Lamp on French Opera House.
Jackson entered the city the 20th of January; on the twenty-third was celebrated the public thanksgiving for the victory. This was the proudest and happiest day in the life of the city. A salute of artillery greeted its sunrise, a sunrise as radiant as the one that ushered in the day of the victory.
In the Place d'Armes — would that Bienville and his Canadians might have seen it! — arose a great triumphal arch, supported on six Corinthian pillars festooned with evergreens and flowers, its entrance guarded by Liberty and Justice, in the blooming forms of two beautiful young girls. Beside them, posed on pedestals, two cherubs, or children, held outstretched a laurel wreath. From the arch to the cathedral stood facing one another the states and territories, the loveliest young ladies of the city, dressed in white, with blue veils fastened by silver stars on their brows, each one holding in one hand a banner emblazoned with her national title, in the other a basket tied with blue ribbon, filled with flowers. Behind each a lance stuck in the ground bore a shield with the motto and seal p253 of the state or territory represented, and the lances were festooned together with garlands of flowers and evergreens, extending over the street to the wreathed and decorated door of the cathedral.
The crowd gathers until every place is packed. As the cathedral clock strikes the hour appointed, General Jackson, followed by his staff, appears at the river gate of the square. Salvos of artillery, bursts of music, and wild huzzas greet him; he crosses the square and mounts the steps of the triumphal arch. At the entrance, he is arrested, while the cherubs, with blushing faces and timid hands, place the laurel wreath upon his head; and wilder acclamations from the crowd drown the music, as it would have drowned the artillery had it continued. So crowned, the hero passes through the arch, and is met, not by Venus, but by Louisiana, dazzlingly radiant in all her youth, beauty, and Creole grace and charm. She recites a speech as glowing as herself with gratitude and emotion, to which the general replies with no less emotion, that his merits have been exalted far above their worth. As he descends the steps and proceeds down the path to the cathedral, the states and territories shower their flowers through the air, and the ground blossoms under his feet. At the cathedral door stands the Abbé Dubourg in full pontificals, at the head of his priests. He also addresses a speech to Jackson, praising him for the victory, but solemnly reminding him of the Giver of all victories, to which again Jackson replies modestly and humbly. He is led through the crowded church to a seat of honour before the brilliant high altar, the gallant Battalion d'Orleans, in full uniform, files into the aisles, the majestic Te Deum rises from organ and p254 choir. At night the whole city is illuminated, and balls and festivities hold the hours until dawn.
The celebration, however, ended not with that day; the victory seemed only to have begun in New Orleans. For half a century afterwards the city appeared ever on a passage through triumphal arches, with states and territories throwing flowers in her path. There was no discussion thereafter over the question of her eligibility to a place in the Union, nor of the political equality of her citizens with the Americans. Year after year travellers from all over the continent and from Europe came to view the spot where the conquerors of Napoleon had been conquered, and to meet the heroes who had accomplished it. The glorious 8th of January eclipsed every other fête day in the city; its annual parade is one of the great memories of the happy childhood before the civil war. Not a negro nurse but, with face as bright as her Madras kerchief, could name the heroes of the Battalion d'Orleans as it passed, and tell of the great battle they had won, always linking in the company of the freemen of colour, with the heroism and patriotism of the whites. They were all Hectors and Achilleses to the proud children! And Jordan — but no one, not even the grand officers nor grander visitors in the parade, ever fired the childish heart so much as he — the young mulatto drummer, who beat his drum during all and every fight, in the hottest hell of the fire, and was complimented by Jackson himself after the battle. Long after the civil war, childhood can remember "Old Jordan" as he was then called, an aged mulatto in uniform, beating his old Chalmette drum in the parade, at the head of the white-haired, bent-backed, feebly-stepping veterans of 1812.
p257 Even prosperity fails to obliterate such memories! And the prosperity that gilded the prophetic vision of Law now showered upon the city, — just one century too late for Law and for the city's royal godfather. Statistics alone are the proper chroniclers of it. From eight thousand at the time of the cession, the population of the city arose to thirty-three thousand the year after the battle; by 1819 it was forty-one thousand, ten years later fifty thousand, in 1840, one hundred thousand, and New Orleans ranked fourth in the Union, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore alone outnumbering her. In 1812 the first steamboat came down the river to the city; in 1821 there were two hundred and eighty-seven arrivals of steamboats. The year after the battle the harbour was white with sails, and fifteen hundred flatboats and five hundred barges tied up at their landing. As many as six thousand flatboatmen at a time trooped in the streets. The city walls were thrown down, the forts demolished, the moat was filled and made into boulevards: Canal, Rampart, and Esplanade. The old Marquis de Marigny turned his plantation into blocks and streets: Love, Greatmen, Good Children, Piety, with a few fixed names, Mandeville, Marigny, Kerlerec, Champs Elysées, Enghien. This section of the city is still called by the old-fathered, Faubourg Marigny, or "third" municipality.
The landing for flatboats and barges had been located by the Spanish government outside the city walls, along the willow-grown bank in front of the Tchoupitoulas road, which fixed it as the quarter for American settlement. This was in front of the old Jesuits' plantation, extending from the Terre Commune, p258 or government reservation, outside the walls, to the line marked by Delord street, which was then owned by Bertrand and Marie Gravier. In the business reaction after the great conflagration of Miro's time, they divided their tract of land into lots and streets, and found ready investors in it. It was called Ville Gravier, until Jean Gravier changed it to Faubourg Ste. Marie, in honour of his mother. The Tchoupitoulas road became Tchoupitoulas street. The government storehouses for Kentucky tobacco, just outside the Terre Commune, gave Magazine street its Spanish name, Calle del Almazen. The Campo de Negros, or Negro Camp, named Camp street, beyond which, stretching out to the swamp, were the truck gardens that supplied the markets. The first street crossing the Faubourg Ste. Marie was Gravier street, running into the swamp. At the end of it, about the rear of the Poydras market, stood the old plantation house and home of Jean Gravier. Poydras, Girod, and Julia, a free coloured woman, named the streets which defined their investments on the river front. The Terre Commune became Common street; the Faubourg Ste. Marie became the second municipality of the city, and, ever attracting the American settlers, it stretched upwards, taking in, one after another, the old historic plantations.
