The French Period: The People of New Orleans

I recently visited New Orleans and was mesmerized by the atmosphere of the French Quarter. It is unlike any other city I have been in and indeed the French Quarter is a city unto itself seemly separate from its entirety. Of course, I went on the ghost tours’ etcetera.

But, even from the moment I saw the old buildings, the lay out of the streets, and the manner of the locals, I wondered about all those that had gone before, the history of the people that make up this place. I stood looking at the oldest building, touched its’ wall, and wondered what life and stories had past before it. I had the pleasure of staying in a home of which is now a hotel, Haunted Hotel on Ursulines 623 Ursulines Ave. to be exact, although it remains to be seen whether it is haunted or not.

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Rhonda the owner/ manager said, “It’s just a name to drum up business, and pretty much everywhere in New Orleans is haunted in some manner or another. ” And, again the echoes of the past lives lived, imprinting those experiences on a city made unique due to their histories. The people of New Orleans, The French period New Orleans was originally founded as a French colony, by Sieur de Bienville in 1718. The chosen site had been and, was regularly used by Indians as a camp while hunting. Bienville was its first Governor primarily by default. New Orleans was laid out in 1720 by Military engineer Pierre La blond De la Tour according to the typical plan of the late medieval French township. Towns were built around a place called d armes or military parade square, fronting a river or a sea and flanked by a jail, church, or home government office building and sets of official residences de la tour’s assistant Adrien de Pauger , began to implement the plan the next year. It consisted of nine squares running along the river and six squares running toward the lake.

A grid of streets led away from the parade square to the boundaries of the community. The latter were to be marked by forest and earthen ramparts by which it became clear that there was need for them they were not built. ”( Stebbins) This is the same as it is today. The square or common area at the center of the town is today Jackson square. On the map drawn up by Pierre La blond De la Tour the streets names are still used today. Running north to south are Arsenal, St Philippe, Dauphine, Anne, D’Orleans, St Peter, Toulouse, St Louis, Conit, Bienville.

Then, running east to west are Chartes, Royal, Bourbon, Dauphine, later Arsenal was changed to Ursulines, in honored of the convent established in 1726, and this is according to the original hand -drawn map written in French by de la Tour. Then beyond that, the next to be named was hospital Street and Barracks Street to the north or, up river. To the south was Custom House Street. All the streets were included in the original map drawn up in 1720, but all were not named as of that date. From the beginning, this new colony was ill funded.

With France having financial problems of its own, the settlers of New Orleans knew of some funding problems due to shortages, but only those in charge knew the true state of affairs. They could only hope for the best. 1718, the Company of the Indies was formed strictly for the management of Louisiana. With a company, they could attract investors to help support the new venture. In New Orleans, information about further funding was slow, which often translated into food shortages or lack of supplies.

New Orleans early past was plagued by natural and man made disasters. Same as it is now. From 1722 to present, hurricanes have always caused damage and death in the city. Fires have also wrecked havoc on the city 1788, 1792, and 1794, are all notable incidents, which destroyed much of the city. Diseases like yellow fever and Cholera, killed people in the thousands and were a constant reoccurring problem. It was said as to the mosquitoes, “Sometimes they fill up the air so densely that one would almost suppose that they could be cut with a knife. (Paulis) Still, the people rebuilt, repopulated and recovered from each incident of devastation. The first few to arrive on this spot were craftsmen and slaves. German craftsmen and women were of great help in starting and sustaining the small colony. Many of the people sent to the New Orleans colony were convicts and slaves, which had no vested interest other than surviving the ordeal. “The original settlement numbered fifty persons. By 1721 the colony had grown to 6000 persons, including 600 negroes.

A year later the Duchesse de Lesdiguieres received a letter from Charlevoix, dated January 10, 1722, describing the city; the 800 fine houses reputed in France to constitute the city are in reality only 100 huts, but the city is fated to be great. By 1726 there are in Louisiana 1952 masters, 276 hired men and servants, 1540 negro slaves, 229 Indian slaves. ” “By 1731 there are 5000 whites and 2000 negroes. Meantime New Orleans had begun to take on its peculiar character. ”(Jones 112) The arrival of the Ursulines nuns in 1727, Just 10 years after its inception, was one of the biggest events for the people of New Orleans early history.

