Section 2. Blanque and Macartys
In continuing to fill in important facts about Blanque, we are indebted to Ms. Carolyn Long, who published Madame Lalaurie, about the woman who married Blanque not long after his arrival in New Orleans. Her research has helped to fill in certain facts, such as his marriage to Delphine Macarty on March 19, 1807, with whom he had four children.
The Macarty family was among the most prestigious of the New Orleans elite. Delphine’s mother had died before the marriage to Blanque, leaving her daughter with $33,070 that became her dowry.
Ms. Long’s research also untangled some seeming anomalies having to do with Blanque’s activity in slave trading and his ownership of a plantation “below the city” and one at Pointe ala Hache. In addition to whatever accumulation of slaves Blanque managed on his own, he was made a gift of 26 by Delphine’s father in 1808, at the same time as he gifted the first plantation. Later, he sold jointly to his son Louis and to Blanque two plantations, one of which would have been at Pointe ala Hache. Presumably, those plantations would already have been furnished with slaves.
The exact location of the Pointe ala Hache plantation is still in question.
Section 3. Descriptions of Blanque
In his memoirs, Laussat records simply that Blanque was “my faithful friend” and called him by the title “commissioner of war.” This seems to have referred to his duties in the French army before going to Louisiana.
Blanque is nothing less than a historical puzzle. Not a great deal is known of him. There has been found no biography, no memoir, no chapter in any book about this person, nothing to really elucidate his character. What we know of him are facts that in many ways are contradictory.
There are many mentions of this successful lawyer, legislator, businessman, politician and leading citizen. We know where he lived, whom he married, what causes he supported and some he did not, but he is still a mystery. When he arrived in New Orleans he may have already been wealthy, and he came in good company on the voyage to New Orleans.
He had no obvious official capacity in the transfer of Louisiana from France to the United States in 1803. This was so, even though there was one outstanding suggestion that he was more than a traveler who took the same ship to New Orleans as did Pierre Clement Laussat, the latter being the hand-picked official sent by Napoleon to oversee the transfer from Spain to France.
It is said that he established citizenship in New Orleans from the earliest days of his residence.
From the beginning of what was obvious about Blanque was that he must have had funds, but the source was not apparent. If he was not in the direct employ of France, he soon came to have many duties granted by Laussat. In those capacities it was often stated that he was to receive a certain percentage of the funds involved in trade with France.
A surprise – perhaps more correctly a shock – was experienced by this researcher in a visit to an exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection. There was displayed an original copy of the Constitution of the State of Louisiana, dated January 22, 1812. One of the prominent signatures was that of Jean Blanque. Reading further, I was even more distressed to see that he was one of three convention members appointed to a committee having to do with future elections.
One document studied lists Blanque as one of twelve members representing the County of Orleans at the Constitutional convention on November 4, 1811. He was in high company, men like Bellechasse, LeBreton, Delaronde, and Villere. In addition, also included were Marigny and Guichard, who were later to be named in the Declouet accusation.
There is no indication that Blanque had any official duties relative to Laussat. The latter did mention Blanque in his memoirs, but only to say that he was “my faithful friend” and to call him by a peculiar title, “commissioner of war.”
He managed to own ships, to know important people in and outside of government, and to deal in a large number of slaves. He was able to do all that he accomplished in a short period of only twelve years. Still, at the end, his debts exceeded his assets.
Section 4. Mentions by Claiborne
For simplicity, the following letter from Claiborne to President Madison is abridged:
Letter books, Vol 2
8-1-04, p. 285:
…I received information that a small French privateer in company with two brigs the one under French and the other under Spanish colours had entered the Mississippi….the brig under Spanish colours was loaded with coffee….The brig under French colours proceeded up to this city in character of a French merchant vessel from St. Domingo consigned to Citizen Blanque…and on Saturday last that gentleman entered the vessel, gave the customary bonds for securing the duties, and obtained a permit to land the cargo. By this time I had information on which I could rely that the brig…was in fact a prize….An examination relative to the vessel was immediately commenced and after the exhibition of much contradictory testimony and willful perjury it appeared that the French privateer somewhere in the latitude of Havana captured an American brig called the Mary….
In that same letter, Claiborne said that Blanque was appointed by Laussat as French commercial agent, but Blanque declined and Evan Jones was named instead. Earlier, in a letter dated February 20, 1804, Claiborne may have referred to Blanque as a cousin of Laussat; however, the name in that instance is spelled “Blanche,” and could have been the correct name for the person discussed.
It must be considered that Blanque had met with Claiborne’s disapproval and that he was perhaps eased out of the position.
In another case of annoyance, Claiborne observed Blanque’s favoring of France. He wrote to his secretary of state, “…Citizen Blanque whom he has designated to remain in Character of commercial Agent here. He still persists in his determination to reserve a Portion of the Store Houses and Magazines for the use of France.”