The electric car of to‑dayº speeds through the cane-fields, negro quarters, gardens, parks, and pastures of these old plantations. Every now and then, in the Garden District, the eye lights upon a venerable oak or a great solitary pecan tree, which stands amid the spick and span improvements about it, the last of a great grove or avenue of a century ago. The Garden District proper covers the old De Boré plantation, which had p259 been the property of the patriot Mazan, condemned by O'Reilly to ten years' imprisonment in Moro Castle, Havana. It was the first place in the state upon which sugar was made, and, the childhood home of Charles p260 Gayarré,a it was that "Louisiana sugar plantation under the old regime" of which he has written so charmingly and to which he loved, in his old, old age, to take his friends in conversation. There was not one of his intimates but could, with easy imagination, substitute personal for oral knowledge of it; the avenue of pecan trees that lead from the high road to the great moat, alive with fish, with on its farther bank a thick hedge of yucca, or Spanish dagger, — a transcendent sight in the spring, when every staff bore its spike of ethereally beautiful waxen white flowers, swinging and swaying in the breeze; the grass-covered rampart crowned by its formidable brick wall; with its hedge inside of wild orange; the avenue to the house, shaded with sweet orange trees, also in suppression and autumn redolent and beautiful beyond description; and the house itself, — a veritable treasure-house of anecdotes, historical and convivial, with its archetypal master and Louisiana planter, M. de Boré, whom we see as his grandson loved to picture him, in the dawn at the beginning of the day's work, and at the afternoon close of it, with his slaves kneeling to their prayers before him.
Indigo was the staple and profitable product of the Louisiana plantations until a worm made its appearance and destroyed crop after crop. Ruin stared the planters in the face. Cane grew as well as indigo in the soil, but all efforts to make sugar out of it had failed. The syrup would not granulate, and at last popular belief would have it, that syrup made from cane grown in Louisiana soil could not granulate. It was a sort of popular reasoning that has spurred many a sensible man to a successful experiment. De p261 Boré invested his and his wife's fortune in seed cane; planted, prepared his mill, and engaged Cuban sugar-makers. The day of the roulaison a crowd of planters gathered in his sugar-house, standing along the side of the kettles, turning their eyes from the boiling juice to the sugar-maker, with the strained interest of players looking from the cards to the dealer, at a rouge-et‑noir table. Would it granulate? would it not granulate? The sugar-maker tested — tested; "Not." "Not." "It granulates!" at last he called in triumphant voice. It was, to the colonists, as if the gold mines hoped for by La Salle had been found.
Of M. de Boré's wife, a Des Tréhans, daughter of the Royal Treasurer and a pupil of St. Cyr, old beaux of her day used to say that it was worth a fifty-mile journey merely to see her take a pinch of snuff.
The plantation above, which extended over Audubon Park, belonged to Pierre Foucher, a son-in‑law of M. de Boré; the next place above, taking in Carrollton, had belonged to the unfortunate Lafrénière; it was at that time the property of Mademoiselle de Macarty, who was Madame de Boré's intimate friend as well as neighbour, and, like her, had been educated at Madame de Maintenon's institution for the proper education of proper young ladies. It certainly was worth travelling fifty miles to hear Mademoiselle de Macarty described by the nonagenarian historian and see one of her visits to his grandmother acted. Her carriage, a curiosity unique in the colony, was called a chaise; it was like a modern coupé, but smaller, with sides and front of glass. There was no coachman; a postilion rode one of the spirited horses, a little black rascal of a postilion, who always rode so fast and so wildly that his tiny cape p262 stood straight out behind like wings. When, in a cloud of dust, the vehicle turned into the Pecan avenue, the little darkeys stationed there as lookouts would shriek out in shrill excitement, to get the announcement to the great gates ahead of the horses: "Mamzelle Macarty a pé vini!" And there would be a rush inside, to throw the gates open in time. And his cape flying more wildly than ever, his elbows beating the air more furiously, the postilion would gallop his horses in a sweeping circle through the great courtyard and bring them panting to a brilliant finale before the carriage step. M. de Boré would be standing there, ready, with his lowest bow, to open the carriage door and hand the fair one out, and lead her at arm's length, with a stately minuet step, up the broad brick stairs and through the hall, to the door of the salon, where they would face each other, and he would again bow, and she would drop a curtsey into the very hem of her gown — her Louis XIV gown, for from head to foot she always dressed in an exact copy of the costume of Madame de Maintenon. That is, all to her arms, which were in Mademoiselle de Macarty's youth so extremely beautiful that she never overcame the habit, even in extreme cold weather and old age, of exhibiting them bare to the shoulder. The mystery why, with her great wealth and great beauty, she had never married, remained a vivid one — even when old age had effaced everything except the fame of her radiant youth.
The De Boré town house was on Chartres and Conti streets, a massive brick building, with a large courtyard opening on Conti street, a true Spanish building; broad doorways, windows, rooms, hall, a staircase fit for a palace and beautiful enough for one, with its elaborate, p263 fantastic, handwrought iron railing; the roof was a solid terrace, surrounded by a stone balustrade. It was afterwards owned by Madame de la Chaise. The Des Tréhans hotel stood opposite. Both have been demolished to make room for business buildings. But the house of Madame Porée, another member of the same family, still stands on the corner of Dumaine and Royal streets, looking just as it did on the brilliant December day when the little Charles Gayarré saw its iron-balustraded balcony filled with ladies, waving their handkerchiefs to the Creole troops hurrying down to the plains of Chalmette; or when, on the 8th of January, the roar of the cannon subsiding, hearts were beating every instant more fearfully and anxiously, the clatter of horses' feet was heard and women and children rushing out upon it as they did upon all the balconies around, — "Victory! Victory!" was shouted to them by a young Creole galloping through the streets.
