Colonial Natchitoches: A Creole Community on the Louisiana-Texas Frontier

Colonial Natchitoches: A Creole Community on the Louisiana-Texas Frontier

Colonial Natchitoches: A Creole Community on the Louisiana-Texas Frontier

Colonial Natchitoches: A Creole Community on the Louisiana-Texas Frontier

Synopsis

Strategically located at the western edge of the Atlantic World, the French post of Natchitoches thrived during the eighteenth century as a trade hub between the well-supplied settlers and the isolated Spaniards and Indians of Texas. Its critical economic and diplomatic role made it the most important community on the Louisiana-Texas frontier during the colonial era.
Despite the community's critical role under French and then Spanish rule, Colonial Natchitoches is the first thorough study of its society and economy. Founded in 1714, four years before New Orleans, Natchitoches developed a creole (American-born of French descent) society that dominated the Louisiana-Texas frontier.
H. Sophie Burton and F. Todd Smith carefully demonstrate not only the persistence of this creole dominance but also how it was maintained. They examine, as well, the other ethnic cultures present in the town and relations with Indians in the surrounding area.
Through statistical analyses of birth and baptismal records, census figures, and appropriate French and Spanish archives, Burton and Smith reach surprising conclusions about the nature of society and commerce in colonial Natchitoches.

Excerpt

In 1714, four years prior to the founding of New Orleans, Frenchmen established the post of Natchitoches (pronounced Nak a tish) on the frontier between French Louisiana and Spanish Texas. For most of the colonial era, Natchitoches was the easternmost of three communities— San Antonio and Santa Fe being the others—that served as focal points for the European, Native American, and African peoples who inhabited the area between the Red River and the Rio Grande. Ruled by France before 1766, and under Spanish control until 1804, Natchitoches became the most important community on the Louisiana-Texas frontier during the colonial era.

Due to its position on the edge of the Atlantic World, European goods flowed through Natchitoches westward to the isolated Spaniards and Indians of Texas. in addition to the critical economic and diplomatic role the town played in the colonial Southwest, Natchitoches was a center of activity in its own right. Gallic families settled in the region, raised livestock and cash crops, and brought slaves from Africa to work in the fields. By the end of the colonial era, nearly two thousand people resided in Natchitoches.

Despite the town’s prominence on the Louisiana-Texas frontier during the eighteenth century, Natchitoches has been seriously neglected in the historical literature. Only three prior works have examined colonial Natchitoches itself, but all were written in the early twentieth century by historians who mainly focused on the elite settlers and stressed the romantic exploits of the town’s founder, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis. in the past decade and a half, however, an outpouring of excellent works have touched on the colonial post. a few prominent scholars have included St. Denis and the establishment of Natchitoches in magisterial historical endeavors that provided overviews of French Louisiana and Spanish Texas. These important works, in turn, have inspired a number of studies examining the various Indian tribes that established commercial ties with the French traders of Natchitoches in the eighteenth century. Related works have focused on the Indian trade itself, and the French families that dominated the enterprise throughout the colonial . . .

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