10 July 2007

New Orleans Pre-1803

I figured I'd actually blog about my unusual historical time this month. Between this blog and several others I am either on or own, it's hard to think of new and exciting things to write about. You'd think a writer would have a plethora of ideas, but frankly mine are all story related.

Bloodlines takes place in the 1790s in New Orleans. Technically this was a Spanish territory then, but the city was such an amalgamation of cultures it was only a technicality. New Orleans was founded in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville, and named for the regent of France, Philippe II, duc d'Orleans. It was transferred to Spain in 1763 with the Treaty of Paris, then back to France in 1800 Treaty of San Ildefonso: October 1, 1800 (refusal to give up Louisiana would probably mean war with both the US and France, which was inevitable with France, but Spain couldn't afford that, either) who then sold it to America in 1803–-The Louisiana Purchase.

In 1790, the city was a bustling metropolis, full of life, music, free blacks who made a better living than many whites, upper class white plantation owners, and Yellow fever, smallpox, and cholera epidemics. They had the highest rate of deaths in North America, and gained the moniker of the City of Wet Death.

Searching websites for information on New Orleans' history is impossible, there are so few out there, and what's available skim over pre-Louisiana Purchase history. In April 2005 I went for a week's visit of touring and non-Mardi Gras fun. (Have been there during Mardi Gras, and it's only reinforced my intense dislike of crushing crowds.)

During the vampire tour I learned a lot of great history that seems to be missing from much of what's findable now. For instance, Anne Rice didn't need to do much research outside her city, it was all right there for her to mine. The French government bribed and tricked its women to head to N.O. to continue the colony. Over 1/2 the inhabitants died from cholera and yellow fever in any given year. Individual plantation owners were required, by law, to build and maintain the levees. I guess if they didn't, they'd not only have their own property damage to content with, but a bunch of angry neighbors on their doorstep demanding compensation, too.

I have a ton of other information sitting in a large pile waiting for me to sort through for this story. I've outlined Bloodlines, know the plot itself inside and out, but it's the flavor of the town and era I'm working on. Plus, the more research I do into the city itself, the more I love that history. I now have another three books planned for New Orleans, one during the early days of Reconstruction, one several years later (early 1870s or thereabouts) and one contemporary. They all have Bloodlines as the basis of their plot.

A few books I have on this are:

The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld by Herbert Asbury
Beautiful Crescent: A History of New Orleans by Joan B. Garvey and Mary Lou Widmer
Street Names & Picayune Histories of New Orleans by Elaine Lacoste

Plus a bunch of little paperbacks from the plantation I visited. No, I can't remember the name of it, and do you think I can find those paperback? Of course not and I'm in a slight panic about that. They have to be here, but in which pile of books? I heard it survived Katrina. It was about a 30 minute drive outside New Orleans proper, and well worth the tour-truck sickness I endured.