American Merchant Male
Harassed by the British Navy
Seeks Young New Orleans Society Female
for Arranged Marriage
175. [Tureaud, Augustin Dominique]: [MANUSCRIPT NARRATIVE OF A FRENCH-BORN AMERICAN MERCHANT, DETAILING HIS DIFFICULTIES WITH BRITISH AND SPANISH FORCES DURING THE NAPOLEONIC WARS AND RECOUNTING HIS EXPERIENCES IN NEW ORLEANS HIGH SOCIETY]. [New Orleans. 1802]. pp. in French. Folio. Original plain wrappers. Spine worn. Moderate soiling. Corners curled. Overall internally bright and clean. Very good. Accompanied by a New Orleans newspaper printing of the narrative, cut out and laid in a makeshift booklet, and a typed English translation. In a half morocco box.
A lively narrative written by Augustin Dominique Tureaud, detailing how his experiences in international commerce while war on the high seas raged between Britain and the Franco-Spanish axis, made an arranged New Orleans marriage his only hope for advancement. Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, Tureaud’s story is a valuable first-hand view of how American trading suffered while Britain grappled to prevent Spain and France from securing control of the seas, thus increasing Napoleon’s growing stranglehold on Europe, while also being an excellent narrative of social life and mores in New Orleans in the period immediately prior to the Louisiana Purchase.
Born in La Rochelle, France on Oct. 23, 1764, Tureaud narrowly escaped the massacre at San Domingo in 1793, and was in Baltimore by the turn of the century. A merchant by trade, on July 29, 1801, Tureaud left Baltimore bound for New York, where he was to board the Alert, a merchant vessel headed for Vera Cruz under the command of Capt. Preserved Sisson. Traveling as supercargo, Tureaud held a personal stake in the shipment and stood to gain a substantial percentage upon the successful completion of the voyage. They set sail on Aug. 14, 1801. Less than a month later they were intercepted by a British privateer, the Spring Bird, which fired upon them when the Alert struck the American flag. Tureaud writes:
When this privateer, as she proved to be, got within a certain distance we hoisted the American flag, and a moment afterward she fired upon us. By this brutal signal we gathered that she wished to speak to us. At once we changed our course showing that we did not mean to avoid her. In spite of this, the insolent privateer fired upon us a second time, the cannon ball fortunately passing between our masts. Not knowing what could be the motive of such infamous conduct by a boat which was flying the English flag, we shortened our sail and awaited her coming within speaking distance.
The harassment of the Alert by the Spring Bird was only the start of Tureaud’s troubles. Ordered to the Bahamas for a full inspection and review, Tureaud and his ship were released only to be immediately re-captured by another British ship, the Crescent, under the command of Capt. William Lobb. Though Lobb was courteous to Tureaud, he ordered the Alert to Jamaica and Tureaud separated from Sisson. Tureaud writes: "I asked [Lobb] if I could remain on board of my boat during our passage to Jamaica. He replied that in that case Captain Sisson would have to remain on the frigate. Presuming that my captain would be more useful than I on the Alert, I elected to stay on the frigate." Upon being installed on the Crescent, Tureaud was given the room of a second lieutenant who had just taken command of another captured American ship, the Richmond.
Tureaud was held at Kingston for nearly three weeks. He writes, "There being a long delay in my business affairs, I employed my time in looking up my old friends at Kingston. I called on a young lady whom I had known at the Cafe Nelle. The first visit led to many others...After my love affair with this charming lady lessened I proceed to a new conquest." Tureaud moved on again, next pursing the daughter of another friend from the Cafe. He picked up another love simultaneously, adding, "I found myself devoted to both to E. and Madame M. and managed my two love affairs with a rare prudence. Neither suspected I was making love to the other." It was a pattern he would repeat in New Orleans.
