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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of New Orleans

by
John Kendall

published by The Lewis Publishing Company,
Chicago and New York, 1922

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 8
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p110 Chapter VII
Macarty and Roffignac

Auguste Macarty, who served the city as mayor from September 7, 1815 to May 1, 1820, was a member of an influential Creole family allied by marriage to one of the last Spanish Governors, Miro. Another relative was L. B. Macarty, who served as Secretary of State under Governor Claiborne in 1812; and still another was the aristocratic Mademoiselle Macarty, whose vast plantation just above the city ultimately became the site of the suburban town of Carrollton, and is now part of the Seventh District. The resignation of Girod had, as we have seen, brought Macarty to the Principal as acting mayor; it was now necessary to hold a special election for an officer to fill out the unexpired testimony. "Mr. A. Macarty will receive the suffrages of a great number of the citizens of New Orleans for mayor at the election which takes place in September next," ran a paragraph in the Louisiana Gazette on August 22nd, 1815, announcing his candidacy. The election took place on September 7th, and resulted in Macarty's election without opposition. Col. P. F. Dubourg, who had been mentioned as a rival candidate by certain "citizens fond of good order and a strict observance of the laws,"1 withdrew from the contest in the latter part of August. That Macarty filled this provisional term with credit to himself and satisfaction to his constituency may be inferred from the fact that in the following year, at the regular election, he was again elected mayor. On this occasion he was opposed by Ferdinand Percy, whom he defeated by the extraordinary disparate vote of 813 to 87. At this election the candidates for the council were Nathan Morse, Zenon Cavalier, François Dreux, Eugène Laveau, Edmond Méance, J. B. Plauché, James Freret, Thomas Bryant and S. C. Young. These were all elected. For recorder the candidates were J. Soulie, Felix Arnaud, James Sterrett and Zenon Cavalier. Soulie was elected, receiving 813 votes. His next nearest competitor, Arnaud, received 12 votes.2

Macarty's first term was signalized by an outbreak of a disease which we now recognize as yellow fever, but which the medical knowledge of that day was not sufficient to recognize. The Medical Society, after long debate, pronounced it "American typhus."3 The mortality appears to have been considerable. The measures to counteract the spread of the disease were pathetic in their inefficiency; as, for example, the watering of the streets, which was undertaken as a sanitary procedure calculated to eradicate the fever.4 It was believed that the epidemic was brought to the city from Havana, and an official inquiry was addressed to the Governor at that city, with a view to collect information on the subject for future use, but it elicited merely the reply that no unusual diseases prevailed in that city, and that the infection could not have proceeded thence. An important consequence of this visitation was the creation of the first Board of Health in the history of the city, which came into existence in 1817, under an act of the Legislature, the provisions of which p111were certainly comprehensive. It required that all premises be kept clean, that oysters be not sold from May to September; that no refuse be allowed to accumulate in drains or gutters; that slaughter houses in the city limits be licensed and inspected, and all unauthorized slaughtering of animals be stopped; that dressed meat in transit through the streets be kept covered, and that no burials be made except in the public cemeteries. The public markets were, moreover, required to close at noon, in order that they might be thoroughly cleaned; and a contract was made for the proper collection of garbage and street cleanings; the collector having a bell at the neck of his horse in order that householders might have warning of his approach and set out the refuse which they desired to have carried away. These regulations were enforced by the police. A species of quarantine was also instituted, under which the mayor had the right to prevent the landing from the shipping of anything deemed injurious to health. The Board of Health operated till 1819, when the law under which it existed was repealed, and the Governor of the State was invested with the right to establish quarantine by proclamation. In that year, also, a registrar was appointed for the Parish of Orleans to compile the statistics of births and deaths. He was empowered to charge a fee for his services in this particular. Hitherto the collection of vital statistics had been in the hands of the clergy.5

Otherwise, the first term of Mayor Macarty was occupied with the routine business of the city, the character of which may be inferred from an enumeration of the more important ordinances passed during this time. In October, 1815, for example, the contract was let for the collection of the tax on gambling houses, which tax went to the support of the Charity Hospital. Other ordinances dealt with the details of paving; the carting of firewood; port charges;6 the fees for public balls;7 the compensation to be made for houses torn down to prevent the spread of fire; regulating gambling houses;8 granting quarters to a society organized to promote a library;9 prohibiting bathing in the Mississippi in front of the city during daylight;10 prohibiting the erection of wooden houses within the city limits;11 requiring the citizens to clear their premises of the deposits left by the long-standing water from the Macarty crevasse;12 prohibiting any interference with the "natural drainage;"13 regulating the p112hire of slaves by the day;14 and providing a system of house numbering.15 Annually an ordinance was passed regulating the price of bread.16 A good deal of attention was paid to the public amusements. There were several ordinances in which attempts were made to regulate balls and theatrical performances, which appear to have constituted chief diversions of the day. The ordinance on the theaters is of sufficient interest to warrant a description here. It provides that no person might open a theater without having first procured a license from the mayor, who likewise should prescribe the day and hour at which the performances might take place. The interior of the building should be carefully swept between performances, and as soon as the doors were opened, must be lighted; and these lights must not be extinguished until the spectators had all departed. Tickets should be sold only in proportion to the seating capacity of the auditorium. During the performance the doors between the auditorium and the parts of the house "behind the scenes" should be kept closed, and only members of the management and of the police force might penetrate into that mysterious professional arcanum. All plays must be submitted to the mayor in advance of production, and receive his approbation, which should not be extended to any composition such as might tend to "corrupt the morals or disturb the public tranquillity." The penalty for failure in this regard was a fine of from $20 to $100; the mayor might, moreover, at his discretion take steps to prevent the performance, or even close the theater altogether. Any actor or actress who failed to appear when his part required, unless prevented by "unforeseen accident," or who committed "any indecorous action," or was "wanting in respect to the public," was liable to a fine of from $5 to $50. Persons entering the theater without a ticket were, on detection, to be fined not less than $5 or more than $15. The audience was forbidden to behave "boisterously," to leave the seats while the curtain was raised, or to "shriek or use improper language." Moreover, it was required to leave when so required, or run the risk of arrest and a fine of from $10 to $50 per person. No white person might occupy seats set aside for colored spectators, or vice versa, under heavy penalties. Moreover, carriages waiting outside for spectators must observe an order of precedence to be fixed by the mayor. Guards to prevent the peace went on duty half an hour before the entertainment began. Finally, the management was required to provide tubs filled with water at various points in the building, as a precaution against fire, and keep a "fire engine" ready on all days of performance.17 Another ordinance provides that no spectator may enter a public "spectacle" carrying a stick, cane, sword, sabre, or other arms; all such articles to be deposited at the door with an employee stationed there to receive them.18

p113 We may note in passing an election for aldermen on August 27, 1817, at which the following were elected: First District, H. Landreau; Second District, F. Percy; Third District, P. Urtebuise and F. B. Languille; Fourth District, M. Blache, "ainé"; Faubourg Ste. Marie, J. Roffignac; Faubourg Marigny, L. B. Macarty.

