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Tardiveau, Barthelemi (-1801) | Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Name: Tardiveau, Barthelemi (-1801)

Historical Note:

Barthelemi Tardiveau was born circa 1750, most likely in the city of Nantes, France. His family was of Breton origin. He emigrated to America in the summer of 1777 during the American Revolution. Over the course of his journey, he was twice captured by the British and was imprisoned for a time at Halifax, Nova Scotia. By 1778 he had arrived in Philadelphia, where he taught the French language. By 1781 he had moved to Kentucky, where he supplied the Virginia regiments with flour in exchange for tracts of land. There he formed a business with his brother Pierre and another Frenchman, Jean A. Honoré, which traded in fur, flour, and land. Tardiveau's extensive business travels took him as far as New Orleans, and his knowledge of the French, English, and Spanish languages assisted him in his trade relations with settlers of various origins.

Tardiveau's facility with languages also helped him in his political career, as many of the important issues in the Western states revolved around conflicts between French and English settlers. In August of 1787 he served as French interpreter for Brigadier General Josiah Harmar, then the acting governmental authority in the region, accompanying him on a tour of the French settlements of Kaskaskia and Cahokia, Illinois, and Vincennes, Indiana. Having impressed the French and American settlers he met during the trip, they appointed him to represent their interests before the United States Congress. Tardiveau returned East to petition Congress to grant lands and confirm the existing property titles of the French settlers, thus cementing their status as landholding U.S. citizens. Despite strong opposition and difficult negotiations, Tardiveau was ultimately successful in his mission. In addition, during his journey East he drafted a document entitled Mémoire sur les Rapports Commerciaux de l'Amérique Septentrionale avec l'Europe, also known as the Memorial on the Mississippi. This document, a proposal for free trade on the Mississippi River, was viewed favorably by both the French and Spanish governments.

Following the completion of his mission, Tardiveau returned to Kaskaskia with the Governor of the Northwest Territory Arthur St. Clair, arriving on March 5, 1790. The following month, Governor St. Clair appointed Tardiveau judge of probate for St. Clair County and lieutenant colonel of the first regiment of militia. In 1792, Tardiveau proposed to Baron de Carondelet, Spanish governor of New Orleans, to supply all the posts of Spanish Louisiana with flour and biscuit. He also offered to recruit settlers from Europe to populate the Spanish-held lands on the western bank of the Mississippi River. Tardiveau signed a commercial contract with the Spanish Government on April 16, 1793, and on April 20, 1793, Tardiveau and Pierre Audrain, a French merchant of Pittsburgh, drew up articles of agreement for the firm of Tardiveau Audrain and Company, with Pierre Menard being one of the principals. On December 15, 1793, at New Madrid, Missouri, Tardiveau took the oath of allegiance to Spain, allowing him to trade freely with New Orleans, which was under Spanish rule.

Rumors of a French attack into New Spain, though it never actually took place, caused the Spanish to concentrate on military fortifications and thus hampered Tardiveau's plans for trade in the region. His attempt to establish a settlement of French immigrants, named New Bourbon, failed, as did the company he established with Audrain. In 1797, Tardiveau declared bankruptcy, and his financial affairs never recovered. He lived the rest of his life in New Mardrid, where the Spanish census of 1797 stated his property as "two slaves, six cows, and an annual production of one hundred bushels of corn." Tardiveau died at New Mardrid, February 22, 1801.

Sources: Rice, H. C. (1938). Barthélemi Tardiveau: A French Trader in the West. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press.

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