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New Orleans Occupations, Part II

The impression many of us have of immigrants is that of travel-weary blue-collar families escaping to the New World. Immigrant occupations ran the gamut in New Orleans, and included entertainers.


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Immigrant occupations impacted New Orleans from the beginning. The early laborers and tobacco workers were fortunate travelers. They arrived aboard ships carrying their employers and were probably treated quite well. Travel for those who came after was often quite different.

There is a clear pattern between occupation and the immigrant ships, regardless of the point of origin or the ethnicity of the immigrant. Professionals such as physicians, and those employed in the arts traveled on smaller ships. The higher ticket price for traveling on the smaller ships was probably cost-prohibitive to those less affluent. There were farmers and laborers on the smaller ships - but it was rare for professionals to travel on the larger ships that were probably what we would consider "discount" travel.

On 30 November 1826, seventeen passengers arrived on the ship Nestor from Havre, France, a common departure point. All of the passengers were actors or musicians. One actor, Pierre Davis, was already a resident of the United States. Pierre, and his father, John Davis, were managers of the Theatre d'Orleans.

The Theatre New Orleans was already into its second quarter of a century. The Theatre St. Pierre had already opened and closed, having staged performances from 1796 to 1803. The Theatre St. Philippe opened on 30 January 1808.

A stage needs actors, so stage managers began importing talent. The fact that New Orleans could support three theatres also indicated it had residents with the time, the money, and the interest who attended performances. The Theatre D'Orleans focused on opera, as well as dramatic and comedic theatre. This was not burlesque.

The Theatre d'Orleans opened in October 1815. Following a fire, it reopened in 1819 and the father and son Davis duo branched out with this group of arrivals in 1826. The theatre season in New Orleans ended in early spring, due to the heat.

At the close of the 1826-27 season, the passengers who had arrived on the ship Nestor became the first touring company in the U.S. From 1828 to 1831, and in 1833, the troupe performed during the winter in New Orleans and on the eastern seaboard during the warmer months.

Among the passengers was Elizabeth Moutonnier-Milon, age 26. In September 1827, she played Nanette in Le Petit Chaperon Rouge in Philadelphia as part of the French Opera Company of New Orleans, John Davis. Also on board was Fleury Dalma, a musician, and his wife, an actress; J. Desaux Notaire and Jean Alexandre and his wife.

Entertainers are a segment of the population we often overlook while doing research. Only some of Davis' troupe were European imports. Google Books and newspapers of the early 1800s are useful for locating those who performed in the New Orleans Opera company. You'll find them listed in Philadelphia and other cities. Because of their traveling, it might be difficult to locate them in a census or other source. Plus, they might not have become U.S. citizens.

Just a few weeks after the I>Nestor arrived, another ship arrived in New Orleans from Havre. The ship Crescent, carrying only 28 passengers, including women and children, arrived on 28 January 1827. On board were two artists, two confectioners, a doctor, and four merchants.

Immigrant Age Gender Occupation
Eugene Pronnet 23 Male Artist
Monsieur Soulie 32 Male Artist
Ferdinand Faure 26 Male Confectioner
Joseph Vincent 25 Male Confectioner
R. Dabauval 34 Male Doctor
Victor Deville 22 Male Gunsmith
S. Miramond 35 Male Merchant
Simon Saceraste 42 Male Merchant
Louis Lacroix 33 Male Merchant
Vincent Norman 37 Male Merchant

This pattern of travelers on the smaller ships seems common, regardless of point of origin or destination. Of course, there were exceptions, especially during the earlier years. <

On 15 August 1785, the La Bergere arrived with 273 passengers from France. Among the passengers were several printers, engravers, and a colorist. The rest of the passengers were laborers, farmers, or soldiers. Almost all were traveling as a family. Some were Acadians. Ships records of Acadian travelers are online at

Alexis Daigle, age 22, and Joseph Landry, age 19, were both engravers. Landry was traveling with his brother, Jean Raphael Landry, who was a 17 year-old printer. They were traveling with their father, Pierre Landry, age 48, who was a colorist, and their mother and two sisters.

There were five other printers aboard. Mathurin Trahan, age 24, was traveling with his wife. Isaac Hebert, age 32, was traveling with his wife, and two children. Jean Charles and Mathurin Oselet, ages 18 and 13 respectively, were printers traveling with their father, a sawyer, and younger brothers and sister. Maximin Moreau, age 24, was a printer traveling with his father Gabriel Moreau, a laborer aged 61; Maximin was also accompanied by his mother and an 18 year-old sister.

These passengers settled outside New Orleans proper, around St. Gabriel, Attakapas, and Bayou Lafourche. In a later article, I will discuss settlement patterns.

This pattern of professionals arriving on the smaller ships continued throughout the decades. Nearly a century later, on 22 January 1850, Dr. Richard Slobada arrived from Austria aboard the ship Brutus. There were only 30 passengers traveling from Bremen to New Orleans. <

In January of 1850, a druggist by the name of Fritz Redefelt arrived aboard the Grenada. He was one of only ten passengers arriving from Antwerp to New Orleans. If you know, or even suspect, there was a professional in your ancestor's family, look for their name among the smaller ships. If you know your ancestors were farmers, it is unlikely you will find them among these small ships.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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