The election for mayor in 1818 brought about a spirited contest. The candidates for that office were Nathan Morse, "whose zeal for the public weal needs no eulogium,"19 J. Roffignac, John Chabaud, and Auguste Macarty. Macarty was re-elected. He received 354 votes, as against 222 cast for Morse, 112 for Chabaud, and 69 for Roffignac. There was only one candidate for Recorder — Soulie; who was re-elected by 756 votes.20

This second term of Macarty was uneventful. The city was deeply interested in the litigation which arose over the grant made by the State Legislature, in a moment of ill-advised generosity, of the monopoly for steam navigation on the Mississippi for a period of twenty-five years to Livingston and Fulton, in recognition of their enterprise in bringing down the river the steamboat "New Orleans," in 1812. This litigation was carried to the Supreme Court on the ground of unconstitutionality, and ended in the revocation of the grant, greatly to the satisfaction of the commercial interests of New Orleans which saw "the prosperity of the city, so dependent upon the upper country, greatly restricted, if not materially jeopardized," by its existence.21 The Council, at Macarty's suggestion, addressed petitions to the United States Government, soliciting donations of public funds for the Charity Hospital and the College of New Orleans; and to build a lazaretto at English Turn. The last-named request was based upon the allegation that "the disease of the previous summer was introduced from the West Indies," and was apparently motived by the not unreasonable feeling that the national government ought to take steps to prevent a repetition of the event.22

Nothing came of these petitions, nor of a similar petition requesting the building of a custom house "near the center of the town [. . .] on the ground where with stands the arsenal in this city, and near where are situate the magazines."23 In May, 1818, an "Inspector General" of police was appointed under an ordinance of the Council. His duty was to inspect streets and "banquettes" and, generally, to look after the health of the city, as well as to superintend the enforcement of the laws. He may be regarded as the first chief of police in the history of the city. In March, 1819, the city entered into a contract with Benj. H. B. Latrobe, for the erection of water works to be run by steam. Latrobe erected a small building with appropriate equipment on the levee near the French Market, and for many years supplied the city with water for drinking purposes and for public uses. Up to this time drinking water drawn from the river had been hawked about the city by itinerant vendors, who sold four bucketfuls for a "picayune" (6¼ cents) or a hogshead for 50 cents. The public water supply was derived from shallow wells, which, however, did not supply potable water. Latrobe's enterprise, unpretentious as it p114would seem at the present time, was looked upon as a remarkable improvement upon these antiquated methods of supply.

The repeal of the law establishing the Board of Health has already been alluded to. The opposition to this body was unquestionably based principally upon the idea that its regulations hampered unnecessarily the growth of the port. There was, also, some resentment towards it as a creature of the State Legislature, thus representing the tendency of that body to interfere in purely local matters. This interference was hotly resented at all times in the early history of New Orleans. In the latter part of 1818 the Board proposed to levy the tax which it was empowered by the Legislature to impose, and with that end in view made a demand on the City Council for the assessment rolls. The Council refused to supply the document, on the ground that the board had not been elected by the people of the city, or by the Council, and that the city charter "assured to the citizens the right to appoint the public officers necessary for the administration of the police of the city."24 It seems probable that the inability of the Board to obtain funds as a result of the Council's perfectly correct attitude, was what led to the changes which resulted in the concentration of the quarantine power in the hands of the Governor in 1819.

Other matters which engaged the attention of the city government were embodied in the ordinances which assessed fines on all property-owners whose chimneys caught fire through lack of proper cleaning;25 prohibited the accumulation of combustible materials in public places;26 forbade all persons to carry through the city "banners, pictures and caricatures calculated to disturb the public peace";27 regulated dogs;28 prohibiting slaves from sleeping in houses other than their masters', or hiring rooms in such houses even with the consent of their owners; ordering that all strangers "liable to the prevailing malady" should dwell as much as possible on the outskirts of the city, in huts to be provided gratuitously by the city for their use during the progress of the epidemic of 1817;29 and providing for the payment of physicians to attend the "sick poor" under similar circumstances.30 The interest of the city fathers in public amusements is illustrated by the fact that John Davis, the impresario of the Orleans Theater, applied in October, 1818, for a loan of $15,000 — an immense sum for that time — to be used in completing his theater; a request which was promptly granted, and a mortgage taken as security.31

The Council, however, was not so ready to pay the salaries of the judges of the Criminal Court; declining to make the necessary appropriations in July, 1818, on the ground that the "funds of the city were to go to certain specified purposes, and the salaries of these judges had nothing to do with the affairs of the police."32 We must note, also, as of interest in this period, the fact that the city accepted from Jean Gravier a donation of a site for a market in the square bounded by St. Charles, Camp, p115Poydras, and Girod;33 and that the people of the Faubourgs Ste. Marie, Delord, Annunciations, and LaCourse were given permission to unite to erect a market house.34

In 1818, also, the limits of the city were extended to the lower boundary of Mlle. Macarty's plantation. The annexed region was made the Eighth Ward.

