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Jean Augustine Penières (1762-1821) rose to power in France as a member of the Legislative Assembly when it was dominated by the Jacobins. Although he began his career as an officer in the body guard of Louis XVI, he came to oppose the king, and voted for his execution in January of 1793. After the restoration of Louis XVII in 1815, Penières became an exile, moved to Mobile, Alabama, where he opened a local academy, and traveled the American South.
This letter, penned at Ft.
Picolata on the St. Johns River, depicts Florida as a wild and dangerous
frontier on the eve of its cession to the United States. Written
in French, it was apparently addressed to William Lee, former U.S. consul
to Bordeaux, and an associate of many exiles loyal to Napoleon.
|Penières letter, Ft. Picolata, July 2, 1821|
Fort Picolata 2nd July, 1821
My very Dear Friend
I have looked in vain for a long time for a way to send you news of myself and to ask you how you and yours are faring and how your unfortunate affairs are going.
Here I am, camped at [19?] mile from the mouth of the St. Johns with the cursed Negro fever that has broken my arms, legs and head, and it is with shaky hand that I address to you all my sincere wishes for your happiness and that of your respectable family.
I am going to try to gather all my strength to give account of my painful trip to the Minister of War, since you must have the obliging Kindness to speak for me. His excellency will not find it bad that I beg you to hand over my dispatch to him.
I have had the satisfaction to write to you from St. Mary in Georgia as to our perfect friend Mr. Pelters but I have not had that of receiving an answer. I made a trip to St. Augustine, I have sent there many times to get supplies and medicines for my fever that the "quinquina" [quinine] has fortunately weakened. I have sent to ask if there were any packages addressed to me. I have not yet received anything. I have only learned that the Governor General has sent a Colonel to take possession of St. Augustine and that a few minor difficulties were raised, relative to the artillery.
I have written to Governor Jackson before my departure for upper St. Johns (3 May) and I am going to give account of my observations about the country--my letter to the Minister of War will be an extract or copy.
I have suffered much. I have had some silverware stolen,--I have been threatened with a shotgun and I saw the moment when I had to fight in earnest.
The shores of this beautiful bay (for the St. Johns is not a river) are very badly inhabited. Fugitives, deserters, smugglers govern themselves, lazy, vagabonds, that is what makes almost the entire population of both shores. The Indians are less kind, less intelligent and much more beggars than everywhere else. They are in great numbers; the tribes do not live in good harmony among themselves and they do not like the Americans.
I have had a little "loghouse" built to be close to the Indian population; I have spoken so far with only three chiefs. I have sent for the others; I have waited for them and I have been waiting here for more than fifteen days.
I know of no news of Europe anymore. It is said that the Neapolitans have behaved themselves very badly. It seems to me that the newspapers must be very strange, but St. Augustine does not yet have any communication with the rest of the World.
How will I go about receiving my fees? Where and to Whom will I be able to address my accounts,--I am going to find myself at a loss . . . for my trip to the Great lake with three men and a little "sloop" was terribly expensive to me (more than [200?] dollars)--but I have done great service for many tribes of Seminoles who were going to sell their slaves and their "domesticated animals" for nothing or almost nothing . . . Some speculators got the so-called Indians to present a petition to the President of the United States. I do not know the content of that petition, but I know that the one who drafted it did buy 57 Negroes from the Indians and that he knew that I was going to them to say that the American government wanted to treat them with kindness and assure their properties.
The Indians of the "Florides" have some customs quite barbarous, or quite ridiculous,--the history of their morals and practices will be very curious. Of all the interpreters I have been forced to call upon, the best is a Spanish woman who was scalped by the Indians. She has spent a great part of her life among them and has observed as an intelligent woman. I have not yet met a white person who knows how to speak Indian. They are at present doing their purification (our Catholic Easter).
With remedies I have chased the fever but it has left me in a state of extreme weakness. I drag the pen which weighs as a log,--this keeps me from transcribing the letter and the memo that I was begging you to hand over to the Minister of War. He will forgive the delay, and you will receive my package at the first opportunity. Please be so kind to bring me to the memory of Monsieur the President and to present him my profound respect. I will offer it soon in person to Monsieur the Minister.