Their experiences are well documented as to ‘Sister Madeleine Hachard’. Her letters to her father are so eloquent it is hard to alter them for proposes here. She lived and taught the youth equally. Her experiences give us an almost unbelievable picture of life and times in what was then a small community with high expectations. “When we were within twenty-four or thirty miles of the town we began to meet some inhabitants. There was a struggle among them as to which would welcome us with the most cordial and affectionate hospitality.

They attempted to force us into their houses, and greeted us with acclamations of joy. We met, much beyond-our expectation, quite a number of honest people who had come from Canada and France to settle in this country. ” “Fathers and mothers rejoice at our coming. They are enthusiastic over our arrival. They say that they will no longer think of returning to France, because they now have the means and opportunity of educating their daughters. ” And educate their daughters and sons they did. The economical or racial situation of the children made no different to Sister Madeleine Hachard.

The Nuns taught the Indians, Africans, whites alike however; her opinion of their behavior was less than admiral, though understanding. “What is very pleasant to us is the docility of the children, who can be moulded as one pleases. As to the negroes, it is easy to instruct them as soon as they learn French. I will not say as much of the savages, whom it is impossible to baptize without trembling on account of their natural inclination to sin, particularly the women, who under an air of modesty hide all the passions of the beast. “for besides debauchery, bad faith, and, finally, all the other vices prevail here more than anywhere else, but it must be added that they thus prevail with an abundance which is beyond all measure. As to the girls of a loose character, although they are carefully watched and severely punished by their being made to ride a wooden horse, and by having them whipped by all the soldiers of the garrison, yet there are enough of them to fill up a large refuge-asylum. A thief is tried in two days. He is either hung or broken on the wheel, whether he be a white man, a negro, or a savage.

There is no distinction and no mercy. ” Sister Madeleine Hachard passed away “after having been, an excellent teacher for the youth of New Orleans, and after having fulfilled in a most exemplary manner all the duties incumbent upon her. ” “The whole community deplored her death. ” (Paulis) It was 1762 the same year that Louisiana was passed to the hands of Spain that she passed away. The small town by our standards now had acquired many nationalities French, German Irish, French Canadians, Haitians, Americans and Africans had come and been brought in from everywhere.

Many of the Africans were free individuals, but usually grouped in any census as slaves or servants. All these and more were present in this city early begins. The changing of governments brought unrest in the peoples lives. They were afraid and angry. Feeling betrayed by the crown dissidence began to rise among the people. Finance and business ground to a slow crawl. Import and export slowed. The people were losing everything they had worked for. Food was getting short because flour was not coming to port. The areas’ hunted game was not enough to support a city this size.

Bad weather had caused flooding and had destroyed a good percentage of locally grown crops, which added to the mounting food shortages. The years in between the actual change of government saw two French governors of which could not deal with the peoples unrest The introduction of the first yet short lived Spanish governor which was ousted leaving only the French governor, at this point once again in the undesirable position. It was 7 years after the French- Spanish transition the permanent Spanish government took hold. In 1769 General Alexander O’ Reilly arrived, with an armada to enforce his edicts.

He was quite stern, though it was said he was a fair man, but conducted his affairs in a rather military manner. This colony had not made money for the French, O’ Reilly was to see to it that it did, with or without the willing cooperation of the colonists. He meant to have sovereignty in the city. The changes of government ushered in a new period for the people of New Orleans, a future with a Spanish government in control. This would open the Mississippi to the rest of America for trade, bringing a prosperous future to New Orleans. A town within a city seemingly caught in time.

With an eclectic history of people and traditions, this city has survived 292 years still harboring it ghosts from the past. I am sure it has surpassed any original vision Bienville had or imagined in 1718.

Works Cited Jones, Howard Mumford. America and French Culture, 1750-1848. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1927. Questia. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. Paulis, Father. “Normans on the banks of the Mississippi. ” Catholic World mar 1886: 813, 818, 819, 822. Stebbins, Robert A. The Connoisseur’s New Orleans. Calgary: University press, 1938.

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