It will be seen from this survey of Macarty's career as mayor, that it covered a period of municipal growth, although nothing of outstanding importance occurred. The population was steadily increasing. In 1810 the population of the city and its suburbs was 24,552, having trebled since the Cession, under the administration of the American Government.35 In 1815 it had increased to 33,000, and in 1820 to 41,000. Emigration "pressed in from all the States in the Union and from almost every kingdom in Europe." The commerce of the city increased in a corresponding ratio. In 1817, for instance, the products of the rapidly developing Mississippi Valley were delivered at New Orleans in 1,500 flatboats and 500 barges. Four years later there were 287 steamboats, 174 barges and 441 flatboats, but the value of the receipts had jumped to the then impressive figure of nearly $12,000,000 — an increase of between $5,000,000 and $7,500,000 in a period of five years; and this in spite of the financial inflation and collapse which swept the country between 1815 and 1819. In fact, New Orleans was now upon the threshold of that era of great prosperity, so long predicted as the consequence of its location; than which, in the language of one of her citizens, none ever existed more suited "for the accumulation of wealth and power."36

During the mayoralty of Count Roffignac New Orleans entered upon that new era. Louis Philippe de Roffignac was born in Angoulême, France. His godfather and godmother were the Duke and Duchess of Orléans, whose son afterwards ascended the French throne, as Louis Philippe. At fourteen young Roffignac was a page in the duchess' household; at seventeen, he held a commission as lieutenant of artillery in the French army. He first saw service in Spain, under his father, who held an important post in the forces operating in that country. At twenty-four he was promoted captain for gallant and meritorious service in the field. He was in the French army sent to America, and in 1800 found himself in Louisiana. Under the Treaty of Paris, French citizens were entitled to the same privileges of naturalization as natives. He availed himself of the opportunity to identify himself completely with New Orleans, which he ever afterwards regarded as his home. His attachment to the country of his adoption was profound and sincere.

In Louisiana he held many offices of honor and trust. He served ten consecutive terms in the State Legislature. When the Louisiana Legion was formed, in 1822, he became its colonel. He already held the rank of brigadier-general, a rank conferred in recognition of his services in the American army at the battle of New Orleans, seven years before. He was active in business also, serving for a time as director of the State Bank of Louisiana. His connection with the City Council covered a long term of years. He was a member of that body when elected mayor.

p116 As his term drew to a close Macarty, weary of the cares of office, announced that he would not be a candidate for re-election. His retirement was followed by a contest which aroused more interest than had previously been known, though, perhaps, judged by present day standards, the canvass was only mildly exciting. At that time it was the custom for candidates to make their ambitions known by a modest announcement in the papers, as we have seen Macarty doing. This usually took the form of a statement that a number of his friends desired to recommend him to the voters as a suitable person to fill the coveted position. There were no primaries and no conventions; on the proper day the voters cast their ballots for whatever candidates they preferred, and the City Council tabulated and announced the result. In this way Roffignac's candidacy was put before the people early in April, 1820. A few days, no less unostentatiously, J. B. Gilly was nominated. Gilly was likewise a member of the city Council. "He cannot rectify all the evils in the police," said the card published by his friends, in the Gazette, on April 20th, "but he can better it." Towards the end of the month, Gallien Préval also entered the race. The election took place on May 1st. Roffignac received 537 votes, Gilly 388, and Préval, 112. At the same time Soulie was again chosen Recorder practically by a unanimous vote.37

Roffignac's administration lasted eight years. He was repeatedly re-elected apparently without opposition. On the whole his administration was successful, in spite of many handicaps. He seems to have been the first official in New Orleans to appreciate its dawning commercial importance, and set himself earnestly and laboriously to prepare the city for its coming greatness. The contemporary press is full of accounts of hard work done by him. The timid accused him of extravagance, because he did not hesitate to incur debts in carrying out his ambitious projects. In 1822, for example, he induced the State Legislature to authorize him to issue "city stock" — bonds — to the amount of $300,000, which were used "exclusively for watering and paving" the city. He restored order to the finances of the city by a policy of systematic retrenchment. Soon after taking office he made a sweeping reduction in salaries, his own included. A little later, by disposing of a large part of the real estate owned by the city on a system of long-time ground rents, he created a new and much needed source of revenue. He gave constant attention to the cleaning of the streets. In the first year of his administration he caused trees to be planted in the Place d'Armes (Jackson Square), which till then had been a bare and somewhat unsightly expanse of untrimmed grass. In the same way he beautified Circus (Congo) Square and the levee in front of the city. A year later Councilman Montgomery, seconding and extending the mayor's efforts, introduced into the Council an ordinance to plant sycamores all around the city, and the town was speedily girdled by beautiful trees, some of which survive to the present time. Roffignac also advocated the extension of the levee in front of the city, and when the project was opposed in the Council, on the ground that funds were lacking with which to pay for the work, a patriotic citizen, Nicholas Girod, offered to do it at his own expense. The city fathers, shamed at this evidence of a public spirit superior to p117their own, gave way, and somewhat reluctantly authorized the expenditure. Attempts were made also to improve the sanitary condition of the city, by developing a natural drain in the rear of the American quarter; widened and deepened a few year later, this became the Melpomene Canal. In 1821, looking in the same direction, a quarantine was established, but having failed to protect the city from the yellow fever, was discontinued in 1825, as ineffective.

Roffignac was a constant advocate of paving the city. Experiments in 1817 in the American quarter had demonstrated the fact that cobblestones could be successfully used, in spite of the alleged instability of the ground. In that year a block on Gravier Street, between Magazine and Tchoupitoulas, had been laid with this material by Benjamin Morgan with satisfactory results. The mayor urged the use of stone pavements in the "Vieux Carré," as well as in the American quarter. The money obtained from the bond issue of 1822 went in large part for this work. A Northern business man named Scott was induced to take the contract. He paved several of the main streets, including St. Charles, with cobblestones, over which fine gravel was laid; and substantial stone curbing was put along the sidewalks.38 The work, however, does not seem to have been carried very far, as in 1835 we hear that only two streets had been paved through their entire length. Roffignac's work, however, was a great improvement. Parts of it were still in existence thirty years later, when the system of paving with square granite blocks came into vogue. In 1821 the city was lighted for the first time. Posts were erected at the diagonal corners of the principal streets, and twelve large lamps, with reflectors, were swung from them on ropes. This was regarded as a notable example of progress, in a community in which until then every individual abroad after nightfall was compelled to carry his own lantern. The custom of carrying lanterns, however, lingered in New Orleans till 1837.39

