Update, Jean Blanque

 
            The personage of Jean Blanque, about whom I have written in the articles titled “Blanque/Blake” and “New Evidence – Jean Blanque” continues to fascinate.
            In previous investigations, I was unable to find that he had an 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 was the hand-picked official sent by Napoleon to oversee the transfer.
            From the beginning of what was obvious about Blanque was that he had funds, but I could only guess at the source.
            A surprise – perhaps I might admit to shock – came in a recent visit to the Historic New Orleans Collection current exhibit. 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.
             Perhaps my judgment of this man is being overwhelmed by emotions rather than a strict and unbiased historical perspective, but I am candid in reporting that I am not fond of the character of this person. I am finding it difficult to reconcile how the man could be employed by France and also rising among the elite of Louisiana, not only among the citizenry but also in government circles. Recognizing that he married in New Orleans and practiced law there, it is possible that he genuinely changed his allegiance to the United States. However, if he was slave-dealing, he was not operating within the law.
 
 
New Book Acquired
            Due to the beneficence of Russell Desmond, owner, Acadian Books and Art Prints, the finest book store of Louisiana history, I have acquired a copy of a limited edition (1,000 copies), rather esoteric book, 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.
 
1803
            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 announced to Talleyrand the transfer from Spain, and gave the expected date of the 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. Unfortunately, that list is only mentioned, but not included.
 
1804
            On January 7, 1804, a different kind of mention was made. 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” (cf. Free Online Dictionary).
            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.
            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.
 
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            Other entries deal with similar matters. It would be interesting to see what details Laussat included by way of Blanque’s background and qualifications. It is doubtful, however, that anything about Blanque’s slave dealing and pirate ships were told. In point of fact, the time period covered, for the most part, goes only through 1804. 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. Indeed, when interceding on behalf of the Lafittes before the battle of New Orleans, he attempted to appear innocent of his acquaintance with the Lafittes.
             Moreover, 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. If true, this was a strange way for a Frenchman to act in a matter concerning the British. Still, one must wonder about the wealth he had achieved by 1814, a wealth that he might have been unwilling to lose.
 
Blanque, an Intermediate between the Lafittes and Claiborne
            With information about Blanque’s duties, as above, I have sought out from the Historic New Orleans Collection’s Williams Research Center, the original of an important document pertaining to the Lafitte brothers’ intercession with Blanque. That document appears to be a deposition. It is signed by William C.C. Claiborne, and attests to the facts of his visit with Blanque as the result of a request by the Lafittes. The matter is usually described in brief in the history of the battle of New Orleans, but its full transcription may be invaluable in the pursuit of the character of the man Blanque.
 
Following are the words, as best as I can read 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 Louisianians, 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 the1st of September 1814. Mr. Blanque expressed at the time to the witness his surprise at the packets being adressed [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, Lafite [sic] said that he had requested them, or rather a delay of some days to return an answer to the English propositions but declined in effect at the same time, in his letter to Mr. Blanque, a determination to take no part with the English.
            “William C. C. Claiborne.”
 
Original Documents in Courts
            A search of old records of New Orleans and Louisiana courts disclosed no less than twenty-seven 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 curious, 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 I have 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.
 
A Coincidence
            In conversation with the librarian who pulled the ancient documents mentioned above, I casually inquired as to whether he may be familiar with the name Jean Blanque. Unhesitating, he asked whether that was the man who married Delphine. (She was first the wife of Blanque, and she later married LaLaurie after Blanque died. Madame LaLaurie became the infamous slave owner whose “haunted” house on Royal St. was partially destroyed by fire, revealing the slaves in chains.)
            I said he was the same, to which he disclosed that a woman has been assiduously researching the Blanques, and will be publishing a book. Of course, he could not identify the person.
            My assumption is that the author-to-be is more interested in Delphine than she is in Jean Paul, but I would hope that she has uncovered information that might further round out the character of this man.
             Perhaps she will read this posting. If so, an email to rbg@russguerin.com would be greatly appreciated.
 
rbg