The 1500-acre Lafreniere Park in Metairie, LA attracts thousands of picnickers, joggers, dog lovers, music lovers, Halloween celebrants, solftball players, soccer players and participants in dozens of other events every year, but probably very few know much about the mysterious and controversial family for whom the park is named.
According to the park’s website, Nicholas Chauvin de la Freniere was a first-generation Canadian from France who moved from Montreal to Louisiana in the 18th Century and was given a 5000-acre land grant (where he built Elmwood Plantation) as a reward for helping colonize New Orleans.
He was the son of Pierre Chauvin and Marthe Autreuil, but took on the mysterious name of “de la Freniere,” which seems to have no special meaning in French and which historians later converted to Lafreniere..
His son, Nicolas de la Freniere, inherited the property and became Louisiana’s attorney general (Procureur General du Roi ) during the French Rule. He also became a leader in a rebellion against Spanish rule after Louis XV, the king of France, gave Louisiana to his cousin, the king of Spain in 1762.
Spain accepted the gift very reluctantly and took months to send a governor over to rule the colony. The first Spanish governor was Don Antonio de Ulloa, a well respected naval officer, scientist and writer who apparently lacked many people skills. He arrived with only 90 Spanish officers, hardly enough to control the sprawling colony and left most of the administration to the retiring French director, Captain Phillipe Aubrey.
The French Creoles, as well as the newly arrived German immigrants and Acadians, objected to the decrees Ulloa handed down through Aubrey. They also feared the kind of totalitarian rule that Spain was exerting in Mexico, Florida and the West Indies. They felt allegiance to France, not knowing the mess Louis XV was making of that country in his last years.
Meantime Ulloa moved down to Balize, an isolated Spanish outpost at the mouth of the Mississippi River, to await his girl friend from Peru, leaving control of Louisiana to Aubrey for seven months. The governor and the rich young widow were married in Balize shortly after her arrival, insulting the Creoles awaiting the governor’s return to New Orleans.
The governor’s seven months absence gave de la Freniere and his growing band of followers time to stir discontent and more dislike of Ulloa. They organized a march on the city and eventually sent the governor fleeing to Cuba. The Louisiana revolution preceded the American revolution by several years. It was taken very seriously by the King of Spain, not so much because of the potential loss of Louisiana, but because it might stir similar movements against Spanish rule in Mexico and Florida.
Aubrey repeatedly warned the revolt leaders that they were risking harsh punishment, but they persisted until it became obvious that neither France nor England would help in the revolt against Spain, and until they heard that the Spanish king was sending 24 warships and 3,000 troops to take control of Louisiana. The force was headed by Don Alexandro O’Reilly, an Irishman who had migrated to Spain and saved the king’s life in a Mexican battle. O’Reilly was sent with instructions to restore order and punish the insurgents.
At that point de la Freniere and the other insurgent leaders reconsidered their revolt. They went down and met O’Reilly on his way up the river, pleading they meant no disrespect to the king, only to Ulloa. O’Reilly greeted them cordially, later invited them to his home, pu them on trial and sentenced de la Freniere and four others to death, by hanging. However, he could not find a white hangman, so he changed his order to have them executed by firing squad.
Freniere, it is reported, met his death bravely, swearing his allegiance to France until the moment he was shot.
He is mentioned briefly on a plaque in Lafreniere Park.
• “The Story of Louisiana,” Copyright by William O. Scroogs, Ph.D., The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Indianapolis and New York, 1924.
• “Ten Flags in the Wind: The Story of Louisiana,” Copyright by Charles L. Dufour, Harper& Row, Publishers, New York, Evanston & London, 1967
• “A Short History of New Orleans,” Copyright by Mel Leavitt, Lexicos, San Francisco, 1972
• Lafreniere Park, Jefferson Parish, LA,, Retrieved December 2012