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Le Page du Pratz

History of Louisiana

London: T. Becket, 1774

  • Title
  • Contents (under constr.)
  • Preface (under constr.)
  • Origin of Americans
  • Temples and Tombs

  • Transcriber's Comments

  • Brakenridge's Views of Louisiana, 1814

    (this web-page is under construction)


    H I S T O R Y


    L O U I S I A N A;

    OR  OF




    Containing a Description of the

    Countries that lie on both sides of the River Mississippi:

    With an Account of the

    S E T T L E M E N T S,  I N H A B I T A N T S,  S O I L,
    C L I M A T E  A N D  P R O D U C T S.

    Translated from the French


    With some Notes and Observations relating to our Colonies.

    A   N E W   E D I T I O N.

    L O N D O N.

    Printed for T. Becket, Corner of the Adelphi, in the Strand.



    [ 291 ]


    H I S T O R Y


    L O U I S I A N A

    B O O K  IV.

    C H A P.  I

    The Origin of the Americans.

    THE remarkable difference I observed between the Natchez, including in that name the nations whom they treat as brethren, and the other peoples of Louisiana, made me extremely desirous to know whence both of them might have originally come. We had not then that full information which we have since received from the voyages and discoveries of M. De Lisle in the eastern parts of the Russian Empire. I therefore applied myself one day to put the keeper of the temple in good humour, and having succeeded in that without much difficulty, I then told him, that from the little resemblance I observed between the Natchez and the neighbouring nations, I was inclined to believe that they were not originally of the country which they then inhabited; and that if the ancient speech taught him any thing on that subject, he would do me a great pleasure to inform me of it. At

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    these words he leaned his head on his two hands, with which he covered his eyes, and having remained in that postures about a quarter of an hour, as if to recollect himself, he answered to the following effect:

    "Before we came into this land we lived there under the sun, (pointing with his finger nearly south-west, by which I understood that he meant Mexico;) we lived in a fine country where the earth is always pleasant; there our Suns had their abode, and our nation maintained itself for a long time against the ancients of the country, who conquered some of our villages in the plains, but never could force us from the mountains. Our nation extended itself along the great water where this large river loses itself; but as our enemies were become very numerous, and very wicked, our Suns sent some of their subjects who lived near this river, to examine wheher we could retire into the country through which it flowed. The country on the east side of the river being found extremely pleasant, the Great Sun, upon the return of those who had examined it, ordered all his subjects who lived in the plains, and who still defended themselves against the ancients of the country, to remove into this land, here to build a temple, and to preserve the eternal fire.

    "A great part of our nation accordingly settled here, where they lived in peace and abundance for several generations. The Great Sun, and those who had remained with him, never thought of joining us, being tempted to continue where they were by the pleasantness of the country, which was very warm, and by the weakness of their enemies, who had fallen into civil dissentions, in consequence of the ambition of one of their chiefs, who wanted to raise himself from a state of equality with the other chiefs of the villages, and to treat all the people of of his nation as slaves. During those discords among our enemies, some of them even entered into an alliance with the Great Sun, who still remained in our old country, that he might

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    conveniently assist our other brethren who had settled on the banks of the Great Water to the east of the large river, and extended themselves so far on the coast and among the isles, that the Great Sun did not hear of them sometimes for five or six years together.

    "It was not till after many generations that the Great Suns came and joined us in this country, where, from the fine climate, and the peace we had enjoyed, we had multiplied like the leaves of the tree. Warriors of fire, who made the earth to tremble, had arrived in our old country, and having entered into an alliance with our brethren, conquered our ancient enemies; but attempting afterwards to make slaves of our Suns, they, rather than submit to them, left our brethren who refused to follow them, and came hither attended only with their slaves."

    Upon my asking him who those warriors of fire were, he replied, that they were bearded white men, somewhat of a brownish colour, who carried arms that darted out fire with a great noise, and killed at a great distance; that they had likewise heavy arms which killed a great many men at once, and like thunder made the earth tremble; and that they came from the sun-rising in floating villages.

    The ancients of the country he said were very numerous, and inhabited from the western coast of the great water to the northern countries on this side the sun, and very far upon the same coast beyond the sun. They had a great number of large and small villages, which were all built of stone, and in which there were houses large enough to lodge a whole village. Their temples were built with great labour and art, and they made beautiful works of all kinds of materials.

    But ye yourselves, said I, whence are ye come? The ancient speech, he replied, does not say from what land we came; all that we know is, that our fathers, to come hither, followed the sun and came with him from the place where he rises; that they were a lomg time on their

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    journey, were all on the point of perishing, and were brought into the country without seeking it.

    To this account of the keeper of the temple, which was afterwards confirmed to me by the Great Sun, I shall add the following passage of Diodorus Siculus, which seems to confirm the opinion of those who think the eastern Americans are descended from the Europeans, who may have been driven by the winds upon the coasts of Guiana or Brasil.