Long before the problems in the legislature at the time of the battle at Chalmette, Claiborne offered a mixed review of Blanque.
In a letter to President Madison, dated March 4, 1810, he discussed the character of many of the leading citizens, almost all very favorable until he got to Blanque. First, he enumerated his credentials:
Mr. Blanque resides near New Orleans and is a Merchant in high Credit; About three years ago he married a very beautiful Creole Lady, possessing a large estate, & connected with one of the most numerous & respectable family’s [sic] in the County of Orleans. Mr. Blanque is a man of Genius and Education, & possesses considerable influence in the City & vicinity of New Orleans; he is a member of the City Council, a Director of the Louisiana Bank, & has been for the last three years a member of the House of Representatives of the Territory. Mr. Blanque is much dislike by most of the native Americans residing in & near New Orleans; His attachments are supposed to be wholly foreign & they consider him a dangerous man. Mr. Blanque has, I am persuaded strong partialities for his native Country, France; But I should be wanting in Candour, were I not to add, that his conduct has not (in my opinion) been such, as to justify the fears and the prejudices, which some of my Countrymen here, feel of and towards him.
Claiborne would later be caused to change to a less generous opinion.
Indeed, Claiborne’s appraisal is, on balance, recognition of Blanque’s abilities and accomplishments; the word “genius” is used by a man often reserved in his judgments. Still, he makes note of items of personality not favored by others, and his “partiality” for France cannot have inspired trust in Claiborne. Moreover, his comment about Blanque’s possession of “considerable influence” will later on prove to be of deep concern in the matter of the incident involving the legislature just before the main conflict with the British.
Section 5. Blanque – businessman and civic activist
An anomaly, Blanque apparently led two lives. The public one is as described above, an upstanding pillar of his adopted community. He professed citizenship in his adopted city almost immediately. The other – one that required less allegiance to that community – was in the words of historian Stanley Clisby Arthur, “the man higher up in certain transactions relative to the importation of ‘black ivory’ and goods upon which custom duty was not collected.”
There is no lack of evidence that there was a great demand for slaves, even though slave trading and importation was illegal for much of the period studied. It is also considered that in this era slave dealers were not necessarily ostracized by the general public; if anything, many were held in high esteem. Their dealings brought money into circulation; they supported and were supported by the banks. Money went from New Orleans to New York and then to London.
Many dealers were successful and lived in the higher echelons of society. They brokered openly and they met with bankers and the money went from New Orleans to New York and to England. They were prominent, often occupying elective office and serving on boards.
One may ask whether the slave trade was “tucked away” somewhere in New Orleans. In fact, it was centered in what is now our CBD, on the streets of Baronne and Gravier and Exchange Alley. Slave auctions were an integral part of the economic life of the city. Auctions used for purpose of settling debts and successions.
Still, Blanque tried to hide his connection to the Lafittes.
After studying this man’s slaving activity, it is easy to agree with the condemning words of Arthur.
However, there may have been even a darker side to Blanque’s character, having to do with a possible willingness to surrender the city to the British.
Section 6. Piracy
Blanque was not only dealing in slaves; he supported piracy as his means.
The way Blanque went about his business was not all honorable, even in that day. He was deceitful, at least some of his dealings were outside the law, and he pretended to be innocent. The latter point is shown in his claim not to understand why the Lafittes chose him to intercede for them.
Besides Arthur, historians have taken a dim view of the dealings of Jean Blanque. Dr. Robert V. Remini, the biographer of Jackson, states that Blanque owned a number of ships used by pirates. William Davis, in his book The Pirates Laffite, asserts, “New Orleans merchants, such as Jean Blanque engaged sailors who plied both sides of the law” and “was also an investor in more than one privateer, which likely led to an acquaintance with the Laffites.”
Indeed, there are a couple of mentions of a small schooner used by the Lafitte band; its name was the Blanque and may have been the boat on which Pierre Lafitte suffered a mortal injury.
Davis tells in certain terms that Blanque was once prosecuted for involvement in a matter of 27,000 pounds of coffee pirated from an American ship. He also speculates on Blanque having been the consignee of smuggled goods in an affair of “Captain Lafette’s prize British merchantman Hector, revealed later to be an impostor smuggling goods under forged ship’s papers.”
Blanque is said to have been convicted of smuggling in federal court.
More from Davis:
A few less scrupulous New Orleans merchants such as Jean Blanque engaged sailors who plied both sides of the law. Indeed, Blanque was the supposed consignee of the cargo of ‘Captain Lafette’s’ prize British merchantman Hector , revealed later to be an imposter smuggling goods under forged ship’s papers. A few months later a Creole planter would frankly state that ‘Blanque is regarded as one of the person financially interested in the piracies of Barataria, which he openly protects.’
