Lawrence Powell delivers a gripping history of New Orleans in ‘Accidental City’

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2012-04-30 00:10Z by Steven

Lawrence Powell delivers a gripping history of New Orleans in ‘Accidental City’

New Orleans Times-Picayune

Chris Waddington

At first, I was disappointed to hear that Lawrence Powell’s history of the Crescent City ended with the Battle of New Orleans. I wanted the Tulane University scholar to bring me a little closer to the present.

My opinion changed a few pages into “The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans.”
Powell’s splendid time machine of a book swept me into a detailed account of the city’s rise from swampy colonial outpost to strategic linchpin during the War of 1812. Populated with vividly sketched characters, Powell’s history fits individual actors into a coherent, geopolitical narrative that spans centuries and continents — no easy task when your cast includes Enlightenment scientists, loud-mouthed market women, French-Canadian voyageurs, Ursuline nuns, slave artisans and Gen. Andrew Jackson hoisted on the shoulders of cheering Baratarians…

…The birth of a distinctive Creole society wasn’t fast or tidy. Powell writes about free people of color who owned slaves. He writes about back-of-town bars where people of all races mixed. He describes how Ursuline nuns recruited the wives of slaveholders to serve as godparents for their baptized chattels — in opposition to prevailing law. He writes about brutally suppressed slave revolts — and the free manumission of black concubines and their mixed-race offspring. He catches all the high and low notes as New Orleanians improvised an American future — and he makes it clear that America would be a very different place without the city’s contributions.

Read the entire review here.

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The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans

Posted in Books, History, Louisiana, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2012-04-29 22:26Z by Steven

The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans

Harvard University Press
March 2012
448 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9780674059870
6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
19 halftones, 2 maps

Lawrence N. Powell, Professor of History
Tulane University

This is the story of a city that shouldn’t exist. In the seventeenth century, what is now America’s most beguiling metropolis was nothing more than a swamp: prone to flooding, infested with snakes, battered by hurricanes. But through the intense imperial rivalries of Spain, France, and England, and the ambitious, entrepreneurial merchants and settlers from four continents who risked their lives to succeed in colonial America, this unpromising site became a crossroads for the whole Atlantic world.

Lawrence N. Powell, a decades-long resident and observer of New Orleans, gives us the full sweep of the city’s history from its founding through Louisiana statehood in 1812. We see the Crescent City evolve from a French village, to an African market town, to a Spanish fortress, and finally to an Anglo-American center of trade and commerce. We hear and feel the mix of peoples, religions, and languages from four continents that make the place electric—and always on the verge of unraveling. The Accidental City is the story of land-jobbing schemes, stock market crashes, and nonstop squabbles over status, power, and position, with enough rogues, smugglers, and self-fashioners to fill a picaresque novel.

Powell’s tale underscores the fluidity and contingency of the past, revealing a place where people made their own history. This is a city, and a history, marked by challenges and perpetual shifts in shape and direction, like the sinuous river on which it is perched.

Table of Contents

  • 1. An Impossible River
  • 2. A Landjobbing Scheme
  • 3. Utopian by Design
  • 4. Improvising a City
  • 5. Changing of the Guard
  • 6. In Contraband We Trust
  • 7. A Creole City
  • 8. Slavery and the Struggle for Mastery
  • 9. The Slaves Remake Themselves
  • 10. A New People, a New Racial Order
  • 11. The American Gateway
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
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