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(1 + 2)
pamphlet cover



Douglas C. McMurtrie



Two  hundred and fifty copies
reprinted  from the issues  of
The Southern Printer for Jan-
uary and February, 1929.


The Pioneer Printer
of New Orleans

FEW of our cites have a history so eventful and colorful as that of New Orleans, and few can show such a faithful picture of their earliest years reflected so accurately in the record of their pioneer printing. The local printed record begins in 1764. Prior to that, the immense French domain of Louisiana had no printer of its own and, for that matter, it had had little history. For since De la Salle, in 1682, had claimed the whole immense basin of the Mississippi for France, that enormous area remained for many years a wilderness, little known and but partly explored, with the exception of the little colony at the mouth of the Mississippi which had New Orleans as its chief settlement.

But in 1764 the destiny of Louisiana took a dramatic turn. The French King, Louis XV, beset by enemies and with his powers exhausted by unsuccessful wars, had already, in 1763, ceded to England his colonial empire of Canada and also all of his American domain along the Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi. And now, by a letter dated April 21, 1764, addressed to Governor [6] d’Abbadie of Louisiana, he gives notice that he has ceded that province to the King of Spain.

By a most interesting historical coincidence, it was in 1764, probably in the summer, that the first printer received the royal license to set up a printing establishment in New Orleans, and that a broadside containing a lengthy extract from the French King’s letter was probably the first issue of his press.

An official copy of this printed document bears a handwritten certificate to the effect that it was registered in the records of the Superior Council of the Province of Louisiana on September 16, 1764. The letter itself may have reached Governor d’Abbadie’s hands about the end of May. Some time between these two dates, and no doubt shortly before it was officially registered in the colonial records, Denis Braud, the pioneer printer, set the type and printed it. The only copy thus far known of this historic broadside, the cornerstone of the typographic history of New Orleans, is one of the chief treasures in the rich collection of Mr. Edward Alexander Parsons, the eminent book collector of New Orleans.

Louisiana became officially a Spanish dependency in 1764. But it was not until 1766 that there was even nominal evidence of Spanish authority in the province. During the interval of waiting, Louisiana remained under French law and a French governor, and for this period we have record of three pieces of printing from the press of Denis Braud. One of these, a catechism by a French Capuchin friar, is known by title only, as our sole information [7] about it is derived from a printed decree of the Superior Council which orders the banishment of the Capuchin friar and the confiscation and suppression of his book.

The first representative of the crown of Spain to appear in Louisiana was Antonio de Ulloa, who arrived in March, 1776. He was not well received. In fact, so unpopular was the thought of becoming Spanish subjects that the people of the province seemingly misinterpreted deliberately his every act, and finally, in an act of stupid defiance, amazing in a colony so weak against a European power so powerful as was Spain at that time, they decreed his banishment and saw to it that he left he country.

The decree of the Superior Council which ordered the banishment of Ulloa is among the documents known to have been printed by Denis Braud, although no copy of it has yet come to light. In its high-handed action, the Council evidently depended on the support of the French King, to whom there was later addressed a lengthy memorial in which the people, through their official spokesmen, protested against the conduct of Ulloa and begged to be taken back under the French crown. This Mémoire, of twenty-one printed pages, is the outstanding achievement of Braud’s press, typographically and otherwise.

These stirring events agitated the little town of New Orleans in October, 1768. The King of France took no notice whatever of the appeal of his former subjects, and the King of Spain for a time was also ominously [8] silent. There was an attempt to set up a republic in Louisiana, and Braud was the printer of a manifesto against this vain undertaking. Louisiana’s holdover French governor maintained French law. Aside from the Mémoire contre les Republicains, already mentioned, the only known product of Braud’s press during the second period of waiting was a decree of the Superior Council in a civil suit at law, printed in the first half of 1769.