The fact that the Legislature held its meetings in New Orleans and possibly for that reason, felt a special interest in its affairs, caused it to continue to pass much purely local legislation, to the renewed chagrin of its people. There was justifiable complaint, for example, when the Legislature granted a monopoly for supplying the city fish. Other acts were more progressive. The law authorizing the Council to fix the wages of day laborers was repealed; the possession of property was made a condition of eligibility for election to the mayoralty, the council, or the recordership. The recorder, for instance, was required to possess property valued at $3,000. On the other hand, the salary attached to this office was raised from $500 to $1.000. The City Council was in 1825 invested with the powers of a Board of Health, the law of 1821, with its elaborate sanitary provisions being thereupon repealed. In Roffignac's time New Orleans was divided into eight wards. In 1821 the rapid growth of the city made it necessary to define the limits of the port. On the left bank it was fixed between the Bourg Declouet (near the present site of the United States Barracks) and Rousseau's plantation; while on the right bank, its upper limit was McDonogh's plantation, and the lower, Duverje's plantation (Algiers).

p118 Throughout his administration Roffignac was troubled by the problem of public order. The police of that and succeeding administrations were wretched.40 Roffignac reorganized the gens d'armes who were included in the police force. Their main duties were to help put out fires, repress tumult, and keep the negro population in a properly submissive state. At that time the city was constantly filled with strangers who came thither in barges and flatboats, with cargoes of flour, corn, cured meats, and other products. They were largely from the Western country. In New Orleans they found a profitable market for their wares. Most of them were honest farmers and traders. But in their wake came hordes of reckless men, gamblers and criminals, who fattened on the river business and settled in numbers in the city. Their behavior was so reprehensible that Governor Villeré felt compelled to allude to it in scathing terms in his message to the State Legislature in 1818. Some of the other difficulties of the situation may be inferred from the fact that in May, 1820, sixteen men were arrested for piracy41 and two of them were executed after having been found guilty by the Criminal court which, to curb this lawless element, had been set up in 1818. In 1825 another step was taken in the same direction, when the "city court" was added. This consisted of one presiding and four associate judges. It replaced the justices of the peace, some of whose functions, however, were now committed to the mayor, the recorder and the councilmen.42

Another source of disorder was the licensed gambling halls. Gambling in New Orleans was a problem which both the Legislature and the Council strove in vain to solve. Licensing and suppression were tried alternately, neither with satisfactory results. A law of 1811 had prohibited gambling anywhere in the State, but three years later it was deemed advisable to permit gambling in New Orleans at least. A system of municipal regulation which was then introduced was attended only by the most deplorable results; it merely "encouraged this alarming vice under sanction of the law," as the preamble to one of the acts on this subject runs. In 1820, accordingly, the legislative prohibition was re‑enacted. Apparently, however, the financial needs of the community made it necessary for the city fathers to resort to every expedient to raise money; among others, to taxes on gambling. A new law was passed in 1823, therefore, to authorize the licensing in New Orleans of six gambling halls, each to pay a tax of $5,000. Part of the revenue thus procured was devoted in 1825 to the support of the College of Orleans.

The gambling halls remained open day and night, and were a prolific source of disorder and crime. It was necessary to maintain a strict watch over the frequenters of these resorts. The night police were too few to perform this duty effectively; moreover, they were notoriously inefficient. The newspapers of the day contain endless reports of robberies, assaults and felonies of all kinds, committed in the very center of the town. In 1822 there were fifty so‑called "constables," who patrolled the town by night in small squads. They had the right to halt and examine any wayfarers whom they might encounter; and there was much complaint about the arbitrary way in which they exercised p119their powers upon responsible men and women. In addition, there was a sort of volunteer police, in part recruited from the local militia organization, and in part from among the citizens. Its character can be inferred from one of the city ordinances, which makes it a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine of $10 and the publication of the names of the offenders, for anyone to refuse "to walk the square watch" when commanded to do so by the commissioner of his square.43 The usual punishment for minor offences was the pillory. Here culprits were exposed from morning to sunset, on a platform in the Place d'Armes, with a great placard inscribed with their names and offenses hanging around their necks. This punishment was visited upon both white and black down to 1827; when it was abolished as far as the former were concerned, but as for the negroes, it remained in constant use down to 1847.44

Another fertile source of anxiety to the Mayor and Council was the fire department. Incendiary fires were frequent in New Orleans throughout Roffignac's administration. An organized gang of incendiarists operated in the city in 1827 and 1828, the existence of whom came to light only when two members were discovered by the citizens in the very act of applying the torch to some buildings in the rear of the town. Somewhat earlier, two negroes were arrested on charges of conspiring to burn the town.45 To these problems Roffignac addressed himself with characteristic energy and courage. The city had no regularly organized fire department. There was, however, a board of fire commissioners organized in July, 1816. They were thirty in number, five in each of the six wards into which the city was then divided. They carried white truncheons as emblems of office. Their duty was "to repair to the place of fire in order to employ and direct all persons, whether free or slaves, who shall come to the fire, by forming them into ranks for the purpose of handling buckets to supply the fire engines with water; to keep as far as possible from the fire all idle persons; and for that purpose they shall call upon the city guard" [in Roffignac's day the Gendarmerie was regularly detailed for the purpose] "to station a sufficient number of sentinels to keep back the idle multitude; to superintend and facilitate the conveyance of the engines and other implements necessary for extinguishing fires, and to direct them to the most suitable places, to be put at the disposal of the workmen; to call upon and employ a sufficient number of carts for the transportation of the aforesaid implements, as well as the effects and furniture of the persons most exposed to the danger of the fire."46 A short time later we find an appeal made to the people generally to enroll in the fire companies, and notice was given that free men of color would be encouraged to form companies of firemen or engineers, or "sapeurs," as they were officially termed. This matter was taken up by Roffignac in his first official communication to the city council, and reference is made at intervals thereafter to the same subject throughout the first years of his administration.47 These companies were to consist of sixty men each. They were formed, p120but their efficiency could not have been great, as Castellanos speaks of the members usually being found at the end of the fire lying drunk in the streets.48 Apparently, at this time a small monthly wage was paid to persons enrolled in the fire department. In July, 1824, the defects of the system were so obvious that Roffignac felt compelled to assemble the leaders for a conference at city hall. As a result of their deliberations the council undertook to enlarge the force. A special committee which was charged with the investigation, recommended that an additional company be recruited from among the lamp-lighters and the city guard, to be paid at the rate of $3 per month each. The demand for improvement in the department, however, continued, though it is not clear that any further steps were taken to meet it, down to April, 1829, when the organization of the Volunteer Company No. 1 initiated the volunteer fire department of New Orleans, which, in one form or another, was thereafter the highly efficient reliance of the community for the performance of an intensely important public function.