It is also mentioned by Stanley Faye in his piece in the Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. 23, No.1: “In the spring of 1814 Dominique You wrecked the schooner Tigre off the coast of Mexico and put the Tigre’s equipment aboard a prize vessel. In addition to the Blanque the squadron included the Dorado (Capt. Lansiga) and the schooners Sarpis (Capt. Marcos) and Philanthrope (Capt. Gambi).”
Claiborne himself told of a large amount of coffee pirated from an American ship and brought in consigned to Blanque. Author T.R. Heinan states clearly in “Write Room Blog”, “Blanque had been found guilty and fined for smuggling coffee.
On December 31, 1814, a mere fortnight before the battle, Blanque was accused of being part of a plan “among several members of the legislature to surrender the country to the enemy.” It was said that their belief was that the British would respect their property.
It must be considered that in Blanque’s case, much of his “property” consisted of slaves and was produced by piracy.
Although the accuser retracted his charge of treason, there remains the question of what was the real character of the man Jean Blanque.
While it may be possible even today to accept Blanque’s slave dealings, recognizing that in New Orleans of the early 19th century that profession was acceptable as honorable, piracy and treason were not. And in the latter case, Blanque attempted to keep such relationships quiet.
Davis – The Pirates Laffite
Numerous passages are in Davis’ new Lafitte book regarding how Blanque was important merchant who dealt with pirates and that he was intercession between Jean Lafitte and Claiborne.
An immigrant to New Orleans in 1803, the same year Pierre arrived, Blanque was a merchant, onetime slave dealer, and banker who had held successful offices in the territorial government, and at the moment sat in the legislature….was also an investor in more than one privateer, which likely led to an acquaintance with the Lafittes…is regarded as one of the persons financially interested in the pirates of Barataria, which he openly protects….also recently been admitted to practice before the federal district court.
Blanque appeared at Claiborne’s quarters asking for an audience. When they met, Blanque handed the governor the packet of correspondence he had received from Lafitte, and immediately tried to disassociate himself from the Baratarians by protesting curiosity as to why Lafitte had sent it to him when he had “no acquaintance with Lafitte.”
On balance, it is important to contemplate that Claiborne and Jackson were not easily given to accept the offer of the Lafittes. (Jackson once referred to them a “hellish banditti.” Blanque must have had the confidence of the Lafittes or else they would have chosen someone else; moreover, Blanque must have been held in some esteem by Claiborne and Jackson.
Remini also records that Blanque owned number of ships used by pirates.
Arthur – Old New Orleans
…merchant, lawyer, banker, legislator, and – “this was told in whispers” – the man “higher up” in certain transactions relative to the importation of “black ivory.
He came to New Orleans on the frigate Surveillant, March 26, 1803, with Pierre Clement de Laussat. He soon won a position of importance …and married Delphine Macarty.
Arthur says Blanque was native of Barn. He “was to have held an important office in the new French government of Louisiana. He soon won a position of importance in his new home.”
Old New Orleans: It reads in part that Blanque was the “man higher up” in certain transactions regarding black ivory, and states that he had earned his reputation when the Lafitte brothers were well involved in slave smuggling.
Jean Laffite – Gentleman Rover: This writing contains considerable coverage about Blanque. It begins with an 1804 episode involving the Lafittes and a cargo of coffee consigned to “Citizen Blanque.” Arthur states that Blanque had refused to be the French commercial agent, saying “Something funny about all this.” It is recounted that accusations were “told in whispers – he was ‘the man higher up’ in certain transactions relative to the importation of ‘black ivory’ and goods upon which customs duties were not collected. “Citizen Blanque…was to have an important office in the new French Republican government to Louisiana [who] instead of returning to France elected to remain in New Orleans and took out citizen papers.”
Later Arthur recounts the story about Lafitte being offered a position in French navy and a substantial award, all relative documents being made into a packet by Lafitte and then sent to Blanque. It was intended that Blanque would intercede on behalf of Lafitte and his band. Blanque then hurried to Gov. Claiborne with the packet.
Section 7. Blanque as Intermediary between the Lafittes and Claiborne
As in other important points of interest, a number of historians, including Gayarre and Arthur, recite the story of the Lafitte brothers imploring Jean Blanque to plead their case with Claiborne so that they and their confederates may be allowed to assist in the fight against the British invasion.
On the other hand, there is perhaps no better way to tell of this happening than from the words of Claiborne himself. The original of this important
document is hand-written and appears to be a deposition. It is signed William C.C. Claiborne, and attests to the facts of his visit with Blanque as the result of a request by the Lafittes. Its full transcription may be invaluable in the pursuit of the character of the man Blanque.
