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May 7, 2022

The Innocent Women Criminal Exiles of Louisiana with Dr. Joan DeJean

The Innocent Women Criminal Exiles of Louisiana with Dr. Joan DeJean

Dr. Joan DeJean talks about how climate crisis, the first economic bubble and meltdown and corrupt police forced innocent women into exile in colonial Louisiana and how they overcame incredible odds to survive and even thrive.

Dr. Joan DeJean talks about how climate crisis, the first economic bubble and meltdown and corrupt police forced innocent women into exile in colonial Louisiana and how they overcame incredible odds to survive and even thrive.


Gary: Today’s special episode is an interview with Dr. Joan DeJean on her new book Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast. Her book couldn’t be more exciting: climate crisis, the first economic bubble and meltdown, corrupt police, murder, exile, it has everything. In the early 18th century the French government was looking to create a colonial empire on the Gulf Coast. To accomplish this, it rounded up innocent women wrongfully accused of murder & other high crimes to serve as colonists in a bitter, inhospitable territory. Joan DeJean has been Trustee Professor at the University of Pennsylvania since 1988. She previously taught at Yale and at Princeton. She is the author of twelve books on French literature, history, and material culture of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including “The Invention of Paris: Making the City Modern” (2014);  “The Age of Comfort: When Paris Discovered Casual and the Modern Home Began” (2009); “The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafés, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour” (2005). She grew up in southwest Louisiana, in a family and a town in which Louisiana’s French past was the stuff of daily life.  For over thirty years, she has divided her time between Philadelphia and Paris, where she has always worked in the very archives in which, in 2016, she happened upon the story of the women banished/deported to Louisiana in 1719.

Thank you so much for being on the show, Dr. DeJean. By the way, I should ask, is it. Are we going to go full French? Is it DeJean? Or how would you pronounce that?

Joan: My name is is like much of French and an evolving Louisiana. Gary, I’m my name is pronounced DeJean in Louisiana. Yeah, but I have given up trying to explain this variant long ago, so I just go with Gene. Except when I’m in Louisiana, I tell people because we’re a clan, a numerous clan down there. So I tell people I’m a DeJean from Opelousas. But I’m Joan DeJean in most of my life now.

Gary: Thank you so much for being on it is going to be interesting jump and jumping back and forth because of course we have the famous city which in French is nouvelle or Orleans, which most Americans pronounce New Orleans, but which they would pronounce Nawlin’s. But in any case, we will try to avoid any confusion as much as possible. As we talk about your book, Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast. Your book deals with a largely unknown event in history, where roughly 200 women were forcibly deported from largely Paris to the French Louisiana territory in the early 1700s. But it’s more than that. You claim that these cruel exiles were caused due to a crisis in the climate, the first modern economic bubble and urban overpopulation. Can you explain the greater events that led to these deportations?

Joan: Big questions, Gary, but thank you. Really good ones. I’ll do my best. The early 18th century in France was sort of you could describe it as a perfect storm leading up to what happened to the women for several different reasons. First of all, there was an extended period of severe climate change. Every one of the things, by the way, that happened in France then I think would be very familiar to your listeners today for the main factor, that influence, climate factor, that influence these women were extraordinary cold waves, particularly one that was so severe that it became famous. Everyone knew about the great winter of 1709. It ruined everything for an agricultural economy like France’s was it the period crops were ruined everywhere. Farmers were bankrupted, famine set in to an extent that was extraordinary. It was a massive death toll that year. For several years following because of the great winter of 1709, several of the women who were later deported were orphaned and lost everything. All family ties. Others lost most of their close family members. And all over France there was widespread, intense poverty in all ranks of society. So, first of all, climate crisis, second of all, huge financial crisis. Now that began in the very early years of the 18th century because of the war. So, Louis, the 14th, the end of Louis, the 14th reign was marked by bigger and bigger wars, trying to expand French territory. They were ever more costly. And by the time Louis the 14th died in late 1715, France was bankrupt. At that moment, the regent governing France, Philippe D’Orléans, for whom that city you were just talking about, or New Orleans or Nouvelle Orléans, he was named Philippe D’Orléans, turned the French economy over to a Scots financial theorist named John Law. I think John Law was a brilliant financial theorist, but he was given like the biggest playing field possible. He decided to try out all his ideas at once. So a very conservative economy that had none of this. All of a sudden, in a year’s time, the French get a national bank. They hadn’t had any banks. They’ve got a national bank. They have paper money for the first time. They have publicly traded stock. Stock founded in the Indies Company, on which Louisiana was based. All of these things introduced at once. The result was the first stock market boom in history, followed by the first stock market bust in history. And as a result of this, a few people in France with insider trading information became incredibly rich. Most people were ruined, and the poor in France, already suffering, were wiped out by inflation, monumental inflation that resulted from all of this. So you have even more extreme and widespread poverty spreading all through French society. And I’d add a third element in Paris at that time, as during this moment of financial crisis: huge police corruption. It was encouraged by this dominant atmosphere of easy money. No one was paying attention to the poor in Paris. And you’re right, there was a huge overpopulation in cities as a result of the movement to Paris during the climate crisis and the famines in the provinces and all these poor in the city. The police can do what they want with them and they know that. And the women who were deported to what became the French territory in this country were victims of all these factors.

