The New Generation
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When, on the 10th of May 1743, the Marquis de Vaudreuil landed in New Orleans, private enterprise-the true foundation of material prosperity-was firmly established. Indigo, rice, and tobacco were moving in quantity to Europe, and lumber to the West Indies. Ships that went out loaded carne back loaded again, especially from St. Domingo; and traffic with the Indians, and with the growing white population along the immense length of the Mississippi and its tributaries, was bringing money into the town and multiplying business year by year.
Hope ran high when the Marquis was appointed. His family had much influence at court, and anticipations were bright of royal patronage and enterprise in the colony and in its capital. But these expectations, particularly as to New Orleans, were feebly met. There was an increase in the number of the troops and a great enhancement of superficial military splendor, with an unscrupulous getting and reckless spending of Government goods and money, and a large ‘importation of pretentious frivolity from the Bourbon camps and palaces. By 1751, every second man in the streets of New Orleans was a soldier in dazzling uniform. They called the governor the “Grand Marquis.” he was graceful and comely, dignified in bearing, fascinating in address, amiable, lavish, fond of pleasure, and, with his marchioness, during the twelve years of his sojourn in Louisiana, maintained the little colonial court with great pomp and dissipation.
Otherwise the period was of a quiet, formative sort, and the few stimulants to growth offered by Government overshot the town and fell to the agricultural grantees. The production of tobacco and myrtle-wax was encouraged, but it was also taxed. Through the Jesuit fathers, sugar-cane was introduced. But one boon continued to eclipse all the rest: year by year came the casket-girls, and were given in marriage to the soldiers chosen for good conduct, with a tract of land to begin life on. The last shipload came ashore in 1751.
The most conspicuous attentions offered New Orleans were a prohibition against trading with the English and Dutch, and further inundations of paper money. The little port continued to grow, though pirates infested the Gulf, British privateers were sometimes at the very mouth of the river, seasons were adverse, and Indian allies insolent. It was reported with pride, that forty-five brick houses were erected between the autumns of 1749 and 1752.
Among the people a transmutation was going on. French fathers were moving aside to make room for Creole sons. The life of the seniors had been what the life of redemptioners and liberated convicts, combining with that of a French and Swiss line and staff in and about the outposts of such a frontier, might be: idle, thriftless, gallant, bold, rude, free, and scornful of labor, which the company bad brought into permanent contempt by the introduction of African slaves. In this atmosphere they had brought up their children. Now these children were taking their parents’ places, and with Latin ductility were conforming to the mold of their nearest surroundings. They differed from their transatlantic stock much as the face of nature in Louisiana differed from that in France. A soil of unlimited fertility became, through slavery, not an incentive to industry, but a promise of unearned plenty. A luxurious and enervating climate joined its influence with this condition to debase even the Gallic love of pleasure to an unambitious apathy and an untrained sensuality. The courteous manners of France were largely retained; but the habit of commanding a dull and abject slave class, over which a “black code” gave every white man full powers of police, induced a certain fierce imperiousness of will and temper; while that proud love of freedom, so pervasive throughout the American wilderness, rose at times to an attitude of arrogant superiority over all constraint, and became the occasion of harsh comment in the reports sent to France by the officers of their king. In the lakes, canebrakes, and swamps, and on the bayou ridges, of their dark, wet forests, and on the sunny expanses of their marshes, a great abundance of bears, panthers, deer, swan, geese, and lesser game gave a bold zest to arduous sport. The chase became almost the only form of exertion, and woodcraft often the only education.
As for the gentler sex, catching less grossness from Negro slavery and less rudeness from the wilderness, they were, in mind as well as morals, superior to the men. They could read and write and make a little music. Such French vivacity as still remained chose the ballroom as their chief delight, while the gaming-table was the indoor passion of the men. Unrestrained, proud, intrepid, self-reliant, rudely voluptuous, of a high intellectual order, yet uneducated, unreasoning, impulsive, and inflammable such was the first native-born generation of Franco-Louisianians.