Following are the words, as best as are legible considering the handwriting of the scribe:
William C.C. Claiborne being duly sworn says that early in the month of September 1814, Mr. Blanque, a member of the legislature of Louisiana handed to the witness a packet containing a letter from John Lafitte to Mr. Blanque, and enclosing sundry letters, papers, and documents, the original of which are now in possession of the court, purporting to be propositions made by certain British officers to Lafitte and his Baratarian associates to join the English in an attack at New Orleans.
Among the papers was an address to Louisianans, signed Edward Nicolls at Pensacola 29th of August 1814; a letter of instructions signed by W.H. Percy, Capt. Dated on board of his Majesty’s ship Hermes at Pensacola 30th of August 1814 and directed to Nicholas Lockyear, Esq commander of his Majesty’s sloop Sophia, a letter signed Edward Nicolls Lt. Colonel commanding his Britain [?] forces in the floridas, dated Pensacola August 31, 1814. And directed to Mr. Lafitte, or the commandant at Barataria, and a letter directed to the Monsieur Lafitte, signed W. Percy, Capt. and Hessian officer, and dated on board his Majesty’s ship Hermes the 1st of September 1814.
Mr. Blanque expressed at the time to the witness his surprise at the packets being addressed [sic] to him, saying that he had no acquaintance with Lafitte but the contents of the papers left him no doubt as to the disposition to be made of them; he has esteemed it his duty to lay them without delay before the Governor of the state and to recommend their contents to his serious consideration.
The letter of Lafitte after the witness has perused it, was returned to Mr. Blanque at his request. The witness recollects that in the letter of Mr. Blanque Lafitte says that he has required time….
William C.C. Claiborne
An historical fact in which we can feel secure tells of the brothers Lafitte turning down and reporting an offer to serve the British, and then being determined to help the cause of New Orleans.
This history is recorded in several trustworthy reports. One easily found is in Latour’s Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana. The Appendix of that document contains the letters to Jean Blanque from both Jean and Pierre Lafitte, as well as Jean’s appeal to Claiborne for the right to join the defense of the city.
The determination to join the fight came from the Lafittes, both Jean and Pierre. It was they – incidentally, after Blanque had been instrumental in getting Pierre out of prison – who were intent on petitioning Claiborne to allow the Baratarians to join the fight. But they did not have direct access to Claiborne, and therefore sought an intermediary who had the stature to request an audience. To him they delivered letters which he presented and won their case. That man was Jean Blanque.
Lafitte chose Blanque as an intermediary in dealings with Claiborne probably because he knew him well. Although Blanque might not have agreed, it is evident that Lafitte thought so. In his letter on September 4, 1814, Lafitte said to Blanque,
I presume, however, to hope that such proceedings may obtain amelioration of the situation of my unhappy brother [Pierre was in jail], with which view I recommend him particularly to your influence. It is in the bosom of a just man, of a true American, endowed with all other qualities that are honored in society, that I think I am depositing the interests of our common country….I recommend him to you in the name of humanity.
In a letter dated September 10, 1814, Pierre Lafitte also wrote to Blanque,
I am persuaded he [Jean] could not have made a better choice, than in making you the depository of the papers that were sent to us….I herewith send you a letter directed to his excellency the governor, which I submit to your discretion, to deliver or not, as you may think proper.
Blanque and Pirates
While it may be possible even today to accept Blanque’s slave dealings, recognizing that in New Orleans of the early 19th century that profession was acceptable as honorable, piracy was not.
How much he was directly in concert with the Lafittes is not known. It is nonetheless curious that a pirate ship should be named after him. Indeed, the Blanque was considered part of “the squadron of the Laffites.” (Article, Louisiana Historical Quarterly, January 1930, Vol. 23, No. 1)
Davis – The Pirates Laffite
Blanque appeared at Claiborne’s quarters asking for an audience. When they met, Blanque handed the governor the packet of correspondence he had received from Lafitte, and immediately tried to disassociate himself from the Baratarians by protesting curiosity as to why Lafitte had sent it to him when he had “no acquaintance with Lafitte.”
Claiborne Letter Books
Another Claiborne letter may arguably have little to do with Blanque, but it is evident that Claiborne does not want Blanque – and perhaps anyone other than Poydras – to handle the original of the physical original of the Louisiana Constitution. It could be that Claiborne was suspicious of Blanque, and perhaps Urquhart and Brown as well.
Vol 6, p. 86:
To Julien Poydras
New Orleans 22d. April 1812.
Point. Coupee )
There is no doubt, but our Constitution has been approved by Congress, & we may expect information to that effect by the next Mail. I advise you therefore to descend immediately to New Orleans, in order, that you may be in a situation to discharge with promptitude the high duties devolving upon you. Messrs. Blanque, Urquhart & Brown have applied to me for a Copy of the Constitution for the purpose of putting it into the hands of a Printer; I replied that I would permit any Jontleman [sic], whom they may name, to attend at the Bank & take a Copy. But I will not permit the original to be removed, without you shall request it. Your friends are all anxious to see you at this place, & the more so, since their wish is, that the first Elections under the New State, should be holden under your orders & Instructions.