The old Spanish building opposite the side of the Cabildo, on St. Peter and Chartres streets, was, at this time, the restaurant veau qui tête," famed for its wine and cooking and its patronage by the élite. Below, on Chartres, between Dumaine and St. Philip, was the old Café des Emigrés, the headquarters for the St. Domingans, where their favourite liquor, "le petit gouave," was concocted.
In passing along the streets to‑day in the French quarter, one can understand with a sigh of regret, the easy sociability which then made the whole beau monde one and a congenial set, the ideal of all society and an impossible one now, with the accumulation of population, the great separation of distances, and the segregative p264 rules of neighbourhood. In the gay season then the whole city was one neighbourhood, what one really could call a neighbourhood, courtyard doors all open, balcony touching balcony, terrace looking on to terrace. Society was close, contiguous, continuous. There were no summer trips then beyond the atmosphere of Louisiana, none of the periodical separations which, year after year, like the effective dropping of water upon a stone, break through the union of families and friends, non vi sed saepe cadendo. Then, when after the voyage de rigueur to France, not one year, but a series of years, held families fixed in the same place, with the same surroundings, in touch with the same affections and interests, friendship became a habit and an inheritance in what are called the old families (and so distinguishing them from the new ones), as can be shown by many an heir, to this day, among blacks as well as whites. In spite of epidemics, summer was then so far away from the disfavour of to‑day that in the accounts that come to us, it seems as attractive as winter; the early rising and morning cup of coffee; the great courtyard, stretched open for all the breezes and all the world that choose to enter; the figs, pomegranates, bananas, crape myrtles and oleanders, glittering in their dew; the calls in the street, musical negro cries, heralding vegetables, fruits, and sweets: "Belle des figues!" "Belle des figues!" "Bons petits calas!" "Tout chauds! Tout chauds!" Barataria! Barataria!" "Confitures coco!" "Pralines, Pistache! Pralines, Pacanes," the family marchande, coming into the courtyard swaying her body on her hips to balance the basket on her head, sitting on the steps to give the morning news to the family sitting around the breakfast-table on the gallery; p265 the dining-room on the rez de chaussée and opening into the street for all passers‑by to see, if they would, the great family board (there were no small families in the ancient regime), and the pompous butler and the assistant "gardienne," in bright handkerchief, gold-hook earrings, white fichu, and gay flowered gown; the promenade after dinner, on the tree-shaded levee, to enjoy the evening breeze and meet with every one one knew . . . and see the constant wonder of new ships arriving . . . at night the chairs on terraces and balconies brought close to boundary lines, for the ladies to exchange those confidences which keep family secrets from dying out, while the men, as the phrase was, are enjoying themselves. . . . These were the features of the summer life in the city in those days.
The travellers of that time in the United States, the European ones, especially, liked the place, and were fond of comparing it with the cities of the North. The Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Eisenach, who visited New Orleans, in 1825‑26, publishes quite frankly: "It was naturally agreeable to me, after wandering a long time in mere wilderness, once more to come into a long civilized country." He landed at Bayou St. John, and finding that a boat to the city would cost six dollars, he walked in. After •three miles, "We found ourselves quite in another world, plantations with handsome buildings, followed in quick succession, noble live-oaks, orange trees, mansions with columns, piazzas and covered galleries. . . . We saw from a distance the white spires of the cathedral and masts in port . . . passed the canal upon a turning bridge to strike into the city by a nearer way . . . the road led between well-built p266 mansions; over the streets were hung reflecting lamps. . . . Ships lay four or five deep in tiers along the river. In a line with the bank stood houses two or three stories high, also ancient mansion houses known by their heavy, solid style."
The Duke visited Mr. Grymes (who had married the beautiful widow of Governor Claiborne). They lived, he says, in a large massive and splendidly furnished house, and they made a great display at a dinner party given him. "After the second course, large folding doors opened and we beheld another dining-room in which stood a table with the dessert, at which we seated ourselves in the same order as at the first."
The Duke made up his mind to pass the season in the city. "No day passed over this winter," he writes, "which did not produce something pleasant and interesting . . . dinners, evening parties, masquerades and other amusements followed close on each other." "There were masked balls every night of the Carnival at the French theatre, which had a handsome saloon, well ornamented with mirrors, with three rows of seats arranged en amphitheâtre. Tuesdays and Fridays were the nights for the subscription balls, where none but good society were admitted. The ladies are very pretty, with a genteel French air, their dress, extremely elegant, after the latest Paris fashion; they dance excellently. Two cotillions and a waltz were danced in quick succession; the musicians were coloured and pretty good. The gentlemen, who were far behind the ladies in elegance, did not long remain, but hastened away to other balls, and so, many of the ladies were condemned to 'make tapestry.' . . . On Sundays, shops were open and singing and guitar playing in the p267 streets, for which in New York or Philadelphia one would be put in prison." . . .
He goes to the coffee-houses to hear Spanish songs with guitar accompaniment, and to the theatre regularly, both to the French and American. At the former, among other dramatic performances, he saw "Marie Stuart" played in masterly style to an enthusiastic audience, in which the Columbian commander in port was a conspicuous figure, with his brilliant uniform and hat with long white feather; he also met an old friend, the Comte de Vidua, there. At the American theatre he saw "Der Freischütz," the "Kentuckians" cracking nuts during the performance. . . . On Mardi-Gras all the ball-rooms of the city were opened. There was a grand masked ball at the Théâtre d'Orléans. . . . Many of the ladies were in mask, but curiosity soon led his Highness elsewhere. On the 22d of February there was a splendid ball again at the Théâtre d'Orléans . . . and there is mention of a children's ball for the benefit of the dancing master, in which the little ones gave proof of their inherited beauty and grace. The taste and splendour in the mansion of the Baron de Marigny are especially commented upon, and the coffee-set sent by the Duke of Orleans, the cups ornamented with portraits of the royal family, the larger pieces with views of the Palais Royal, and castle and park at Neuilly. It was with the Marigny ladies that the Duke went to see the "Cosmorama," and returning from accompanying them home, saw the prettiest picture he has penned in the book: "It was eight o'clock as we descended the levee, the evening was clear, with starlight, the bustle in the harbour had ceased, one only remarked on board of some p268 ships the sailors collected on deck under an illuminated awning where the captain held evening service. Precisely at eight o'clock the retreat gun fired at the city hall . . . immediately afterwards the two Columbian brigs fired; their drums and bugles sounded retreat, while those in the barracks did the same. All this, added to the lighted ships and the solitary gleams from the opposite side of the river, made an impression upon me which I cannot describe."
