NOLA Tricentennial Con’t- Missouri Valley

French Exploration of the North American Prairies

and Relations With The Indians of the Great Plains.

It is an oft repeated cliché that the French colony of Louisiana “was a failure,” and while this argument may hold some water, especially under the regime of the Crozat company and the successor Company of the Indies up until 1732, the colony showed every sign of growth and improvement from 1734 until the Seven Years War ended in 1763.

This reputation needs correction in that the colony was not a failure. The failure was in the actions, or more to the point, the INACTIONS of the ruling boards (the regie ) of the Company(s). This in turn can be seen as a symptom of the failure of ancien regime which finally fell in 1789. These aristocrats on the “boards of directors” of the these companies consistently made promises of support to the colonial government, and their appointed soldiers and explorers of Louisiana who mapped out and built the vast colony.

Promises were made as well to the Native Americans with whom they desired trade relations and peace, and the actual settlers and colonists whom they shipped over to the New World. These promises were only rarely fulfilled and even then often at partial levels. Is it not any wonder that the actual “boots on the ground” in French Louisiana were able to make any progress at all with virtually no promised help, aid, or supplies from the homeland?

It appears that the real people here, Bienville, Boisbriant, Bourgmont, the rest of the “government”, the colonists, the settlers, the voyagers and coiuriers de bois, as well as the unheralded and forced Africans, really made a success of this “failed” colony. When the “companies” finally gave up. The decades of Bienville (1730’s), Vaudreuil (1740’s), and Kerlerec (1750’s) actually saw an economic and political stabilization comparable to any Spanish or British colony in North America.

An excellent example of this point is the case of Etienne V. De Bourgmont, who may be properly be called “The Discoverer of the Missouri Valley”. Not only did he travel and explore the Missouri and connected waterways, he treated with and established positive trade and military relationships with the Native communities along those rivers. He planted a settlement upriver from the Missouri/Mississippi confluence, Fort d’Orleans. The fate of this fort is also a case-in-point of the above mentioned “failed” policies of the home government in France.

Bourgmont‘s adventures in the New World read like a modern action thriller. His career began in 1702 when he was convicted at age 19 of poaching on monastery land and fined 100 livres. He decided instead to take ship to New France (Canada). Once there he ingratiated himself with the authorities and by 1706 he was placed in command of Fort Pontchartrain (modern Detroit) where shortly a flare up between two Native groups resulted in the death of a French priest and sergeant.

In true ancien regime fashion the aristocrats quickly passed the buck to Bourgmont, who, choosing the better part of valor quietly decamped into the vast forests of North America. Bourgmont and some companions became coureurs des bois around the eastern Great Lakes for a few years and finally made a return to Fort Pontchartrain where he became successfully involved in an inter- Native war between the Fox Indians (enemies of the French) and a coalition of Algonquin, Missouria, and Osage communities. By 1713, even though technically still outside the law, Bourgmont was once again in the aristo’s favor.

The French colonial experience in Louisiana has been seen by many as an expression of that cultural phenomena sweeping through France (and Europe in general) in the 17th and 18th centuries known as the “Enlightenment.” Bourgmont’s career in New France and Louisiana offers an excellent example of what it means to be an “enlightened” explorer and trader in the New World. While living the rough and tumble life of a voyageur, hunting, trapping, and trading, Bourgmont also added writing to his repertoire. In 1713 he began writing Exact Description of Louisiana, of Its Harbors, Lands and Rivers, and Names of the Indian Tribes That Occupy It, and the Commerce and Advantages to Be Derived Therefrom for the Establishment of a Colony. After traveling to the mouth of the present-day Platte River in March of 1714, he composed The Route to Be Taken to Ascend the Missouri River. This account reached the cartographer Guillaume Delisle working in Lower Louisiana, who noted that it was the first documented report of travels that far north on the Missouri.

By 1718, Bienville had replaced Cadillac as commandant. On September 25, he recommended that Bourgmont receive the Cross of Saint Louis for service to France, for the value of his explorations and documentation of river travel. A year later the Council of the Colony of Louisiana also officially praised Bourgmont’s work with the Natives. Drawing upon his years of experience in what is now “the heartland,” he established long lasting positive relations with the locals. Tribes were said to have valued the products Bourgmont offered, as he traded gunpowder, guns, kettles, and blankets, in contrast to the Spanish whom were said to trade a few horses, knives, and “inferior axes.” He once described his knack for for dealing with the native Americans,

“For me with the Indians nothing is impossible. I make them do what they have never done.”

