Impressions Respecting New Orleans: Diary & Sketches, 1818-1820

Impressions Respecting New Orleans: Diary & Sketches, 1818-1820

Impressions Respecting New Orleans: Diary & Sketches, 1818-1820

Impressions Respecting New Orleans: Diary & Sketches, 1818-1820

Excerpt

The purchase of Louisiana by the United States, in 1803, was soon followed by an influx of ambitious and energetic Americans from the North and the East. These new possessors of the former French and Spanish colony found in New Orleans a rather sleepy provincial town which had grown little in its more than three quarters of a century of existence. Its potentialities as the great outlet of the Mississippi Valley were, however, apparent, and the arrival of the first steamboat, in January, 1812, assured it a commercial importance equal to that of any of the great Atlantic cities.

The ensuing phenomenal growth of New Orleans was interrupted briefly by the events of the War of 1812; Jackson's brilliant victory in 1815 served to emphasize the importance of the city, which entered a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity that was to last until the Civil War. It was therefore at a particularly significant epoch in her history that Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe, the architect, set sail for New Orleans from Baltimore in 1818. The journals which he kept during his voyage and his subsequent residence in the city furnish a most important picture of this interesting period. In addition, they contain many significant commentaries on the philosophical and moral questions of the day by one well qualified to speak, for Latrobe occupied an outstanding position in American life, being intimately associated professionally and socially with the leaders of the political, economic, and cultural affairs of the nation. As his descriptive writings reflect the changes taking place in the life of a city, so do his philosophical writings reflect the changes in thought from the revolutionary rationalism of the late eighteenth century to the revivalism of the nineteenth.

Latrobe, generally acknowledged as the founder of the professional practice of architecture in the United States, was an Englishman by birth. He was born in Yorkshire on May 1, 1766, the youngest son of the Reverend Benjamin Latrobe, a Moravian clergyman (said to have been born in what is now New York State), and Anna Margaret Antes, of Germantown, Pennsylvania. Regarding his name he once wrote: "My family name is Boneval, although I am called, as was my father and as are my brothers, by a titular name derived from a Marquisate in France held by my great grandfather in Languedoc, that of La Trobe. . . ."

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