Some attention was also given to education, although not till long after Roffignac's time was the idea of free public schools developed. The principal school in the city was the College of Orleans, founded in 1811. It received an appropriation of $1,000 annually from the State. It was managed by a board of regents down to 1821, but in that year the organization was altered, and a board of administrators appointed by the governor was put in charge. This institution was obliged by law to receive eight indigent students, who were instructed without charge; but fees were exacted from all the other students. This institution came to an end in 1826, as a result of the prejudices of the population against the regicide, Lakanal, who had been appointed director by the administrators. Lakanal was a very eminent man, and as far as attainments went, admirably suited for the position; but the loyal people of New Orleans would not entrust their offspring to the blood-stained hands of the veteran republican, and the withdrawal of their patronage led to the closing of the school.a It had many illustrious pupils; among them the great historian, Gayarré.

The state law of 1826 required the city to open one central and two primary schools, which were placed under the direction of a board of regents, with authority to employ a director. These schools were each to receive and educate gratis fifty poor children, between seven and fourteen years of age. To these needy scholars textbooks were furnished free. The only condition imposed upon them was that they should attend regularly. A year later the total number of poor students to be received into these schools was fixed at $100. For the support of these institutions a tax of $1,500 was laid upon the two theaters then open in the city, "to encourage these useful and ornamental institutions," as the legislatures defined their purpose, somewhat ambiguously, in the title of the act.

Other cultural enterprises were likewise inaugurated in considerable numbers in Roffignac's time. The Physico-Medical Society came into existence in 1820, with the famous Dr. W. N. Mercer as one of its founders. The Mechanics Society followed soon after. A year or two later a free library was formed "for the purpose of extending knowledge and promoting virtue among the inhabitants."b Judah Touro, the well-known p121Jewish merchant and philanthropist, was expected to provide a building in which the library could be domiciled; and for that reason his name was coupled with the foundation.c The First Methodist and the First Presbyterian Churches date from this period.49

A regrettable incident which occurred towards the close of Roffignac's administration was the burning of the State House. This building stood on the lower corner of Toulouse and Front, or Levee, streets. It was erected in 1761, and had witnessed every important act of the government since that date, including the various cessions of the Province of Louisiana, now to France and now to Spain; and was at this time used by Governor Derbigny as his official residence. The fire which destroyed it was probably accidental, though at the time it was freely said that it was a case of arson. The building was entirely consumed, and then the flames extended along Front Street into Chartres, destroying, in all, six large structures, including the residence of Baron Pontalba, and causing a loss estimated at $150,000. There were several casualties. A negro child was burned to death; a white man died as a result of drinking acid under the impression that he had found a bottle of wine; and another man was fatally hurt under falling walls. The colored firemen on this occasion, at least, rendered heroic service. A few days later the city council recognized their deserts by voting them a gratuity of $300. The legislature, deprived by fire of its usual meeting place, first reassembled in Davis' Theater on Orleans Street; and then moved to the upper story of the old Ursuline Convent, which had for some time been in use as the Central School of the city.

A pleasanter incident was the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to the city. The Marquis had come to the United States to renew old friendships, visit the scenes of his first battles, and look after some property which had been presented to him by the American Congress in recognition of his services in founding of the republic.d Lafayette and Roffignac were friends and correspondents of many years standing. In January, 1825, Lafayette wrote to Roffignac, acknowledging an invitation to visit the city, and announcing that he would arrive early in the spring. The legislature, apprized of the Marquis' intention, appropriated $15,000 for his entertainment. The steamboat "Natchez" was dispatched to Mobile to convey the distinguished guest to the city. With it went a delegation of prominent citizens, headed by Joseph Armand Duplantier, who, with Roffignac and the banker, Vincent Nolte, was probably the only person in New Orleans at that moment having a personal acquaintance with the celebrity. Duplantier had been a comrade in arms; Nolte had known him in Europe, and is said to have provided the cash with which the impoverished old soldier undertook the long journey to America.50

The "Natchez" discharged its distinguished freight at Chalmette on April 10th. Lafayette came ashore escorted by General Villeré and Duplantier, and was conducted to the plantation house which, in 1815, had been used by General Jackson as his headquarters during the battle of New Orleans. Here Governor Johnson made him an address of welcome, to which he feelingly replied. Accompanied by a brilliant cavalcade, in which history makes mention of Bernard Marigny, "and p122many ladies," the illustrious guest proceeded to New Orleans, entering the city between two lines of troops, amid the cheers of the crowd and the booming of cannon. In the Place d'Armes an arch 68 feet high, designed by Pilié, had been erected in honor of the event; and here Mayor Roffignac received the visitor. Lafayette was then taken to the city hall, where Denis Prieur, at that time recorder of the city, greeted him on behalf of the city council. Both to Roffignac and to Prieur, Lafayette made fitting replies.

The Cabildo had been elaborately fitted up for the reception of the city's guest. From the balcony overlooking Chartres Street Lafayette reviewed the troops as they paraded that afternoon in his honor. He was then permitted to withdraw for repose to the stately suite prepared for him at the Hotel des Etrangers. The next day the Legislature in a body called to pay its respects. Then came the members of the bar, headed by Pierre Derbigny, who made an eloquent address on behalf of his fellow professionals. That night the Marquis visited both the French and the American theaters. In the ensuing days Lafayette received numerous delegations of one sort and another, all of which declaimed long addresses in honor of the eminent patriot. At meals at his hotel the more distinguished citizens of the city sat down with him to the number of thirty at a time. In all Lafayette remained five days in New Orleans. He departed on April 15th, on the "Natchez," for Baton Rouge, where further festivities awaited him.51