{N.B. Within the same time frame Bourgmont was connecting with the Indians and exploring the Missouri valley, Bienville and a small group of workers were busy building a new city, destined to become the capital of the French colony, New Orleans. As we celebrate our Tricentennial, it may be useful to remember that – thanks to Bourgmont – New Orleans, as it was being built, was also the capital of the Missouri valley.}

By 1720, Bourgmont had become a fixture in Louisiana, both Lower and Upper. He was recognized as a leader in Native American relations, as well as an explorer and geographer of note in the Missouri Valley. That year he and his son (by his Missouria wife) travelled to Paris. Remember, he was still technically an outlaw. Luck was still on his side, for simultaneously with his arrival, news reached France that Natives allied with the French had defeated a Spanish expedition invading the mid continental prairies where there were no established European claims.

Our not-so-reluctant hero, was commissioned as a captain in the French army. In August he was named “Commandant of the Missouri River” and was commissioned to build a fort on the Missouri River and negotiate with the tribes to allow peaceful French commerce. In 1723, he established Fort Orleans, the first Europeaniu fort on the Missouri River, near the mouth of the Grand River in present-day Missouri. The fort was to be the staging base for a planned visit to the Padouca on the Great Plains and Bourgmont hoped to open a trade route to reach the Spanish colony in New Mexico.

{N.B. -again – Trade between New Mexico and Louisiana was strictly forbidden by the two empires’ mercantile policies. Take note that nobody in either (colonial) government paid much attention to the two empires’ mercantile policies.}

Bourgmont sought aid from the Kaw (aka the Canzas) to facilitate his expedition. He sent 22 Frenchmen and Canadians by boat from Fort Orleans to the Canzas village on the Missouri with supplies and gifts. The explorer himself set out by land, marching with 10 French colonists, and over 150 Natives. Prior to this first official French visit, many voyageurs, including Bourgmont, had visited them in the first two decades of the 18th century. The Canzas had also likely journeyed to trade in Kaskaskia.

This grand expedition reached the Canzas village at the beginning of July, 1724. After innumerable speeches and feasts, the talk turned to trade, the Canzas were hard bargainers. Bourgmont wanted to buy some horses. With only five horses to trade, they extracted a high price. The Canzas also traded six slaves (likely American Indians of other tribes captured in battle), food, furs, and skins. At the end of July, in the high summer heat of the American prairie, Bourgmont, his original party of French, Missouri, and Osage, now swelled by most the Canzas village left on their quest to find the Padouca, (almost certainly the French name for the Apache).

The explorer became ill during the trip and had to return to Fort d’Orleans to recover. By autumn, Bourgmont was once again able to travel. Not surprisingly, his Grand Expedition by this time had shrunk considerably. After all, most of the Natives and even the colonists had gotten on with their lives. So, with fifteen Frenchmen and twenty-four Natives, including five Apache who had joined him as guides, the “Commandant of the Missouri Valley” set out to finally, hopefully, connect with the main Apache settlements.

Heading southwest across the Kansas prairie, and crossing the Kansas River on Oct. 11, Bourgmont recorded in his journal a sight that would dumbfound European and American travelers for the next two centuries, the buffalo. As they passed through the innumerable beasts, they saw unfolding before them “a hunter’s paradise. Recording 30 herds in one day, each herd consisting of 400-500 buffalo. Bourgmont wrote, “Our hunters kill as many as they please.” Deer were also abundant. In one day they saw more than 200, plus numerous turkeys near the streams. On October 18, Bourgmont encountered the Apache. Eighty of the village rode out on horses to meet the French and took them back to the camp.

The explorer’s journal narrates an honored welcome. It tells how he and his son with two other French explorers, were seated on a buffalo robe; carried to the tent of the Apache chief for a great feast. The next day Bourgmont assembled his trade goods and divided them into lots.

The following is the list:

“one pile of fusils [guns], one of sabers, one of pickaxes, one of axes,

one of gunpowder, one of balls, one of red Limbourg cloth, another of

blue Limbourg cloth, one of mirrors, one of Flemish knives, two other

piles of another kind of knives, one of shirts, one of scissors, one of combs,

one of gunflints, one of wadding extractors, six portions of vermillion,

one lot of awls, one of large beads, one of beads of mixed sizes, one of

small beads, one of fine brass wire, another of heavier brass wire for making

necklaces, another of rings, and another of vermillion cases.” The Apache

had never seen such a variety of European goods.

