New Orleans Public Library
|Administrations of the Mayors of New Orleans|
James Mather (d. 1821)
James Mather, English by birth, was born on Bochin Lane, London, and emigrated to British West Florida in 1777 on the ship “ROYAL OAK,” the charter of which is in the Cabildo.|
As early as 1780 we hear of him as a merchant in good circumstances in New Orleans, a member of the firm of Mather & Strother, which had a contract with the Spanish Government to operate two vessels out of this port with a view to import from London articles required in the trade with the Indians of West Florida. As the company was unable to finance the entire project, Willliam Panton was given the trade at Pensacola in 1785. Three years later, Panton succeeded with the company at Mobile as well, thus securing the bulk of the Choctaw and part of the Chicasaw trade.
Upon the acquisition of the province of Louisiana by the United States he identified himself entirely with the American cause.
When in 1804, de Bore, Bellechasse, Jones and Clark refused to serve under the Territorial Council, he was selected by Governor Claiborne along with Dorciere, Flood and Pollock to take their places. On March 9, 1807, he was appointed the fourth Mayor of New Orleans and abandoned this position on May 16th, 1812. It is not clear why he did so, but apparently his age and infirmities made it impossible for him to attend to his official duties. He was automatically replaced by Charles Trudeau, the recorder of the council by virtue of his office, who served until October 8, 1812, when he relinquished his post to his successor Nicholas Girod.
The principal events during Mather’s administration were the arrival of the West Indian Immigrants and the opening of the College of New Orleans in 1811, through a government appropriation of $15,000.
Scarcely had Mayor Mather taken seat of office, when he was informed that Aaron Burr’s friends in the city were conspiring with the Spaniards to deliver New Orleans into their hands, which plan was frustrated by the United States Troops.
In November 1809, a Negro insurrection not far from New Orleans caused much use of the newly formed militia.
On January 10, 1812, the inhabitants of New Orleans witnessed the approach of the first vessel propelled by steam, the “New Orleans,” floating down the Mississippi River from Pittsburgh. It required 259 hours to make the trip. Encouraged by this success, the owners of the “New Orleans,” Fulton & Livingston of New York, soon built another steamboat, “The Vesuvius,” which made its appearance along the levees of New Orleans in 1813; this boat was followed by the “Aetna” in 1814.
On April l8, 1812, Louisiana was admitted to the Union and it was decided to call it the “State of Louisiana” instead of “Territory of Orleans.” New Orleans became the capital of the State.
After the Louisiana Transfer in 1803 and up to that time (1812), the purchased territory was divided into two parts; that part which is now called Louisiana comprised the City of New Orleans and the greater part of the State of Louisiana and was named “Territory of Orleans,” the other part which is now Missouri, was called “Upper Louisiana” for many years. Therefore, Louisiana had lost for a short time her name - the name given by LaSalle, and so dear to Bienville and the early settlers.
William C. C. Claiborne was elected Governor as a reward for his previous services. He was, therefore, Louisiana’s first American Governor, Territorial and State. Claiborne was also the first Protestant Governor since the founding of Louisiana. The most remarkable fact of his time was that Louisiana for the first and only time in her history was entirely free of debt.
On the 19th and 20th of September 1812, the city was visited by a terrific hurricane. Shipping was greatly destroyed, Fort St. Philip overflowed and the greater part of the soldiers drowned. The loss was estimated at six million dollars.
Mayor Mather was called upon to face a serious situation, which arose from Edward Livingston’s attempt to get possession of the “batture” or sandy deposit made by the Mississippi River in front of the Faubourg Ste. Marie. This led to “riots” and only prompt action by the Mayor averted serious consequences. Edward Livingston, an eminent lawyer, originally from New York City, came to New Orleans in 1801 as a fugitive from justice. He was an intimate friend of Daniel Clark and it is supposed that the latter’s influence shielded him from prosecution when New Orleans passed under American control.
In 1806 the population of New Orleans was 12,000 and rose in the next four years to 24,552. This was due to the influx of several thousand residents from the island of Santo Domingo, who had been driven from the place by servile wars. Gay and luxury-loving, they infused a new spirit into the town and tended to offset the American influence then beginning to be felt.
On September 23, 1809, the Charity Hospital founded by Don Almonaster, burned and was not rebuilt until several years later. Through strenuous efforts of Mayor Mather the unfortunate patients were temporarily quartered on the upper gallery of the City Hall and later transferred to the plantation of Mr. Jourdan, below the city.
The last years of Mather’s administratin brought him much criticism. He was accused of being under the influence of certain individuals, of failing to protect the interest of the city by failing to veto the unwise measures of the City Council, of hiring people to write anonymous letters attacking his enemies and paying them with public funds. There does not appear to have been any grounds for these accusations, they were however, partly responsible for his determination in 1812, to retire from public life. Advancing years and declining health were also reasons which prompted his withdrawal. James Mather married Frances Mather, who was not a blood relation. Of his children, George married Auvere Trudeau, Ann married Philip Hickey, Frances married Abner Duncan and another daughter married Judge Wane Wickkoff.
On October 8, 1821, James Mather died at his son’s residence on the Acadian coast.
|Members of the Mather Administration|
March 9, 1807-May 16, 1812
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