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Le Meschacébé

St. John the Baptist Parish

Le Meschacébé was founded in Lucy, Louisiana, in 1853 by Hippolyte-Prudent de Bautte (1821-1861). A native of Normandy and the son of a former officer of the Imperial Guard, de Bautte wrote for the Parisian newspaper Le Corsaire in the mid 1840s and was imprisoned for publishing incendiary pro-republican articles. After his release, he emigrated to Louisiana. By January 1848, de Bautte was writing for La Revue Louisianaise under the pseudonym Prudent d’Artlys, a name he retained as editor of Le Meschacébé. After working as a journalist in New Orleans, he moved in 1853 to Lucy, a small town along the Mississippi River in St. John the Baptist Parish. In the 19th century, this area was known for its large sugar plantations.

Taking its name from an early French spelling of the word “Mississippi,” Le Meschacébé was originally devoted almost entirely to legal notices, announcements of public sales, and ads for local businesses. Minutes of the parish police jury (similar to county councils in other states) were published in French and English. The first page carried serialized novels, often pirated from French journals but occasionally written by Louisiana authors. Some of the stories were set in Louisiana and dealt with subjects of contemporary importance such as race relations and immigration (see, for example, “Une fille de couleur” and “La femme d’un Know-Nothing”). Although the paper reported on topics of international significance such as the Crimean War and William Walker’s filibustering expeditions to Central America, news items were chiefly local.

De Bautte sold Le Meschacébé in 1857 to fellow political exiles Ernest Le Gendre (ca. 1828-1862) and Eugene Dumez (1824-1878). Le Gendre left the paper the following year to publish the Natchitoches Union. Dumez, once a classmate of Victor Hugo, was exiled from France in 1851 for his role as editor of the Courrier Républicain de la Côte d'Or. After short stays in Belgium, Kansas, and Missouri, he settled in Louisiana.

During the first year of the Civil War, Dumez published articles on the raising of Confederate troops, correspondence from local camps, and reports of battles, as well as selections from La vérité sur l’esclavage et l’union, an anti-abolitionist work by Emile Lefranc of New Orleans. Le Meschacébé’s fiction section at this time carried war-related works. After the fall of New Orleans and the occupation of St. John the Baptist Parish by Federal troops, the paper published military proclamations by Union commanders. A shortage of newsprint compelled Dumez to suspend publication in 1862, shortly after printing accounts of the bombardment of Donaldsonville and the Battle of Baton Rouge. He spent the remainder of the war in France attending to personal matters while also trying to secure French recognition of the Confederacy.

Publication resumed in 1865. Over the next several years, Dumez, who had gone into partnership with his brother-in-law Thomas Bellow (1841-1901), turned out especially long and pensive editorials, many of which compared American society and politics with that of France. Although normally Democratic, in the presidential election of 1872, Le Meschacébé endorsed Horace Greeley of the Liberal Republican Party, which opposed the reelection of Ulysses S. Grant and sought to end the Radical Republican agenda.

Le Meschacébé’s printing office moved many times during the paper’s history and was often located on plantations. English content appeared in 1871, but the paper quickly returned to being mostly French. Following Dumez’ death from yellow fever in 1878, it was purchased by Charles Lasseigne (ca. 1842-1913), who managed it until 1908, when he sold it to Eugene Dumez, Jr. (1874-1955). John Davis Reynaud (1886-1974) became owner in 1914, whereupon French articles virtually disappeared. Le Meschacébé went out of publication in 1942.