After the trading sessions were done an assembly of 200 of the Apache chiefs and the Commandant discussed the need for peace among all tribes. He implored them to allow the French traders to pass through their lands en route to the Spanish settlements in New Mexico. Next, he invited the chiefs to take what they wanted of the merchandise.

The Apache were hospitable; they feasted and fêted Bourgmont and his group for three days before the French party turned toward home on October 22. By October 31, Bourgmont had reached the Canzas village again. Traveling down the Missouri in circular “bullboats”, made of buffalo hides stretched over a framework of saplings, the party reached Fort Orleans on November 5.

Bourgmont thought his expedition had been successful, but little came of it. Within about a decade, the Apache whom he had met in Kansas were gone, pushed south by the aggressive Comanche tribe migrating from the Rocky Mountains. By the end of 1724, the French, in the person of Etienne Bourgmont, had now established friendly and peaceful relations with the central Plains Indians. The Missourias, the Cansas, the Apaches, the Oto, and several other Native Communities effectively providing a secure base for the French in the Missouri Valley. Bourgmont had in reality become the “Commandant of the Missouri Valley”. But, alas, it was not to be.

The next year Bourgmont was called upon to invite and accompany representatives of the tribes to Paris. The chiefs were shown the wonders and power of France, including a visit to Versailles, Château de Marly and Fontainebleau, hunting in the royal forest with Louis XV, and seeing an opera. In late 1725 the tribal leaders returned to North America. Bourgemont stayed in Normandy with his French wife, where he had been elevated to écuyer (squire).

As usual, The French did not continue to support Fort Orleans, and it was abandoned in 1726. Bourgmont remained in France where he died in France in 1734.

The above tale of Bourgmont’s Missouri expedition is a paraphrase of :

Wikipedia; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89tienne_de_Veniard,_Sieur_de_Bourgmont

This account of the career of Ecuyer de Bourgmont is a perfect example of “the failed colony” of Louisiana. It is also a perfect example of the successful settling of a vast territory in the midst of an even vaster continent. The French who came here in the 18th century did anything but fail. And the Creoles (of all extractions) who live and thrive here even today can take pride in their heritage, their language, their culture, cuisine, and sheer joie de vivre that has withstood every tragic and destructive circumstance thrown at them by man or nature.

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HEADLINE: The Picayune Monthly August, 1704:

MADAME LANGLOIS PUTS DOWN THE PETTICOAT REBELLION
In recent weeks, Governor Bienville in his infinite wisdom has settled down the fierce rebellion led by the recent female arrivals from France. Confronted with Indian Maize and the so-called cornmeal, the ladies insisted on French (or at least Louisiana) wheat with which to bake their baguettes. Madame Langlois, the governor’s housekeeper and major domo, began to teach the rebellious females how to cook “in the New French” manner. Having achieved their husband’s resounding approval of these new dishes, the ladies have settled into their place and now work together to build the colony on the Gulf Coast.

The above silliness is by way of announcing a shift of focus for the New Orleans TriCentennial blog you have been reading for many years now.  The Petticoat Rebellion, in publication since 2014 is now being merged with our new book, Madame Langlois’ Legacy (Publication, Summer, 2019). Since the new work grew out of ideas generated by the original history, recipe, and stories of The Petticoat Rebellion, it continues the culinary adventures of Gerard, Suzanne, and some new characters as they unknowingly go about creating the Creole Cuisine that has made our region world famous.

As a way of introduction to the new work, this blog will be posting some story excepts, some historical vignettes, and – of course – some of the new recipes for you to try out. So keep reading, keep the reviews and comments coming in, and most of all enjoy the le bon vivant that makes life worth living here on the Gulf Coast!

Here’s a teaser for those cold Louisiana winter nights:

. . . my potager will yield up some onions, a head of celery, and a garlic to add to the stew. Yes, this is going to be one good stew.

