Building the Devil's Empire: French Colonial New Orleans

Building the Devil's Empire: French Colonial New Orleans

Building the Devil's Empire: French Colonial New Orleans

Building the Devil's Empire: French Colonial New Orleans

Synopsis

Building the Devil's Empire is the first comprehensive history of New Orleans's early years, tracing the town's development from its origins in 1718 to its revolt against Spanish rule in 1768. Shannon Lee Dawdy's picaresque account of New Orleans's wild youth features a cast of strong-willed captives, thin-skinned nobles, sharp-tongued women, and carousing travelers. But she also widens her lens to reveal the port city's global significance, examining its role in the French Empire and the Caribbean, and she concludes that by exemplifying a kind of rogue colonialism- where governments, outlaws, and capitalism become entwined- New Orleans should prompt us to reconsider our notions of how colonialism works.

"[A] penetrating study of the colony's founding."- Nation

"A brilliant and spirited reinterpretation of the emergence of French New Orleans. Dawdy leads us deep into the daily life of the city, and along the many paths that connected it to France, the North American interior, and the Greater Caribbean. A major contribution to our understanding of the history of the Americas and of the French Atlantic, the work is also a model of interdisciplinary research and analysis, skillfully bringing together archival research, archaeology, and literary analysis."- Laurent Dubois, Duke University

Excerpt

In 1727, a young Ursuline nun named Marie Hachard from Rouen, France, embarked on a New World adventure. After a harrowing, five-month journey marked by storms, pirates, shipwrecks, and thirst, Marie and her fellow nuns entered the muddy mouth of the Mississippi. Necessity forced them to temporarily set aside their vow of seclusion. Marie's eyes were wide open as she emerged from the sailing ship that had brought them across the Atlantic, and stepped cautiously into the large canoe in which they would complete their journey. As they made their way through the strange, steamy landscape of gnarled cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss, one imagines polite, restrained conversation occasionally interrupting the buzz of insects and the flutter of water birds taking sudden flight. The pilot may have pointed out their first alligator sighting or explained the eerie sound of the sheep frog. Perhaps he apologized for the putrid swamp vapors that assaulted their senses. After seven days, with their habits of black serge alternately soaked by rain and baked by the August heat, they arrived at their long-anticipated destination—New Orleans. Their mission in French Louisiana's new colonial capital was to take over the operation of the hospital and found a new school for girls. Established just nine years earlier, the town was a frontier settlement where the sounds of tree clearing and construction still clanged through the day and where muddy streets defied the pretenses of civilization. Before the sisters once again cloistered themselves at their temporary convent in the former governor's house, Marie took the opportunity to survey the town, and pronounced to her father in a letter that it was “very pretty, well constructed and regularly built.” Within a few months of her arrival in New Orleans, however, her impressions began to sound less sanguine. Informed by the enslaved laborers, food vendors, and catechism students who came to the convent, the twenty-three-year-old began to make more ethnographic observations on the social and moral life . . .

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