German Coast Settlement—Breadbasket of the Colony

     On the German Coast during the 1720s, houses were built on both sides of the Mississippi River. The first German settlers continuously supplied the markets of New Orleans. They used the river to transport their surplus produce in small boats or canoes, known as pirogues, returning home through Lake Pontchartrain into Bayous Trepagnier and LeSieur, and other tributaries to the Mississippi River.

     Ellen Merrill, noted historian and authority on German Coast culture, reveals that in the 1724 census all of the German families were not only harvesting enough vegetables and grain for their families and cattle but were bringing their surplus to New Orleans markets. In addition to farming, they were constructing and maintaining levees where their property fronted the Mississippi River. It is apparent from these records that from the beginning of their settlement, German Coast farmers were a dependable source of food for the city of New Orleans.

    The first Indian attack on the German Coast occurred in about 1729, and although it was only a small raid, it left a lasting impression on the settlement and raised the level of concern regarding their safety.

 

I n 1731, as the first decade of settlement on the German Coast ended, the Company of the Indies charter was retrieved by France and Louisiana again became a French colony. The land farmed by settlers on the German Coast technically belonged to the Company of the Indies until France retrieved its charter. Gradually, landholders began to petition France for ownership in order to sell the property and use the proceeds for economic improvement.

1732 Map of Settler's Route to New Orleans

 

          Land grants under French and Spanish rule were configured in arpents. The old French measurement for one arpent (superficial-square arpent) was 3.419 square meters or 4.089 square yards. An October 12, 1716, edict issued by King Louis XV mentions that land in the Province of Louisiana would be granted in modules two to four arpents wide along the river by forty to sixty arpents deep. Under Spanish rule, the modules were six to eight arpents wide by forty arpents deep. Generally, measurements of the grants were often stated in lieue (meters). In Louisiana, French and Spanish surveyors interpreted the lieue as 2500 toise de Paris (one toise equaled 1.95 meters or 2.13 yards) which equaled eighty-three and one third arpents de Paris instead of eighty-four. After the Louisiana Purchase, United States surveyors measured existing land grants, settling on an exact measurement of 191.994 feet per arpent. Today, many families in St. Charles Parish continue to own arpent tracts along River Road, particularly on the west bank.

Pirogue.  (Sketch by Janis Blair)

          In the following years, the colonists cultivated mainly grain and produce. Corn, rice, fruits, and vegetables were raised. They sold the excess in the markets of the capital (New Orleans). They also brought apples, plums, pears, figs, sweet potatoes, melons, artichokes, cabbage, and various greens. Cattle raising was developed as an industry. Within the next decade, the Côté des Allemands developed into the second largest settlement after New Orleans. Anytime there was a poor harvest it had a disastrous effect on the New Orleans market and caused turmoil through the delta region. The German settlement became the only dependable source of fresh foodstuffs. On more than one occasion, the German Coast farmers saved the city from starvation continuing to be the breadbasket of the colony.

Noted historian Charles Gayarré said in his work, A History of Louisiana, “In truth then, what today we call the ‘French Market’ really began as a ‘German’ market with the green vegetables and the staples which these German Coast farmers laid out for the people of New Orleans on Sunday mornings.”

 

 

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Map of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Bayou Manchac in 1731 Professor Ellen Merrill wrote the forward to the book

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Copyright © This text is copyright material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.