Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Correction Girls

In 1718 there were no white women in and around the swampy settlement of New Orleans when the French Canadian, Jean- Baptiste LeMoyne de Bienville brought approximately 300 men to build the city of Nouvelle Orleans. Among those men, only 28 were married, leaving poor prospects for the remaining 272. LeMoyne’s need to keep his men happy led to a plea in his earliest message to the King for a shipment of marriageable women. But what parents of a virtuous daughter would send her into the wilderness?

Less virtuous women were available … French women who had fallen into disfavor with their families, orphans living on the streets of Paris and many who were imprisoned in dungeons and asylums. 80 of them were sent to Louisana. Undernourished and in poor health, many died during the months-long trip. Those who survived were snatched up on arrival in the Louisiana capital of Mobile by whatever man was fortunate enough to have his pick. Some women didn’t wed or were widowed after brief marriages, conditions that prompted LeMoyne  to send the following message to Paris in 1722:

“There are here, Gentlemen, a number of women to whom rations are given … who are useless and who do nothing but cause disorder. The majority of these women are ruined with pox and ruin the sailors. It is necessary that you be so good as to order the Council to have them go into the interior among the Indians.”

Subsequently, it became a matter of pride in the colony to derive one’s origin from a “fille a la casette”  or “casket girl” vs. “correction girl”.

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