    "To the west of Africa," he says, "lies a very large island, distant many days sail from that part of our continent. Its fertile soil is partly plain, and partly mountainous. The plain country is most sweet and pleasant, being watered every where with rivulets, and navigable rivers; it is beautified with many gardens, which are planted with all kinds of trees, and orchards particularly are watered with pleasant streams. The villages are adorned with houses built in a magnificent taste, having parterres ornamented with arbours covered with flowers. Hither the inhabitants retire during the summer to enjoy the fruits which the country furnishes them with in the greatest abundance. The mountainous part is covered with large woods, and all manner of fruit trees, and in the vallies, which are watered with rivulets, the inhabitants meet with every thing that can render life agreeable. In a word, the whole island, by its fertility and the abundance of its springs, furnishes the inhabitants not only with every thing that may flatter their wishes, but with what may also contribute to their health and strength of body. Hunting furnishes them with such an infinite number of animals, that in their feasts they have nothing to wish for in regard either to plenty of delicacy. Besides, the sea, which surrounds the island, supplies them plentifully with all kinds of fish, and indeed the sea in general is very abundant. The air of this island is so temperate that the trees bear leaves and fruit almost the

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    whole year round. In a word, this island is so delicious, that it so delicious, that it seems rather the abode of the gods than of men.

    "Anciently, on account of its remote situation, it was altogether unknown; but afterwards it was discovered by accident. It is well known, that from the earliest ages the Phenicians undertook long voyages in order to extend their commerce, and in consequence of those voyages established several colonies in Africa and the western parts of Europe. Every thing succeeding to their wish, and being become very powerful, they attempted to pass the pillars of Hercules and enter the ocean. They accordingly passed those pillars, and in their neighbourhood built a city upon a peninsula of Spain, which they named Gades. There, amongst the other buildings proper for the place, they built a temple to Hercules, to whom they instituted splendid sacrifices after the manner of their country. This temple is in great veneration at this day, and several Romans who have rendered themselves illustrious by their exploits, have performed their vows to Hercules for the success of their enterprizes.

    "The Phenicians accordingly have passed the Streights of Spain, sailed along Africa, when by the violence of the winds they were driven far out to sea, and the storm continuing several days, they were at length thrown on this island, Being the first who were acquainted with its beauty and fertility, they published them to other nations. The Tuscans, when they were masters at sea, designed to send a colony thither, but the Carthaginians found means to prevent them on the two following accounts; first, they were afraid lest their citizens, tempted by the charms of that island, should pass over thither in too great numbers, and desert their own country; next they looked upon it as a secure asylum for themselves, if ever any terrible disaster should befal their republic."

    This description of Diodorus is very applicable in many circumstances to America, particularly in the agreeable

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    temperature of the climate to Africans, the prodigious fertility of the earth, the vast forests, the large rivers, and the multitudes of rivulets and springs. The Natchez may then justly be supposed to be descended from some Phenicians or Carthaginians, who had been wrecked on the shores of South America, in which case they might well be imagined to have but little acquaintance with the arts, as those who first landed would be obliged to apply all their thoughts to their immediate subsistence, and consequently would soon become rude and barbarous. Their worship of the eternal fire likewise implies their descent from the Phenicians; for every body knows that this superstition, which first took its rise in Egypt, was introduced by the Phenicians into all the countries that they visited. The figurative stile, and the bold and Syriac expressions in the language of the Natchez, is likewise another proof of their being descended from the Phenicians. *

    As to those whom the Natchez, long after their first establishment, found inhabiting the western coasts of America, and whom we name Mexicans, the arts which they possessed and cultivated with success, obliged me to give them a different origin. Their temples, their sacrifices, their buildings, their form of government, and their manner of making war, all denote a people who have transmigrated in a body, and brought with them the arts, the sciences, and the customs of their country. Those people had the art of writing, and also of painting. Their archives consisted of cloths of cotton, whereon they had painted or drawn all those transactions which they thought worthy of being transmitted to posterity. It were greatly to be wished that the first conquerors of this new world had preserved to us the figures of those drawings; for by comparing them with the characters used by

    * The author might have mentioned a singular custom, in which both nations agree; for it appears from Polybius, i. I. c. 6. that the Carthaginians practiced scalping.

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    other nations, we might perhaps have discovered the origin of the inhabitants. The knowledge which we have of the Chinese characters, which are rathwer irregular drawings than characters, should probably have facilitated such a discovery; and perhaps those of Japan would have been found greatly to have resembled the Mexican; for I am strongly of opinion that the Mexican are descended from one of those two nations.

