History Project Header Banner

I’ve been spending time with maps at Tulane’s Louisiana Research Collection (LaRC) with the kind assistance of Sean Benjamin, Public Services Librarian. You can find more information about the excellent primary source materials of Tulane’s Special Collections at Jones Hall here: http://library.tulane.edu/collections/spec_collections.

Maps dating from the 1700s tend to focus on the French Quarter area and, when the maps did show any area outside the French Quarter, the area surveyed tended to be very limited, and focused along the river front.

This changed in the late 18th Century due to a decree issued by Governor Alejandro O’Reilly (upheld by following Spanish governors until October 1798 when it was over turned by royal decree) that stated that all land grants issued by the King required a survey to delineate property boundaries. Passed in February 1770, this decree became the first official land policy for Louisiana.

Carlos (or Charles) Trudeau, appointed as Surveyor General by the Spanish government, assessed various lands throughout the Louisiana area including New Orleans and Baton Rouge and land grants along the Tangipahoa River, Lake Pontchartrain and Tchefuncta River. Trudeau made a number of maps between the late 1780s until his retirement in 1805. While most of these maps focused on specific, relatively small areas, Trudeau also made a number of maps of New Orleans and the surrounding area. Two, “Copy and Translation From the Original Spanish Plan Dated 1798 Showing the City of New Orleans, its Fortifications and Environs, Compiled in Accordance with an Ordinance of the Illustrious Ministry and Royal Charter, 14 December, 1798” and :Plano de la Ciudad de Nueva Orleans” illustrates the French Quarter and surrounding land grants.

A third map (originally dated 1788) , “Plan de l’habitacion, de dn. Betran Gravier, ?educido del Plan del dia Primero de avril de mil secientos ??henta y ocho. Paradis posicion de la Villa. (A, A, A, A.)*” demonstrates the layout of the future CBD with Calle Sn. Carlos (St. Charles Street) set in its modern position. (All these maps may be found at the LaRC in Folder C5-D11-F5, New Orleans (copies) 1788 to 1799.)

These maps are the most detailed records of land distribution until Zimpel’s 1834 map (LaRC Folder C5-D12-F3, New Orleans (copies), 1830-1849). An interesting variation of Trudeau’s maps is a map created by Edna B. Friedberg, who incorporated information from her book, Bayou St. John in Colonial Louisiana, 1699 to 1803 (Folder C5-D11-F5, New Orleans (copies) 1788 to 1799) with Trudeau’s maps. This enhanced map add further details about land distribution around New Orleans and provides valuable information about land transfers such as grants, land sales and successions.

For instance, around the modern neighborhood of Gentilly, land transactions record the sale of property of eight arpents fronting on Bayou St. John to not one, but two free women of color. Originally granted to Charles Lorreins prior to 1766, Lorreins sold the property to Andres Jung in 1773, who in turn sold the property “. . . to free negress Marianna 3/8/1774.” Nearly three years later on March 4, 1777, Marianna sold the property to another free woman of color (FWC) Naneta. According to the editorial comment by Friedbert, this area is noted as being a residential area for “Negros,” and “People of Color,” until 1829, when Alexander Milne purchased the entire eight arpent grant. It is interesting to see evidence of property transactions among the Free People of Color (FPC) and women participating in them.

In the 1980 enhanced map, ArtEgg lies just inside the area described as “339 arps, 200 toises, triangle, granted to Jesuits by Bienville 8/10/1734, to build canal to Bayou St. Jean. (never built).” After careful consideration of the original 1798 Trudeau map, while there is a boundary delineating John Gravier’s land, his portion became the location of today’s Central Business District. The area that contains the future ArtEgg property actually does not have an owner identified with it.

The area where ArtEgg is situated and outlined by Trudeau in 1798 is designated as “CYPRESS SWAMP,” and did not have any kind of access to the Mississippi, the lakefront or the bayou, though it is bounded by the Carondelet Canal in the 1798 map. This canal only came into existence in the 1790s (thus illustrated on the 1798 map), so it appears that the ArtEgg area lacked a good source of water from the beginning of New Orleans. The land that ArtEgg lay on was not claimed by anyone at the time when Trudeau drew his map, or at the very least, no owner is recorded. Some as yet unknown person could have held a title to it. Perhaps it simply could have been common land or King’s land. Or simply no one wanted it.

When I first discussed Trudeau’s 1789 map last October, I incorrectly attributed the land that ArtEgg is now located to John Gravier due to how the boundary notation is written. While frustrating (What historian wants to get factual information wrong?), as Sean Benjamin and I took a closer look at the map, we came to a more in-depth interpretation that allows for a deeper understanding of the documentary evidence, in this case a 1798 map.

So what can be said of the property chain-of-title? Thus far, it can be reasonably argued that the land was first granted to the Jesuits in 1734, who held title to it until 1763 (as illustrated in Trudeau’s 1798 map and Friedberg’s 1980 expanded map), when the Jesuits were ejected from Louisiana. The chain reappears in the historical record in 1837, when Samuel Oakey sold the property to John Hall. The 1834 Zimpel map indicates that Oakey held the property as early as 1834. This leaves a mysterious gap of about 71 years (between 1763 to 1834), where the history of ownership of the land is as yet veiled.

The search continues.

On Thursday, November 8, I will be presenting a lecture about ArtEgg at the Cabildo. Perhaps that 71 year period will be illuminated.

*The question marks used in the Spanish title of 1788 Trudeau map referred to above, indicate a letter, which could not be deciphered.

Good Egg Billboard