New Orleans Public Library
|Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans|
Louis Philippe Joseph de Roffignac (1766-1846)
It was indeed a proud day for New Orleans when Louis Philippe de Roffignac assumed the office of Mayor. He was considered a successful Mayor.|
Count Louis Philippe Joseph de Roffignac was born at Antouleme, France, in 1766. His Godfather and Godmother were the Duke and Duchess of Orleans, whose son afterwards ascended the throne of France as Louis Philippe. Roffignac was forced to flee from his native France to escape the guillotine and came to Louisiana in 1800, when Spain ceded this province to France which later was sold to the United States.
Roffignac held various positions of honor and became deeply attached to the country. For ten years consecutively he was a member of the Legislature. In 1822 he became a Colonel in the Louisiana Legion, next a director of the State Bank of Louisiana and finally was elected Mayor of New Orleans serving an uninterrupted term of eight years. His administration was successful in every respect. He advocated the watering and paving of the streets; he restored the finances of the city; he made a sweeping reduction in salaries, including his own, and devoted much of his attention to the sanitary conditions of the city. In 1822 the City Council recognized the necessity of paving the streets and it was determined that the principal thoroughfare, called Rue Royal or Royal Street, should be paved. In 1821, the city was properly lighted for the first time. Posts were erected at the diagonal corners of the principal streets, and twelve large lamps, with reflectors, were swung from them on ropes; this was regarded as a notable example of progress in a community in which until then everybody on the streets after nightfall was compelled to carry his own lantern. The custom of carrying lanterns, however, was continued until 1837.
The Mayor advocated extending the levees on the river front and when the project was opposed by the Council, on the grounds that funds were lacking with which to pay for the work, the former mayor, Nicholas Girod, a patriotic citizen offered to do this at his own expense. The City Fathers, shamed at this evidence of public spirit, reluctantly authorized the expenditure. The Bank of Louisiana was incorporated April 7, 1824, with a capital of four million dollars. This institution outgrew its first home and a colonnaded structure on Royal and Conti Streets was built. At that time the principal school was the College of Orleans which was opened in 1811. A regrettable incident during his administration was the destruction by fire of the State House, located at the lower corner of Toulouse and Front, or Levee Street, which had been erected in 1761 under French Colonial Regime. It was never ascertained if the fire was accidental or premeditated. The fire consumed everything in its path including the mansion of Baron de Montalba. Colonel Zachary Taylor distinguished himself in this fire. Mud streets were paved with cobblestones. Samuel J. Peters, a contractor, was engaged and material used consisting of cobblestones, sand and gravel was purchased at a cost of $300,000. This work was begun in 1822.
At that time the public institutions of the city consisted of a collage which was well endowed; five banks, a boarding school for young ladies of wealth, conducted by nuns; the Americans had an elegant Episcopal Church and were building a Presbytarian House of Worship. There were two Catholic Churches and two theatres.
During Roffignac’s regime, Marquis de Lafayette visited the United States to renew old friendships, visit the scenes of his battles and look after some property. On April 10, 1825 he visited New Orleans. Roffignac and Lafayette were old friends. At the time of his visit the Polar Star Lodge showed him great honors, he being a Mason. He arrived at the battlefield of Chalmette amid the thunder of artillery and the shouts of the assembled multitude. Then he was conducted in triumph to the Cabildo or City Hall which had been renamed Hotel de Ville, where he was received by the Mayor and the Municipal Council. They welcomed him as one who had done so much for America during the revolutionary war, but also because he was so distinguished a guest from their own native France. Lafayette spent five days in New Orleans.
The Cabildo was chosen as the most befitting building for the occupancy of this great personage. The State voted the handsome sum of $15,000 to give its guest a reception which would be worthy of this patriotic warrior whom the American people delighted in honoring as the man greatly responsible for the indissoluble friendship which binds these two great nations.
The Spanish words “Cabildo” or Government Council, originally was not the name of the building, but was the term applied to the body of men which ruled Louisiana when this province belonged to Spain, under Carlos the Third. The official transfer of Louisiana to the United States was made in the old building known as the Cabildo which was erected in 1795. Now that history has made it its abode, may the name “Cabildo” never be obliterated, but forever be a symbol of Louisiana’s lore, famous is the past and which will be of great interest to posterity. Gilberl Guillemard, a French architect who came to New Orleans from Natchez, is credited with designing both the Cabildo and the Presbytere.
The city had outgrown the Vieux Carre, its population was estimated at about 40,000 and though many Americans had come here since the transfer from France, most of the residents were descendants of old French families. To the period of Macarty’s and Roffignac’s administrations belongs the development of the “American Quarter” and prosperity began towards the close of Roffignac’s term.
In 1826 General Jackson, the hero of New Orleans, visited the city and was given a brilliant reception in the “Place d’Arms,” now the Jackson Square, the leading Democrats of the city vying with each other in the attentions to the General, the future President of the United States.
Roffignac resigned as Mayor of New Orleans as he was determined to pay a visit to his native land. The remainder of his life was spent in France in the elegant, literary and social pursuits of which he was extremely fond. The famous “Roffignac” cocktail was named after him. In New Orleans, he lived on Chartres Street between Dumaine and St. Philippe. He was happily married to a daughter of Dr. Montegut. His death occurred at his chateau located near Perigueux, in 1846. While being seated in an invalid chair examining a loaded pistol, he was suddenly overwhelmed by an apoplectic stroke and fell to the floor. In the fall the pistol exploded and the charge lodged in his head causing instant death. This tragedy happened just at a time when he was preparing to return to New Orleans, the city which he loved. He was over eighty years of age.
|Members of the Roffignac Administration|
May 14, 1820-May 10, 1828
Back to the Introduction