I sincerely wish you health & happiness.
(Signed) W. C. C. Claiborne
Section 8. Slave Dealing
What follows must include an acknowledgement of Dr. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall’s data base of Louisiana slavery. That source does much to flesh out the actions of Blanque.
What it shows is that Blanque, who did not arrive in Louisiana until 1803 and who died in 1815, is listed in no less than 335 slave records in a period of thirteen years. Males numbered 226 and females, 99. This does not mean that there were 335 slaves, but that there were that many slave records. That number is nevertheless remarkable for a man who was a busy lawyer, legislator, merchant, and upstanding member of the community, and for whom there is evidence that he owned and presumably managed two plantations.
A more meaningful find is that the great majority of his transactions were sales, and only a relative few were purchases.
In the year of Blanque’s death, 1815, one document appears 130 times. It is Document #1025, which apparently represents part of his estate inventory. These are divided almost equally into two groups: 64 are represented as being at the plantation at Pointe ala Hache; 66 were elsewhere, but part of the inventory. Many of these were sold in 1815 and in the following year. At least 24 were sold to creditors.
Of the 335 total, 226 are unidentified as to source.
A reduction in the total comes about because in many cases a slave’s name will appear as a purchase by Blanque, and later it will be carried as a sale by Blanque. Also, the same slave was often sold more than once.
With regard to his limited number of purchases, it seems that few slaves were bought in Blanque’s early years in New Orleans. The numbers did not pick up until about 1809.
There are records of only 74 slaves in total having been purchased by Blanque. Most of these are found in the years 1810 to 1815.
An obvious question is how did Blanque obtain the other slaves found in his inventory? A partial answer is found in the fact that in 1808, Delphine’s father sold two plantations to his son and to Blanque, including 53 slaves (Carolyn Long). Perhaps the slave sales were part of the overall sale but were not registered.
Another answer is that they came from his connections with piracy and the trading of contraband slaves.
Even allowing for some repeats, these are still huge numbers considering that a careful study of the data base suggests that Blanque bought very few of these, or at least did not record the purchases. Once again, of those at Pointe ala Hache, only a few are shown to have been bought by Blanque.
The number of sales by Blanque during his lifetime, obviously the smaller number, includes at least two group sales, one to Jacques Villere (the first native-born governor of Louisiana) and another listed as Adelaide Lecompt wife Piernas. The transactions to Villere in the year 1806 were only a few, while those in 1814, the year before Blanque’s death, numbered 37.
More about the sale to Piernas is found in Dr. Hall’s comment: “Sale of 37 slaves and plantation 1 league from New Orleans, Six arpents front to Lake Borgne.” [n.b. The Piernas Canal was just upriver from Jackson’s line of defense in the battle of New Orleans which was in close proximity to two Macarty plantations. Apparently, Piernas was not only a relative but also a neighbor.]
Factoring in this 1814 transfer means that many sales were in the years 1814 to 1816. It is curious that he would have retained ownership of so many slaves until his death. A cursory study indicates that approximately 70% were sold within the year before and the year after his death.
It may be possible that he was in a business of renting or leasing slaves, an occupation not unknown. Sometimes, a daily rate was calculated and entered into a written agreement between owner and renter; however, such business on a large scale would be new to me.
Another possibility is that Blanque, in order to maintain his high position in the community and not to appear a slave dealer, may have given a bill of sale for each transfer without it being recorded. If this had been the case, buyers would have flocked to the courts to have their purchases registered after his death. Only careful detailed translations could reveal this.
An in-depth look at some of Blanque’s dealings presents anomalies. For example, in 1814 Blanque sold to Piernas 37 slaves, only a small number traceable to Blanque as Buyer. Consider the slave named Flore:
Age (when this record was documented): 36.0
Other comments: Sale of 37 slaves and plantation 1 league from N.O. Six arpents front to Lake Borgne.
Name of the Seller: Jean Blanque
Name of the Buyer: Adelaide Lecompt Wife Piernas
Grouping: sold or inventoried in a group
Selling Currency: P
Selling Value: 27383
Entries such as this beg the question as to the original source of the slaves.
A similar group sale was made to Jacques Villere. A number of slaves were sold as though they were pre-purchased from and delivered by Capt. Laporte of Charleston. Below is the listing for one of several “Unnamed slaves,” which adds to the mystery of such dealing. However, in this case there is no mystery as to how and by whom they were delivered.
September 29, 1806
Age (when this record was documented): 14.0
Other comments: from the cargo of the Golette Lanna, Apt. Antoine Laporte, coming from Charleston, "de la cargaison de la Goleta Lanna (Sanna) Captain Antoine Laporte venant de Charleston."