Roffignac determined at last to pay a visit to his native land. Anticipating a long, though not a permanent, absence, he felt that he should give up his post as mayor. Accordingly, in May, 1828, the city council received and accepted his resignation. Flattering resolutions were adopted on this occasion. They drew from the retiring official a letter in which he alluded with much good feeling to the work which they had done together. "In the government of a city, just as in that of a state, no useful forces can exist except such as are derived from public opinion," he wrote, "and this opinion never manifests itself spontaneously except when the measures proposed are profitable to the mass of the citizens. Keenly alive to the importance of this commercial city, now advancing to the front rank in the metropolitan center of this Union, I have been anxious to introduce all the improvements which the progress of the age has placed at our disposal. I have been of the opinion that a slow advance was not in keeping with the spirit of the age, nor with the wants and interests of an active and enterprising generation. I have thought, in other words, that this great mart of so many wealthy states should be in a position to offer to industry and to commerce everything needed to facilitate and hasten their operations. I have not shrunk, in order to bring this useful result about, from borrowing capital, as I am convinced that the financial resources of an opulent city like ours with its yearly increasing revenues, will be able to liquidate its liabilities through a funding system both gradual and not at all onerous."52 In these plans he said, in conclusion, he had attained complete success.

On the eve of his departure he was received in the council chamber and took an affecting farewell of his associates; on April 13th he embarked. The remainder of his life was spent in France in the elegant p123literary and social pursuits of which he was extremely fond. During his residence in New Orleans he had maintained a regular correspondence with many illustrious writers; at his death a great mass of letters from the most eminent men of his generation was found among his effects. He died under tragic circumstances at his chateau, near Périgueux, in the latter part of 1846. For some time previously he had suffered from a chronic disease; while seated in an invalid chair, examining a loaded pistol, he was suddenly overwhelmed by an apoplectic stroke and fell to the floor. In the fall, the pistol exploded, and the charge lodged in Roffignac's head, causing instant death. The suspicion of suicide, which naturally arose under the circumstances, was disposed of by a medical examination, which revealed the facts. Roffignac was a man of real ability, although his enemies accused him of being vain, conceited, and disposed to arrogate to himself credit for many things which were really achieved by others.

To the period of Macarty and Roffignac belongs the development of the "American Quarter." This part of the city grew up outside of the "Vieux Carré," upon a vast tract of country which had originally belonged to the Jesuits, and by them had been developed as a sugar and indigo plantation. Part of this property was conveyed by Bienville to the Jesuits in April, 1726. This first acquisition included an area bounded by what today are Common, Tchoupitoulas and Terpsichore streets, and the Bayou St. John, which stream then flowed for a considerable distance parallel with the Mississippi, near where Hagan Avenue now runs. The tract measured about 3,600 feet front by about 9,000 feet in depth. To it in the following January was added a further grant about 1,000 feet wide by 9,000 feet deep, immediately above the original tract; and in 1745 the Jesuits, by purchase from Monsieur LeBreton, extended their property up to what is now Felicity Street. The space between Canal and Common streets was reserved by the French government for public uses, and was known as the "terre commune." After the expulsion of the Jesuits from Louisiana, in 1763, their possessions were declared forfeited to the crown. Their plantation was parcelled out into five portions. The part which was adjudicated to the city passed through the hands of various purchasers, and in 1788 was inherited by Mme. Bernard Gravier. A year or two later, in the reaction of prosperity that followed upon the great fire of Miro's time, and stimulated by the consequent movement of expansion which, at that time, caused the city suddenly to outgrow its ancient boundaries, she caused a portion of her estate to be laid out into streets and squares along what was called the Tchoupitoulas Road, from the upper boundary of the "terre commune" to the lower boundary of another portion of the Jesuit estates which had now become the property of one Delord. Mme. Gravier called the prospective suburb Ville Gravier; a few years later, after her death, her husband extended the streets, squares, etc., back as far as the further side of St. Charles Street, and in her memory gave them the name of Faubourg Ste. Marie. Street names which still survive interestingly perpetuate incidents in the history of the Faubourg — recalling Gravier, the founder; Delord, Foucher, and other of his fellow-capitalists; Magazine Street, so‑called from the immense "magazine" or storehouse upon which the lower extremity of the thoroughfare abutted, near the site of the present customhouse; Camp Street, which owes its name to the fact that a "campo de negros," or slave-camp, probably for the reception p124of cargoes of African slaves, stood upon it midway between Poydras and Girod; St. Charles Street, named in honor of the King of Spain; and the Rue de la Briquèterie, which led to a brickyard, and is now called Carondelet; while still another, originally Salcedo, was renamed in honor of Carondelet's wife, Madame la Baronne. Julien Poydras, who wrote verses and was at one time member of the Territorial Council, purchased the corner of Tchoupitoulas and the street which now bears his name; Claude Girod owned the corner of Tchoupitoulas and what is now Girod; and still another lot on Tchoupitoulas became the property of a free woman of color, named Julie, after whom Julia Street is named.53

In 1801, when Maunsell White arrived in New Orleans, and for the first time strolled down Poydras Street, the Faubourg Ste. Marie consisted of five houses. Between Common and Poydras, from Magazine to Carondelet, the whole space was given up to truck-gardens. The site of the St. Charles Hotel was the garden of "old Mr. Percy." But the conditions of life in New Orleans were changing, and this lonely district was destined to prosper and improve from this time on. The Creole merchants continued to rely upon their European connections. The new trade which sprang up in the next ten years with the North and West, by way of the Mississippi, was suffered to fall into American hands. The produce fleets drifting down the river, found a convenient landing along the batture, in front of the Faubourg Ste. Marie. By 1816 the lower end of Tchoupitoulas had become a busy and important street. There were few business houses above Canal Street; those which had ventured so far afield were located here, overlooking the river. Along the bank ran a low levee crowned with willow trees, to which the keel-boats and the immense flatboats called "chalants" used to be tied. When the river fell, the great "chalants" were left high and dry on the batture and were broken up for firewood or timber. The side-pieces called "gun-whales" were used to make sidewalks over the "great quagmire," as an early writer calls the Faubourg Ste. Marie. "Above Canal Street there was not a street paved. There was not a wharf upon which to discharge freight, consequently the cotton bales had to be rolled from the steamers to the levee, which in the almost continued rains of winter were muddy and almost impassable at times for loaded vehicles. Below Canal Street the levee was made firm by being well shelled, and the depth of water enabled boats and shipping to come close alongside of the bank, which the accumulating batture prevented above."54

Tchoupitoulas Road, which was the prolongation of Tchoupitoulas Street, ran as far as Carrollton Point, where lay Mlle Macarty's plantation. Above Delord Street, as far as what is now the Fourth District, but which was, in 1816, the plantation of François Livaudais, the road was lined with pretty, rural residences, surrounded with truck-gardens or sheep-pastures, dairies, and orchards, where slave labor earned a respectable income for city-dwelling masters. Through the middle of the Faubourg ran the old Poydras Canal, long neglected, and at this date a sink of pestilential filth.

