Unexpected Connections

As I mentioned in my last post here, I’m working on a road romance that opens in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of New Orleans. Since my heroine is a third or fourth generation New Orleans native, I’ve been reading up on the early history of the city to get a feel for her world and how it shaped her.

By sheer luck I stumbled across a book called The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans, by Lawrence N. Powell. It covers the history of the city from its founding through the Battle of New Orleans, and it’s full of lovely footnotes I’m mining for more detailed sources of what life was like when the Crescent City looked something like this:

New Orleans 1803

To my vast surprise, I discovered that the demography and culture of 19th century New Orleans were impacted, and significantly so, by a part of history I know much better–the Peninsular War. You see, much of the Francophone population of 19th century New Orleans did not in fact descend from the original settlers, but from refugees from the Haitian Revolution in 1804. At first the refugees went to Cuba and were accepted there, since France and Spain were then allies. But when Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808 and put his brother Joseph on the throne, the French were no longer welcome in a Spanish possession like Cuba…so they fled to New Orleans, which had been in neutral American hands since 1803.

Who knows what other unexpected connections I’ll discover as I continue to explore New Orleans, the Natchez Trace, and the rest of 1815 America? Right now I’m just hoping to find a Louisiana cookbook from sometime close to my time period, so I’ll know what foods to make my heroine homesick for!

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14 Responses to Unexpected Connections

  1. HJ says:

    New Orleans is one of those places which I often read about, although usually in contemporary novels. So I’m looking forward to the fruits of your research!

    • susanna says:

      Well, only the first few chapters will be in/around New Orleans, but I want to be as thorough as I can, since it’s such a well-known and well-loved place.

  2. I had never heard of the Haitian connection although I should have with my study of voodoo in New Orleans! Sounds like fascinating research and I cannot wait to read the book!

    • susanna says:

      It’s definitely fascinating! I’m planning to have a partial/proposal to my editor sometime next month, so cross your fingers for me.

  3. Elena says:

    It sounds like you’re having a great time with the research. I love when that happens–sometimes it’s just frustration because I can’t find what I need. If I bomb out between my home reference library, the local university library and interlibrary loan, I check with my online Regency loops. If no one there knows, I make it up something that seems plausible. Don’t tell anyone.

    • susanna says:

      I’ve been known to write around things I was unable to find out, and sometimes my good intentions get lost in deadline pressure. But I’m glad my day job is with a major university where one of the staff benefits is library borrowing privileges!

  4. Lady Wesley says:

    You probably don’t needthis, but there’s a fun book about street names in NOLA, which also gives interesting episodes in the growth of the city. The title: Frenchman Desire Good Children(three street names!)

  5. diane says:

    I love this connection!
    Did you know that the Museum in New Orleans has a Napoleon death mask?

    • susanna says:

      I didn’t. I still haven’t been to New Orleans. When I was growing up in Alabama, my family mostly either took LONG vacations or stayed home, so I haven’t been to all the near-ish places like Savannah and New Orleans. (And now that I live in Seattle, it actually IS a long way away.)

  6. Karen H in NC says:

    I’ve only visited New Orleans when I was a teenager. Would love to go back for a visit now.

    One of my favorite things to do is visit Antebellum homes and plantations. Natchez has an annual Pilgrimage for a month in spring (should be coming up in March) where visitors can tour as many as 35 homes open for viewing. Some are owned by their historical society and some are private residences. Some homes are owned by descendants of the original owners. I visited in 1998 and on my trip home, I drove the Natchez Trace (now a parkway drive similar to the Blue Ridge Parkway) with historical sites of interest and parts of the original trace still there to take a walk on. Interesting, informative and impressive.

    • susanna says:

      My parents drove the Natchez Trace one year, but I was in college by then, so I missed that particular family vacation. My husband and daughter are coming with me to RWA in Atlanta this year because most of my family in Georgia and Alabama will be there for a reunion immediately after the conference, so I thought about doing the Natchez Trace and New Orleans for a research trip, because who knows when we’ll be down South again? But I ended up concluding we didn’t have the vacation time, and that July isn’t the best time to go to NOLA anyway–it’s going to be bad enough in Atlanta, for people who are used to Seattle summers. (Anything above 80 or so counts as a heat wave.)

  7. Hatrack says:

    I learned about the historic connection between Cuba and New Orleans from reading a publication of The Historic New Orleans Collection. (hnoc dot org) It’s an excellent oganization with a lovely museum, library, and a research center, in the French Quarter. Cataloged materials, books, manuscripts, maps, photos, painting, artifacts, and such like, are in the Collection. Also in the area, the National Park Service preserves the battlefield and it’s monuments of the Battle of New Orleans. With the bicentenary of the War of 1812, a lot has been produced.

    In general, the popular imagination misses the Spanish legacy of New Orleans.

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