A Corn & Pork Stew

Colonials would have used salt pork in this recipe,
especially in summer

½ lb crisply cooked bacon
6 ears corn, silk removed and washed
1 lb. cubed pork
1 small finely chopped onions (sweet if possible)
1 small bell (green) pepper, diced
2 or 3 stalks of diced celery
1 toe garlic, minced
1 or 2 handfuls wheat flour ( if available)
rice flour is the next choice, cornmeal the last resort

1 cup water
Bacon drippings
2 small spoons of butter
1/2 cup heavy cream

METHOD:

Cook and crumble bacon. In same pan, brown the onion and pork cubes. Melt butter or fat in a large stew pot, add the bacon drippings. Finely chop the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic; add to the pot and sauté over medium heat for 8 minutes. Cut the corn kernels off the cob. Fold in corn and cook an additional 15 minutes. While the corn is cooking, cut your pork into bite size pieces. Do NOT discard the fatty bits, (remember, fat = flavor). Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for approximately 30 minutes. If you feel you need a more “soupy” stew than cooking down the juicy corn provides, add the cream at the end and heat through. Serve over hot cooked rice.

————————————————–

Frere Gerard would have prepared this dish when he returned from the market and let it sit in the coolest place he had available until suppertime, OR he would have waited until the sun began to set to cook the stew. After all, it was July!

During the last years of Frére Gerard’s life, another group of Frenchman arrived in Louisiana. They had come from Acadia, forced out by the British. Since 1710, during Queen Anne’s War, the British in New England gained control of French Acadia, renaming it Nova Scotia. For the next 50 years, a state of war existed in the province between the French Acadians allied with the native Mikmacs and the British occupiers. By the late 1750’s, the Acadians were finally being rounded up and shipped overseas to other British ports in America. It was during this period that some Acadians arrived in French Louisiana, where their name was shortened to “Cajuns”. They eventually settled in the bayous to the west and south of the capital city. The corn stew described above was adapted by these Acadians, or Cajuns, into a one dish meal still popular all across south Louisiana.

A MODERN RECIPE FOR MACQUE CHOUX:

If freshly shucked corn is unavailable, frozen is an acceptable substitute, and canned will work. If using canned, use 2 cans (14.75 ounces each) of whole and 1 can cream-style (14.75 ounces).

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup diced celery
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ears of corn, shucked (about 4 to 5 cups)
1/4 of a 10 ounce can of diced spiced tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
12 ounces crawfish tails, cooked and peeled
3/4 ounce pimentos
Cooked rice

Instructions:

Melt butter in a medium sized pot. Add onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic and sauté over medium heat for 8 minutes. Fold in corn and cook an additional 15 minutes. Remove about 1/4 of the corn mixture from the pot and puree it in a food processor. Return the pureed corn to the pot. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for approximately 8 minutes. Serve over hot cooked rice.

KEEP THOSE CARDS AND LETTERS COMING IN

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Two Announcements and some Dirty Rice

Apologies for the long hiatus. No excuses – just everyday life crowding out everything else. Now the holidays are upon us. As the Tricentennial year winds down to an end, I remind ya’ll again that the Tricentennial really extends from 2017 thru 2022 (when N.O. becomes the capital of Louisiana, 1722). Two things to announce this time. (1) I have started a new blog, called the Classical Blog, wherein I will pontificate on a life spent among the “classics” – books, music, art, rockNroll, movies, etc. The 1718 blog will continue, information will be tossed out on the events of 1718 to 1722 and beyond as the early French history on la Nouvelle Orleans continues to develop. and (2) The books of The Petticoat Rebellion are being merged into one volume, now titled Madame Langlois’ Legacy. This gives us the opportunity to clean up Vol. 1 and blend in Vol. 2, reducing the repetition and further refining our recipes and sense of culinary history.

Meanwhile, I am offering a traditional holiday preparation of Louisiana Dirty Rice that has been passed down in my family for – literally – generations. It was included in the first volume back in 2014. It’s my Mama’s recipe just renamed to fit the narrative of the book.

Tante Marie’s Dirty Rice

My Family’s Noel Tradition, a Recipe of my Wonderful Aunt
from the Ardennes Forest

INGREDIENTS:

• The Holy Trinity – onions, green peppers, celery PLUS TWO – garlic and parsley

• 1 lb. ground pork

• giblets of one chicken

• water

• salt, pepper, a soupçon of cayenne, any other seasoning you like

• 2 to 3 cups of rice (before cooking)

TECHNIQUE:
Since this is a dressing, use more of the Trinity than normal, say about 3 onions, 3 or 4 peppers, half to one whole bunch of celery, half to one whole head of garlic, a handful of parsley. The amount to use depends on how much dressing you want and the size of the vegetables. Chop the veggies finely and sauté (in butter or olive oil) in a large stew pot for about 5 to 10 minutes.

