The Antebellum “Persac Map” of 1858
Can you love history? Am I exaggerating when I say, I do? I especially enjoy learning about history and seeing how events connect with one another.
If you’re my age, you can remember traveling cross-country by automobile with your parents (or parent) on interstate highways. When we stopped for gasoline at service stations, we used the bathroom, and sometimes we’d pick up a free road map. How many of you still have a road map stuck away in a junk drawer or in your car’s glove box? Today, programmed cars give the directions or the occupants reach for their phone, not a folded map.
An example of a recent historical discovery of mine is the “Persac Map,” created by (Marie) Adrien Persac (1823-1873), a French-born painter, photographer, surveyor, lithographer, and inventor.
His map is incredible!
It’s titled, “Norman’s chart of the lower Mississippi River,” since it was published by Benjamin Moore Norman (1809-1860). An alternate title is, “From Natchez to New Orleans.”
The Persac map from 1858 has survived for 164 years. It’s not stored in a junk drawer. It’s in the Library of Congress.
Antebellum America (period of time before the Civil War, 1815-1861), especially in Louisiana, was an era of poor roads. Instead of a developed highway system, rivers were used for transporting people and shipping cargo. Steamboats and flatboats were busy on the Mississippi River and crowded the port of New Orleans. There, and throughout the Deep South, cotton was king. It was sold and often sent to markets for the manufacturing of clothing on the Eastern coast of the United States and to Europe, especially England.
While researching the ancestors of Charles Collins, first sheriff of Reno County, Kansas, I learned that his grandfather had immigrated from Ireland to Louisiana prior to 1800. “Grandfather” Collins was able to establish a plantation near Baton Rouge (about 80 miles north of the Crescent City). He and his son grew cotton and sugar cane on the backs of an enslaved workforce of Black Africans and slaves of African descent.
When I studied the Persac map, my eyes followed the Mississippi River as it wound back and forth, and back again. I held my breath, searching for a plantation labeled with the name of Collins as its owner.
Unfortunately, I never found a Collins, but during my research I had discovered a masterful, colorful, priceless piece of art.
If you have a love of history or especially enjoy maps, be sure and click on the link below. In order to really appreciate the detail, enlarge the map. And, if you find a plantation labeled Collins, please contact me. We can celebrate together.
Click the following link so that you can enlarge the image: https://www.loc.gov/item/78692178/[Note: The cotton plantations are in pink and blue; the sugar plantations in yellow and green. You’ll see that north of Baton Rouge the conditions were more favorable to cotton production, as opposed to plantations downriver toward New Orleans, where French Creoles and sugar cane predominated.]
Until next time, happy writing and reading.