His promiscuous character exposed, after paying heavy court fees he was again released. Overcoming a small outbreak of malaria and substantial damages to the ship, the Alert arrived at Vera Cruz on Dec. 5. The Spanish, as suspicious of an American ship as the British, greeted him coolly. Tureaud found Vera Cruz even less hospitable than Kingston, and he was immediately hauled before the viceroy: "As yet I little expected the infamous cruelty which was about to be inflicted upon me. Even among savages the rights of hospitality are respected. Distress in a stranger is a passport to sympathy the world over. But not so with the royal governor of Vera Cruz. Kindness and charity have no place in his heart, which is as hard as the rocks that surround the inhospitable coast where he dwells."
The net result of the viceroy’s cruelty was that Tureaud’s ship was forced out of Vera Cruz without having time to sell the cargo to some advantage. Added to that misery was the denial of any additional supplies or repairs. The Alert was further damaged in a gale and, were it not for the hesitant charity of yet another British ship which boarded her, might not have made New Orleans, its de facto final destination. For a brief time, Tureaud considered Havana as a place he might sell his property, but he learned via an old acquaintance, a man named Faurie, that the port of Havana was now closed to Americans. He was forced to remain in New Orleans and do as best he could.
With his fortunes dictated by circumstance, Tureaud found himself alone and nearly impoverished in a foreign city. He writes: "I was obliged to remain in New Orleans, and thus dispose of my cargo in a place where, from the abundance of merchandise in the market, I was sure to suffer a loss." With Tureaud’s financial straits being what they were, he turned his attention to penetrating local society as best he could. The proclivities exhibited in Kingston soon manifested themselves in New Orleans. He continues:
My friendship with Faurie was the means of my being introduced into the homes of a number of families in New Orleans. Among others I must not fail to mention Mr. M., by whose family I was courteously entertained. His eldest daughter is indeed a fascinating girl. Her manner tinged with arch coquetry, the bewitching and tantalizing glance of her eye, these I found quite irresistible. I did not conceal my admiration for her, and she did not seem adverse to my attentions. By and by matters reached that point I considered myself engaged to her. But reflecting upon on the disordered condition of my affairs and the position in which my marriage would place my dear ones in Baltimore I determined to sacrifice my inclinations...The young lady, I must say, did not seem to be much put out. The note in which she acknowledges the rupture is two lines long.
One has a sense that it was not affection for his "dear ones," whomever they might be, that drove Tureaud from wedded bliss; rather, it appears he was willing (or anxious) to hazard another run through the gauntlet.
The season of public balls in New Orleans had set in. I attended a number of these and was astonished at seeing so many young people. At the first ball I stood around as a sort of benevolent spectator. I did not dare dance in public...But reasoning with myself that I would not attract notice in such a crowd, I abandoned myself completely to this amusement – so completely, I fear, that I drew marked attention to myself. At the first ball I mentioned, I remarked a young lady about as tall as my Caroline, and as graceful as she, and undoubtedly one of the best dancers present. I sought her out, and danced with her as often as I could.
Through the offices of a friend, a Mr. Montegut, Jr., Tureaud was introduced to her family. He identifies them as Mr. and Madame LeB, and Tureaud became a regular fixture at Sunday dinner and weekday evenings.
This constant intercourse led to a desire (a very natural one) to make ourselves mutually pleasing – a matter not difficult to a young girl so clever and charming as herself, and for my part, I neglected nothing that would render me agreeable to her eyes...My respect for her family and herself did not permit me to think of making love to her except with the view of marriage, and marriage was out of the question as our combined fortunes would not have been sufficient for such a desirable consummation...She showed as I thought, merely a friendly interest and pleasure in my companionship. But I had not read her heart aright, as my journal will disclose later on.