After a stay of nine weeks he left New Orleans, "with the most grateful feelings towards the inhabitants, who had received me in a friendly and affectionate manner, and had made this winter so extremely agreeable to me. The Creoles are, upon the whole, a warm-hearted generation; the people with whom I was least pleased here were the Americans, who are mostly brought here by the desire of accumulating wealth."
In 1824, the illustrious Lafayette paid his historical visit to the city, and was accorded a reception and triumphal arch, which almost vies in memory with the glorious triumph of Jackson.
It was a hare and tortoise race between the Americans and the Creoles, and in the United States it is always the hare that wins. Before the Creoles were aware of it, the Faubourg Ste. Marie was not only a commercial rival of the vieux carré, but was proving a close competitor over her undisputed birthright, the expression of the religious and social life of the place; claiming separate churches, cemeteries, fine residences, and theatres. In 1805, as soon as the cession granted them freedom of worship, the Americans built a Protestant Episcopal church, Christ Church, on the outskirts of the city, the corner of Canal and Dauphine streets. p269 Governor Claiborne worshipped in it, and, after his death, received a marble memorial in its churchyard. A truly venerable Gothic building it was, and so filled with memories and encased in sentiment, that when its vestry, after three-quarters of a century's resistance to enterprise, finally sold it and its churchyard, to p270 remove into a more progressive and American part of town, the old residents, Catholics as well as Protestants, shed tears; and it is only the great American compeller — financial necessity — that can, even to‑day, secure any popular submission to the demolition of the first Protestant landmark in the community.
1823 is the illustrious date that begins all English theatrical memories in the city, when the Americans opened their theatre on Camp street, between Poydras and Gravier. The new enterprise offered all-year‑round, legitimate drama, with a fine stock company of English players, and such regular annual luminaries as the elder Booths, Macready, Forrest, Barrett, the Placides, and above all, there was that incomparable owner and manager, accomplished English scholar, actor, reader, gentleman, bon vivant, Caldwell, whose suppers, bons mots, readings, criticisms, repartees, are a regular part of the make-up of any pretender to dramatic criticism of to‑day. It was the convivial contact with such a stage, such a company, such actors, and such a Caldwell, that fostered the pleasant illusion which lasted so long among the gentlemen of New Orleans, that upon the drama and acting, they spoke ex cathedra. And even now, in the "old families," the heritage of obiter dicta from the "old Varieties" are given and taken as arguments of current exchange. Even the old slaves, the most enthusiastic of theatre-goers, by frequenting the Camp Street, and afterwards the St. Charles Street theatre, felt themselves authorized to laugh any modern theatrical pretensions to scorn, and the barbers and hairdressers of the old time made Shakespearian criticism and theatrical gossip a regular part of their colloquial accomplishment.
p271 But, with all her enterprise, Faubourg Ste. Marie was outvoted by the city below Canal street, which always elected the mayor and the majority of the council. The consequence was that the revenues of the city were all expended upon improvements in the Creole section, and every effort of nepotism was made by the city government to assure its superiority over its upstart rival; besides its Canal Carondelet, a railroad was given it in 1825, to connect it with the lake trade; the Pontchartrain railroad, noted as the second one built in the United States.
Faubourg Ste. Marie retaliated by constructing its own canal, which brought the lake trade to the foot of Julia street. The rivalry between the two sections was now inflamed to antagonism. In the midst of it the country members of the legislature, jealous of the prepondering influence of the city on its body, removed the capital to Donaldsonville, a small town on the Mississippi. It was, however, transferred again to New Orleans in 1831, when the property holders of Faubourg Ste. Marie, after a most exciting struggle, forced through the legislature an amendment to the city charter, dividing the city into three municipalities, with Canal street and the Esplanade as boundary lines, and giving each section a separate government — in reality making three separate cities of it. The controller of its own finances, the Faubourg Ste. Marie, in one dash, left its Creole rival so far behind in the race as to settle the contest forever. Streets were paved, warehouses built, quays constructed, and blocks filled with residences. The truck gardens were shoved into the swamp. An unsightly quagmire was filled in to furnish the site for a palatial hotel, the St. Charles; two p272 other hotels were built, on the ground of the old cattle pens on Camp and Magazine streets. A wretched waste was converted into Lafayette Square; the City Hall, First Presbyterian Church, Odd Fellows Hall, were grouped with fine effect around it. Banks, newspapers, railroad companies, warehouses, compresses, multiplied; commercial firms sprang up like mushrooms; property rose by leaps in value.
The Faubourg Marigny built also her compresses, warehouses, quays, and blocks of residences, these last with more architectural generosity, broader spaces, longer vistas, ampler gardens, than Faubourg Ste. Marie, with more sacrifices to the picturesque, and therefore not with the same resultant accumulation of wealth.
The vieux carré built, too, her St. Louis Hotel, with a great exchange, under a magnificent rotunda. A jail, the "Calaboose," strong as a Bastile,º was erected back of the town near Congo Square. Banks and business rows, and finer and finer houses, crowded out the old Spanish structures, which the Creoles, unlike the thrifty Americans, filled with finer furniture, mirrors, pictures, from Europe. The enriched Americans now buy second-hand for their fine houses; the Creoles selling it — some of them for bread. Secure in the prolific wealth of their plantations and city rents, the enterprise of the Creoles, in inverse progression from the Americans, seemed applied rather to the dispensing than to the acquiring of wealth.
