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A French Aristocrat in the American West

The Shattered Dreams of De Lassus De Luzieres

Carl J. Ekberg & Foreword by Marie-Sol de La Tour d'Auvergne

Publication Year: 2010


In 1790, Pierre-Charles de Lassus de Luzières gathered his wife and children and fled Revolutionary France. His trek to America was prompted by his “purchase” of two thousand acres situated on the bank of the Ohio River from the Scioto Land Company—the institution that infamously swindled French buyers and sold them worthless titles to property. When de Luzières arrived and realized he had been defrauded, he chose, in a momentous decision, not to return home to France. Instead, he committed to a life in North America and began planning a move to the Mississippi River valley.
            De Luzières dreamed of creating a vast commercial empire that would stretch across the frontier, extending the entire length of the Ohio River and also down the Mississippi from Ste. Genevieve to New Orleans. Though his grandiose goal was never realized, de Luzières energetically pursued other important initiatives. He founded the city of New Bourbon in what is now Missouri and recruited American settlers to move westward across the Mississippi River. The highlight of his career was being appointed Spanish commandant of the New Bourbon District, and his 1797 census of that community is an invaluable historical document. De Luzières was a significant political player during the final years of the Spanish regime in Louisiana, but likely his greatest contributions to American history are his extensive commentaries on the Mississippi frontier at the close of the colonial era.
            A French Aristocrat in the American West: The Shattered Dreams of De Lassus de Luzières is both a narrative of this remarkable man’s life and a compilation of his extensive writings. In Part I of the book, author Carl Ekberg offers a thorough account of de Luzières, from his life in Pre-Revolutionary France to his death in 1806 in his house in New Bourbon. Part II is a compilation, in translation, of de Luzières’s most compelling correspondence. Until now very little of his writing has been published, despite the fact that his letters constitute one of the largest bodies of writing ever produced by a French émigré in North America.
            Though de Luzières’s presence in early American history has been largely overlooked by scholars, the work left behind by this unlikely frontiersman merits closer inspection. A French Aristocrat in the American West brings the words and deeds of this fascinating man to the public for the first time.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

List of Plans and Maps

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pp. ix-x

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xii

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Foreword, by Marie-Sol de La Tour d’Auvergne

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pp. xiii-xvi

Pierre-Charles de Hault de Lassus de Luzières was one of a number of French aristocrats who sought their fortune in America during the turbulent times ushered in by the French Revolution. This seismic political and social upheaval reverberated across both Europe and America. Far more French aristocrats invested in land in America than actually settled there. De ...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xvii-xxii

I first encountered the extraordinary character Pierre-Charles de Lassus de Luzières back in the early 1980s, when I was working in San Diego with Abraham P. Nasatir’s transcriptions from the Archivo General de Indias in Se-ville. De Luzières’s 1797 census of New Bourbon, a community he founded in 1793, caught my eye, and I used this census along with de Luzières’s extensive ...

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pp. 1-4

Pierre-Charles de Hault de Lassus de Luzières was one of very few French aristocrats to emigrate to America, live out his life here, and be buried here—although his grave in the historical cemetery in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, is unmarked and its exact location unknown. De Luzières had perhaps never heard of the francophone settlements in the Illinois Country when he, his ...

Part I: From France to the Mississippi Valley

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Chapter 1: Flight from France

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pp. 7-19

Pierre-Charles de Hault de Lassus de St. Vrain de Luzières was councilor to king Louis XVI, treasurer of the province of Hainault, hereditary mayor of Bouchain, commissioner in the royal navy, knight in the royal order of St. Michel1—names and titles that evoke an aspiring aristocrat of middling rank, someone who was active in the affairs of his province rather than preoccupied ...

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Chapter 2: The Ohio River Valley

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pp. 20-30

As the lighthouse at the entrance to Le Havre’s harbor slipped out of sight, de Luzières, gazing back over the taffrail of Citoyens de Paris, knew that this would be his last mortal glimpse of France, for he had solemnly decided to forsake the ancient compost heap of Europe for the virgin soil of America.De Luzières’s journey, by land and sea, from Valenciennes to the East Coast ...

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Chapter 3: The Grand Enterprise

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pp. 31-49

During the last two decades of the eighteenth century, Pittsburgh was the principal jumping-off point for travelers heading west; for it was at Pitts-burgh that the waters of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers merged to create the Ohio (Belle Rivière to the French), which was the principal avenue into the heartland of North America. Two years before the de Luzières family ...

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Chapter 4: At Home in the Illinois Country

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pp. 50-60

André Michaux, the intrepid French botanist, sometime political agent, and travel writer, was in Pittsburgh in August 1793 and met Audrain there. Mi-chaux remarked that Audrain had been in North America for fourteen years, that his business was shipping flour to New Orleans, and that he was said to be in partnership with “one Louisière or Delousière. . . . This Louisière is ...

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Chapter 5: The Grand Enterprise Collapses

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pp. 61-72

As the eighteenth century progressed, the politics of the greater Mississippi River valley became increasingly complicated, and in the decade preceding the Louisiana Purchase they were as intricate as they would ever be. In the final stages of the French and Indian War, France had cut away the albatross of Louisiana from its own neck and hung it around that of Spain (secret Treaty ...

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Chapter 6: Americans Recruited

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pp. 73-83

His grandiose commercial schemes in utter disarray, de Luzières reoriented his efforts. Beginning in early 1796, he threw himself into the task of recruiting colonists for Spanish Illinois. This initiative he hoped, correctly as it turned out, would gain him favor with Spanish officialdom and redound to his own political benefit. The development of a productive population in ...

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Chapter 7: Civil and Military Commandant

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pp. 84-97

De Luzières was handsomely rewarded for his success in recruiting American settlers for Spanish Illinois. Carondelet, before he left office as governor general of Louisiana, decided to do a final favor for his fellow countryman from Flanders, and a very large one it was indeed. Carondelet would appoint de Luzières commandant of a new administrative district in Upper Louisiana,...

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Chapter 8: End of the Adventure

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pp. 98-114

During the late 1790s, Americans living in the Northwest Territory were gazing greedily westward across the Mississippi River. They were confident that the Spanish regime on the west side of the river was living on borrowed time and that they would soon be masters of the entire Mississippi Valley. De Luzières wrote to his friend Tardiveau in July 1798 that “the famous [John ...

Part II: Source Documents

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pp. 115-226


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pp. 227-236

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272270
E-ISBN-10: 0826272274
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826218964
Print-ISBN-10: 0826218962

Page Count: 258
Illustrations: 11 illus, 7 maps
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1