Terre Blanche à la Terre Rouge (White Earth to Red Earth)

Newlyweds Marguerite and Pierre Le Houx loaded their personal belongings on board the boat docked in La Nouvelle-Orleans (New Orleans). Yesterday, the 12th of March 1725, they were married in the little wooden church, on the site of where St. Louis Cathedral would one day stand. But today 29-year-old Pierre would be taking his new bride back with him to the Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River where he was keeper of the Post warehouse.

Marguerite was leaving her family behind in New Orleans where her father, Jean Baptiste Larmusiau, was the surgeon to the colonial Louisiana governor Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. It seemed like only yesterday that her family arrived  in New Orleans from France on the ship L’Elephant. But that was in 1720 when she was only eight years old. Now she was thirteen and newly married!

The trip upriver was slow against the strong Mississippi River current.  After a couple of weeks of travel they arrived at the Arkansas Post settlement.  Pierre and Marguerite lived at the Post for a short while when they decided to move with some other settlers down the Mississippi to the Terre Blanche (White Earth) settlement at Fort Rosalie near the Natchez Grand Village.

Fort Rosalie had been built by Bienville as a French outpost in 1716 to thwart any designs on this area by the British. More settlers were needed to establish this region as a strong French colony in La Louisiane and Pierre and Marguerite were adding to their number. Pierre would be an excellent interpreter for them since he had experience living with tribal people at the Post.

Fort Rosalie, named after the wife of Count Ponchartrain, sat high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.  The fort itself was small, and from what Marguerite could tell, did not look very defendable. In fact it did not appear to have been fully completed. Not one of the palisades was connected to another — so anyone could walk into the fort at will. But everyone seemed to be satisfied with the way of life at Fort Rosalie. Marguerite did worry a little about living there because of the attack on the fort made by the Natchez tribe a few years earlier, but the soldiers and the large number of settlers made her feel more secure.  From her observations, the settlement was becoming a full-fledged town.  There were merchants, craftsmen, farmers, a priest, soldiers for peacekeeping and defense, and children running around everywhere.

Over the following weeks, Pierre and the men at the fort helped him and Marguerite build a small cabin that they could call their own and he also set up a store selling supplies near the fort.  Marguerite was making friends with the women there too.  They showed her how to cook on an open fire and how to forage for the proper berries in the woods. She enjoyed her friendship with Marie Francienne Minquetz Cantrelle, a midwife, and helped her from time to time to deliver babies.  Francienne had also lived at the Arkansas Post with her husband Jacques.  In fact they arrived in New Orleans the same year as Marguerite and her family.

Marguerite and Pierre thrived in their new life at Terre Blanche and it wasn’t long before they had their first child.  Soon afterward, they were expecting again. Francienne had been such a help to her during her pregnancies and deliveries. Everyone had a job in the new settlement and it took everyone’s skills to make the colony successful, but everyone was relying on the French government for military defense and a system of justice.

The Terre Blanche settlement was governed by the French Commandant.  He was in charge of peace-keeping and defense of the colony.  He and the soldiers were to defend the fort against the  British who were wanting to lay claim to this area on the Mississippi and also against the ever-present threat of native tribes in the area.  The nearby Natchez tribe generally had good relations with the French ever since La Salle explored the region in 1682, but animosities increased with the building of Fort Rosalie.

The British and French were in constant conflict over land in North America during this time, so the British were continually instigating some factions of the Natchez against the French. However the Great Sun, who was the leader of the Natchez, was loyal to the French. So diplomacy was a necessary attribute of any commandant of Fort Rosalie.

But a new commandant named Monsieur Chepart was sent to the Fort in 1728. Chepart was not known for his tact, especially with the Natchez people.  He decided that the Natchez people would have to move from their land so that he could build a plantation where some of their village was located. Chepart was quite adamant about it.  Obviously tensions increased and old animosities were revived.  To add to the precarious nature of the situation, the Great Sun, the most loyal French ally, died that year. The British were said to have seized this opportunity to encourage the Natchez to make a full-scale attack on the Fort and the Terre Blanche settlement.

On November 28, 1729, the Natchez entered the Fort and approached each home in the settlement under the guise of conducting business with the townspeople.  At a given signal, the Natchez attacked them, catching the settlers unaware.  Men, women, and children were cut down and massacred. Most of the men were killed and many women and children were killed.  Those who were not able to escape into the woods and get downriver to New Orleans were taken captive by the Natchez and treated harshly.  Monsieur Chepart was beheaded and his head taken back to the Natchez village. In all, 150 men were killed, as well as 36 women and 56 children.

Among the dead were Marguerite’s husband Pierre and oldest child.  Also killed was her friend Francienne.  Jacques, Francienne’s husband, escaped. He was hunting in the woods nearby when the massacre occurred. Marguerite escaped with her baby and made her way back to New Orleans to be with her family.

A man, possibly Jacques Cantrelle, stumbled into New Orleans several days after the attack to alert the French soldiers of the massacre.  They retaliated against the Natchez, rescuing most of the captured settlers and eventually killing or selling into slavery nearly every member of the Natchez tribe.  Some escaped and were assimilated into other tribes.

Marguerite now 18, and Jacques, 33, married six months later in New Orleans. They were already good friends and both shared similar tragedy and heartache. It seemed only natural that they would decide to marry.  They made their home on a plantation in what is now Kenner, LA.  In addition to her daughter, little Marguerite Le Houx, she and Jacques would have seven children.  Michael Bernard Cantrelle, their sixth child, is my ancestor.

Marguerite Larmusiau and Jacques Cantrelle are my seventh great grandparents.

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

*Note: Marguerite is my father’s ancestor and her brother Thomas Joseph Larmusiau is my mother’s ancestor.

** For a list of those killed in the Fort Rosalie massacre, visit  http://www.natchezbelle.org/adams-ind/massacre.htm. The list was compiled by a Capuchin priest and missionary, Fr. Filbert on the 9th of June, 1730, aboard the Duc de Bourbon.


6 thoughts on “Terre Blanche à la Terre Rouge (White Earth to Red Earth)

  1. I’m late seeing this post, but I just ran across it after a Google search on Jacques Cantrelle. Jacques came across on the same ship as my 7th grandpa, Pierre Mayeux, who followed the same path with Jacque for several years: landed in Biloxi, then to Arkansas post, then to New Orleans for a short time, then to Fort Rosalie. Pierre was one of two male survivors among the captives, and ended up settling in Avoyelles Parish.

    I’m working on research for a novel based on Pierre’s life (really more of a history book – going to keep it accurate). Obviously Jacques and Pierre would have been friends, having lived so much life together.

    Thanks for your post!

    Ken Myers

  2. I am a direct descendant of Jacques Cantrelle and Marguerite Larmusiau. They are my 7th great grandparents. I descend through their son Jacques Cantrelle Jr.. This is a very moving history of my ancestors. I’m proud to be descended from them.

  3. I too am a descendant of Jacques and Marguerite Cantrelle on my mother’s side and Thomas Joseph Larmusiau on my father’s. I am eager to see more posts about Colonial New Orleans.

    • Isn’t that a coincidence! I’d love to see your family tree sometime! I hope to write more about colonial New Orleans as well as other places and times. Presently most of my efforts are towards another blog I’m writing in addition to this one. If you’d like to see it, it’s called Veterans’ Voices — vetvoices.wordpress.com . In it I interview and record WWII veterans’ oral histories. Eventually I will interview veterans from other wars. It’s a fascinating project!

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