Heart of Louisiana: Louisiana’s oldest Colonial documents

Heart of Louisiana: Louisiana’s oldest Colonial documents

(WVUE) - For years, Louisiana's oldest Colonial documents were usually read by researchers and serious genealogists. But the Louisiana State Museum is about to complete a multi-year project that will put thousands of historic documents at our fingertips.

If you ever wondered what possessions were important to our great-great ancestors, some of those stories have been locked up in boxes and vaults at the museum.

"Our first document is from 1714," said Jennifer Long.

Long has read and scanned many of the yellowed, handwritten notes and has found a few inspirational characters.

"Name: Wa Maria Jawanna," Long said, reading. "She was a free person of color. She found her way out of slavery. She was a landowner and took cases to get her land back from courts."

There are details of minor disputes, like a man charged with selling dog and cat meat to a hospital, and two women charged with selling eggs at double the market price. They were fined, given 15 days in prison, and kicked out of town.

"They show how people lived back in the 1700s, and they show that they lead everyday lives like we did here," said Sarah-Elizabeth Gundlach.

Gundlach is curator of the Louisiana Historical Center that houses the surviving Colonial documents which span a 90-year period of French and Spanish rule.

"Ffrom the Civil War to fires to floods to hurricanes, you name it, they've survived to 2016 which is pretty amazing," Gundlach said.

The collection includes water colored maps from the early French Quarter, the doodling of notaries in the blank spaces of court documents and odd-looking playing cards with hand-written IOUs.

"And they would write on the back I owe you $77.52 in beer or wine or food or crackers," Gundlach said.

Over the past seven years, the staff here has scanned a quarter of a million records, and eventually, all of those digitized bits of Colonial history will be available online.

One-by-one, the documents have been placed on a large scanner. The tiny details are fascinating, like this 1764 document about a stolen pig that was served up in a stew called gumbo, spelled "gumbeau' in French.

"And it is the first mention in our collection that we have found of gumbo," long said.

The document scanning will be finished by the end of this year, and these fascinating tales of Louisiana's Colonial past will be frozen in digital time.

To view some of those 300-year-old documents online, click here.

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