If the French of Louisiana still retained any hopes of remaining French subjects indefinitely, they were thoroughly disillusioned on the coming, in July, 1769, of Alejandro O’Reilly as Spanish governor. Very different from Ulloa, who was scholarly and retiring, this vigorous and energetic young man, of Irish birth, immediately made his presence felt. The leaders of the anti-Spanish revolt of 1768 were arrested, tried, and either imprisoned or executed. Among those arrested was Denis Braud, the printer, charged with having printed the seditious Mémoire to the French king.

Braud pleaded in his defence that as official printer to the government it was his bounden duty to print any document sent to him with the authorization of the King’s Commissary. An investigation was held, at which Foucault, the Commissary, admitted that the document had been sent to the printer with his authorization for the printing. And the printed copy of the Mémoire which is preserved in Spain, in the Archives of the Indies at Seville, bears a lengthy handwritten certificate to all these facts, duly signed by the secretary of the Superior [9] Council of Louisiana. This printed document, with its certificate, may have been the actual evidence at Braud’s trial, by virtue of which the printer obtained his freedom.

Only one other copy of this printed Mémoire is known to exist — that which is in the National Library at Paris. The Paris copy may well be the one which the people of Louisiana so hopefully forwarded, by a deputation of two worthy citizens, to their inattentive and unresponsive King. The sentence of O’Reilly against the conspirators directed that all copies of the offending Mémoire and of all other documents pertaining to the revolt be collected and burned by the public hangman. It is very doubtful if any copies, except the two mentioned, escaped this fiery fate.

Braud, as a Spanish subject, continued to print, but for a short time only. And never again did he put his name on any of his work. He was not out of favor with the Spanish authorities, however, for in December, 1769, only two months after his trial, his name is found (in its Spanish form, Dyonisio) on the list of the regidores of the Spanish Cabildo, which O’Reilly had promptly substituted for the French Superior Council. He printed a number of O’Reilly’s orders and decrees, some of them even before his trial for sedition. Altogether, twelve of these issues of his press under Spanish rule are known from existing copies. Although Braud’s name appears on none of the twelve, their typography stamps them unmistakably as his work.

The last known work of Denis Braud is dated February 18,  1770 — seven months after the arrival of O’Reilly. [10] After that date, nothing is known of Braud or of his press. Whether he died about that time, or whether O’Reilly withdrew his patronage of the press, all printing at New Orleans, so far as is now known, ceased in February, 1770, and not until 1777 is there any sign of a renewal of the activities of the press.

Denis Braud, the pioneer, was a good printer. His pages show distinction and dignity. They are well imposed and well printed in good type. Though somewhat limited in his equipment for typographic ornament, Braud made effective use of what he had. He very evidently took pride in his craftsmanship. He was more than a printer; his record shows his active part in public affairs. Altogether, he was a worthy forerunner, to whom the printing fraternity in New Orleans can look back with pride in the local beginnings of their craft.

After Denis Braud laid down his stick, in 1779, the press of New Orleans was ominously silent for seven years. Alejandro O’Reilly, as governor in the name of the King of Spain, had known how to make good use of the press as a medium of official publicity. But his successor, Luis de Unzaga, held quite different views about printing. At least we may so infer from the fact that his administration of the affairs of Louisiana, from 1771 to 1777, corresponds exactly with the period of typographic silence. It may be that Braud died about 1770 and that there was no other printer in the province, while Unzaga so little esteemed the utility of the press that he made no effort to bring a printer to Louisiana for his service.

But early in 1777 came Bernardo de Galvez to succeed [11] Unzaga. Young, brilliant, and apparently immediately popular, Galvez at once turned to the printing press as an aid in his administration. His official printer, the second known exponent of the craft in New Orleans, was Antoine Boudousquié, a Frenchman, as was his predecessor, Denis Braud.