While they’re cooking, chop the giblets until they resemble ground meat. Place the giblets and the pork in the pot and fry them off in the vegetables. Fill the pot with water, add the seasonings and boil away all the water (this takes a couple or three hours).

Again, depending on the amount of dressing desired, cook 1, 2, or 3 cups of rice as you would for any normal dinner. Set aside. Usually 2 cups (before cooking) will suffice to balance the meat and vegetable flavors.

Watch the boiling pot carefully as the water level begins to disappear, do not let the dressing dry out completely. Remove from heat, and begin mixing in the rice one big spoon at a time. Correct the seasoning as you go. After two cups (before cooking) of rice have been added, you need to decide whether or not you need to add more. At this stage, you should have a good balance of rice to meat to vegetable flavors, season to taste. It’s good to eat now, as is, OR

The dressing can now be baked in separate baking dishes or stuffed into various birds or cuts of meat. Dirty Rice cooked in a bird will acquire extra flavoring from the juices of the fowl as it cooks.

Bring the dressing out in bowls or stuffed into the birds, place the birds and dressing on the serving board or the dinner table and have a most . . . JOYEAUX NOËL !

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Exactly when? Redux

Just a couple of quick items today.

We all know that the founding date of New Orleans is amorphous at best (see the July 26 blog entry). So here’s a reminder. As we phase into the holiday season to end the “Tricentennial Year” be aware that for me and this commemorative blog, the tricentennial will not end until 2022. For it was in 1722 that New Orleans was finally proclaimed the capital of the Louisiana colony, and the government officially moved here – ending the initial planning, building, getting-blown-away-by-a-hurricane, and rebuilding again as the metropolis-to-be of the Old South and a major stepping off point for Manifest Destiny.

Next, I would like to announce that to fill the gaps in my upcoming intellectual life, a new blog has been opened. Check out aclassicalblog.wordpress.com – a memoire and journal of a life spent among “The Classics”. Not only considering classical music, and classic books (of which there is no end), I relish classic rock&roll, classical French & Creole cooking (and eating). I am a major fan of Turner Classic Movies. It seemed like a good use of my time until the book gets published, and then life will take another – hopefully good – turn towards the Summer* Country.

Hope you can join me in new adventures.

* Summer here refers to to the summers of Northern Europe and North America above the 40th parallel. here in the deep south, this use of the term Summer means football, Mardi Gras, and crawfish seasons (October to May).

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Tomatoes & Gumbo

This week I offer for your edification two culinary tidbits.

Throughout this whole research/writing project beginning back in 2010, one guiding principle in presenting this culinary history of eighteenth century Louisiana has been to establish through research only those foodstuffs and ingredients that were available and being used in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast during the 1700’s. As it turns out, pretty much ALL the same stuff we use to cook with today – when we cook authentic Creole dishes – could have been found in the region. All the meats, all of the grains (especially rice and maize), all of the herbs and spices, all of the garden vegetables EXCEPT for the tomato. Yes, the good old tomato. But, you ask, isn’t the tomato native to the Americas? Didn’t the Spanish explorers bring the tomato back home to Europe? Wasn’t the tomato being planted and used in Spain, Italy, and Africa along with the ever-present peppers by the 1700’s? The answer is yes, but. In the realms of his Most Catholic Majesty north of the Alps as well as among those heathen heretic Protestant princes in Germany and England, the “love apple” had a bad reputation. After all what good could possibly come from consuming this aphrodisiac that was probably poisonous as well? Anyway, the long and the short of it is that at least before 1740, there is no evidence that the tomato was grown or consumed. After 1740, Spanish culinary influence had begun to creep along the trade route, in the 1750’s and ‘60’s, the Cajuns began to arrive and adopt the tomato into their gardens, and by the end of the century, the tomato was alive and flourishing in this truly Creole environment.*

* This info can be substantiated by:

Smith, Andrew F. The Tomato in America. Urbana & Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994. (Paperback Ed., 2001)

