Category Archives: 1716

A Kansas City Interlude

Last week I had the opportunity to be in Kansas City, and devoted some time to researching Louisiana’s colonial presence in “the heartland” during the 18th century. Even before there was a Louisiana, the French presence at the mouth of the Arkansas was well established by LaSalle and Tonty (more on this in the future). And by 1716 (300 years ago), Upper Louisiana aka the Illinois Country aka the western end of New France had several active settlements. But it is the Missouri Valley, believed in 1716 to be the passage west to the Pacific, that is being considered today. A century before Lewis & Clark, the explorers of Louisiana were making their way up the great river to the Rockies. Even earlier, throughout the 17th century, the coureurs des bois (runners of the woods) from New France were trapping and trading the furs that formed the basis of much of the wealth which provided the Bourbon North American empire with its raison d’etre. There is a myth in Louisiana history that these coureurs des bois were the romantic nomads of Upper Louisiana who finally settled the mid Mississippi valley and became the economic basis of river trade through the mid 18th century. But the truth is, by the heyday of French Louisiana, the coureurs des bois were already fading into history. New France and Louisiana began to exert more control over the lucrative fur trade by licensing the formerly free trappers. Almost simultaneously with the establishment of New Orleans the coureurs were steadily being replaced by voyageurs (often the same individuals carrying official licenses). Regardless of what we moderns call these folks, the fur trade continued well into the twentieth century as an essential part of the Louisiana and New Orleans economies.One such individual who lived through these changes and went on to be rightly called the Discoverer of the Missouri Valley was Etienne V. De Bourgmont.
Like many European explorers in this timeframe, De Bourgmont travelled up the Missouri looking for the northwest passage to the Pacific. He lived among the Missouri Indians near the mouth of the Grand River from 1712-1719. (Dictionary of Missouri Biography, p. 108) Working under the aegis of the governor of New France and out of New Orleans under Bienville himself, he travelled up the Missouri to the Yellowstone and provided the data to DeLisle in New Orleans to create the first reasonably accurate map of the region. Later traveling back to France he wrote his journal and “opened the eyes of the Europeans to a new world within the New World: the 433,000 fertile square miles of the Missouri River basin, twice as large as France, and readily accessible via navigable rivers. ” (p. 109 DOMB)

Later, during Louisiana’s Spanish period, Bourgmont was followed into the Missouri valley by James Mackay and John Thomas Evans. Their travels provided much of the more contemporary information that Lewis and Clark used on the opening stages of their expedition. They made it to Three Forks, Montana but were forced to turn around due to resistance from the Sioux.One fun fact we can draw from their expedition was that Evans, a Welshman, was searching for descendants of a medieval legend which told of Welshmen arriving in North America in the 12th century. There were tales of an Indian group up the Missouri who exhibited Welsh racial coloring, and whose language contained words and sounds akin to Welsh. Sadly though, Evans found no evidence of this on the wide Missouri.

More info on all of this may be found in:

Frank Norall. Etienne V. De Bourgmont. (1988, U. Of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.) ISBN: 0803233167

Wood, W. Raymond. Prologue to Lewis & Clark. (Norman, OK: U. Of Oklahoma Press,2003.) ISBN 0806134917

And a very good website at:
http://www.museum.state.il.us/exhibits/lewis_clark_il/htmls/il_country_exp/preps/legend_madoc.html

Finally, I must note a sad fact about all of this European activity in the Missouri Valley. The Mandan Indians, the first significant nation up the river and the trading partners to all of the above mentioned explorers, had disappeared from the West by 1840 due to the European diseases that followed the explorers upstream. Of course, more description and info can be found in George Caitlin’s book, the great painter and chronicler of the Western Indians before “manifest destiny” brought about its terrible effects.

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Filed under 1716, Louisiana History, New Orleans Tercentennial

300 Years Ago: 1716: Les Soldats:

My source for much of the information presented in these entries is the “standard” academic history of French Louisiana by Marcel Giraud. I have also mentioned frequently in this series that while OFFICIALLY Louisiana was often in dire straights economically, it nevertheless continued to struggle on and survive basically through a thriving illegal trade network which provided food and supplies from many sources. Let it be said though that while the smuggling economy was effective, it really did not become a major game changer until the 1720’s and 30’s. In 1716, things were pretty bad. And nowhere was this more apparent than in Louisiana’s colonial military. Monsieur Giraud’s chapter on the military during the years of “transition” 1715-17, titled “The Defense Of the Colony” is a bit of a misnomer. There was no defense to speak of. Louisiana’s military establishment is the perfect example of what the official historical sources for French Colonial Louisiana have chronicled regarding the “starvation and woe” of French Louisiana.