Sincere regards to our very good friend Mr. John Pelters, to friend Mitchel and respects to the kind and interesting family of the good guardian angel whom I will love all my life and with all my heart.
P.S. My package with another letter will follow closely upon this long scribble.
re, Joseph Gibbs,
breeder and dealer, who supplied the Eales
Text of letter, W.J. Morris, Archer, Fla., to James Eales, Barry, Ill., on deaths in family:
Dec 31 1,86
Mr. Eales Sir
Your brother Robt. was burried yesterday after a long illness. I am his nearest white neighbor, a half a mile east. I helped to burry your Father and burried your Sister alone and had all to do in burrying Robt. except some help from two colored men. I did all for Robt. that I could do seeing after him & taking things to him to eat. Henry Allen died Sunday last then we got Rodgers to stay with Robt. Last Monday Robt. sold the team harness & wagon for 50 dollars got ten dollars cash simanote [?] a note due first of March next of forty dollars. Robt gave Rodgers the ten dollars for his services & had 70 cts in change left & a due bill of forty five cents. The due bill & 70 cts I paid to the doctor. There is 35 cts still due the doctor, a store bill & the funeral expenses which will be small. Robt. had sold a good many of his pets and has now got one dog two prairie gophers nine rabbits nine China pigs thirty one guinea pigs and two cages of white rats. I have Rodgers employed to feed them until we can hear from you. We are paying him 40 cts per day. I made a statement to the proper officers and they told me to go ahead & buy things and burry Robt, collect the note, pay the expences and send you what was left. Now we want you to write at once and let us know what you want done and who you want to do it. If you want me to be your agent give us your directions about the animals. Every body says kill them but we cant without your orders. Then the farm. The colored men Robt. was [was] renting to seems as good as any chance. Let us know at once for the fences need a good deal of repairs and it is time to commense farming. Do you want to till, What is your prices and so on.
Hoping to hear from you at once, I remain
P.S. The tax on the farm has not been paid and is now due but will be no per cent added untill the first of May 1887.
Dock Rodgers, Archer, Fla., to James Eales, Barry, Ill., 1/13/1887
Jan 13 1,87
Mr. James Eales
My dear friend, I recived your kind & welcome letter & was glad to hear from you. I was sorry to heare of your acident. James, I sent you all the papers that Robard give me and all that I could find. I sent them by register. I had to pay for them here. The animales will cost $20 dollars in advance here before they can go by express. I dont know what to do about them. They are costen 40 cents per day here to attend to them.
The horses & wagon was sold for $50 dollars. 10 dollars was paid Charli [?] The balance W.L. Jackson claimed it. The bed close the docktors had them burnt up on the account of they sickness being ketchen.
James, the place is in a bad condition. The grove is looking verry sorry. The cattle is took the feild on account the fence being no lonnt.
James, please let [me] heare from you as soon as you get this letter because I has a job of work of from home I has to finish up & I can't leave till I heare from you again what to do about sending you the animales. The noat [note] that Robard had that was due on the horses. A white man has got it. His name Morrist. He seen to Robard being bearried & he is the man that is holding the noat. The bearriene of Robard did not cost morriest more than 20 dollars. He is got the dog, he wants her.
James I would like for you to come and see about this buissness. W.L. Jackson say that your farther owed him 17 dollars & promist to send it by register & when he recive the letter there was only 3.00 dollars in it. You must look over the papers that I sent you and you will find the register receit that your farther recive from W.L. Jackson. He did not say enything about it until after the death of Robard. You will find in the count book where Robard only owed him five dollars and eightty-eightt cents. Here is Jackson account he give me.
James, the way I & Robard had range about the place I was to got there on the place and work for five years & the end of five years I was to pay him 2 hundred dollars for the place & I was to keep up the taxes on the place. He has not paid his last years taxes on the place. He tried to sell for one hundred & fifty dollars cash. He could not sell. Land is gone down to nothing. All of the northerns are leaving here. Lands are cheap.
Your farther & brother & sister is all bearried in W.L. Jackson simitearry west of Archer. Lewis E. March bought the horses and wagon. Robert owes me for taken care of the animals. I promised to tend to them for 40 cents a day. James, that will be all right with I and you. I will close yours truly,
Friend Dock Rodgers
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