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Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz (1695?-1775)[1] was an ethnographer, historian, and naturalist who is best known for his Histoire de la Louisiane, which was published in three volumes in Paris in 1758 and later translated into English. It was based on his years in Louisiana from 1718 to 1734, when he learned the Natchez language and befriended native leaders.

Early life

Le Page Du Pratz was born either in the Netherlands or France, and was raised in the latter country. Serving with Louis XIV’s dragoons in the French Army, he saw service in Germany in 1713 during the War of the Spanish Succession.

On May 25, 1718 he left La Rochelle, France, with 800 men on one of three ships bound for Louisiana. He arrived on August 25, 1718. Le Page lived in Louisiana from 1718 to 1734, the first eight of those years at Natchez, Mississippi, where he lived with a Chitimacha woman (and likely had children with her), learned the Natchez language, and befriended local native leaders. Rather than describing the "manners and customs of the Indians" in the detached fashion of so many other colonial authors, Le Page recorded many pages in the words of his native informants. He included an account by the Yazoo explorer Moncachet-Apé, who recounted his travels to the Pacific coast and back, a century before the Lewis & Clark Expedition. The Yazoo man traveled to learn more about where Native Americans had originated, and learned about ancient references to a land bridge from Asia.[2]

Carte de la Louisiane, or Map of Louisiana, Histoire de la Louisiane (1757)

Le Page lived at Natchez from 1720 to 1728, under the colonization scheme organized by John Law and the Company of the West. His familiarity with the local Natchez, and knowledge of their language and customs, is the basis for some of the unique and fascinating parts of his writings. He returned to New Orleans to take an appointment as manager of the Company's plantation, and thereby avoided being killed in the so-called Natchez Rebellion or Natchez Massacre of 1729. There had been tensions and retaliatory attacks as settlers encroached on Indian territory.

This uprising by the Natchez, Chickasaws and Yazoo, which Le Page described in detail, destroyed the French Fort Rosalie and nearly all of the more than 220 colonists there. The Native Americans did not kill enslaved Africans or Indians.[3] After the massacre, the French king ended the concession of the Company of the West, and seized control of the plantation which Le Page was managing. French troops put down the Natchez Rebellion by 1731, and several hundred Indians were sold into slavery and transported to Saint-Domingue.[4]

Writings

Le Page du Pratz waited more than fifteen years after his return to France before he wrote and published his memoir of Louisiana. The "Memoire sur la Louisiane" was published in the Journal Oeconomique (Economic Journal), a Paris periodical devoted to scientific and commercial topics, between September 1751 and February 1753. In 1758 the three octavo volumes of the Histoire de la Louisiane were published. Part of the book is devoted to ethnographic descriptions of the native peoples of Louisiana, particularly the Natchez. Other sections described the history of the colony, from the Spanish and French explorers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through establishment of the French settlements along the Mississippi.[5]

The title page to the one-volume English edition of 1774 that Benjamin Smith Barton loaned to Meriwether Lewis to take along on the expedition of 1804-06.

In 1763, a partial translation of Le Page du Pratz's work was published in English in London. The title, The History of Louisiana, subordinated the former French colony to its English neighbors to the east, and its preface asserted that the English "nation may now reap some advantages from those countries...by learning from the experience of others, what they do or are likely to produce, that may turn to account." [5] The Lewis and Clark Expedition believed Le Page's work critical enough to include it among the guides which they took on their long journey.[6]

References

  1. ^ John C. Van Horne, "Memoir of a French Visitor: du Pratz, History of Lousiana", Discovering Lewis & Clark
  2. ^ Gordon M. Sayre, "A Native American Scoops Lewis and Clark", Common-Place, vol.5 (4) July 2005, accessed 3 May 2009
  3. ^ Ginny Walker English, "Natchez Massacre 1729", State Coordinator, Mississippi American Local History Network, 2000-2003, accessed 3 May 2009
  4. ^ "Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz: A Biographical Outline", University of Oregon, accessed 3 May 2009
  5. ^ a b [http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~gsayre/LPDP.html Gordon Sayre, "Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, 'The History of Louisiana' ('L'Histoire de la Louisiane' (1758)"], GSayre, accessed 3 May 2009
  6. ^ "Lewis & Clark—Expedition—Supplies", National Geographic
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