The Livaudais plantation suffered heavily severely from the flood from the Macarty crevasse of 1816. In fact, all the back region of the plantation in this section was observed. But when the water ran off, it p125was found that a great quantity of silt had been carried in and deposited, and that the level of the land had been raised over a foot. A few years later, when the speculative enterprise of Caldwell and Peters transformed this rural district into a great and flourishing city, the beneficial effects of what had been at the time regarded as an irreparable catastrophe were seen, and the plantation, divided into lots and streets, was sold at fancy prices.55

The attention of James H. Caldwell and of Samuel J. Peters was drawn to this district about 1822. They at first planned to develop the opposite end of the city — what was then called the Faubourg Marigny. For at the close of the eighteenth century, at the time that the Ville Gravier was laid out, the same impulse of expansion led to the creation of several other Faubourgs. The aristocratic suburb of St. John sprang up along the road which led northwestwardly from the city to the Bayou St. John; at the end of which a prosperous village arose where a bridge then crossed and today still crosses the stream. In 1816 this settlement was known as St. Johnsburg. Elsewhere might be seen the clustered roofs of Annunciations, St. Claude, DeClouet, and Daunois; and just below the lower line of the city — where Elysian Fields Avenue ran northwest from the river, the princely estate of Bernard de Marigny was being laid out in streets and squares and offered for sale. The depth of the river in front of the Faubourg Marigny seemed to indicate this as the logical theater of the future commercial development of the city. Caldwell developed a magnificent scheme of warehouses and cotton presses on Elysian Fields; a hotel opposite the terminus of the Pontchartrain Railroad; gas works, water works and many other important enterprises. Bernard de Marigny was approached with this object in view; he was notoriously a hater of the Americans, and disinclined to sell to them; but after long dickering, a price was fixed on, in consideration of which he was willing to part with practically the whole of his extensive property. Marigny seems to have promptly repented of his agreement. "When the necessary legal document had been drawn up," says Castellanos, in relating this incident, "all the parties in interest met at the notary's office, to ratify the agreement and conclude the sale, except Mrs. Marigny, who, it was surmised, had purposely absented herself at her husband's suggestion. As her dotal and paraphernal rights were involved in the matter of transfer, her refusal to ratify the character broke up the project. Mr. Peters, it is said, was so enraged at this act, which he bluntly described as double-dealing, that, turning to the Saxon-hating Creole, he cried out: "I shall live, by God, to see the day when rank grass shall choke up the streets of your old faubourg,' a prophecy that has, unfortunately, been verified to the letter."56

Marigny was severely blamed by the rest of the Creole population for thus yielding to his anti-American prejudices. This feeling ultimately worked his political destruction. Thereafter he was not looked on as a safe leader, and when he became a candidate for the governorship, they refused to support him. His action, however, indicates the extent to which the estrangement of the two races had proceeded at this early date. In turning to the Faubourg Ste. Marie, Peters and Caldwell now frankly undertook to exploit these antagonisms. They felt that the p126Americans would flock into a quarter where they could be separate from those whom they regarded as their oppressors. The two men purchased a considerable part of the holdings of Jean Gravier, son of the original owners, to whom the property had now passed by inheritance. With the assistance of Banks, Pritchard, and other local capitalists, they developed the tract so rapidly, that by 1835 the new quarter rivalled in population and exceeded in wealth and importance the original "Carré de la Ville." Gravier yielded to the speculative fever of the time, embarked in a vast enterprise designed to develop the remaining part of his property, and met with reverses which reduced him to the direst poverty. He died in October, 1834, at age of ninety-five, and was laid to rest in a grave, the location of which has now been long forgotten. "During the last period of his earthly career he had been the object of attack from designing ingrates, who sought by every means known to the law to dispossess him of his long-acquired acres and to precipitate him in his decrepit and imbecile state into a condition of hopeless embarrassment."57

Neither Peters nor Caldwell were natives of New Orleans. The former was a Canadian of American descent. He was educated in New England, and began his business career in New York. He arrived in New Orleans in 1821, being then twenty years of age. Within eight years, by dint of indomitable energy and remarkable powers of organization, he had succeeded in acquiring a commanding position in business circles, and was elected a member of the city council. The first two years of his residence in the city were spent in the employ of a well known merchant, like himself, an emigrant from the City of New York. In 1823 the firm of Peters & Millard was formed, with Samuel J. Peters as senior partner. It dealt in groceries, wholesale and retail. It soon ranked among the wealthiest and most honorable firms in the South. Peters' election to the council was a remarkable event. Up to that time no person not a native had represented in that body any precinct of the Old Square. He was, however, elected by a large majority. He was made chairman of the committee on Streets and Landings, and in that capacity inaugurated a system of public improvements which led to the building of over four miles of levees along the river-front, and the paving of over sixty miles of streets "with commodious sidewalks, not surpassed by any of our northern cities," as he himself remarks, in his autobiography. At the end of two or three years he determined to withdraw from politics, and devoted himself to plans for the general betterment of the city. The Chamber of Commerce was founded about this time under his inspiration. He became president of the Pontchartrain Railroad; of the City Bank; and was instrumental in building the Merchants Exchange, a building, which, long dedicated to other uses than its original ones, still stands on Royal Street, near Canal.58

