Before Mark Twain: A Sampler of Old, Old Times on the Mississippi

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

GLIMPSES OF NEW ORLEANS IN 1819

BENJAMIN H. LATROBE

[Arriving in New Orleans in January, 1819, to complete some building contracts the noted architect Benjamin H. Latrobe yet had time to keep an extensive diary in which he set down his impressions of the town as he first saw it. Some of the passages describing scenes which would have caught the eye and interest of any river traveler have been extracted here from John H. B. Latrobe's The Journal of Latrobe (New York, Appleton, 1905), pp. 160-63, 179-82, 220-24, 230-32. Any reader interested in New Orleans or Latrobe will want to see the beautifully printed Impressions Respecting New Orleans by Benjamin Henry Boneval Latrobe Diary & Sketches 1818-1820, edited with an introduction and notes by Samuel Wilson, Jr., New York, Columbia University Press, 1951.]

On arriving at New Orleans in the morning, a sound more strange than any that is heard anywhere else in the world astonishes a stranger. It is a most incessant, loud, rapid, and various gabble of tongues of all tones that were every heard at Babel. It is more to be compared with the sounds that issue from an extensive marsh, the residence of a million or two of frogs, from bullfrogs up to whistlers, than to anything else. It proceeded from the market and levee, a point to which we had cast anchor, and which, before we went ashore, was in a moment, by the sudden disappearance of the fog, laid open to our view.

New Orleans has, at first sight, a very imposing and handsome appearance, beyond any other city in the United States in which I have yet been. The strange and loud noise heard through the fog, on board the Clio, proceeding from the voices of the market people and their customers, was not more extraordinary than the appearance of these noisy folk when the fog cleared away and we landed. Everything had an odd look. For twenty-five years I have been a traveler only between New York and Richmond,

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