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Making a Living in New Orleans

New Orleans was a port most immigrants merely passed through on their way elsewhere. But by 1823, there were dozens of commercial houses conducting business in the Second City of the United States.


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Resource: GenWeekly
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Commerce in early New Orleans was thriving to the point that many declared it second only to New York City. An 1823 commercial directory proves their argument.

Many of the business houses bore the name of their owners and, of course, many of them had employees. Robert Bogle was a cotton broker. Baudry & Montcarel were wholesale grocers, Bargebur; Oehmichen & Co. were merchants; and Ralph Jacobs was a ships broker. Mossy & Alpuente were auctioneers. Beaty & Greeves were among several hardware merchants. Samuel H. Goodin imported French goods, while Sabatier & Grimm sold glass and china. There were at least 18 druggists; and Benjamin Levy & Co. was just one of several booksellers.

There were six large rum distilleries, two iron foundries and four tanneries, among other types of manufacturing. The city was exporting spirits, gunpowder, boots, household furniture and hats, most of which was probably manufactured right in the city proper.

Shipping was a large part of the commerce picture - and not just on the high seas. By the early 1800's, steamships were moving up the Mississippi which had become important for transporting goods upriver, all the way to Canada and to the Western frontier. Before anyone realized how immense the distance is from New Orleans to Canada, there was a plan to create a string of settlements the entire length. The first step was the creation of numerous forts. But the West was just too inviting and the distance to vast.

Suppliers were coming down the Ohio as well as the Mississippi on everything from steamboats to homemade rafts to peddle their wares. If you could sell it or ship it, New Orleans and New York were the places to be.

All that shipping meant manufacturing. Bernard Maglone took "orders for steamboat work, brass casting, bells."

Shipping meant other jobs as well. One of the more unique census returns I have ever seen is that of the 1860 Orleans Parish Coffee House (with Steam Boatmen and Tow Boatmen). This census is a snapshot of jobs such as clerk, shipwright, tow boat man, steward, and cook.

In 1860, the steamboat Ceres warranted its own census. Presumably, those listed lived on the steamboat and had no other address. The census lists not only the occupation of those listed but also their age and birthplace.

Cotton and tobacco were among the most common exports. If it was bagging, rope, and twine you needed for shipping your product, there was Green, Harding & Co. or Forman, Latting & Co.

If you needed farm implements, George N. Sizer at the New Orleans Agricultural Warehouse wanted your business. The Warehouse would also mill your corn into flour.

There was an unsavory side of business as well. An 1854 directory ranges from Madame Schell's Fancy Dry Goods where you could even have your bonnet cleaned to several advertisers under the category "Slave Transfer Agencies." Thomas Foster, D.M. Matthews, C.M. Rutherford, and G.M. Noel all advertised their occupation as slave dealers.

There are slave manifests still in existence for those who were brought in as labor. They are of limited use for genealogy since the slaves almost never have surnames.

New Orleans has always been a busy city. Look through the census returns or city directories and newspapers and you'll quickly get a sense of life in New Orleans.

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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