Name of the Seller: Jean Blanque
Name of the Buyer: Jacques Villere
Grouping: sold or inventoried in a group
[n.b. A Goleta is a Spanish two master.]
Davis, in his book on the Laffites, says the ship Franklin belonged to Laporte September 2, 1817.
With regard to the Villere transactions, at least a couple bear the notation “de la cargaison de la Goleta Lanna (Sanna) Captain Antoine Laporte venant de Charleston.” A similar comment in an 1807 sale by Blanque to Charles Villiers appears as follows: “imported de Charleston por le navire Franklin.” In translation, each indicates a slave cargo coming from Charleston, Laporte being the captain of the ship Lanna and perhaps the Franklin as well.
Any connection of Antoine Laporte to J.B. Laporte, a French consul in New Orleans, is not known. However, it is recorded that the latter had dealings with the Lafittes. Davis’ Book, The Pirates Laffitte, states, “Laporte of New Orleans, more than once involved in dealings with the Laffites, [and] frequently sent his prize cargoes there for sale….” Davis also mentions that the Franklin was owned by Laporte; it was the ship once loaded with supplies in connection with Laffite’s Galveston presence.
On balance, there is more than a suggestion that the merchandise of Blanque the merchant, consisted of slaves.
The significance of the dates of various transactions lies in the fact that that under the Constitution of the United States, importation after 1808 was no longer legal. That the Villere and Villiers sales were in 1806 and 1807 is no less than curious.
Pointe ala Hache Plantation
Special consideration should be given to the inventory mentions of a plantation at Point-la-Hache. This is an area at the extreme end of the present-day road downriver from New Orleans, on the East bank. It is not far from Lake Borgne as the crow flies, but a long distance if travel were limited to the high road areas.
The location of a large plantation said to be at Pointe ala Hache presents a problem. Research on that location comes up blank for the years in question. The village by that name does certainly exist on the east bank well down the river from New Orleans, but it is difficult to believe that a working plantation was in that area and is unknown. Also, it strains belief that a busy man like Blanque would manage an investment of this kind, although it might be assumed that competent overseers were employed.
A search has been made for the history of a plantation at Pointe ala Hache. One known to have been in the area was Harlem, the manor house of which this writer visited before Katrina. However, it was not constructed until 1840. A raised cottage, it was said to be architecturally representative of the transition from French to American.
Perhaps it should be considered that the inventory was of a plantation in West Pointe ala Hache, suggesting Woodlands. However…
In 1834, William Johnson, a river pilot in cahoots with Pirate Jean Lafitte, built Woodland Plantation. Jean Lafitte controlled the marsh and bayou, while Johnson and his business partner George Bradish controlled the river,” said Creppel. “Lafitte would bring slaves up Grand Bayou from the Gulf to Woodland Plantation, where Johnson and Bradish would house them in four, two-story brick slave cabins. The cabins are long gone, and Spirits Hall now stands where they were located.
Section 9. Laussat and Blanque
Fortunately, The Historic New Orleans Collection has published a limited edition (1,000 copies) of A Guide to the Papers of Pierre Clement Laussat. It is a chronological digest of the letters of Laussat beginning even before his voyage and continuing until October 1815. In that span, Blanque and Blanque & Co., his enterprise, are mentioned no less than thirty-one times.
With the inclusion of so many references to the official duties of Jean Paul Blanque, it is now apparent that he meant much more to France than he did to Louisiana, regardless of his ascendancy in local politics and culture.
The first mention comes on November 8, 1803, when Laussat instructed Blanque to send funds to Rochambeau at St. Domingue. This was to be done in negotiable bills sent aboard the Natchez, and Blanque & Co. was to receive a commission of one percent.
Next, on December 1, he was appointed by Laussat as commissioner of “documents concerning cases pending before the Spanish state’s attorney.”
Later, on the 12th, Laussat wrote to Talleyrand and announced “the transfer transfer of Louisiana to France on 30 November 1803 and its expected transfer to the United States as December 17 or 18.” In that same document he recommended that Blanque be made commissioner of commercial relations in New Orleans, giving a detailed list of Blanque’s qualifications.
On January 7, 1804, a different kind of narrative was told. In that letter to Denis Decres, minister of the navy, Laussat told of an incident in which he and others were insulted by a citizen, a ship captain, who had drawn his sword but was disarmed by Blanque.
Another indication of the high placement of Blanque comes in a letter of January 15, when Pichon, the French charge d‘affaires at Georgetown, wrote that he had requested for Blanque an exequatur – “an official authorization issued by a host country to a consular agent permitting him to perform his official duties.”
