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The regular monthly meeting of the Louisiana Historical Society took place February 21st, at the Cabildo, with President Cusachs in the chair and a good attendance of members present.
The minutes of the last meeting were read and approved.
Mr. Thompson, making a report for the Bi-Centennial Committee, said that the French Republic had taken up the matter of celebrating the event in Paris in February, 1918, and that a delegation was to be sent to New Orleans to coöperate with the celebration here.
The speaker of the evening was then introduced, Mr. James Renshaw, whose paper, “The City Beautiful,” gave an interesting account of reminiscences and events of former days in New Orleans. A vote of thanks was tendered Mr. Renshaw and the paper ordered to be printed in the Society's reports.
Mr. Dymond spoke of the old Carrollton steam trains and of the steamboat days on the Mississippi River.
Mrs. Stem stated that it was her father who owned the omnibusses which formerly operated in New Orleans, bringing them from Boston by boat.
"The following were nominated for membership and unanimously elected: A. Aschaffenberg, Dr. Félix Gaudin, Mr. Etienne Reynes, Mrs. Edward Wisner, Mrs. J. Govan.
Mr. H. W. Robinson presented to the Society a copy of the New Orleans Democrat of September 14, 1874, and of the New Orleans Picayune of September 27, 1874.
The amendment to the by-laws, changing the date of meeting of the Society, was laid over to another meeting. The meeting then adjourned.
R. GLENK, Corresponding Secretary.
PAPER READ BY MR. T. P. THOMPSON. The original Province of Louisiana, as claimed by LaSalle in 1682 for France, by right of the discovery and exploration of the Mississippi River, also that territory acquired later by settlements on the Gulf coast and on Mobile Bay by Iberville, included that vast domain stretching all the way from Lake Chatauqua, in New York State, to Yellowstone Lake, in Wyoming, even extending northward into the Canadian province of Alberta, as shown on to-day's map.
Roughly defined, original Louisiana, under French rule, included the Mississippi Basin to the sources of all streams that flowed into the Father of Waters, also the valleys of the Alabama and Mobile rivers, as high as Fort Toulouse, near the present site of Montgomery, and up the Tombigbee to the Choctaw Indian Nation, near to-day's Alabama State boundary line.
All this country, including the farther Western reserve, from which Texas, also Oregon-great Commonwealths—were created, was understood by the early French Governors as being the territory of the Province of Louisiana. Several locations were successively tried as governing seat for this vast domain.
Louis XIV, in 1698, took up the work of colonization in the lower Mississippi Valley section. Iberville, a native of Canada, was put in charge of the first expedition. He reached the Gulf of Mexico on his brigatin, Pelican, and selected a location on Biloxi Bay (near Mississippi City), and built on the site a post, which he named from the original Indian settlement,-Biloxi.
In March 1699, Iberville first entered the mouth of the Mississippi. Old Biloxi proving not healthy,-being surrounded by morass, and not on a waterway that led into the interior of the country,-in 1702 Iberville gave orders for a new settlement, which was located on the west side of Mobile River, eighteen leagues from the sea, and here was built Fort Louis de la Mobile.
This site, because of its halfway location between the Spanish of Pensacola and the Indians of the Alabama country, and for its waterway communications, with good harbor, was considered excellent for trade.
Inundations from the river led to the next change, in 1711, to the present site of Mobile, which later became the capital of the Province.
To stay English aggression, Fort Toulouse was built in 1714 on the upper waters of the Alabama River. Later, 1736, to the same end, Fort Tombeckbee was erected, not far from the Choctaw settlements. The friendliness of these Indians was cultivated by the French. These two posts indicated the frontiers of the French settlements, and served to prevent the English from encroaching on the lower Mississippi Valley country.
The discovery of an English vessel from the Carolinas, attempting to ascend the Mississippi in 1700, caused the French to construct a fort near the mouth of that river. This was located on the west side, some fifty-four miles above the pass, and named Fort Mississippi. Here our hero, Bienville, then commandant, had his official residence, erecting some tive or six barracks for his soldiers and a neat house for himself.
Here were Bienville's headquarters until 1705, during which time he was almost constantly engaged in exploration and in the locating of outposts for the exploitations of commerce with the Indians. Mobile, however, remained the official seat of government until the founding of New•Orleans.
In 1717, Bienville determined on a site for a new village; this, he decided, should be located on the Mississippi River at the Bayou St. John portage path, at a point where it reached the Mississippi River. This move was made in the interest of the development of trade with the Spaniards at Nachidoches and the Indians near Fort Rosalie (Natchez), which had been established the year before.
