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WORK OF INDEXING LOUISIANA “BLACK
Those members of the Society who are interested in the “Black Box” records, need not be reminded that the work of preparing a card index of their contents is already fairly started. More than half the years of the French régime (1718 to 1769) have been covered; namely, 1717 to 1743 of the early period, and 1763 to 1769 of the later French rule. The papers for 1717 have reference to Mobile, Biloxi and Isle Dauphine, and center chiefly on the affairs of the De Lauze estate; the De Lauze family originating, it would appear, from Limoges or vicinity.
Humble though the scope of a card index be, some practical uses thereof are obvious and respectable. Before this work started, those eight Black Boxes which it represents at present, were like sealed material to all practical intent. The records themselves were jumbled together in great confusion; possibly some orderly hands had packed them in tentative sequence, but certainly some disorderly hands afterwards undid the attempted serial arrangement, because only by blind accident were the papers in this or that box found rationally sequent: Box for 1767 being a modified exception, in that its papers occurred grouped by the month, although not always in either logical or strict chronological order within that month. This actual report, indeed, must be acknowledged an open question as regards a complete showing for each year noted. Many later Spanish records, and also not a few documents reaching all the way down to 1855 of modern Louisiana, were packed carefully mixed with totally unrelated papers of original French Louisiana; so that no finite forecaster may deny that possibly some of the early French papers are lurking displaced in one, ten
or fifty Black Boxes yet unsorted. For instance, quite a handful of papers for 1723 and 1724 came to light in Black Box for 1765-1766.
To consider a few direct and indirect advantages of the cards already filed. First, somebody might wish to know, what was recorded of Louisiana Province in A. D. 1722, or 1725, or 1730, or 1765? So far as Louisiana is on record by the acts of its governing body the Superior Council during the French régime, a very brief glance will tell the tale in a nutshell, by inspecting these cards for the year at issue. Indirectly, some inquiry might be forwarded: was this or that matter noted in the records of New Orleans in 1740, or between 1720 or 1740? The cards would probably answer a brief yes or no: barring the proviso of a displaced record, containing the desired reference or allusion, but not hitherto unearthed or reported. Likewise, the multitude of topical inquirers may learn at a glance, is this or that special interest of theirs on record among acts of Louisiana between 1718 and 1743? Nor is it unduly appreciating the cards to add, that in a very large number of instances they will possibly satisfy the wants of at least informal inquirers more conveniently than resource to the frequently faded or now and anon verbose originals. Or, if the originals were also in requisition, the cards will still save much groping and fumbling by pointing succinctly to the embodied matter, or by presenting it in outline for ampler accretions by the supposed researcher.
In a word, this index will supply diversified, concrete particulars to the analytic inquirer in widely different directions. The great bulk of the matter, of course, is legal procedure, civil and criminal; but this procedure embodies manifold human interests, and affords intimate sidelights on the French Colonial manners and customs; quite a wealth and range of economic data; quaint medical treatments; picturesque incidents of the dugout and fur trade era; some first-hand experience with Gulf pirates as they really cruised and operated; familiar weather phenomena, such as four days at a stretch of strong easterly winds in August (1737), a September (1722) hurricane, October (1766) gales, and, perchance, the less frequent occurrence of a southeast gale in March (1738). Let no man wonder that the very elements intrude themselves in French Colonial procedure; for in those days it was evidently customary to litigate on every actual concern in the life of men, trees, fishes of the waters and beasts of the field. And storms would naturally play their part in damage suits or complications of delayed contracts. Apart from legal acts, there is a large aggregate, all told, of merely incidental and reported matter through the records. The Superior Council seems to have taken a kind of paternal cognizance of everything great or small, remote or nigh, that anybody chose to bring forward for filing.
Geographically, the records thus far examined have to do prominently with New Orleans; but there is much and continual business with Mobile; the Illinois trade is important from the start; La Balise, Pointe. Coupée, Natchez and Yazoo Posts, are as next door neighbors; and there is copious business with France, not alone commercially by way of Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Rochefort, Rouen, but in marriage contracts and in estate affairs which touch nearly every region of France, from Paris, Brittany and Normandy in the north to Avignon in the far south; from Bordeaux westward to Central France: parts of Eastern France are more seldom reached. There is notary's business with Montreal : Quebec supplies family names, and is the Bishopric of early New Orleans; whilst an active communication is maintained with San Domingo, The Cape, and Martinique. Vera Cruz and Havana were early frequented by New Orleans merchants, or vice versa. There is an unusually interesting recovery suit, so late as 1741, over the thwarted expedition of St. Denis party towards Mexico by Red River canoeing; as this record has it, “about 25 years ago” from date 1741. Chicagou and St. Joseph's Post are mentioned in a few trade suits, year 1765. Monsieur de Bienville signs often as witness, and in a few dictated letters; he rarely acts in the first person. A house of his is minutely described, and his seal is preserved. His exceedingly modest claims for arrears of salary and other accounts were loftily cut down by the always consequential Company's Agent to less than half their face value. An intact seal of His Grace of Bordeaux is preserved with a transcript of some Ferchaud family records in 1741.
Itemized accounts, inventories, bills of sale, though dry in themselves, give graphic details of household and industrial outfits in Provincial Louisiana; so do some of the maritime records in regard to Eighteenth Century navigation. A marked feature of the transmarine commerce of that day, and the like trait also crops out in many wills and petitions, is the devout recognition of the Divine Providence over men's affairs.
Conspicuous factors in the early Colonial trade were corn, both shelled and in the ear, rice hulled and in the straw, tobacco, indigo; sassafras occasionally, and pecans are mentioned as early as 1725. Deerskins and beaver hides, bear's grease and tallow, counted very significantly, to judge from the large bills and shipments incidental merely to court business. Tar and pitch were very early produced, and there was a tar plant across Lake Pontchartrain. A pottery concern is noted in 1729. Cypress figures altogether dominantly in the early timber trade; oak and ash were also early in the market. Pitch pine does not seem to have litigated itself into early prominence, but a letter from The Cape in 1738 speaks of the high favor accorded to the Mississippi wood in virtue of its preservative resin: this clearly indicating pine, one may reasonably suppose. In a plantation account, year 1740, the produce comprised milk, cucumbers, greens, peas, plums, peaches, figs, pomegranates, and oranges (an item of 63 francs); also asparagus, eggs, and “pigs of milk.” Beans were grown by the acre: Appalachee beans among them; were these cowpeas (ostensibly a bean variety), one begs to wonder? As re