…with emphasis on his status as a merchant
Two previous postings, “Who Built the Pirate House?’ and “Blanque/Blake” were intended to show what information was available to me regarding Jean Baptiste Blanque at the time these articles were offered. The first does not represent a conclusive decision as to the owner/builder of that beautiful house, but only a suggestion as to what personage most closely “fit the bill” of the legend surrounding the Pirate House. The second, which is simply a compiling of notes leading to the first, I will leave standing alone.
Meanwhile, however, new evidence about the man Jean Blanque has been uncovered. Before going further, I must acknowledge the use of Dr. Gwendoyln Midlo Hall’s wonderful data base of Louisiana slavery. That source does much to flesh out the person of Blanque.
What I have found is that Blanque, who did not arrive in Louisiana until 1803 and who died in 1816, managed to participate in no less than 335 slave transfers in a period of thirteen years. While that number is remarkable for a man who purported to be a lawyer, legislator, merchant, and upstanding member of the community, and for whom there is scant evidence that he ever owned a plantation, a more astounding find is that the great majority of the transactions were sales, and only a relative few were purchases.
The obvious question is, how did he acquire them if he did not buy them?
For more exact figures, I offer the following: of the total of 335, in only 71 did Blanque appear as the buyer. This leaves 264 unaccounted for as to source. For what it may be worth, of the grand total, 226 were males, and only 99 were females, leaving ten unidentified. Noteworthy is the fact that many of sales are listed as being sold by his creditors or by his estate, in years 1815 and 1816.
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, but there is no suggestion in what we know that he owned a large plantation.
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 of his death.
It may be that he was in a business of renting or leasing slaves, an occupation not unknown. Often, 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.
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 N.O. 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.] Factoring in this 1814 transfer means that virtually all sales were in the years 1814 to 1816.
Another comment mentions that several slaves from an 1816 estate sale were included in an “inventory of plantation at Point-la-Hache.” This is an area at the extreme end of the 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.
Perhaps we may one day find that Blanque did own one of both of these plantations, but plantations in the area were not of the size that would indicate the number of slaves to be in the hundreds. He may have even acted as a broker in the above recordings.
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.
Although I cannot at this time find anything definitive connection of Antoine Laporte to J.B. Laporte, a French consul in New Orleans, 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 respected lawyer, legislator, and merchant, consisted of slaves.
More work is to be done. I wrote in one of my earlier postings about Blanque that he was a man of mystery. As is often the case, we now have more mystery than before.
There is nothing in the new evidence to connect Blanque to the Pirate House in Waveland, but he apparently had a source of slaves which he did not feel compelled – or legally able – to report, as he did in the case of the sales involving Laporte and his ships the Franklin and the Lanna. In those two he must have operated as a broker, and the sales were formally recorded.
A consideration that might be part of an explanation is 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.
It is the unknown source of all the others that is the real question. If in fact Blanque had a connection with the Pirate House and was able to bring in his Black Ivory under cover of the little natural inlet shown on old maps and still existing today, he would not have had a problem getting them to the New Orleans slave market.
In an unrelated article, one about Simon Favre called “Lawrence County Archives,” there is evidence that in the same period slaves were valued at about twice the amount in New Orleans as they were in Hancock County. After transport of the so-called “cargo” across the Atlantic from West Africa and then to the Gulf Coast, a short trip through the Rigolets to Lake Pontchartrain and then to Bayou St. John would have been an easy sail.
Perhaps one day some hard evidence will surface.