Caldwell, the other moving spirit in the great enterprise which meant so much to New Orleans, was an Englishman. He was a player by profession. His theatrical career in the United States began in the District of Columbia, in 1817. He was invited to go to New Orleans with a company of actors in 1820. On arriving in that city he took over temporarily the St. Philip Theater, and there introduced the English p127drama to a public which till then had heard only French. It was at this early date, apparently, that he formed the idea of constructing in one of the faubourgs a theater which would be dedicated exclusively to the production of plays in English. At first his plan was to locate this edifice in the Faubourg Marigny, but after the failure of that project, he transferred the location to the new American quarter, and on May 29, 1822, laid the corner stone of what was afterwards known as the American Theater. The building was opened on May 9, 1823, while yet incomplete; but it was complete in every detail when it opened for its second season on the 1st of January following. It is not necessary here to follow in detail the history of this theater, nor of the St. Charles Theater, which was Caldwell's second and more magnificent theatrical venture. The importance of the American Theater resides in the fact that it was the first important structure erected in the new quarter; from its completion it is customary to date the rise of that section of the city. Other important enterprises followed within the next ten or fifteen years; the St. Charles and the Verandah hotels were built, and the New Basin Canal and Shell Road inaugurated. The last-named was intended to do for the new quarter what the Old Basin, or Carondelet Canal, was doing for the Vieux Carré; and this purpose it efficiently served, with the result that the commercial, as well as the mercantile, supremacy of the American part of the city was assured. Caldwell had a part in many of these undertakings. He was associated with Peters in the building of the St. Charles Hotel. Through his energetic efforts gas was introduced into the city as an illuminant. The first building lighted in this way was his American Theater. He subsequently organized companies which extended the services into almost all parts of the city, and into the suburban town of Lafayette.


The Author's Notes:

1 Louisiana Gazette, August 19, 1815.

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2 Louisiana Gazette, September 4, 1816.

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3 Louisiana Courier, August 29, 1817.

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4 Courier, October 4, 1817.

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5 Dodd, Report on the Health and Sanitary Survey of New Orleans, 1918‑1919, pp4‑5. It may be of interest to add that there was no organized health supervision, apparently, from 1825 till 1841, when a new Board of Health was established. There was, however, a vigorous Medical Society, and two physicians were detailed from this body to act as medical advisors to the mayor. The Board of Health established in 1841 lasted only a few months. The Medico-Chirurgical Society became the acting board of health down to 1855, when the State Board of Health took over the active sanitary supervision of the city. In 1877 the State Board of Health was given control of the work of controlling vital statistics in New Orleans. In 1898 a City Board of Health was created, which has been in charge of the health of New Orleans ever since.

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6 Ordinance of December 11, 1815.

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7 Ordinance of Jan. 26, 1816.

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8 Ordinance of October 21, 1816.

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9 Ordinance of September 21, 1816.

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10 Ordinance of June,º 1816.

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11 Ordinance of June 24, 1816.

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12 Ordinance of June 7, 1816.

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13 Ordinance of December 15, 1817.

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14 Ordinance of December 10, 1817.

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15 Ordinance of August 11, 1817.

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16 Ordinance of September 24, 1816. This ordinance stipulates that if flour cost $2 per barrel, then 52 ounces of bread should be sold for a "shilling;" if $5, then 47 ounces, if $6, then 42 ounces, etc. There seems to have been great profit in the baking business, and many attempts were made to impose taxes and licenses on the bakers with a view to help out the city's revenues, which were already beginning to be inadequate.

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17 Ordinance of June 8, 1816.

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18 Ordinance of October 27, 1817.

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19 Louisiana Gazette, May 5, 1818.

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20 Ibid.

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21 Louisiana Gazette, May 5, 1818.

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22 Ordinance of January 3, 1818.

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23 Ordinance of November 2, 1818.

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24 September 7, 1818.

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25 Ordinance of July 1, 1817.

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26 Ordinance of July 1, 1817.

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27 Ordinance of March 29, 1817.

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28 Ordinance of August 12, 1819.

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29 Ordinance of September 26, 1817.

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30 Ordinance of August 24, 1819.

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31 Ordinance of October 30, 1818.

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32 Ordinance of July 20, 1818.

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33 Ordinance of June 26, 1818.

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34 Ordinance of May 25, 1818.

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35 Jewell, Crescent City Illustrated.

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36 Waring and Cable, Social Statistics of Cities, Report on New Orleans, 43.

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37 Courier de la Louisiane, May 3, 1820.

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38 De Bow's Review, VII, 415.

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39 Castellanos, "New Orleans as It Was," 20.

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40 Castellanos, 218.

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41 Gazette, May 26, 1820.

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42 Martin, "History of Louisiana"; Condon's Annals, 423.

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43 Louisiana Gazette, May 3, 1820.

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44 The stocks themselves may still be seen in New Orleans in the museum of the Cabildo.

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45 Gazette, May 20, 1820.

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46 Quoted in O'Connor, "History of the New Orleans Fire Department," 45.

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47 See the messages of the mayor, May 20, 1820, in the Archives of the City of New Orleans.

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48 "New Orleans as It Was," 23.

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49 Martin, "History of Louisiana," Condon's Annals, 413‑430.

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50 Nolte, "Fifty Years in Both Hemispheres," Chapter XVI.

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51 Castellanos, "New Orleans as It Was," 72‑74.

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52 See messages of the mayors, in the New Orleans City Archives, April, 1828.

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53 Cable and Waring, Social Statistics of Cities, Report on New Orleans, 31.

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54 Sparks, "Memoirs of Fifty Years," 441‑442.

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55 "The Environs of New Orleans," Crescent, January-November, 1866, passim.

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56 "New Orleans as It Was," 251‑252.

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57 Castellanos, "New Orleans as It Was," 271‑272.

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58 Publications of the La. Hist. Soc., Vol. VII, 1913‑14, pp67‑74.


Thayer's Notes:

a For a more detailed look at Lakanal and the general opinion of him in New Orleans, see King, New Orleans the Place and the People, p185.

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b Cp. Achille Murat, as quoted in Macartney and Dorrance, The Bonapartes in America, p140.

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c This sentence is carefully worded, and for a reason: Touro did not in fact provide the building; the details are given in "A Reappraisal of Judah Touro" (Jewish Quarterly 45:568‑581).

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d For an earlier stop in Lafayette's triumphal procession thru the United States, see D. S. Freeman's account of his visit to Washington and Mount Vernon. For a markedly different and probably more accurate assessment of Lafayette, some of whose undoubted actions in the French Revolution would scarce warrant such honors, see J. W. Croker's note on the Narrative of the Imprisonment of the French Royal Family; and, in an altogether different context, the experience of Joseph Bonaparte as quoted in The Bonapartes in America, pp102‑104.


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