On January 21, in a letter to WCC Claiborne and James Wilkinson, commissioners of the United States, Laussat asked that they designate a repository for important papers and that Blanque be one of two persons to accept those documents. In this connection, on March 5, Blanque received an inventory of maps and plans from Casa Calvo, at that time commissioner of Spain. On the same date, Laussat decreed that 275,000 francs be deposited with Blanque & Co., intended for Rochambeau in St. Domingue. Because the island had fallen to the British, Laussat directed Blanque & Co. not to retain the commission of 2.750 francs.
Laussat wrote to Decres, minister of the navy, in Paris on February 20, expressing his hope that France might regain Louisiana. [Though not said by Laussat, perhaps Blanque shared the same sentiment.]
On March 10, Laussat appointed Blanque to be French commissioner of commercial relations in New Orleans, and on the same date so advised Claiborne and Wilkinson, and ordered payment of 150,000 francs to Blanque & Co., New Orleans. Later, on the 26th, the company was given money to support Madame Blanque and to pay rent to Bernard Marigny.
Perhaps the most telling of letters having to do with Blanque’s importance came on April 9, when he wrote to the United States commissioners to state that because of a delay in vacating Spain’s troops and arms, Blanque would assume Laussat’s duties in the transfer.
An April 17 decree by Laussat directed that funds of the French Republic be processed through the commercial house of Blanque & Co. The following day, Laussat authorized Rollat to sign bills totaling 49,869 piastres issued by Blanque & Co. to the order of paymaster at Martinique.
Laussat described a conflict with one Burthe, who before moving away from Louisiana wrote a public document criticizing both Laussat and Blanque, the latter being called “commissioner of war” by Laussat. Blanque and Laussat had served in the same army in France.
Laussat did not record what criticism was made of Blanque, but Blanque did write a rejoinder, which is not in evidence.
Laussat on leaving Louisiana was accompanied by high-ranking officials, one of them being Blanque, “my faithful friend.”
Other entries deal with similar matters. In point of fact, the time period covered, for the most part, goes only through 2004. Blanque had not yet had the time to round out his career in New Orleans.
What is clear is that he had duties for the French government and a good deal of money at his disposal. Considering that he became a legislator in Louisiana, it is probable that he was a man serving two masters, and one must wonder which – France or the United States – would have won out in a competition.
Section 10. Declouet accusation: the most unkindest cut of all…
1814 – Committee of nine elected to draft statement of cooperation in defense of New Orleans included Blanque. Others, all of high standing: Livingston, Morgan, Bouligny Destrehan, Macarty, Ogden, de la Croix, Foucher. “It is not known why Blanque…one of the leading members of the legislature, did not sign this address.”
No matter how much successful slave dealers may have been held in esteem by the general public, there appears to have been one character flaw in Blanque that would negate any and all of the attributes posted by others.
It has already been noted, by Claiborne certainly, and Laussat in practice, that Blanque continued to be French in his thoughts and actions. One must wonder that some of his deficiencies as a citizen of Louisiana had not become apparent until it was nearly too late. It was not until the British were on American soil that the episode ill-defended by Marigny should have transpired. And this was less than a year before his death and subsequent illiquidity.
Only three years before, Blanque signed the Louisiana constitution, adopted January 2nd, 1812. His name appears along with Guichard and Marigny, Delaronde and Villere – a mixed group indeed.
The Legislature and Jackson, Declouet and Blanque
There were many references to the legislature’s dissatisfaction with Jackson and his pursuit against the British.
None is plainer than written by Latour in recording what was still in place even after the victory of January. He wrote,
By a resolution of 2d of February the legislature voted thanks to the troops of Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Mississippi Territory; to their commanders, generals Carroll, Coffee, Thomas, and Adair, and also to colonel Hinds, for their services in the defense of the state. Those of General Jackson they thought proper to pass over in silence.
There had already been disagreement and some distrust between the legislature and Jackson. The reports that came out of a meeting of the legislature before the battle caused Col. Declouet to accuse several members, including Blanque, of being willing to surrender the country to the enemy.
Details of this important disagreement are covered below as told by Gayarre. It should be noted that in addition there are several other similar accounts, as included in Fortier’s history, A History of Louisiana, Smith’s The Battle of New Orleans, and Remini’s The Battle of New Orleans. Although James, in his The Life of Andrew Jackson, covers the incident, he does not mention the name Blanque.
Jackson was much disturbed. He considered the report to be of such a threat that he ordered a suspension of the legislature on Dec. 31, 1814. Further, according to Remini, Fortier, and others, Jackson said that if the accusations were proved true he would “blow them up.”
Following are details of Gayarre’s account of an investigation that ensued:
Col. Declouet certainly found himself in a very critical situation. According to Duncan’s and Davezac’s testimony…he had accused the legislature of treason; he has accused Guichard, the Speaker of the House, Blanque, Marigny and others who always voted with Blanque, a very influential member of the House, of being at the head of the movement. He had asserted that Guichard had attempted to obtain his cooperation by telling him that General Jackson made war after the Russian fashion, which was to destroy everything rather than give up the possession of the country to the British, whilst the enemy would respect property.
