1769: Nicolas de Lafreniere and four others for the Louisiana Rebellion

On this date in 1769, five French Creoles were shot in New Orleans for a revolt the previous year against a Spanish takeover.

This date’s story begins with the French King Louis XV getting his French clock cleaned in the French and Indian War. This conflict blew an ill wind all over Francophone North America, much of which was taken by the British. Result: a quarter-millennium later, this blog is in English.

Even what France kept, she did not keep. In a secret pact, France ceded to wartime ally Spain “the country known as Louisiana, as well as New Orleans and the island in which the city is situated.”

This projection onto New World colonists of Old World diplomatic horse-trading was rife with potential hostility among the traded horses. In this instance, Louisianans were widely dismayed when they were finally informed that they’d become Spaniards.

When they did get the memo — and Louis XV declined to reconsider — they launched the Louisiana Rebellion of 1768, expelling the new Spanish govenror Antonio de Ulloa.*

These weren’t mere rabble who showed Ulloa “insubordination … a sense of liberty and independence,” but elites of French New Orleans. Nicolas de Lafreniere was the attorney general.

“The name of Lafreniere deserves rank with those of foremost American patriots,” Americans later reckoned. O’Reilly’s reputation did not fare as well in the patriotic literature, but he perhaps had the best of the law.

Between a rock and a hard place, the leftover French adjutant Charles-Philippe Aubry refused to support the rebels, but also refused to fire on fellow Frenchmen. Meanwhile, Ulloa refused to provide his credentials to the uppity colonists. Louis XV refused to receive the delegations sent to implore him to keep Louisiana.

All these refuseniks found the matter adjudicated by immigrant Irish officer Alejandro O’Reilly, plucked out of Cuba to replace Ulloa and lay down the law. He spoke softly when he landed, but the amnesty he offered was followed a few months later by the surprise arrest of the chief rebels.

Lafreniere, Joseph Milhet, Jean-Baptiste Noyan, Pierre Caresse, and Pierre Marquis were ordered hanged on this date. Noyan, nephew of the city’s founder and a young man just married, was offered his pardon, but melodramatically refused.

It was found that there was no hangman in the colony, so the condemned prisoners were ordered to be shot. When the day of execution came, hundreds of people left the city. Those who could not leave went into their houses, closed the doors and windows and waited in an agony of sickening dread to hear the fatal shots. Only the tramping of soldiers broke the deathlike stillness which brooded over the crushed and helpless city. At three o’clock on a perfect October afternoon in 1769, the condemned men were led to the Spanish barracks. Lafreniere, it is said, gave the order to fire. A volley of muskets broke out on the still air, and five patriots went to their death, — the first Louisianians to give their blood for the cause of freedom.

A History of Louisiana

The details and historiography of this event are the subject of this 146-page master’s thesis. (pdf)

Whether or not all that stuff about Louisiana planters as freedom-loving patriots trod down by the barbarous Spanish has any real merit to it, that’s the way they’ve been memorialized.

Lafreniere Park in Metairie, La. — home of anti-death penalty VIP Sister Helen Prejean — is named for Nick Lafreniere.

When next visiting the Louisiana State House, keep an eye out for this day’s victims on the frieze to the right of the main entrance. And when next visiting New Orleans, keep an ear out for the ghost of the priest that buried them.

* Ulloa was also a scientist and gave his name to the Ulloa Halo, a “physical illusion consisting of a white luminous ring or arch that can sometimes be seen in mountainous regions, typically in foggy weather, while facing an area opposite the Sun.”

On this day..

6 thoughts on “1769: Nicolas de Lafreniere and four others for the Louisiana Rebellion

  1. Lafreniere, it is said, gave the order to fire. (which Lafreniere??) Was it de la Freniere, Sr. who gave the order?

    The younger La Frénière was an Attorney General of French Louisiana. He was one of the ringleaders of the Louisiana Rebellion of 1768. . However, the ringleaders, de La Frénière were later arrested and subsequently executed on 26 October 1769 by firing squad. At three o’clock on a perfect October afternoon in 1769, the condemned men were led to the Spanish barracks.

    • I am answering my own question. Senior died in 1748 or 1749, and they executed junior in 1769. It seems unlikely, however, that junior would give the order to fire. Does this sound strange?

  2. I would also like to read the thesis in .pdf form. Is it possible?

    I have a chart written by Geneva Ruth Bailey Seymour on Feb. 14, 1976, 5009-42, Lubbock, TX. She says Joseph Nicholas de la Freniere 1676-1749, married or common-law, Catherine, an Indian slave.
    Can U confirm this?

  3. I’m unable to download the 146 page thesis. I’m a descendant, too, and am currently living in NOLA. I’d love to read your thesis for the information and because I really love your style of writing.

  4. Interesting to read more of an ancestor. At one time, in New Orleans, there was a museum with a diorama with LaFreniere depicted. Is that museum still open? the diorama still there?

    Donna LaFreniere, Richardson, Tx

    • It was open until recently. The Musee Conti lost its lease and is looking to relocate sometime in the future.

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