Disaster in New Orleans…No, Not That One…

Today in History, March 21: 1788 – Have you ever visited the French Quarter in New Orleans? Did you know that the vast majority of those buildings in the “French” Quarter are actually…Spanish? On this date in 1788 the Army Treasurer in New Orleans, Don Vincente Jose Nunez, and his family were celebrating Good Friday in their home less than a block from the Plaza de Armas (later Jackson Square). They apparently lit a few too many candles while immersed in prayer and caught their home on fire. Before the day was over, 856 of the 1,100 buildings in the city were destroyed, most of the city. Spain had control of Louisiana at that time, and during a subsequent fire in 1794 that took 212 buildings. So the structures that replaced those of wood that were lost were made of stucco or brick, and of Spanish architecture.

Louisiana Governor Miro’s report: If the imagination could describe what our senses enable us to feel from sight and touch, reason itself would recoil in horror, and it is no easy matter to say whether the sight of an entire city in flames was more horrible to behold than the suffering and pitiable condition in which everyone was involved. Mothers, in search of a sanctuary or refuge for their little ones, and abandoning – their earthly goods to the greed of the relentless enemy, would retire to out-of-the-way places rather than be witnesses of their utter ruin. Fathers and husbands were busy in saving whatever objects the rapidly spreading flames would permit them to bear off, while the general bewilderment was such as to prevent them from finding even for these a place of security. The obscurity of the night coming on threw its mantle for a while over the saddening spectacle; but more horrible still was the sight, when day began to dawn, of entire families pouring forth into the public highways, yielding to their lamentations and despair, who, but a few hours before, had been basking in the enjoyment of more than the ordinary comforts of life. The tears, the heartbreaking sobs and the pallid faces of the wretched people mirrored the dire fatality that had overcome a city, now in ruins, transformed within the space of five hours into an arid and fearful, desert. Such was the sad ending of a work of death, the result of seventy years of industry.

For some chronological relation, further east on our continent the nascent 13 nascent states spent the years of 1788 approving the US Constitution; two weeks after the disastrous fire, pioneering Americans established Marietta (later Ohio) as the first American settlement beyond the borders of “America.”

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