Travellers came to visit the 1830 "Chicago" and wrote all kinds of flattering things of it. The English traveller, Buckingham, who was in the city in 1839, says that below Canal street everything reminded him p273 of Paris: the lamps hanging from ropes across the streets, the women in gay aprons and caps, the language, the shops, particularly the millinery establishment on Royal and Toulouse streets, "La Belle Créole," with its beautiful oil-painted sign, representing a lady in costume de bal and another in costume de promenade; the winning persuasiveness of the shop-keepers; the style of living; the love of military display, and the amusements, operas, concerts, ballets, balls and masquerades, without intermission, from November to May; persons coming from theatres at midnight, remaining at masquerades until daylight. The ball-rooms of the St. Louis hotel were, he said, unequalled in the United States for size and beauty. The banks were "noble buildings." The St. Charles hotel he pronounced not only the handsomest in the United States, but in the world, even the handsomest of London and Paris falling short of it. In his enumeration he specially pauses at the wonder of the city, the magnificent chandelier of the newly built St. Charles theatre, made especially in London, thirty-six feet in diameter, with hundreds of gas jets and thousands of cut-glass drops. Our traveller found the Creoles "frank, warm-hearted and impassioned, with manners more interesting than the Americans . . . the roundness and beauty of shape in the women also contrasting the straightness and angularity of American figures; in complexion they are like Italian women, and they combine the attractiveness of the women of Cadiz and Naples and Marseilles; with a self-possession, ease, and elegance which the Americans seldom possess, although the latter, by contact with the Creole population, have worn off much of the stiffness which characterizes the New England states, while p274 a long residence in the sunny South has both moulded their forms into more elegance and gracefulness and expanded their ideas and feelings into greater liberality. They have lost that mixture of keenness in driving a bargain, and parsimoniousness in the expenditure of its fruits, as well as that excessive caution in opening themselves to strangers, lest they should commit themselves, which is so characteristic of the people of the North. At the same time, they retain in the fullest vigour the philanthropic spirit which is also a characteristic of the North" . . . apropos of which may be added the Englishman's surprise at finding in New Orleans so many charitable institutions, after so many accounts and descriptions of the profligacy there.
At the St. Louis hotel that winter, Mr. Buckingham met a piece of social rococo, in the shape of a visitor; the handsome and distinguished-looking Mademoiselle America Vespucci, the lineal descendant of the great navigator, and an advanced woman even for this day; a member not only of secret political societies, but an actual combatant in man's clothing on the battle-field, where she had received a sabre cut on the back of the head. Her mission to the United States was to obtain a grant of land, in recognition of her name and parentage. Mr. Buckingham says he had never witnessed in any other except Lady Hester Stanhope, "so noble a union of high birth and mental powers."
In 1843 Henry Clay paid his memorable visit to the city. Lady Wortley paid hers in "'49," and could not "but think what a wonderful place this same New Orleans will be in the future."º She came by the favourable route then from the North, down the river; and how p277 she writes of it! With an enthusiasm as obsolete now as the steamboat that called it forth: "By night the scene is one of startling interest and magical splendour. Hundreds of lights are glancing in different directions, from the villages and plantations on shore, and from the magnificent floating palaces of steamers that frequently look like moving mountains of light and flame, so brilliantly are these enormous leviathans illuminated outside and inside. Indeed, the spectacle presented is like a dream of enchantment. Imagine steamer after steamer coming, sweeping, sounding, thundering on, blazing with thousands of lights, casting long brilliant reflections on the fast rolling waters beneath. (There are often a number of them, one after another, like so many comets in Indian file.) Some of them are so marvellously and dazzlingly lighted, they really look like Aladdin's palace on fire (which it, in all likelihood, would be in America) sent skurryingº and dashing down the stream, while perhaps just then all else is darkness around it."
There were other scenes described by visitors, scenes that read as strange to the community now as they appeared then to travellers. Fredericka Bremer, who came to the city in 1852, writes:—
"I saw nothing especially repulsive in these places (slave marts) excepting the whole thing; and I cannot help feeling a sort of astonishment that such scenes are possible in a community calling itself Christian. It seems to me sometimes as if it could not be reality, as if it were a dream. The great slave market is held in several houses situated in a particular part of the city. One is soon aware of their neighbourhood from the groups of coloured men and women, of all shades between black and light yellow, which stand or sit unemployed at the doors. I visited some of these houses. We saw at one of them the slave keeper or owner, a kind, p278 good-tempered man who boasted of the good appearance of his people. The slaves were summoned into a large hall, and arranged in two rows. They were well fed and clothed, but I have heard it said by the people here, that they have a very different appearance when they are brought hither, chained together, two and two, in long rows, after many days' fatiguing marches. The slightest kind word or joke called forth a sunny smile, full of good humour, on their constitutions, and revealed a shiny row of beautiful pearl-like teeth. . . . Among the women, who were few in number in comparison with the men . . . there were some pretty, light mulattoes. A gentleman took one of the prettiest of them by the chin and opened her mouth to see the state of her teeth, with no more ceremony than if she had been a horse. . . .
"I went to witness a slave auction — it was held at one of the small auction-rooms which are found in various parts of New Orleans. The principal scene of slave auctions is a splendid rotunda, the magnificent dome of which is worthy to resound with songs of freedom. . . . A great number of people were assembled. About twenty gentlemenlike men stood in a half circle around a dirty wooden platform, which for the moment was unoccupied. On each side, by the wall, stood a number of black men and women, silent and serious. The whole assembly was silent, and it seemed to me as if a heavy grey cloud rested upon it. One heard through the open door the rain falling heavily in the street. . . . Two gentlemen hastily entered, one of them, a tall, stout man, with a gay and good-tempered aspect, evidently a bon vivant, ascended the auction platform. I was told that he was an Englishman, and I can believe it from his blooming complexion, which was not American. He came apparently from a good breakfast, and he seemed to be actively employed in swallowing his last mouthful.
"Taking the hammer in his hand, he addressed the assembly, stating briefly that the slaves were home slaves, all the property of one master, who having given bond for a friend who afterwards became bankrupt, was obliged to meet his responsibilities by parting with his faithful servants, who therefore were sold, not in consequence of any faults or deficiencies. After this, he beckoned to a woman among the blacks to come forward, and he gave her his hand to mount upon the platform, where she remained standing p279 beside him. She was a tall, well-grown mulatto, with a handsome but sorrowful constitution, and a remarkably modest, noble demeanour. She bore on her arm a young sleeping child, upon which, during the auction ceremonial, she kept her eyes immovably riveted, with her head cast down. She wore a grey dress made close to the throat, and a pale yellow handkerchief, checked with brown, was tied around her head.
