Louisiana in 1757

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Du Pratz's Map of Louisiana Cartouche

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Title to an old map of Louisiana

The Library Company of Philadelphia

This cartouche carries the date 1757 because the map was originally engraved in French for the first edition (three volumes, Paris, 1758). When the work was translated into English for publication in London in 1763 (two volumes) and 1774 (one volume), the map was re-engraved in English but retained the earlier date.

Prior to this, the most recently published history of Louisiana was Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle France (Paris, 1744) by the Jesuit Pierre de Charlevoix, who visited the region in the 1720s. In 1753, the Abbé de Mascrier published a two-volume work under the title Mémoires historiques sur la Louisian composés sur les mémoires de M. Dumont par M.L.L.M, which appeared at the same time as du Pratz's final Journal article.7 M. Dumont was another young soldier who had sought his fortune in Louisiana and eventually returned to France. Mascrier's history was based upon manuscripts that Dumont had written about his experiences in Louisiana, but Mascrier rather extensively and imaginatively edited the manuscript before publication. Du Pratz and Dumont knew one another in the colony (Dumont's stay from 1719 to 1737 nearly coincided with that of du Pratz), and thought of one another as friends until the Dumont/Mascrier work accused du Pratz of gross inaccuracies in his competing series of historical articles. This insult, as well as the encouragement of his friends, seems to have spurred du Pratz to expand his journal articles into his treatise Histoire de la Louisiane, published in 1758, forty years after the author landed in New Orleans.8

The full title of this work was Histoire de la Louisiane, contenant la découverte de ce vaste pays; sa description géographique; un voyage dans les terres; l'histoire naturelle, les moeurs, coutumes & religion des naturels, avec leurs origines; deux voyages dans le nord du nouveau Mexique, dont un jusqu'‡ la Mer du Sud; ornée de deux cartes & 40 planches en taille douce,9 and it first appeared in three volumes. His work covered French colonial activities, explorations, and military campaigns; Louisiana's natural history and economic potential; and descriptions of the customs and conditions of Native Americans in the region, particularly of the Natchez. What he wrote about the Natchez–their lives, customs, religious ceremonies, and social structure–is considered the best and most accurate account of these indigenous inhabitants of Louisiana, who had been annihilated by the time du Pratz returned to France. He has also recorded much information on the other Indian tribes of the lower Mississippi River country. Regarding the region's economic potential, du Pratz was optimistic about prospects for economic development of the colony and provided detailed descriptions and recommendations for tobacco and indigo cultivation, as well as silk and tar production. His work was a practical handbook for those willing to establish themselves along the Mississippi.10

In 1763, the three-volume first edition in French was followed by a two-volume edition in English, and eleven years later, in 1774, by a one-volume edition in English, entitled The History of Louisiana, or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina.11 The texts of both English editions were identical, and they both lacked the original French edition's many illustrations and much of its text, as the English publisher said he had eliminated du Pratz's digressions and reordered the chapters. The London editions did have two folding maps, one of the Louisiana province, the other of the country about the mouths of the Mississippi River. Thomas Jefferson possessed copies of Charlevoix and Dumont and the 1763 edition of du Pratz in his private library. Meriwether Lewis toted a copy of the 1774 edition of du Pratz, which he had borrowed from Benjamin Smith Barton of Philadelphia, on his expedition through the northern reaches of the Louisiana territory.12

7. Abbé de Mascrier, Mémoires historiques sur la Louisiane composés sur les mémoires de M. Dumont par M.L.L.M, 2 vols. (Paris: Buache, 1753).

8. Dawdy, "Enlightenment from the Ground," 19; Tregle, introduction to History of Louisiana (1975), xxvi.

9. History of Louisiana, including the discovery of that vast land; its geographical description; a voyage through the territory; the natural history, the customs, dress & religion of the natives, with their origins; two voyages through northern new Mexico, to the South Sea; illustrated with two maps and 40 woodcuts.

10. Dawdy, "Enlightenment from the Ground," 19-20; Arthur, foreword to History of Louisiana (1947).

11. Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz, History of Louisiana, or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina; Containing a Description of the Countries that lye on both Sides of the River Missisippi: With an Account of the Settlements, Inhabitants, Soil, Climate, and Products (London, T. Becket, 1774); also 2 vol. (London, T. Becket and P. A. De Hondt, 1763).

12. Dawdy, "Enlightenment from the Ground," 30; Arthur, foreword to History of Louisiana (1947); Catalogue of the Library of Thomas Jefferson, compiled with annotations by E. Millicent Sowerby, 5 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1952-59), 4: 237. It has been suggested by Carolyn Gilman that the "quaint illustrations" of flora and fauna in du Pratz's Histoire de la Louisiane "led Jefferson to imagine Louisiana as an abundant garden." Gilman, Lewis and Clark, Across the Divide (Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2003), 57. But Jefferson owned the 1763 English translation of this work, which lacked all these illustrations, and it is not clear that he ever saw the French edition.

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