Julien Poydras Letter About Lower Louisiana - 1803
Julien Poydras Letter About Lower Louisiana - 1803
(original in French, translated for this author)
Monsieur de Laussat,
Over the course of the various meetings that I have had the honor and pleasure of having with you, you have shown a desire to receive some remarks relative to this colony, whose prosperity you seem to have at heart. In such a praiseworthy venture, every true citizen should have the pleasure of cooperating with such a salutary aspiration; but good intention is not sufficient in these kinds of undertakings. One needs capability, and to know where to find it, in a land barely released from the hands of nature. A young man who comes here to settle would be only too happy to maintain the slight knowledge that he may have brought here, without flattering himself that he be able to cultivate it, much less still to increase it in the daily commerce that he is obliged to have with Negroes, savages, and people without education. Thus, if I were to consult nothing but my weak ability, silence would be my choice and I would not be bold enough to expose badly conceived and even more badly expressed ideas to the piercing gaze of a clairvoyant man accustomed to an environment of knowledge and wisdom. From the great world and especially from large cities, talents hatch, and we must encourage them and supply them with all the methods necessary to achieve perfection. The French, however, know Louisiana only through word of mouth—in other words, not at all. Experience alone deepens understanding of things; one understands only that which he sees with his own eyes and has learned for himself. However, even without possessing the seductive art of diction, one may have a certain degree of sensibility and may be sensitive enough to observe those objects that are daily before his eyes. And if one cannot render the sensations they bring about with the energy and elegance of a man of letters versed in the art of writing, one can at least express with truthfulness and a certain degree of clarity those feelings that vividly touch his heart. This is the source of genuine eloquence, especially savage eloquence—the only kind we know here.
The country of which you are prefect and of which, without a doubt, you would be eager to become the father through your paternal concern, is a rather extraordinary land because of its geographical position. Situated between two extremes of cold and hot (I am talking about Lower Louisiana), it barely fits between these opposed climes and consequently has all of the inconveniences. Only sugar, indigo, cotton, and rice thrive there, but in a very precarious manner. Able to conserve these plants but for a few months, we are very happy for the price of our labors and toils to obtain half-harvests whose quality is inferior to that of the warm countries where these products, being indigenous, enjoy both a temperature and all the time necessary to produce often perennial and completely perfect crops. Those insects that devour them there do not forget us here; thus all disadvantages are on our side.
Our winters, often very mild but always irregular, are the most destructive that I know. Their heat puts trees, plants, and even grains into a state of vegetation and often leaves them, in the month of December but especially at the arrival of spring, exposed to a sudden and harsh cold. This cold, which suddenly seizes their tender leaves and weak shoots in this sensitive state, freezes them and causes not only the vegetables and flowers of our gardens and subsequent harvests to disappear, but even causes the trees to perish. This deprives us of all the delicious fruits that one enjoys in much colder climates where these same trees thrive, owing to the more consistent and better-regulated seasons. In addition, we are unable to depend on any small number of fruit trees that we may enjoy, excepting our palm tree—the pride of our forests and the ornament of our tables. Peach trees sometimes thrive well enough, but they live only for a short time and demand much care in order to be revived. Figs also become perfectly ripe when the season is favorable and when the trees have resisted the frost over the course of several years. The same goes for pomegranate and orange trees—these can only survive at a small distance from the capital and are, just like the others, subject to the frost. Concerning trees such as plum, conassiers, apple, and cherry, they deteriorate and the bad fruit that one obtains from them is hardly worth mentioning. The main vegetables in our soups need to be regenerated from seeds that come from cold countries. Scarcely have we naturalized some species, and we must pay the greatest attention to the choice of the most vigorous plants in order to gather from them the seeds without which they would degenerate completely. This is about all one can say of the hardships to which our country subjugates us. And if you add to this picture the great scourges to which it is exposed and that, from time to time, get together in order to accomplish our misery (the two attached letters will supply you with incontestable proof), you will have the faithful picture of all of our troubles and all that one can most ardently say against the lower part of this colony.
But abundant nature always places the good next to the bad so as to balance it out and to establish a certain equilibrium in these ventures. I do not know the counterbalance of greed and wickedness. These harmful effects have ruined—utterly upset—the most flourishing regions of the universe. These regions would be erased from the memories of men and they would not exist there but as atrocious deserts if the pompous debris of their past greediness did not recall unceasingly the flourishing state where a wise government raised them and from whence barbarity, tyranny, fanaticism, greediness, and ignorance has thrown them. For, in a word, to what good are nature’s favors always the same if a well agreed upon and a well-meaning government does not come to the aid of men in order to enlighten, help, and encourage them to put to good use the gifts that supreme wisdom spread over almost the entire surface of the globe in order to make happy this mass of men who neither understand nor see but by the intelligence and the eyes of wise people devoted to the public good? They must serve them as guides in order to lead them to the happiness of the civil life that they desire and seek, but that they will neither know, nor obtain, nor retain if they are not subjected to the salutary yoke of wise and just laws adapted to the nature of the country where they must make their happiness.