"The auctioneer, after vaunting the woman's good qualities, skill, ability, character, good disposition, order, fidelity, her uncommon qualification for taking care of a house, her piety and talents and the child at her breast, which increased her value, obtained a starter of five hundred dollars for her, and finally the hammer fell at seven hundred. She was sold to one of the dark, silent figures before her. Who he was whether he was good or bad, whether he would lead her into tolerable or intolerable slavery — of all this the bought and sold woman and mother knew as little as I did, neither to what part of the world he would take her. And the father of her child, where was he? . . . All were sold, — the young girl who looked pert rather than good, the young man, a mulatto with constitution expressive of gentleness and refinement, who had been brought up by his master and was greatly beloved by him . . . and last of all, the elderly woman whose demeanour or general appearance showed that she too had been in the service of a good master, and having been accustomed to gentle treatment, had become gentle and happy . . . all bore the impression of having been accustomed to an affectionate family life. . . . And now, what was to be their future fate? How bitterly, if they fell into the hands of the wicked, would they feel the difference between then and now! How horrible would be their lot! . . . The master had been good; the servants good also, attached and faithful, and yet they were sold to whoever would buy them, sold like brute beasts."
All travellers, however, did not write so gently of such scenes as Fredericka Bremer, nor accept slavery as philosophically as Buckingham did and Lady Wortley, who frankly confesses that she said "only the couleur de rose of the business." Mademoiselle America Vespucci, p280 for instance, to quote still from foreign visitors the same period, could see nothing rose coloured about it.
The improvements and renovations took at last a disastrous turn. Almonaster's cathedral was torn to the ground, and rebuilt with what was intended to be far greater art and magnificence; Mansard roofs were added to the Cabildo and convent. The Baroness de Pontalba, who was in the city at the time, improved her father's old pointed, red-tiled roofed Spanish buildings into the present French row, to be in harmony with the mansarded Cabildo and convent. The old Place d'Armes itself was improved into Jackson square, all vestige of grim-visaged war smoothed from it, planted in flowers and shrubs and (save the mark!) laid off in trim walks and neat bosquets; its old flag-staff taken down to give place to the equestrian statue of the hero of Chalmette.b
In 1852 the three municipalities came together again into one city; that is, the other two came into the Faubourg Ste. Marie, for it now was New Orleans, the American had conquered the Creole, and the Cabildo yielded precedence to the City Hall.
The next year came the great epidemic of cholera and yellow fever. Although no mention has been made of it; during and accompanying all these years, when prosperity flushed the city, and wealth piled in banks, or ran in pleasure . . . there was at the rout and feast not any conventional, suggestive memento mori, there was Death itself, Death, as palpable, visible, audible, as a stolid official executioner; and not as a fleeting presence but functioning steadily, regularly for days, weeks, months, year after year. In the colonial p281 days, vessels stopping at Havana and St. Domingo would invariably bring in the epidemic raging there, and the little population would pay its tribute of lives, — always the freshest and healthiest of its new comers. The survivors of the fever, however, were immunized, or acclimated, not only in themselves, but for succeeding generations, and the yellow fever, although a regular visitant, had, when the immigration was scant, rather a starved run in the city. The West Indian, inured to his own climate, was of course acclimated to New Orleans. With the great inflow of American, Irish, and German immigrants came the great epidemics of the twenties, increasing in raging violence through '27, '28, '29, to the fatal '32. In September of that year, yellow fever, as usual, broke out, but in p282 October it was reënforced by Asiatic cholera. Five thousand died during the ten days following, and these are only the recorded deaths. In twelve days a sixth of the population was buried. Egress from the city was impossible; families stayed at home within locked doors, and awaited the death signal. From the tales that survive of the visitation it would seem that human experience must have reached its limits of suffering by bereavement — and such a form of bereavement! There are recollections of that time — buried in the graveyard — to exhume which is to revive the horrors of the plague of bygone centuries.c
Lamp post at Jackson Square.
In the St. Louis Cemetery.
A thick, dark atmosphere hung over the city, neither sun, moon, nor stars being visible. A hunter on Bayou St. John related that he killed no game; not a bird was to be seen in the sky. Tar and pitch were kept burning at every corner, the flames casting a lurid glare over the horrors of night; during the day cannon were fired, like minute-guns along the streets, frightening the dying into quicker death; great conflagrations were of daily occurrence, adding to the general dread. The frightened negroes thought the day of judgment had come; the enlightened thought it was hell. People stopped sending to market and cooking; they were afraid to eat anything substantial.
p285 The pious redoubled their fervour; the pleasure lovers their desperate gayety, supping with dare-devil luxury, betting on one another's chances of death and the trenches, of which ghastly tales of burial alive were told. One, the wildest of a gay supper party, extracted a promise from his friends that he at least should not be buried alive. He did not appear the next evening, and his friends, organizing a searching party for him traced him to a cholera trench; had it opened; he was found dressed as he had left the supper, just under the earth, his handsome face stiff in its dead convulsion of horror, his hands outstretched in the effort of crawling and struggling through the putrid dead towards life above. Those who did not believe died with their ruling passion on their lips; a passionate novel reader towards the end sent a friend out to buy the last novel of Sir Walter Scott's, which had been daily expected. It was placed in his hands . . . his cold fingers could turn the leaves, but his eyes were growing dim. "I am blind," he gasped, "I cannot see. I must be dying, and leaving this new production of immortal genius unread." Another one died uttering the name of Napoleon Bonaparte. The same epidemics returned the following summer, killing in the twelve months ten thousand out of a population of fifty-five thousand. In 1847, 1848, and 1849, eight per cent of the people died.