Now, moving on beyond the tomato question, this past weekend we had a houseguest from the Northwest. Showing off like any true gregarious Creole, I decided to ply this unfortunate with nothing but traditional New Orleans fare. We had lots of French bread, red beans & rice, homemade Nectar snowballs, pots of Community coffee (both chicory and New Orleans blend), and bowls of gumbo unlike any I had ever made before. Shrimp, crabmeat, andouille, and alligator. This was some of the best gumbo that I have ever made. and I do not “say so myself”. My life partner and most severe critic actually stated, “This is what seafood gumbo is supposed to taste like!” I was totally blown away. So I decided to share this recipe with my dear readers. And YES, I used NO tomatoes 😉 Enjoy:

Seafood Gumbo

First you make a roux (duh!!). Begin by chopping or pureeing the trinity (onion, bell pepper, celery) and the pope (cloves of garlic) in quantities to suit the amount of gumbo you plan to make. For a “normal” pot of homemade gumbo for the family of 3 to 5, we recommend one medium onion, a large bell pepper, 3 or 4 four stalks of celery, and 5 to 10 cloves of garlic, set aside the chopped vegetables in a bowl. Fry off the water from one 15 oz. can of cut okra or use fresh okra to taste. Now in the gumbo pot heat up ¾ cup of oil (canola, vegetable, etc.) and slowly add ¾ cup of flour – mixing or whisking constantly. After all the flour has been added, continue to stir the roux until the desired color is reached. Gumbo usually is dark brown, the color of hot cocoa, and the color will be picked up from the roux.

After the desired color is reached, immediately remove from heat and stir in the chopped vegetables and okra. This will stop the cooking process of the roux – which is what you want to happen.

FOR THE ROUX:

the trinity (onion, bell pepper, celery) and the pope (cloves of garlic)

one medium onion

a large bell pepper

3 or 4 four stalks of celery

5 to 10 cloves of garlic

15 oz. can cut okra

salt & pepper

FOR THE GUMBO:

2 or 3 bay leaves

1 lb. Andouille, sliced into discs

1 lb. pkg. of gumbo crabs

12 oz. to 1 lb. Crab meat

{ 1 pt. oysters w/ water}

1 lb. Alligator meat

1 lb. 31-40 shrimp

1 tbsp. Crab Boil seasoning

Water

1 cup of rice, steamed or boiled, makes about 3 cups cooked rice.

Put the roux and vegetables back onto the fire, and begin slicing the andouille. When the roux sizzles, add a 2 qt.pot of water and the bay leaves ( you don’t have to be exact here, you will be adding water several times). After the sausage has been sliced , add to the gumbo mix as it heats up. Bring to a boil and cook the mixture for 15 minutes. Next add the gumbo crabs and the crab meat, add some more water and boil again for 15 or 20 minutes. Cube the alligator meat and fry it off for about 15 minutes. Add the the alligator and oysters to the gumbo. Add the Crab Boil seasoning, and boil the gumbo for another 15 to 20 minutes. Correct the seasoning now by adding more water to the boil. Finally bring the gumbo to a boil again and add the shrimp. Seafood in general, and especially shrimp, cook fast, when the gumbo boils again, cook the shrimp for about 5 minutes. Remove the gumbo off the fire and let it all settle down. Serve over a large-spoon of rice with hot French Bread.

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L’ Histoire

French Louisiana was established and settled by nearly 13,000 immigrants, colonists, and slaves in the early 1700’s. Many of these people did not survive the Atlantic crossing nor the first few months of life on the Gulf Coast. But of those who did survive some “left behind written accounts of their lived experience” of life in the French Atlantic world. (Greenwald, p. 5)

“Shannon Dawdy refers to these Louisiana “memoires, letters, and travel accounts” as a “useful kit of knowledge called histoire.” A combination of both story and history, histoires were often a mixed bag of natural and administrative history, astronomy, fashion and culinary critique, and good old-fashioned storytelling spun by the writer . . . “ (Ibid.)”

It must be kept in mind, also, that these 13,000 lived and learned and thought within the context of that era we call The Enlightenment. It was the Era of the Amateur – not in the sense of poorly done, but expressing the idea of intense fondness, curiosity, and respect for any number or variety of practices or intellectual inquiry (for those who could afford to do so). Excepting the official records of the colonial administrators, ALL of the original sources for eighteenth century colonial history are such histoires.

Speaking as a 25+ year veteran of teaching and reading history, I can unequivocally state that the American reading (and/or viewing) public (and probably the whole of the English speaking world) would rather read or hear or view a histoire than read or hear or view a history book.

