Antoine Lavalette was sent at the age of 34 to the mission of the Lesser Antilles of the Paris Province. Martinique was his destination, a small island - 436 sq miles - situated NW of Barbados. It had been mapped by Columbus in 1493, and in an age of imperial expansion and European rivalry had been settled by the French after the English had expelled a group of 150 from St Kitts. When Lavalette arrived it had been a French colony for 106 years, becoming a refuge for Protestant Huguenots expelled by France. However by the time of Lavallete's arrival many of the Huguenots had made their way to British colonies. Lavalette immersed himself in the social conditions of Martinique and became an expert on the administration of plantations.
He was initially a very successful trader and plantation owner - selling sugar, coffee and indigo to France. He remained well within the limits on business by clerics set by canon law. His reputation grew in Martinique and in Marseille and other ports in France. Then he became greedy - and borrowed heavily to purchase more land. This he did without the knowledge of his superiors, this proved fatal. He effectively mortgaged the mission and his ability to pay off the mortgage was linked to his ability to sell the produce of his plantations. He was gambling - and rented 13 Dutch Ships to take his increased load to Europe. 13 ships was an insurance policy in itself - no problem if one or two sank in storms on the way. However British naval power dominated - and off Bordeaux 12 of the ships were taken as the international rivalry of Britain and France had become a formal war.
Only one ship made it to Cadiz, Lavallete was distraught. He had become a loose cannon, a trading house in France went bankrupt due to his losses. The Jesuits in France acted immediately - five visitors where sent in quick succession to Martinique, only one was to make it. Now Fr General Ricci got involved and send instruction to Lavallete to desist immediately. But Lavallette was beyond the point of no return and flagrantly in breach of Canon Law and his vow of obedience began to try and manipulate trading agreements with Dutch Merchants. The whole affair was spiraling recklessly out of control - and was to have dire consequences in France (see yesterdays blog). Historian William Bangert describes the affair as a loosened stone that was to result in an avalanche against the Society. From his first big losses to the French Kings decree of suppression would take only nine years.