The Company of the West, of which John Law was Director General, acquired in 1717 from the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, the sole trading rights of the Louisiana Province. M. de l'Epinay was appointed Governor to succeed Cadillac in 1716. Bienville being Commander-in-Chief in the absence of l'Epinay.
On the 9th of March, 1717, M. de l'Epinay landed at Dauphine Island and presented Bienville with the Cross of St. Louis, sent to him by the King.
Bienville finally received his commission as Governor on the 9th of February, 1718. His first 'act was to make arrangements for his settlement of the site selected the year before, and to which, according to Penicaut, the historian of the Annals of Louisiana, who was with Bienville then, he had “sent workmen and laborers the year before (1717), to lay the foundation of the future capital of Louisiana.”
They removed the trees and brushes, traced the streets and squares and dug drains around each.
New Orleans was an imaginative picture in Bienville's brain from his appointment in August, 1717. The site he selected in September, same year, and the clearing made with final arrange
ment of streets, canals and levee was completed in February, 1718.
The Crown ceded the Province of Louisiana to the Company of the West in August, 1717. The decree of September 27, 1717, included also the Ilinois country, and ordered the location of Nouvelle Orléans on the Great River.
There had been for several years a few log cabins along the river front above Fort Mississippi. The selection of the site of the Vieux Carré, as has been said, was suggested by the original Indian trail or portage, which started from Bayou St. John and ended on Hospital Street, on the river bank just below Jackson Square, which was then laid out as Place d'Armes by Bienville, forming the center of a parallelogram of nine by five squares, or islets of 300 by 300 feet each. Being on sea level soil, these islets were ditched about and canals leading into Bayou St. John carried off the rain water. The church site and official buildings were also laid out at this time.
Very shortly the river, which, normally, was eight feet below the bank, began to overfiow the infant city, and Bienville constructed the first levee, six feet in height and extending above and below the new settlement.
a great storm in 1721 threw down all of his lightly constructed houses, some four hundred in number. The first historian of New Orleans, Charlevoix, found one hundred had been restored by the following year.
The first seagoing vessel to tie up at the site of New Orleans was the brigatin “le Neptune,'' sent from France in 1717 with supplies, and directed to remain permanently in Louisiana. This boat brought over the first inhabitants for New Orleans in February, 1718, starting on her journey from a point near Gulfport of to-day, coming into the mouth of the river and landing at Bienville's clearing.
Accompanying Bienville were his engineers, de la Tour and Pauger, and many distinguished officers and marines with their families.
The ceremonial of laying out the public square, locating the church and government buildings was followed by a visit to the Oumas Indian village on the bayou at about the present site of City Park, which we hope to have christened as Bienville Park in 1918, and to locate within its entrance a memorial to the Founder of New Orleans who, until his death, just after the cession to Spain, was ever ready, even in his old age, to care for his children, the inhabitants of his own city, which he had named for his patron, the Regent Duke of Orleans, whose love of pageantry began and developed the celebration by costume balls in Paris of the Carnival season preceding Mardi Gras.
So, while we are celebrating the founding of New Orleans, we may, incidentally, also chronicle the two hundredth anniversary of the Regency balls, which were the beginnings of the Carnival tableaux and pageantry held in Paris for the first time under the patronage of the Duc d'Orleans in 1718, at the Grand
These are to-day repeated every year most elaborately in our various “Kings'”' balls of the New Orleans Carnival, Bienville's city.
THE CITY BEAUTIFUL. A TALE OF CHANGES IN NEW ORLEANS DURING A LIFETIME.
By JAMES RENSILAW. (NOTE.—Much of the matter embodied here was written by the author of this article and published some few years ago in the Times-Democrat.)
It is not the purpose of this paper to give the statistical development that has occurred during the two centuries which have almost passed since the foundation of New Orleans, but to touch lightly upon the various changes which have happened since the few squares were originally marked off until the present time, when the city extends from the Jefferson Parish line on both sides of the river to Plaquemines Parish on the right bank and to St. Bernard Parish on the left bank, while on the side bordering Lake Pontchartrain the territory stretches to the Rigolets, a tract embracing 1961/4 square miles and containing approximately some 75,000 to 80,000 buildings of all kinds; and more especially to bring prominently into view those changes in the inner life of the city, changes which were so gradually developed that perhaps only those immediately concerned took more than a momentary notice of them, and which, though some are even of comparatively recent date, are forgotten or are but dimly pictured in memory.