As the last quarter of our Tricentennial Year dawns, I find myself reflecting on – WHY did those 13,000 risk everything to come to this swampy delta midway along a steamy Gulf Coast? What were they thinking?*

The traditional answer, of course, is the quest for a better life, for freedom from the oppression of an aristocratic economic political system. Now, after 300 (and more) years, have we, their descendants achieved that goal?

The short answer (for this descendant of French Creole settlers) is YES. The American economic political system has created, sustained, and provided an existence that could only have been dreamed of by many of our forbearers, and indeed by many of our contemporary citizens. As screwed up as much of the “system” is, the founders and even more-so, the parade of our ancestors worked toward, schemed, plotted, and created an interlocking method of doing things so that we – after three to four centuries can wake up on a given morning and have the abilities, tools, and methodologies to write a blog and publish it to the world about whether or not we could do such things !!!

NB: I am still not exactly where I wanna be. I have $400 in the bank, live in a small cottage in rural Louisiana with a huge mortgage, too much grass to mow, and am aging slowly and sometimes painfully into the endgame of this life.

BUT, AFTER MARRYING THE BEST GIRL IN NEW ORLEANS, BUILDING FOUR HOMES, RAISING A FAMILY, MAKING A LOT OF MONEY AND LOSING A LOT A MONEY, TEACHING HUNDREDS OF KIDS, AND EVEN WRITING A BOOK . . .

I CAN STILL READ ABOUT HISTORY AND WRITE ABOUT HISTORY (or should I say histoires).

Happy October, Gulf Coast! May Zephyrus send you many cold fronts !!!!!

*Keep in mind that virtually all the Africans who came here did not have any choice, nor did ⅓ to ½ of the Europeans.

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September Hurricanes, then & now

It’s mid-September, 2018. Florence, Issac, Helene, and possibly Joyce are dancing around in the Atlantic. Just last week, Gordon blew ashore over Pascagoula and Mobile. One other stray concept – mentioned in an earlier entry – is that our TriCentennial can legitimately be placed any where between 1717 and 1722.

So lets review our “first time”. By 1722, our little hamlet consisted of maybe a few dozen huts and two or three “buildings” that is stores and officer’s quarters, etc. On Sept. 11th or 28th, the cyclone hit. (reminder, during this time frame, France and England – and their colonies – were on opposite sides of the Julian vs. Gregorian calendar “conflict”).

“The wind raged for fifteen hours, and destroyed the huts serving as church and rectory; at the hospital, a few patients were injured.

Bayou St. John rose three feet, the Mississippi rose nearly eight feet, and the powder was just saved in time by being transferred to a dove-cote “which M. le Commandant had built so as to afford himself a few luxuries.”

This “disaster,” did not disturb La Tour (the engineer sent to build the new capital) to any great degree. “All these buildings,” he says, “were temporary and old, not a single one was in the alignment of the new town, and they were to have been pulled down. Little harm would have been done, if only we had had shelters for everybody.”

The damage caused by the hurricane — thirty-four huts destroyed . . .

Nevertheless, the hurricane had some disastrous consequences. The entire flotilla of the capital was put out of commission; the Santo-Christo and the Neptune, ships of twelve cannon each, went aground; the passage-boat Abeille, which had arrived in August, 1721, and Le Cher foundered in the Mississippi, the Aventurier was more fortunate; it had raised anchor a few hours before the cyclone bore down, and was able to resume its voyage after getting some repairs. . . .

Many flat boats, notably the Postilion, belonging to the Sieur Dumanoir, and a number of pirogues, sank with their loads of grain and fowls and other produce. Then a month of torrential rainfalls destroyed the last crops and reduced the new city to a state of famine. Next year, the price of eggs rose” . . . to ridiculous levels. 1723 was indeed one of those years of “starvation and woe”. But it got better.

http://www2.latech.edu/~bmagee/louisiana_anthology/texts/de_villiers/de_villiers–new_orleans_founding.html Accessed 9/10/2018

In our times, we have heard much about the resilience of the citizens of the Gulf Coast. No doubt in the next few weeks we will hear about the resilience of the folks in the Carolinas. In fact, if I hear about resilience or “dodging the bullet” much more I may lose it all one day. Let’s face it, if one chooses to live on the coast from Chesapeake Bay to the mouth of the Rio Grande and beyond, resilience is only a small part of the equation. We choose to live here for the quality of life, the climate (before it changes too much), and don’t forget the seafood😀

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Filed under NEW ORLEANS TRI-CENTENNIAL 1718 TO 2018