In the summer of 1853 the climax of death was reached. Over five thousand raw emigrants, Irish, English, and German, had landed during the year, and the city was in a state of upheaval — canals being widened and deepened, ditches dug, gas and water mains extended, new road beds constructed. Street cleaning being yet in an experimental condition, the p286 levees, back streets, slums, were foul and swarming with demoralized, filthy humanity. In May the yellow fever broke out on an English ship freshly loaded with Irish emigrants, and spread through the shipping in port; only twenty-five deaths were reported for the closing week of June, the disease prowling still in obscure corners. By the middle of July the week's deaths were two hundred and four. Thousands left the city in the panic that ensued, blocking every route and mode of travelling. The weather changed to daily rains and hot suns. The floors of the Charity Hospital were covered with pauper sick. For a week, one died p287 every half hour. Every day the death rate rolled up higher, and on the 22d of August, from midnight to midnight, the city yielded a fresh victim every five minutes. The horrors of 1833 were repeated. Out of a sixty thousand population, forty thousand were attacked, eleven thousand died. In 1854 and 1855 the fever returned with cholera, with a death rate of seventy-two and seventy-three per thousand. In 1853 it was one hundred and eleven per thousand. The young Protestant minister, now an old one in the community, writes, in answer to certain charges, and being from the North his statement is usually accepted as impartial: "In these epidemics, instead of the usual accompaniments of lawlessness and depravity, an extraordinary degree of benevolence prevailed, persons in every rank in life sacrificing time and money to care for the sick."
But despite all this the forward march of the city p288 was not interrupted; even the memory and grief of it were passing shadows. The great financial crises of the decade swept over the place; banks and fortunes were demolished, but only for a moment; the very stones of the street seemed to cry out wealth and prosperity, and higher and higher figures end the statistical columns, — more emigrants, more imports, more exports, more trade, more cotton, sugar, plantations, slaves; and to off-set, the more death, the more life, the city's gayety, like the city's gold, mounting in the flood tide over it. To look back merely upon the printed account of it, — one can only repeat that it was the delirious reality of Law's delirious idea; the fates and furies of old Paris's rue Quincampoix, by a touch of the golden wand, turning into muses and graces and pleasure purveyors for the little Paris in the New World. It was just such an orgieº on a minute scale as old Paris had known under the Regency, and the nouveaux riches here as there came from the aristocracy, and well prepared by ancestral seasoning, for the enjoyment of wealth. There were more and more theatres, operas, balls, hotels, clubs, cards and horse-racing, cocking mains, even bull-fights. . . .
A corner of the French Market.
If New Orleans were the woman she is figured to be, she would interrupt here with her uncontrollable eagerness: "Ah, yes! tell about my races, my famous races, and my track, my beautiful Metairie track! And my spring meetings. . . . My great last Saturdays — my four-mile race day — and the famous, yes, the famous Lexington-Lecompte matches. Describe that! Do describe that!" But what woman, even New Orleans herself, could describe that? Who would want to read it when one can hear it told? And when the memory of the p289 race takes in, as it always does in New Orleans (for the turf was then a pastime for gentlemen and ladies, not a business for professionals), the crowds in the hotels, the noted men and women from all over the South who had come to the match, the whirl of carriages, and cabs, and vehicles of all kinds along the shell road, a kind of race track itself, the grand stand, exclusive as a private ball-room, glittering with ladies in toilets from the ateliers of the great modistes, Olympe and Sophie, and the ladies glittering with all those charms of beauty and conversation, which, in default of higher education, Heaven used then to supply women with . . . and the men, from all over the South glittering too in all the pride, arrogance, and self-sufficiency which their enemies, the moralists, supplied them with; . . . the field packed . . . as the field must be always packed where the grand stand is not part of the gate receipts; and all round about, trees, fences, hedges, tops of carriages, crowded with every male being that could walk, ride, or drive from the city. "By the Lord Harry! Not a nigger left to wait around a table;" the track — that superb track of old Metairie — the jockeys petted and spoiled like ballet-girls — and the horses! A volume would not hold it all before we even get to Lexington and Lecompte, and after that a library would be needed to contain it.
On must hear, not read, about how "the sun was dropping behind the trees, and the sky was all a glory, when Lecompte passed the ground stand on his first heat in 7.26! And the glory of the sky was simply nothing, sir! when Lecompte won the race, beating the best heats on record!" And the next year, when Lexington ran against the record, and beat it! That, as p290 the old gentlemen now — the young bloods of that day — say, was horse-racing.
And the dinners afterwards, at Moreau's, Victor's, Miguel's, and the famous lake restaurants, with their rival chefs and rival cellars! And after that again the grand salons of the old St. Louis and St. Charles, filled with everybody; and all enjoying themselves, as the phrase well puts it. That was what horse-racing meant then. Who thought of epidemics or financial panics? Alas! the old Metairie is expiating its sins now as a cemetery, and its patrons, its beaux and its belles and its horses, — they are expiating their sins too, in cemeterial ways.
Within sight of the cemetery, a part of the same ridge of land, sinking into the same stretch of swamp, lies another relic of past time and civilization — the old duelling ground, now a park, a cemetery, too, in its way, although but one tomb stands there, that of its last owner, who, infatuated with love for his beautiful oaks, requested to be buried under the shadow of their branches. In the childish days of the city, when disputes were scarce, we hear of the officers drawing out their swords and fighting for pastime in the moonlight on the levee; for other humours there were always quiet and retirement to be found anywhere outside of the city walls. When the émigrés from France and the islands arrived with their different times and different manners, and when the disbanded soldiers from Bonaparte's armies dropped into the population, there was as great a renaissance in duelling, as in the other condiments of life, so to speak. Fencing masters flourished, "salles d'escrime" were the places of fashionable culture for young men. In Paris, gentlemen would step p293 out and fight à l'impromptu "sous le fanal de la comédie." Young blades, returning from Paris, sharpened by encounters over there with blades noted in the whole European world, must therefore fight also à l'impromptu "sous le fanal de l'opéra," otherwise the great lantern of the Orleans theatre, whose circle of light on a broad, smooth pavement furnished as pretty conditions for the settlement of a question about a soprano's voice or a ballet dancer's steps as could be desired anywhere. The weather not permitting this, all adjourned to Ponton's, the fashionable fencing room, just below the theatre. "When we fought at Ponton's." "Oh, he gave me beautiful thrust at Ponton's." . . . This was the beginning of many a good friendship, and of many a good story of the fathers, uncles, cousins, and elder brothers of the young gentlemen at the Orleans college.