Others swore that Declouet had mentioned Blanque, Marigny, and Guichard.
Declouet “stated his private opinion to be, that the feelings and dispositions of the majority of the legislature agreed with those of Guichard. By the majority he explained that he meant such members as always voted with Blanque, and composed the French side of the House. “
Eventually, Declouet “denied having accused anybody, either Blanque, Guichard, or Marigny; he knew nothing positive; he had no facts to allege; he knew of no plot…; no treasonable proposition had been made to him.”
As stated above, on December 15, nine members of legislature had been appointed to make a spirited “to arms” address. These included Blanque, but he did not sign it. If Blanque made some defense as to why he did not sign, it is not recorded. Perhaps he would not have wanted the British to see his signature on such a document, in the event that they had taken over.
Alcee Fortier recorded that the address was signed by all the members of the committee except John Blanque and Ogden.
On December 28, 1814, Marigny met the Speaker of the House, Magloire Guichard, in great distress, coming down the steps of the government house. Guichard told him, “We are accused of treason for the doors of the Legislature are closed by order of General Jackson.”
Mississippi Territorial Archives, p. 356.
To Jean Blanque.
New Orleans April 6th 1815
On the 29th of December last you will recollect, that
I met you and Mr. Marigny, at the quarters of Major
General Jackson, when a conversation ensued between the General and yourself.
I am Sir,
Your humble Servant
Signed/ William C. C. Claiborne__
Jean Blanque Esqr.
a member of the Legislature.
Section 11. The Courts
Original Documents in Courts
A search of old records of New Orleans and Louisiana courts disclosed numerous involvements of Blanque. Most are in French, and some in English, but it is easily seen that they are generally about minor amounts of money.
Two are very pertinent, fitting other information about Blanque having owned ships that he would allow pirates to use. These are documents of the Louisiana City Court of New Orleans; they are numbers 624 and 625. They describe a suit in which Blanque and two others are said to be owners of ships that had damaged a vessel moored at the levee.
The names of those ships have been investigated, as well as possible, to see what connections, if any, they had with pirates.
The ship named the Franklin was owned by Blanque. What is found about that vessel is that on September 2, 1817, after Blanque’s death, it was owned by John B. Laporte. He was the interim French consul in 1813, shown in The Pirates Laffite, by Davis, to have done favors for the Lafittes. In addition, Davis indicates that in 1817 both Laporte and Lafon were interested in some prizes condemned by the court. These ships had been at Galveston. It is known that Lafon, after his financial failures following the Louisiana Purchase, had gone over to piracy. Also, the Franklin is mentioned as having a full cargo that was to have gone to Galveston at the same time as Lafon’s Carmelita, which carried Lafitte on board.
Another ship involved in the damages was the Caroline, owned by someone named Flag. That brig was probably the same as Davis identifies as the privateer Carolina, off the coast of Florida in 1810.
It may be considered that the multitude of court cases involving Blanque indicate at least troubled events, even if not criminal. Many of these are connected to his slave dealings; others involve his estate. Altogether, it appears that there are over 40 listings in the various courts.
Perhaps Blanque was already having financial problems in 1814. That was the year in which he sold “37 slaves and plantation 1 league from New Orleans and six arpents front to Lake Borgne.” Presumably, this was his own Villa Blanque, which was being sold.
Blanque died on October 7, 1815 at age 50. His name appears among successions in the year of his death, 1815, but the record does not show that a will and inventory were filed.
Legal troubles followed him after his death. His widow indicated that under the law she had the right to renounce succession so that she could claim some assets. Otherwise, those assets would have been absorbed by mounting debt. The Widow Blanque herself had to appear in some of these post-mortem suits.
The estate would up in the Supreme Court of Louisiana. The following is taken from that case:
The petition sets forth that plaintiff was the wife of Jean Blanque, deceased; that she brought a large sum of her dotal portion, as appears by their marriage contract; that her husband dying she was appointed by the Courts of Probate of New Orleans as guardian of her minor children of said marriage; that she renounced the community; that a force surrender of her deceased husband’s property took place and syndics were appointed by the creditors with power to compromise with her for her dotal rights; that she received the said land and buildings as part payment of her dotal right, that the minor children who were made parties, and to whom a curator ad hoc had been appointed, had no claim whatever on the land and buildings.
The above seems on its face to be simple enough. However, that was merely the beginning. The case became complicated by the widow’s purchase of the Cotton Press Company, owned by Blanque, and the company instituted suit, and won. Subsequently it went to the Supreme Court, which ruled ultimately in the widow Blanque’s favor.
It appears that on balance, in spite of Blanque’s ability – his “genius” as remarked by Claiborne – and his willingness to go outside the law, he was not successful and his assets were subject to a forced sale.