Jean Lafitte
Historic Resource Study (Chalmette Unit)
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by Jill-Karen Yakubik

A. A Note on Sources

This chapter comprises an examination of the history of land use and of landownership of park properties, with the exceptions of the Rene T. Beauregard property, and of the post bellum and twentieth century history of the Military Cemetery. Particular emphasis has been given to structural improvements to the properties, to identify and to review archeologically sensitive areas.

It should be noted at the onset that primary source archival research on historic St. Bernard Parish is encumbered by the fact that most of the conveyance and other court records from the parish were destroyed in a fire ca. 1883. As a result, many important successions and judicial court records were lost, and key conveyances crucial to establishing complete chains of title often are not available.

The approach utilized herein was to investigate the title history of a property to obtain background information on landownership and land use. Subsequent research provided additional historical detail on specific properties and individuals. Archival research was undertaken at the Louisiana Collection, Special Collections, and Southeastern Architectural Archives of the Howard Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University; at the Historic New Orleans Collections; at the New Orleans Public Library; at the Louisiana State Museum; and at the Office of Public Works of the State of Louisiana in Baton Rouge. The research files of the distinguished historic architect Samuel Wilson, Jr., who generously provided them for our use, were especially valuable.

A particularly important source of information on former standing structures has been historic map data. The maps which have been utilized for this study, as well as their relative reliability, may be summarized as follows:

1) The 1808 Barthelemy Lafon survey of the Jean Baptiste Prevost property (Illustration 14) gives the appearance of being a carefully rendered plan, however, the scale of the structures shown appears to be both too large and too close to the river. Consequently, it is believed that this map has little utility for the location of archeological structural remains.

2) Latour's 1815 "Plan of the Battle of New Orleans" (Illustration 15) provides a great deal of detailed locational information. The variety of sizes of structures shown suggest that their scale may be fairly accurate, and their relative positions to one another also appear reasonable in terms of Louisiana plantation layout. It is believed, then, that this plan can be used to approximate the location of former standing structures.

3) The map "Survey of Battlefield Embraced in the Engagements of December 23, 1814 and January 8, 1815, Constituting the Battle of New Orleans" consists of a projection of the above Latour Map on the present landscape (Illustration 20). This map has been demonstrated to be inaccurate in respect to the relationship between the present course of the river and the location of former standing structures, and is only utilized here to demonstrate that the Chalmette Plantation structural complex is downriver from the present park area.

4) Zimpel's 1834 "Topographical Map of New Orleans" (Illustration 16) has been shown to be extremely accurate. This map was utilized to locate archeological remains at both the New Orleans General Hospital Site and the Elmwood Site. In both cases, the placement of the structures, as well as their relative size, was demonstrated to be accurate within a few feet. However, the section of the map showing the Chalmette area is shown drawn at a smaller scale than that used for the above mentioned sites. Consequently, it is likely that the map is less reliable for predicting former structure locations in the park.

5) The Mississippi River Commission maps (Illustration 17) from the 1870s were also utilized toprovide locational information at the Elmwood site (Goodwin, Yakubik and Goodwin 1983). The placement of the structures with respect to one another was found to be fairly accurate, however, the actual size of the structures shown on the map is incorrect. These difficulties are the result of the small scale of the map.

6) Both the 1837 and 1867 d'Hemecourt plats (Illustrations 24 and 22) can be relied upon as fairly accurate surveys. However, most of the structural improvements extant in the park area during the 1860s are not shown on the 1867 plat. Nonetheless, they should provide accurate representations of parcel boundaries.

7) A number of the maps included in this report are twentieth century surveys for levee set backs (Illustrations 19, 25, 31, and 32). As such, they can be considered extremely accurate, and their relatively large scale increases their reliability. They also include presently extant landmarks which allow them to be tied into the present landscape.

8) The "Plan of Proposed Shell Road at Chalmette Monument Ground" (Illustration 18) apparently is an accurate survey of the early twentieth century features of this parcel.

9) The map of the "Chalmette Back Levee District" (Illustration 27) is taken from a USGS quad map, and thus is based on aerial photographs. The accuracy of this map, therefore, should be good.

10) Several of the maps used herein include no structural information, rather they merely illustrate property boundaries and landownership (Illustrations 23, 26, 28, 29, 30, and 33). These maps are accurate for their purpose, and should be helpful for delineating areas of high probability.

A cautionary note should be interjected here. First, time, space, and financial constraints necessitated the redrawing and rescaling of several maps (Illustrations 15, 16, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 28, and 33). The fact that these have been submitted to a second drafting reduces their accuracy somewhat. Since most of these maps are drawn on a small scale, any additional error, however slight, can drastically affect the maps' reliability for predicting the locations of structural remains. Consequently, copies of the original maps should be obtained and utilized whenever possible. Also, several of the maps (Illustrations 18, 19, 20, 25, 27, 31, and 33) were obtained from microfilm copies, which also affects the scale of the maps. In all cases where the scales of the maps appeared questionable as a result of map reduction or enlargement, the scales were redrawn utilizing measurements from smaller scale surveys. Finally, while many of the above maps may seem accurate upon inspection, the actual utility of each map remains unknown until tested against the archeological record.

The properties investigated here include two distinct plantations: Rodriguez Plantation, on which the Chalmette monument and property to the west of the Rodriguez Canal presently are located, and the Chalmet Plantation, the present location of land east of the canal up to and including the Chalmette Military Cemetery. Since the Chalmet Plantation first was subdivided in 1832, these subdivided parcels are discussed individually after that date. Finally, the archeological implications of the results of this historical research effort are discussed.

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Last Updated: 05-Sep-2004