In Louisiana the regime of Antoine Crozat was fizzling out like a shoo-shoo on New Year’s Eve. Having lost a fortune and all interest in his Louisiana proprietorship, he basically walked away from a bad deal. This along with the death of Louis XIV and the establishment of the Regency under Phillipe, Duc d’Orleans left Louisiana in transition between control by the Council of the Navy and the upcoming Company of the West. The Council wanted to increase the Louisiana garrison by four companies, but only succeeded in raising 114 of the 200 men needed. Furthermore, they could not recruit the necessary tradesmen to complement the soldiers. As with most Early Modern armies, pay was sporadic, uniforms were rarely replaced, the food supply was intermittent, and desertion was rampant. The only bright spot in the military setup was a decent officer corps. But even they could only do so much. Louisiana forts slowly fell into ruin and the soldiers were often kept alive by letting the Natives feed them.

300 years ago, there was not much good news about the Louisiana garrison. Giraud’s entire chapter on the military makes no mention of any actual “military” operations during 1716. The French were certainly lucky that the local Indians were probably looking upon the situation without too much worry about what the silly white men were up to. At least at this juncture, they were pretty harmless.

And now for something completely different . . .

Since there are no French cookbooks written in the colony of Louisiana in the 18th century (or at least none yet discovered), compiling a study of the birth of Creole Cuisine has been an exercise in extracting bits and pieces of information from many, many documents, both primary and secondary, and making some logical connections as well as (frankly) launching some educated guesses. Therefore, it was most welcome to come across the following:

“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 in which the tall tales spun by the writer were at times self-serving aggrandizements, or worse, gross distortions of reality.’
From the “Devil’s Empire”
Quoted in:
Greenwald, Erin M. Marc-Antoine Caillot and the Company of the Indies in Louisiana: Trade in the French Atlantic World. Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 2016. Page 5

“The Petticoat Rebellion” FINALLY HAS A GENRE – A LEGITIMATE GENRE !!!! HOORAY, HOORAY, HOORAY!!!!!!

It is a Histoire on the origin of Creole cuisine. Although, in this Histoire, all efforts have been made to minimize the “gross distortions of reality”.

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300 Years Ago: Starvation & Woe

The French colony of Louisiana has, for three hundred years, had the reputation of being poor, ill-managed, and essentially a failure as a colonial enterprise. This picture – of what would become one third of the United States, one of the biggest seaports in the world (New Orleans and New York continually trade back and forth the honor of the biggest port in North America), and the heart and soul of the greatest, some say the only truly unique, culinary tradition of America – Creole/Cajun cuisine of course – was locked into place 300 years ago in 1716. 

In those days Louisiana government was divided between two chief offices, those being governor and ordonnateur. The governor was primarily the military, legal, and political official, but the ordonnateur held the purse strings and was in charge of the economic development of the colony. In 1716, the ordonnateur was Marc-Antoine Hubert (pronounced oo-bear). Hubert arrived in Louisiana in late 1716 and immediately noted that the population took no interest in agriculture and lived essentially by trade with the Indians. As of 1716, hardly any Africans had been brought to Louisiana and the “peculiar institution” of slave-based plantation agriculture had yet to be established. The proprietor (Crozat) and his governor (LaMothe de Cadillac) continued the foolish quest for mineral resources instead of building up Louisiana’s true sources of wealth, an international trade infrastructure, agriculture, and the exploitation of the country’s vast natural resources of field, forest, and waterway. The development of these economies would be tapped as the French colony expanded in the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. But in 1716, Louisiana was indeed a picture of starvation and woe. 
Things began to change after the founding of New Orleans, although I do not think that it was BECAUSE New Orleans was established. As the colony grew through the first half of the century after 1718 the above mentioned tripartite economic forces (trade, agriculture, and natural (non-mineral) wealth) came more and more into play. New Orleans served as the focus for this cultural and economic growth. As Bienville’s “founding father” role came to it’s natural conclusion in the early 40’s and with the coming of Vaudreiul’s influential regime through the 40’s, New Orleans’ and Louisiana’s French culture came into full flower. Had it not been truncated so soon by the French defeat in the Seven Years or French and Indian War (1756-1763), Louisiana’s French culture may have blossomed into one as influential as Canada’s French heritage. In fact, despite of 1763, Louisiana’s Creole culture, nourished by Spain’s effective but not overpowering rule, is as influential as any heritage in the United States – perhaps even more-so.
The guiding light of the culinary history, The Petticoat Rebellion, is the idea that “They Had To Eat”. And even though it was true that “officially” there was much starvation and woe in the colony, as least early on; it was also true that one of the hallmarks of Creole cuisine, using what was (and is) available and making it into a truly marvelous experience, was a natural outcome of such a situation. Before 1718, and more extensively after, gardens were being grown behind most houses, chickens and pigs and native foods (venison, seafood, the three sisters) were regularly available, and even a few “habitations” or farms had been established. In fact, one of the anniversaries to be celebrated in 2016 is the first importation of rice into Louisiana in 1716. Who knows, perhaps in 1716, some French settler and an Indian friend sat down to the first pot of Red Beans and Rice along the Mississippi. (see page 29 of The Petticoat Rebellion for the recipe).
 

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Filed under 1716, Creole Cooking, Louisiana History, NEW ORLEANS TRI-CENTENNIAL 1718 TO 2018