By Joe Darby
Well, dear readers, after a couple of columns that sparked a lot of spirited controversy, I want to tell you a story — a true story — of a time long ago when Natchitoches folk were really mad at each other. I mean they were going around knocking each other in the head over their controversy.
So, let’s begin. The year is 1795. Our founder St. Denis has been dead for 51 years now. The Spanish took over our colony from the French about 27 year ago and our current commandant is one Louis DeBlanc. His dad, Cesaire DeBlanc, was also commandant. Cesaire may have helped get the job by marrying the boss’ daughter, Marie des Douleurs Juchereau de St. Denis, the third-born child to the founder and his wife Emmanuela Sanchez y Ramon.
Another early commandant, Athanaise de Mezieres, also married a St. Denis girl and he even got a street named after himself. I’m sure you all know where that is.
And you can also relax. I won’t be throwing nearly as many French names at you for the rest of the column.
So, back to 1795. Things are going along quite well for Louis DeBlanc when all of a sudden comes into town a French priest, one Father Jean Delvaux. He was popular with his parishioners, but that may have been helped by the fact that he liked to go down to the banks of the river, drink lots of brandy and sing revolutionary songs with some of his buddies.
These would-be revolutionaries, admirers of those who back in France had begun the French Revolution six years earlier, thought it would be cool to form a club and they called themselves Les Revenants, or The Ghosts.
The enthusiasm for this movement was spurred by the fact that many of the French residents of the Natchitoches area had never reconciled themselves to being ruled by Spain, rather than La Belle France.
Because DeBlanc, although of pure French blood himself, represented the power of Spain in this region, he was soon the object of malice by The Ghosts. During a party that DeBlanc gave at his home on what is now Williams, the dissidents threw rocks, shouted threats and all in all rather ruined the party. Those known to be friendly to DeBlanc were sometimes attacked by swords and clubs as they walked about in town.
Word of the disquiet quickly reached Gov. Carondelet in New Orleans He ordered Delvaux transferred and sent another priest to take his place. But the Ghosts refused to accept this change and threatened open revolt. However, with the help of a few friendly armed citizens and about a half-dozen militia soldiers, the commandant succeeded in quelling the rioters.
At one point shots were fired by the militia, but no one was hurt. The Ghosts were in fact disappointed that no casualties ensued because they had hoped to lost a martyr or two to really stir up the populace.
The tension continued to seethe, but meanwhile Carondelet had received a false report that all was calm in Natchitoches, so he sent no help. Delvaux and his gang grew bolder, once going over to Nacogdoches, Tex., to try to stir up trouble there.
But Carondelet, rather than risking a show of force that could lead to a full-scale revolt, turned to diplomacy. He summoned eight of the top Ghosts to New Orleans and convinced them to calm things down, or face the consequences. Delvaux, too, agreed to leave Natchitoches peacefully.
The governor, feeling DeBlanc also needed a change of scene, transferred him to the Attakapas District at St. Martinville, where one of his daughters, Constance, married a fine young man named Francois Darby. Yep, they were my great-great-great grandparents. Louis went on to complete a successful tenure as commandant of the Bayou Teche country and was a signer of the original Louisiana state constitution in 1812.
As for me, I thank goodness for the Ghosts because otherwise DeBlanc would have probably remained in Natchitoches and his Constance would never have met Francois Darby!