The antecedents of Boudousquié are still unknown. Whence he came, where he learned his craft, and in what other places he followed it before he printed at New Orleans, are interesting facts that remain to be discovered. If he printed at New Orleans before 1777, no trace of his work has survived so far as is now known. He seems to have come into possession of at least part of Braud’s equipment, however, as is shown by his use of the same typographic ornaments that Braud had used in printing two of O’Reilly’s edicts. But any further connection between the two printers is a matter of pure speculation.

My recently completed bibliography of early New Orleans printing lists thirteen Boudousquié imprints. Twelve of these, printed in 1777 to 1780, are unquestionably his. The last, dated 1782, bears no printer’s name, but is ascribed to Boudousquié because there is no evidence of any other printer active in New Orleans at the time. Two are as yet known only from authentic statements of historians to the effect that they were printed; no copies have recently come to light. Most of them carry the name of Antoine Boudousquié with the proud title “Imprimeur du Roi, et du Cabildo,” testifying to the official character of this printing.


Specimens of Boudousquié’s printing are as rare as are specimens of Braud’s. Mr. Edward A. Parsons, of New Orleans, is the fortunate possessor of five, of which one is duplicated in the T. P. Thompson collection, also of New Orleans. The Bancroft Library of the University of California, at Berkeley, and the New York Public Library each has two, and there is one in the John Carter Brown Library, at Providence. Of one, the present ownership is not known. It is quite possible that continued search will discover other copies of these rare specimens, and even bring to light some Boudousquié imprints that are not at present known.

Boudousquié’s work seems to have been confined mainly to official printing for Governor Galvez. Exceptions are three curious and interesting little outpourings in verse of tributes to the young governor’s virtues, from admiring or perhaps not wholly disinterested citizens. The author of one of these is reported to have been Julien Poydras, with the statement that the poem was printed at the King’s expense. It celebrated the exploits of Galvez against the incursion of a British force at Baton Rouge, in 1779.

He was governor till 1785, but there is no evidence of printing under his regime after 1782.

With the passing of Galvez from the governorship of Louisiana to higher honors, we hear no more of Boudousquié, his printer. Once more there falls the veil of Spanish indifference, if not opposition, to the press, this time for a period of twelve years, for which not a single piece of printed matter is known. When the curtain rises [13] again, in 1794, we are able to record an outstanding landmark in the progress of printing at New Orleans — the appearance of the first newspaper to be published in the Gulf States region.

The newspaper was the Moniteur de la Louisiane, the French news organ of a population still predominantly French in language and in social institutions, although politically under Spanish rule. It started as a weekly and appeared consecutively, with one possible break, for twenty years — a long life for a pioneer newspaper.

The founder of the first newspaper in New Orleans was Louis Duclot, and the Spanish governor under whose permission it was published was the Baron de Carondelet. The governor not only sanctioned the publication of the Moniteur, but made active use of it. His outstanding enterprise as governor was the construction of a canal to connect New Orleans with the Gulf. And frequently during 1795 he published in the columns of the Moniteur his appeals to the citizens for continued contributions of slave labor for the prosecution of the work on the canal. And as early as November, 1797, the paper became the official medium for the publication of Government acts. It thus established itself firmly at the start, or almost at the start, of its relatively long career — firmly enough, at any rate, to live through the third period of typographic inaction which marks the Spanish regime in Louisiana.

For from January, 1798, until March, 1803 — a little over five years — no New Orleans printing is known except for the Moniteur, and for one title in 1799. The continued publication of the Moniteur is attested by a single [14] copy of the issue of September 24, 1800, in the collection of Mr. E. A. Parsons, by scattered issues of 1802 and 1803 in the Louisiana State Museum, and by references of contemporary writers to its publication in other years. At present, not a single copy is known to exist of the years 1797, 1798, 1799 and 1801 — a gap in the typographic record which remains for future discoveries to fill.

