Preface
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ix Preface In 1714, four years prior to the founding of New Orleans, Frenchmen establishedthepostofNatchitoches(pronouncedNakatish)onthefrontier between French Louisiana and Spanish Texas. For most of the colonial era, Natchitoches was the easternmost of three communities— San Antonio and Santa Fe being the others—that served as focal points for the European, Native American, and African peoples who inhabited the area between the Red River and the Rio Grande. Ruled by France before 1766, and under Spanish control until 1804, Natchitoches became the most important community on the Louisiana-Texas frontier during the colonial era. Due to its position on the edge of the Atlantic World, European goods flowed through Natchitoches westward to the isolated Spaniards and Indians of Texas. In addition to the critical economic and diplomatic role the town played in the colonial Southwest, Natchitoches was a center of activity in its own right. Gallic families settled in the region, raised livestock and cash crops, and brought slaves from Africa to work in the fields. By the end of the colonial era, nearly two thousand people resided in Natchitoches.1 Despite the town’s prominence on the Louisiana-Texas frontier duringtheeighteenthcentury ,Natchitocheshasbeenseriouslyneglectedin the historical literature. Only three prior works have examined colonial Natchitoches itself, but all were written in the early twentieth century by historians who mainly focused on the elite settlers and stressed the romantic exploits of the town’s founder, Louis Juchereau de St. Denis.2 Inthepastdecadeandahalf,however,anoutpouringofexcellentworks have touched on the colonial post. A few prominent scholars have included St. Denis and the establishment of Natchitoches in magisterial historical endeavors that provided overviews of French Louisiana and Spanish Texas.3 These important works, in turn, have inspired a numberofstudiesexaminingthevariousIndiantribesthatestablishedcom mercial ties with the French traders of Natchitoches in the eighteenth century.4 Related works have focused on the Indian trade itself, and the French families that dominated the enterprise throughout the colonial A4542.indb ix A4542.indb ix 11/20/07 12:23:14 PM 11/20/07 12:23:14 PM x preface era.5 OnescholarhastracedaNatchitochescommunityoffreepeopleof color from the late colonial era through the Civil War.6 Taken together, these works promoted the idea that colonial Natchitoches was a heterogeneous community consisting of people of French, Spanish, British, Native American, and African descent, who met on a relatively equal basis to exchange European manufactured goods for products of the hunt on the undeveloped Louisiana-Texas frontier. This work began as a community study intending to focus on the heretofore unexamined common folk who settled and worked in Natchitoches during the colonial period.7 It was assumed that the study would reinforce the notion that the town’s eighteenth-century economy centered around the Indian trade and that the community consisted of an egalitarian mixture of various ethnic groups. The research , however, led to a few basic conclusions that are diametrically opposed to how the previous works have portrayed colonial Natchitoches . First, almost all of the free people who resided in Natchitoches during the eighteenth century were of French descent. Indeed, the post contained a higher percentage of free people of French descent than the rest of colonial Louisiana and New Orleans, which as a port city was particularly cosmopolitan by the end of the Spanish regime. Nearly all of the free inhabitants of Natchitoches in the colonial period either came directly from France or were the creole (defined here as being born in America) children of French parents. Previous scholars, focusing on the fact that early pioneers such as St. Denis had wed a Hispanic woman, while his comrade François Derbanne had married a Chitimacha Indian woman, have reinforced the misleading notion that many of the other settlers also wed people of differing ethnicities, thus leading to a polyglot community, which also included a significant number of free people of color. In reality, except for a few people who arrived on the Louisiana-Texas frontier during the late eighteenth century and lived on the margins of town society, Natchitoches was a French creole community inhabited by free people who spoke French and adopted a French creole lifestyle, including a strong adherence to Roman Catholic practices.8 To be sure, the French inhabitants of Natchitoches were not isolated from, nor unaffected by, the Indians, Hispanics, and Africans who lived nearby. Indeed, they sought to preserve their version of Gallic culture to a large extent in response to the challenges posed by the region’s diverse cultures. As a result, within two...


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Subject Headings

  • Slaves -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- Economic conditions -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- Social conditions -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- Race relations -- History -- 18th century.
  • French Americans -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Creoles -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Free African Americans -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Community life -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches.
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