Please excuse this reflection from which I could not restrain myself after having understood your constant hope that we live and see this things—a wish that you deigned communicate to us through writings and on which we dare base the foundation of our future well-being and the prosperity of the colony. It awaits nothing more than a wise government adapted to its locale so that it may arrive at its noble destiny that, sooner or later, it cannot escape. If the inconveniences inherent to it have delayed its progress, artificial obstacles have harmed it all the more. The advantages it possesses are very particular and very great. This colony is master over the course of a majestic, wide, deep, and navigable river, at least a thousand leagues in length and in width. An immanent network of other rivers proudly comes to pay it tribute with their waters by bringing it knowledge of far away lands. In this manner, the first fruits of their productions should be multiplied infinitely and should make your city the largest trading center of the known world. Buildings are already being constructed at rather far-off distances and their stocks increase in size over their building sites. Ships decorated with all of their sails, pushed by the wind on the waves, and proud of their loads, surprise the inhabitants of the river banks by the newness of the sight; these inhabitants who, a short time before, were only accustomed to seeing there fleets of scrawny sails or a few humble boats. Such big and sudden changes announce a growth in prosperity that is neither easy to foresee nor easy to calculate when one takes into consideration the fertility, the advantages, and the ever-open communication from one side to the other of a country so spread-out. I am going to draw you a light sketch of it, limiting my description to Lower Louisiana.
The annual rising of the river spreads abundance and fertility. Its waters are the most salubrious known. Humankind reproduces there with a speed unknown in the Old World—with the ease of marriages in a land so fertile and depopulated (that demands no more that arms and industrial encouragement), it is not difficult to go from a state of sterility to a state of utmost flourishing. These individuals of the two sexes are well equipped with ableness of bodies, and ease and strength of intelligence—which makes them well suited for different kinds of living conditions.
Raising cattle herds is very easy for during the winter, one is exempt from the trouble and costs of feeding them. The forage on their own and multiply at will. The same thing goes for horses, sheep, pigs, goats, and poultry. Turkeys, chickens, geese, ducks, guinea hens, and pigeons proliferate here all year, despite the hunting and fishing that are quite abundant. Corn, this manna of the land, which yields as much nourishment for man as for beast, thrives as if in its natural climate. Rice, which can be conserved for several years, shelters us from the horrors of famine. All kinds of broad beans, peas, and haricot beans are produced in abundance here and their crops continue until the frosts come. With the necessary care, potatoes of all species, giromons, and melons of all kinds, thrive marvelously here. After several good frosts, our gardens are still green and supply us with several meals per day. Finally, the surplus of our products can obtain for us, through widespread trade with other nations, the commodities of life that we do not have. All of the disadvantages balance out and overcome all other accidents to which we are subjected—and what country is without its fair share! All of the advantages, I say, make this colony one of the parts of the world most favored by nature and give us the means to lead a healthy, abundant, and simple—if not sensual and sweet—life. Old age is less difficult here than in colder climates. One is usually exempt from gout, paralysis, rheumatism, and any other ailment for which a profuse amount of sweating is the antidote.
But the object of our most ardent desires, the most essential point that nature cannot give us, but without which, however, everything becomes useless, is a good government. Concerning this matter, all eyes are on you as an anxious people awaits the decision of its fate. Hearts clenched, full of fear and hope, we see the arrival of the denouement, or rather the beginning, of a new way of living. Not being able to formulate a clear, precise idea of this new life, however, we are left in an alternative state of mind—one that is rather worrisome, for there are many ways of being unhappy but only one way to be happy. It is not easy to hide the fact that this guardian knot is difficult to untie in a country that is so different (from our own) in all ways—in climate, in products, in type of men. All are gathered here by chance and assembled under many types of differing relationships. Nevertheless, it is with utmost confidence that we give ourselves over to the seductive expectation of improvement, or rather civil regeneration. Strengthened by the flattering reassurance that you have given us, we joyfully accept the happy auspices. We are guaranteed by the sensibility of your Court, the generosity of your soul, your knowledge, and your wisdom. Your colleagues—all equally well-intentioned and perfectly qualified to fulfill with zeal such an honorable task—likewise reassure us. You, in your wisdom, will know how to foresee our needs so as to support our industry, encourage our works, and remind us of the tenderness of our homeland, which we had forgotten and which deigns to welcome us with open arms. May this sweet reunion forever tighten the bonds of blood, friendship, and devotion that always made our homeland dear to us. May the most brilliant light crown all of your ventures and cover you with the glory that those who generously devote themselves to the good of humanity justly deserve—those who become the illustrious founders of future generations who will celebrate and bless the names that their ancestors transmit to them with tenderness of love and enthusiasm of thankfulness. Fully aware of the honor of being, with perfect devotion and deepest respect,
Your very humble and obedient servant.
July 22, 1803