Henri Peyroux de Ia Coudrenière was born in France around 1743, the son of Marguerite-Suzanne Peyroux; the identity of his father is unknown. Peyroux married a Portuguese woman née Rodriguez, but they apparently had no children.
Peyroux and his wife immigrated to Louisiana in 1783, where he at first occupied himself recruiting Acadians to settle in Louisiana. Although born a Frenchman, he, like many other cosmopolitan persons in colonial Louisiana, had no qualms about serving the Spanish Bourbon colonial regime. Peyroux also participated in Robert Cavelier de La Salle’s prophetic vision that Louisiana possessed a boundless future, if only European colonizers would make the necessary commitment to recruiting settlers and developing the region.
In 1787 Governor-General Esteban Miró appointed Peyroux to succeed Antonio de Oro as commandant of Ste. Genevieve in Upper Louisiana. Peyroux moved to town with his wife, his mother, and his brother Pierre. He was manifestly energetic and conscientious in performing the duties of this post, but almost immediately he became engaged in a power struggle with François Vallé II and Jean-Baptiste Vallé, who were the leaders of the wealthiest and most influential family in Ste. Genevieve. This struggle was a classic confrontation between a local power elite and an outside official imposed from above.
Peyroux and the Vallés disagreed about virtually everything, and their disputes were exacerbated by personal enmity. During the early 1790s it became evident that the old town of Ste. Genevieve, located immediately on the banks of the Mississippi, was doomed and that a new locus of settlement would have to be established. Peyroux advocated resettlement at the Saline, and the Vallés supported a move to Petites Cotes. The Vallés, who understood the sentiments of their community better, triumphed in this dispute, and Petites Cotes became the new town of Ste. Genevieve, whose historic center is now a tourist attraction.
In 1792–1793 Peyroux undertook a prolonged trip to Philadelphia via New Orleans. His purpose in Philadelphia, then the American capital, was to find “honorable German, Flemish, Dutch, or French families” and induce them to immigrate to Spanish Louisiana. Peyroux met Thomas Jefferson, the US secretary of state, while he was in Philadelphia, but his plans for recruiting settlers came to naught. His lengthy visit to the US seat of government, however, created problems for him in Louisiana, for it was rumored that he had imbibed republican revolutionary political ideas that were abhorrent to the Spanish monarchy.
In 1794, when officials in Spanish Louisiana feared an attack by American or French republican revolutionaries, Peyroux was accused of disloyalty to the Spanish regime. Likely the Vallés, with support from their friend Zenon Trudeau, the lieutenant governor in St. Louis, were behind these accusations. Peyroux was dispatched for investigation to New Orleans, where he was eventually cleared of all charges.
In 1798 Manuel Gayoso de Lemos appointed Peyroux commandant at the recently founded settlement of New Madrid, where he served until 1803. In that year the lieutenant governor of Upper Louisiana, Charles de Hault Delassus, dismissed him for insubordination, which charge, given Delassus’s friendship with the Vallé family, may have been trumped up. Peyroux was quintessentially a European colonizer, and rather than face a future in American Louisiana he returned to France, where he was swallowed up in the Napoleonic imperium. The date and place of his death are unknown.
Brasseaux, Carl A. The Founding of New Acadia: The Beginnings of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765–1803. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.
Ekberg, Carl J. Colonial Ste. Genevieve: An Adventure on the Mississippi Frontier. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2014.
Houck, Louis. A History of Missouri, from the Earliest Explorations and Settlements until the Admission of the State into the Union. 3 vols. Chicago: R. R. Donnelley and Sons, 1908.
Nasatir, Abraham Phineas. Spanish War Vessels on the Mississippi, 1792–1796. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968.
Winzerling, Oscar William. Acadian Odyssey. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1955.
Published July 14, 2020
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