The stories of another generation take in the Oaks. What a trooping of ghosts under the old trees, if all p294 the votaries of honour who had fought or assisted others to fight there could revisit the place in spirit! What a throng would mine host of the restaurant opposite have to welcome, if all who quaffed a glass, in a happy reprieve from death or wounds, at that bar could return again! And he was the man of all in the city, it was said, who could, identify he would, tell as much as the old oaks. Everybody fought with everybody then; the score of duels was kept like the score of marriage offers of a belle. Individuals counted up eighteen, thirty, fifty of them. Mandeville Marigny fought with his brother-in‑law. A father and a son fought duels the same day. On one Sunday in 1839 ten duels were fought. "Killed on the field of honour!" The legend is a common enough one in the old cemeteries.
Café at the City Park.
Besides the great national differences between the Americans and Creoles, which were settled in a great national way, with shot-guns and rifles, there was every other imaginable difference settled under those trees, — politics, love, ball-room etiquette, legal points, even scientific questions. A learned scientist, an hydraulic engineer, permitting himself to say (in justice to him, it was to exaggerate the importance of some personal theory) that the Mississippi was a mere rill in comparison to rivers in Europe, a Creole answered him: "Sir, I will never allow the Mississippi to be disparaged in my presence by an arrogant pretender to knowledge." A challenge followed, and the mouth of the defamer was cut across from one cheek to the other. In a ball-room a gentleman petitioned a belle: "Honour me with half this dance?" Ask monsieur," she answered, "it belongs to him." "Never," spoke her cavalier, bearing her off in the waltz, and just catching p295 the softly spoken, "Ah, vous êtes mal élevé." Not a word more was said. The next morning the critic received a challenge and in the afternoon a neat thrust. Almost every day for years the Gascon cowherds in the neighbourhood would see pilgrims on foot or in carriages wending their way to the Oaks; and the inquisitive would peep, and in the cool green light under the trees, witness the reparation of honour as required by the code; a flashing, pretty sight from a distance, when the combatants were lithe and young and the colichemardese worthy of their art.
There is an episode (it may or may not be true) when the looker‑on was not a cowherd; but the seconds, the surgeons, the one principal standing, might well start, as they did, in surprise: a woman, young, beautiful, and courageous as any of them. She had waited until one fell and did not rise, and then rushed forward.
She was still in her opera cloak, with her white silk gown trailing in the grass, her satin slippers wet with dew, her arms and neck bare. In truth, she had not thought to change her dress. There had been the opera, and then a long supper, filled with gayety; he (the fallen duellist) as reckless, daring, and devoted, as usual, proffering his love with every eye glance, and she, refusing it as coquettishly as she had done for a year past, for almost the best part of love to a great belle is having it constantly offered, that it may be refused. The coachman (coachmen hear everything that a carriage is needed for) held her back as she was entering the house with her party, to whisper what he had heard. She gave a whispered order in return. And the supper, as has been said, was gay, gay until daylight. He was more himself, she more herself, than p296 ever, and the guest were more interested than ever in the duel between them; he ever thrusting, she parrying.
He had left with the others. She waited as she was until the house was quiet in sleep, and then slipping out to her carriage in the grey dawn, drove to the Oaks, and chose her position, and waited alone under the trees; her carriage, of course, driving off to come up after the other carriages.
She was without doubt a great beauty, a type, an absolute type (one may well say it, it was a commonplace in the city), — like a sunrise or sunset, or the moonlight. And the men on the field knew her well; but they declared that never had she appeared so beautiful as when, throwing her opera cloak back, her white gown trailing, her satin slippers wet with dew, her hair falling from its stately coiffure over her neck, she rushed forward like a Valkyrie and picked up the form of her cavalier; his blood dripping over her hands, cloak, and gown. She could have borne him off alone, she was strong enough, and quite as tall as he. She did bear him off in her carriage when the surgeons had finished, they telling her pretty plainly that he, her cavalier, was finished too. And she drove with him to his house, and sent the coachman for her confessor, and . . . married her cavalier as soon as he was conscious . . . and men were ready to maintain on the field of honour, and elsewhere, that under no other circumstances would she ever have married him, which is a curious fact, about women and about duels.
There were other duels under the oaks, which men pause in their reminiscences of the past to describe, but which women care not to tell nor to hear about. These were the duels with broadswords; particularly that p297 noted series during the spring of 1840, when the maîtres d'armes themselves were the opponents; Creole, Frenchman, Italian, German, and Spaniard, fighting not for their personal honour, but to prove their art. There were also duels on horseback with broadswords. The historic one of this kind was fought on the "Plaine Raquette," in the Faubourg Marigny, between a young Creole and a French cavalry officer. Our chronicler gives the account of an eye witness: "It was a handsome sight. The adversaries, stripped to the waist, were mounted on spirited horses. They rode up, nerved for the combat; the Frenchman, heavy, somewhat ungainly, but with muscles like whip-cords, and a broad, hairy chest, which gave every evidence of strength and endurance; the Creole, lighter in weight, admirably proportioned, counterbalanced with youthful suppleness his adversary's rigid strength. A clashing of steel, and" — omitting the details — "the Creole, by a rapid half-circle, and by a coup de pointe à droite plunged his blade through the body of the French officer."
b The mid-century improvements to Jackson Square are interestingly detailed in Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. II No. 1, pp38‑46.
c Not altogether as bygone as the writer would have it: New Orleans would see two more yellow fever epidemics; the first in 1898, three years after King wrote, and another, the last in the city and in the United States, in 1905, for which see Eleanor McMain's account.
d Today the Mortuary Chapel on Rampart Street, now Our Lady of Guadalupe, is the oldest church in New Orleans.
e Colichemarde is the French technical term for a sword the blade of which is significantly wider toward the guard.
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