Travel Accounts

Travel accounts provide readers with the most vivid descriptions of New Orleans and Senegal from the Atlantic era. Europeans who traveled to Africa and the Americas produced detailed accounts of the people, customs, geography, flora and fauna they encountered. Historians have long relied on these in their attempts to reconstruct the Atlantic world of the 17th-19th centuries. They do contain a mass of information that cannot be found elsewhere, but they also incorporate the prejudices, ideologies, and misapprehensions of their authors.

Le Page du Pratz, for example, betrays his racist ideas about enslaved African women in Louisiana in this passage:

“From what I have said, I conclude that a French father and his wife are great enemies to their posterity when they give their children such nurses. For the milk being the purest blood of the woman, one must be a step-mother indeed to giver her child to a negro nurse in such a country as Louisiana.”

(Le Page du Pratz, The History of Louisiana or of the Western Parts of Virgiia and Carolina, (translated from the French), London, 1774, p. 382.)

At the same time, travel accounts sometimes offer surprising glimpses of very different European responses to Africans and Native Americans, as a passage from the letters of a young Ursuline nun writing from New Orleans in 1728 show.

“Our little community grows from day to day. We have twenty boarders, of whom eight today made their first communion, three ladies also board, and three orphans that we took through charity. We also have seven slave boarders to instruct for baptism and first communion, besides a great number of day students, female blacks and female savages (Native Americans) who come for two hours a day for instruction.”

(Marie Madeleine Hachard, Voices from an Early American Convent: Marie Madeleine Hachard and the New Orleans Ursulines, 1727-1760, ed. Emily Clark, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2007, p. 82.)

With the exception of Mungo Park’s, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa, the best known and most informative travel accounts about Senegambia and Louisiana in the Atlantic era were written in French. The readings section of this unit provides a list of English translations of some of them.