He eventually exchanged some of his goods for cotton grown by Marius Pons Bringier of the plantation, White Hall. Their transaction went smoothly and Bringier, in need of a merchant to represent him in New Orleans, thought Tureaud the man suited to the job. Bringier proposed a partnership and named an amount of capital to be contributed by each party. Tureaud describes his response:
I told him I could not contribute such a sum for my share as he had in contemplation, and explained the misfortunes that for many years dogged me in my ventures. He answered that he did not regard my inability to contribute an obstacle, ‘because,’ said he, ‘in wishing to associate myself with you in interests, I wish it to be an association of the closest nature. I sincerely desire that my daughter Betsy should be the immediate means of cementing our union. See her; speak to her of my intentions, and if she shows no disinclination to united herself with you, all can be arranged in a few days...But this I must add: if the marriage does not take place the co-partnership will not be formed.’
Betsy, previously described as "rather good looking than otherwise," was only fourteen. Seizing his opportunity, Tureaud sought out young Betsy, whom he admits to earlier having treated like a child, and described her father’s plan to her. According to Tureaud, she showed no "repugnance." He sums up the brief courtship’s conclusion: "Speaking with the tenderest accent, [Bringier] asked Betsy if she gave her consent to unite her fate with mine. She answered him, ‘Yes.’ She placed herself in my arms, and the kiss which she gave me made me understand that her mouth was the interpreter of her heart." Tureaud stayed at White Hall for some time, then returned to New Orleans to make preparations.
His preparations included another visit with Mlle. LeB. At their first dinner together, Tureaud noticed she was acting despondent and, when given the opportunity, he inquired as to what was bothering her. She replied that she had learned of his engagement to Mlle. Bringier and this caused her some consternation. She had considered him engaged to another, namely herself. But rather than accuse him of betrayal, she admitted some culpability. Tureaud relates her response: "It may be my fault that we never came to an understanding which might have led to our mutual happiness; but I realize that all is impossible now. Therefore I can speak frankly to you. I want you to be my friend, and I will expect you to fulfill the delicate duties that friendship prescribes."
In addition to the implied discretion, Mlle LeB. also solicited advice regarding her situation. It seems that while Tureaud was away at White Hall, she received a letter from a Mr. M, proposing a marriage that would insure her security. She put the question directly to Tureaud, what should she do? Should she marry him? Perhaps seeing a way out of his uncomfortable position, he counseled her that she should. She responded in fury:
Is this the counsel you give me? Must I think that you seriously advise me to bind myself in indissoluble bonds to a man whom I do not love, whom I shall never love, a man who is twice as old as I am. So he, in spite of everything will make me happy, as you think, because of his wealth. No, neither this man nor his high position in society would make me content to drag out a loveless life with him. I say positively that Mr. M. will never be my husband. I have called myself your friend and I mean it, and in that role I know ask you confidence for confidence. Deal with me candidly. Is the gossip about your marriage with Mlle. Bringier true or false?
Tureaud replied that it was true and their interview was closed. With social hurdles now cleared, it seemed his marriage was imminent, but Tureaud begged leave to order his affairs in Baltimore, promising to return. One would think that if his prospects there improved (financial or otherwise), he might have stayed; but though he remained long, he returned, and the two were united the following year on May 23, 1803. The couple prospered and their son Benjamin’s plantation, Tezcuco, remained in the family until 1950.
The accompanying newspaper clippings are from a 1911 issue of the New Orleans Picayune and include manuscript annotations from the reporter, Trist Wood, who composed the preface to the published journal. At the end of the article are portraits of Tureaud, his young wife, and son. The article also includes the note that Mlle. Brangier’s account of the wedding also survives and that, like the forlorn Mlle. LeB., she "shuddered at the idea of becoming the bride of a ‘gray-headed old man.’" Adding further context, Wood suggests that, given the increase in divorces when couples marry solely for love, perhaps arranged marriages were not a bad idea after all.
In all, Tureaud’s narrative offers an intimate view of social customs in New Orleans just prior to the Louisiana Purchase. Thrust into his position by the constant harassment of American merchant vessels by foreign powers, an equally valuable component of his story, Tureaud offers a wonderful example of a young woman’s struggle when caught between love and money in early 19th-century Louisiana.