French Louisiana was established and settled by nearly 13,000 immigrants, colonists, and slaves in the early 1700’s. Many of these people did not survive the Atlantic crossing nor the first few months of life on the Gulf Coast. But of those who did survive some “left behind written accounts of their lived experience” of life in the French Atlantic world. (Greenwald, p. 5)
“Shannon Dawdy refers to these Louisiana “memoires, letters, and travel accounts” as a “useful kit of knowledge called histoire.” A combination of both story and history, histoires were often a mixed bag of natural and administrative history, astronomy, fashion and culinary critique, and good old-fashioned storytelling spun by the writer . . . “ (Ibid.)”
It must be kept in mind, also, that these 13,000 lived and learned and thought within the context of that era we call The Enlightenment. It was the Era of the Amateur – not in the sense of poorly done, but expressing the idea of intense fondness, curiosity, and respect for any number or variety of practices or intellectual inquiry (for those who could afford to do so). Excepting the official records of the colonial administrators, ALL of the original sources for eighteenth century colonial history are such histoires.
Speaking as a 25+ year veteran of teaching and reading history, I can unequivocally state that the American reading (and/or viewing) public (and probably the whole of the English speaking world) would rather read or hear or view a histoire than read or hear or view a history book.
As the last quarter of our Tricentennial Year dawns, I find myself reflecting on – WHY did those 13,000 risk everything to come to this swampy delta midway along a steamy Gulf Coast? What were they thinking?*
The traditional answer, of course, is the quest for a better life, for freedom from the oppression of an aristocratic economic political system. Now, after 300 (and more) years, have we, their descendants achieved that goal?
The short answer (for this descendant of French Creole settlers) is YES. The American economic political system has created, sustained, and provided an existence that could only have been dreamed of by many of our forbearers, and indeed by many of our contemporary citizens. As screwed up as much of the “system” is, the founders and even more-so, the parade of our ancestors worked toward, schemed, plotted, and created an interlocking method of doing things so that we – after three to four centuries can wake up on a given morning and have the abilities, tools, and methodologies to write a blog and publish it to the world about whether or not we could do such things !!!
NB: I am still not exactly where I wanna be. I have $400 in the bank, live in a small cottage in rural Louisiana with a huge mortgage, too much grass to mow, and am aging slowly and sometimes painfully into the endgame of this life.
BUT, AFTER MARRYING THE BEST GIRL IN NEW ORLEANS, BUILDING FOUR HOMES, RAISING A FAMILY, MAKING A LOT OF MONEY AND LOSING A LOT A MONEY, TEACHING HUNDREDS OF KIDS, AND EVEN WRITING A BOOK . . .
I CAN STILL READ ABOUT HISTORY AND WRITE ABOUT HISTORY (or should I say histoires).
Happy October, Gulf Coast! May Zephyrus send you many cold fronts !!!!!
*Keep in mind that virtually all the Africans who came here did not have any choice, nor did ⅓ to ½ of the Europeans.