    In fact, where is the impossibility, that some prince in one of those countries, upon failing in an attempt to raise himself to the sovereign power, should leave his native country with all his partizans, and look for some new land, where, after he had established himself, he might drop all foreign correspondence? The easy navigation of the South-Sea renders the thing probable; and the new map of the eastern bounds of Asia, and the western of North America, lately published by Mr. DeLisle, makes it still more likely. This map makes it plainly appear, that between the islands of Japan, or northern coasts of China, and those of America, there are other lands, which to this day have remained unknown; and who will take upon him to say there is no land, because it has never yet been discovered? I have therefore good grounds to believe, that the Mexicans came originally from China or Japan, especially when I consider their reserved and uncommunicative disposition, which to this day prevails among the people of the eastern parts of Asia. The great antiquity of the Chinese nation likewise makes it possible that a colony might have gone from thence to America early enough to be looked upon as the Ancients of the country, by the first Phenicians who could be supposed to arrive there. As a further corroboration of my conjectures, I was informed by a man of learning in 1752, that in the king's library there is a Chinese manuscript, which positively affirms that America was peopled by the inhabitants of Corea.

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    When the Natchez retired to this part of America, where I saw them, they were found several nations, or rather the remains of several nations, some on the east, others on the west of the Mississippi. These are the people who are distinguished among the hatives by the name of Red Men; and their origin is so much the more obscure, as they have not so distinct a tradition, as the Natchez, nor arts and sciences like the Mexicans, from whence we might draw some satisfactory inferences. All that I could learn from them was, that they came from between the north and the sun-setting; and this account they uniformly adhered to whenever they gave any account of their origin. This lame tradition no ways satisfying the desire I had to be informed on this point, I made great inquiries to know if there was any wise old man among the neighbouring nations, who could give me further intelligence about the origin of the natives. I was happy enough to discover one, named Moncachr-ape among the Yozous, a nation about forty leagues north from the Natchez. The man was remarkable for his solid understanding and elevation of sentiments; and I may justly compare him to those first Greeks, who travelled chiefly into the east to examine the manners and customs of different nations, and to communicate to their fellow-citizens, upon their return, the knowledge which they had acquired. Moncachr-ape, indeed, never executed so noble a plan; but he had however conceived it, and had spared no labour and pains to effectuate it. He was by the French called the Interpreter, because he understood several of the North American languages; but the other name which I have mentioned was given him by his own nation, and signifies the killer of pain and fatigue. This name was indeed most justly applicable to him; for, to satisfy his curiosity, he had made light of the most dangerous and painful journeys, in which he had spent several years of his life. He stayed two or three days with me; and upon my desiring him to give me an

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    account of his travels, he very readily complied with my request, and spoke to the following effect...

    (page 299 under construction)

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    (page 302 under construction)

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    was wonderfully delighted with it, and would not have exchanged it with the best mirroe in France. After expressing his regret at parting with me, he returned highly satisfied to his own nation.

    Monchact-ape's account of the junction of America with the eastern parts of Asia seems confirmed from the following fact. Some years ago the skeletons of two large elephants and two small ones were discovered in a marsh near the river Ohio; and as they were not much consumed, it is supposed that the elephants came from Asia not many year before. If we also consider the form of government, and the manner of living among the northern nations of America, there will appear a great resemblance betwixt them and the Tartars in the north-east parts of Asia.

    C H A P.   II.

    (remainder of this section under construction)

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    S E C T.  IV.

    Of the Temples, Tombs, Burials, and other relegious Ceremonies
    of the People of Louisiana

    I shall now proceed to give some account of the customs that prevail in general among all the nations of North America; and these have a great resemblance to each other, as there is hardly any difference in the manner of thinking and acting among the several nations. These people have no religion expressed by any external worship. The strongest evidences that we discover of their having any religion at all, are their temples, and the eternal fire therein kept up by some of them. Some of them indeed do not keep up the eternal fire, and have turned their temples into charnel-houses.

    However, all those people, without exception, acknowledge a Supreme Being, but they never on any account address their prayers to him, from their fixt belief that God, whom they call the Great Spirit, is so good, that he cannot do evil, whatever provocation he may have. They believe the existence of two Great Spirits, a good and a bad. They do not, as I have said, invoke the Good Spirit; but they pray to the bad, in order to avert from their persons and possessions the evils which he might inflict upon them. They pray to the evil spirit, not because they think him almighty; for it is the Good Spirit whom they believe so; but vecause, according to them, he governs the air, the seasons, the rain, the fine weather, and all that may benefit or hurt the productions of the earth.

    They are very superstitious in respect to the flight of birds, and the passage of some animals that are seldom seen in their country. They are much inclined to hear and believe diviners, especially in regard to discovering things to come; and they are kept in their errors by the Jongleurs, who find their acount in them.

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    The natives have all the same manner of bringing up their children, and are in general well shaped, and their limbs are justly proportioned...

    (remainder of text under construction)

    Transcriber's Comments

    Le Page du Pratz's Louisiana

    (under construction)


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    last revised Apr. 15, 2008