Pedro Pedesclaux was born in the city of San Sebastian, in the Basque region of Spain, to parents from St. Jean de Luz, just over the French border. It is not clear when Pedesclaux immigrated to New Orleans, but a brother Estevan Pedesclaux also came to New Orleans from San Sebastian1
. In 1789 Pedro married Clarise Le Duc, a native of New Orleans and the couple had at least 9 children. Pedesclaux’s large family was evidently well-known for its closeness. An 1818 obituary for his son Steven (also known as Estevan and Etienne) describes Pedro Pedesclaux’s “tenderness for his children as almost proverbial” among the population, and notes the great lengths he went to educate and provide for his children. Indeed, the size of Pedesclaux’s family is often cited by officials, and himself, as a reason for his holding his offices. Pedro Pedesclaux died in New Orleans in 1816.
Pedesclaux’s professional life was complex. He appears to have begun his notarial career in New Orleans in 1788 when he was appointed Clerk and Notary for the Spanish Government, Recorder of Mortgages and Clerk of the Cabildo. (The Notarial Archives has one volume of Pedesclaux’s Spanish Court Proceedings that date from 1784 to 1804.) Pedesclaux also held offices as a notary public and as auctioneer. According to the Spanish custom, Pedesclaux purchased these offices with the understanding that they were his to sell or to pass on to his children. When Pedesclaux took charge of his first offices in March of 1788, he had the archives of the colony from the time it was first settled until that date in his possession. In addition to the records of the government, Pedesclaux, like all other notaries of the time, had in his custody the records of his predecessors of his étude.
Like many in New Orleans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Pedesclaux changed his first name to reflect the prevailing government or language. Beginning his Notarial career as Pedro, Pedesclaux also signed his name as Pierre and, less frequently, as Peter when writing in English. Being a native of Spain with French parents, Pedesclaux was no doubt fluent in both French and Spanish, a fact that must have assisted his life and work in colonial New Orleans. Although he did write notarial acts in English, he evidently was not at ease with the language, as American Governor William C.C. Claiborne describes the necessity of a translator when the two met in 1804.
Like many in New Orleans, Pedesclaux had a difficult time transitioning from being a citizen of colonial New Orleans to life under the United States of America. Indeed, the problems Pedesclaux had with the new American government were prolonged and affected him greatly. Immediately after the Louisiana Purchase was signed on December 20, 1803, Pedesclaux began to clash with the new American governor. Following up on reports that “Mr. Pedisclaux’ [sic] services had not been very meritorious [in] the opinion of all society” Claiborne acted without delay to strip Pedesclaux of his office of auctioneer. However, after hearing favorable reports from Spanish officials that “represented [Pedesclaux] as a worthy and capable man, and the head of a large family” Governor Claiborne did decide to re-appoint him as Recorder of Mortgages for the city and as Notary Public. However, the loss of the office of auctioneer was felt keenly by Pedesclaux and he protested it for years. In a letter to President Thomas Jefferson in April 1804, Pedesclaux detailed “how his interests have considerable suffer’d” under the new government. Seeking to have his office of auctioneer reinstated or to be compensated for his loss, Pedesclaux wrote to Jefferson that during the great New Orleans fires of 1788 and 1794, Pedesclaux had saved the archives of his offices from destruction “at the expense of his personal and family interests” and “that being left without a house, without property of any description [and]…his wife, his children and himself almost destitute of every article of wearing apparel” the Spanish government granted him the office of auctioneer “as a reward for his zeal.” Unfortunately for Pedesclaux, Jefferson replied that he could not intervene in the matter and the office was lost to him without compensation. This loss was not Pedesclaux’s last. In 1807, based on “distrust on my part of his fidelity in office” Gov. Claiborne dealt Pedesclaux a further blow and removed him from his office of Recorder of Mortgages. Having purchased his office from the Spanish government, Pedesclaux refused to relinquish it, and appealed to the judiciary to prevent the loss. Perhaps as a testament to the multiple allegiances of the times, Claiborne feared that Pedesclaux’s friends on the court might “humiliate the government.” However, the final judgment went against Pedesclaux, and the records were removed from him.
In 1804, after losing one of his offices and facing the prospect of the changes under the new American government, Pedesclaux describes himself and his family as “a father grown aged in public service, a wife grown infirm, and eight young children, who, now, can hope for no other resource for entering the world.” Indeed, the early investment Pedesclaux made in purchasing his offices was meant to support his family for many years, and the work, while often difficult, was essential to the community. The nature of the civil law notary, called upon not only to transact property sales, but also to be part of intimate family dealings, such as being summoned at all hours to a death-bed to dictate last wills and testaments, to conducting inventories of the property of the recently deceased, as well as the sale and emancipation of slaves who were sometime family members of their owners, placed notaries at the heart of much of the private and public dealings of the citizenry. Due to the vital nature of these records the Notary was called upon to protect his holdings, as Pedesclaux declared he did at the expense of his own property and family. As Governor Claiborne stated, “The records in the possession of Mr. Pedesclaux are highly important….and their safe keeping is essential to the interest of the citizens.”
Despite Pedesclaux’s battles with Claiborne and the loss of some of his offices, judging by the records held by the Notarial Archives, Pedesclaux’s notarial practice was a prodigious one. Spanning 28 years and three regimes – the Colonial Spanish, a brief episode in the French Republic, and the United States – Pedesclaux produced 28,000 pages of notarial acts. As Pedesclaux had intended, after his death in 1816, his sons did have an opportunity to continue his practice. His son Philippe immediately picked up the work and continued the practice until his own death in 1826. Two of Pedesclaux’s other sons also had notarial practices, Felix from 1828 to 1830 and Hugues from 1829 to 1862, resulting in 75 years of notarial practice by the Pedesclaux family in the city of New Orleans.
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