If no printing was done during this five-year period, it was not because of lack of a printer in the town. It is quite possible that there was no printer in New Orleans between Braud and Boudousquié, and Boudousquié and Duclot. But Duclot or his successor was at work printing the Moniteur all the time from 1798 to 1803, and if there was no other printing than the weekly paper, it must have been because of some other obstacle to printing than the lack of a press. In this connection it is interesting to have the testimony of a gentleman who visited New Orleans in 1797-1798. He recorded in his diary, which was published in 1803, the following observations:

“There is but one printing press in this town, and that is for the use of the Government only. The Spaniards are too jealous to suffer the inhabitants to have the free exercise of it; and however strange it may appear, it is nevertheless true, that you cannot stick a paper against the wall (either to recover anything lost, or to advertise anything for sale) unless it has the signature of the Governor or his Secretary attached to it.”

Aside from the great gaps in the printing record under various Spanish governors, it is significant of the Spanish official attitude toward printing, and also of the [15] lack of Spanish population in the colony, that not a sign of a newspaper in Spanish is found until 1808, after the United States had been in possession of Louisiana for nearly five years. And even that paper, named El Misisipi, was printed part in Spanish and part in English, and was published by an American firm. Throughout, the typographic record tells us that New Orleans persisted in remaining French — until it had the opportunity to become American.

When the record of printing begins again, in March, 1803, great changes were in the air. Europe had been shaken to its foundations by the French Revolution, and its ancient social, political, and financial institutions were crumbling before the power of Napoleon. In the Napoleonic wars, foreign dependencies became liabilities, counters on the tables of peace conferences. Spain yielded Louisiana to France in March, 1801, but lest England seize the prize the cession was kept secret for two years. Finally, in a printed decree of Pierre Clement Laussat, the French Colonial Prefect, dated at New Orleans, March 27, 1803, the citizens were informed, “in the name of the French Republic,” that they were once more French subjects.

In May, the Spanish Governor, Juan Manuel Salcedo, proclaimed in a printed broadside, and in Spanish, the appointment of commissioners by the Spanish crown to make formal transfer of the province to France. After a six months’ lull in official printing, Laussat in November and December issued a series of broadsides of an official character, the very first of which, on November [16] 30, 1803, also gave notice of the approaching transfer of the French domain of Louisiana to the United States. The heralded resumption of French sovereignty was to be only a short interregnum.

Only the last of Laussat’s broadsides, so far as specimens of them are known, bears a printer’s name. The one which is dated December 17, 1803, has the imprint of Beleurgey & Renard, “Imprimeurs de la Municipalité.” Just three days before, on December 14, this firm began publication of a French and English semi-weekly, Le Telegraphe et le Commercial Advertiser which missed by one day the fame of being the second newspaper in New Orleans. It is a reasonable assumption that Beleurgey & Renard were the official printers of the French commission under Laussat.

On December 13, one day before Le Telegraphe, appeared the first issue of The Union, or New Orleans Advertiser and Price Current, from the press of J. Lyon & Co., the first newspaper and the first printers of strictly United States origin. This advance guard of printers and newspapers from the United States in the emerging Territory of Louisiana was a weekly publication.

Three days after Laussat’s last edict appeared the first of the new Governor, William C. C. Claiborne, already governor of the Mississippi Territory, and now proclaiming himself as “exercising the powers of Governor General and Intendant of the Province of Louisiana.” In broadside form, printed in French, Spanish and English in parallel columns, it officially proclaimed the acquisition of Louisiana by the United States. This historical [17] document was from the press of J. P. L. S. Fontaine, who at some time prior to 1803 had succeeded Duclot as publisher of the Moniteur de la Louisiane. It was printed on the verso of a current issue of the Moniteur.

From this time on, printing in New Orleans ceased to be a purely governmental function. We still find official printers, styled “Printers to the Territory,” “Imprimeurs de la Ville et Paroisse d’Orleans,” “Printers of the Laws of the United States,” and the like; but the imprints of the same printers also appear on an increasingly large number of publications issued under private auspices. Printing in New Orleans had outgrown its infancy and came into maturity with the first governor from the United States.


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