A Shortage of Women

In Louisiana’s early days the French population was entirely male because the colony fell under the jurisdiction of the navy department, and conditions were considered too dangerous for women and children. When Louisiana was established in 1699 the population was just 82 men and boys, 13 of whom listed their occupation as buccaneer.

Most of the men were coureurs de bois (“runners of the woods”) who engaged in the fur trade with Indians. In 1704, acting governor Sieur de Bienville became concerned that the coureurs de bois were losing their Christianity by spending so much time with the Indians and marrying Indian women. He also worried about their loyalty. If an Indian war erupted, on whose side would the coureurs de bois fight?

Bienville’s solution was to bring good Christian women to Louisiana for the men to marry. Thus, in 1704 the ship Pelican arrived at the capital Fort St. Louis de la Mobile (in modernday Alabama) with twenty-three women. Some were as young as fourteen, but French law allowed a girl to marry at age twelve.

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