Gary: What a strange, fantastical world. I am sure that none of my listeners can relate, but perhaps they can imagine it. If there is a central character to your book, it is Manon Fontaine. Can you tell us who she was? How did she first come into contact with police and how did she end up in one of the most awful prisons in France?

Joan: I Fontaine was, I think, an extraordinary woman. She was first arrested in Paris in 1700, totally accidentally. Total false arrest. One night the French police found a man. The Parisian police found a man murdered in the streets of Paris, a corpse. It was pitch black 4:30 in the morning in December, in a section of Paris without street lighting, no one could see anything. So anyone in the crowd who gathered the crowd that gathered around the body said to the police, “Oh, we think we saw her walking by.” She lived across the city. So that accidental mention led to her arrest, she said immediately. “But no, I was at home. I was a 19 year old, illiterate, young Parisian being raised by a single mother.” They shared a room. They shared a bed. She was at home in bed with my mother. Ask her. The police never asked her mother. She remained in prison. All kinds of people at first said they had seen her when they were confronted with her. The confrontations were there was a judicial process during her trial. When they were confronted with one after another, they said, no, we’ve never seen her before. So it was all false. But somehow the arrest stuck. And it’s a long story. But she never the French judicial system never gave up on her. They finally managed to hold her on a technicality. And because of that, she was sentenced to life time imprisonment in this really terrible prison for women called the Salpêtrière, but in the section of it called La Force. In other words, where you could do police could use any tactics, major force on the prisoners in that in that section. So this is a young woman. She was an illiterate street vendor, Manon Fontaine, and she wandered around Paris carrying a basket. You imagine the weight of this, a huge basket on her back of fruit to sell. And she had strapped around her waist a flat basket where she displayed some of the fruit and she would wander through the city calling out, I have apples today or I have pears or whatever all day long. And this was her life for 19 years until she was locked up in prison for 19 years, and then she was sent over to Louisiana.

Gary: And what’s remarkable is the technicality you’re talking about was that she was exiled from Paris for a while, but then the police demanded that she returned to Paris for a summons. And then that was the technicality that they held her on, that she followed the law by answering their summons.

Joan: Yes. Thank you, Gary, for pointing that out. I didn’t go into all of that because it’s a complicated story. But you remembered it from the book. She was banished from Paris if they had nothing to hold her on. So they just they would. Banishment was the easiest and most common form of punishment. They banished. Most people never left Paris. Manon was so law abiding that she did move to the country. And there, the police say, issue a summons and say you have to come back for questioning. And she did was arrested because she had not respected her banishment. She’d come back to Paris. What was extraordinary was that this illiterate young woman by that she’s 20 had the foresight. She couldn’t read the summons. Right. She couldn’t. She was illiterate, but she kept it and she had it in her pocket. So when they said, okay, you’re not respected, you’re banished. But they tried to hold her again and she and they had no evidence, but they could convict her of not respecting her banishment. She said, But you made me come back. But that, of course, didn’t matter. I think they just got mad at her because of the fact that she was right, and that’s why they locked her up with the permanent four for life in prison. Not right for listening to the police and doing what they said. She got life in prison.

Gary: It is an absurd tale. Straight out of a tale of two cities. Do you want to describe the prison of Salpêtrière a bit before we move on? Because it was a in your book, it’s a truly harrowing prison.

Joan: It was. It still exists today, by the way. Today, this outfit is a huge modern prison. But at the heart of it, there’s a tiny section that remains of the prison that existed in the early 18th century. And by chance, that section is still there. And the day I got to look outside the facade, I was just trembling. It’s just so awful looking and everything about it is tight and cramped. They stuffed women into these cells up to eight. A cell was meant to hold four. They stuffed eight and 12 into them. There was a bed. The bed was big enough for four women to sleep in the bed. The other people would sleep on the floor. Sometimes they would take turns and four would sleep for part of the night and for sleep for the other part of the night. They were made to they worked. It was a workhouse. They worked all day long doing sewing and embroidery. Most French young women in France could do that, and the products of their labor were sold for the benefit of the prison. They were fed very, very little. I give the daily caloric intake in the prison. So this was their life all the time, working all day long, almost no food, no exercise the most from their prison cells. Some of them might have had a glimpse. The windows are, and I can vouch for this extremely high up. So you might have gotten a little glimpse of sky. That was your contact with the outside world.

Gary: A truly harrowing scene at the prison. A major antagonist in your book is Marguerite Pancatelin. How did she help spur the deportations of women inmates?

Joan: She was an interesting figure. She was a member. She was this was the only prison in Paris. It was this this branch of this of the prison was reserved for women. And so it had a female warden, just she was therefore the highest ranking woman in the Parisian penal system. Her family was an interesting family. They were a family of Parisian merchants. They were upwardly mobile. They had made money from their dealings as merchants, and they were buying positions for the children of the family, including this daughter, Marguerite. She was literate, but barely. So her signature is the signature of a woman who doesn’t really write. She can sort of scratch out something, so I wondered about her ability to read, etc. What I can tell you about her was that she was known as one of the harshest prison directors ever. As warden, people hated her and hated her reign. What she was out for was personal gain. So selling the products of the work of these prisoners, making as much as she could through her prison in 1719, when John Law, the Scottish fine and financial genius, the whiz boy, takes over the French economy, she sees an opportunity to get rid of prisoners and to curry favor. At that point, Law has just realized that Louisiana, to become successful as a colony, needs more colonists, in particular female colonies. There are almost no women in what becomes the Louisiana territory later, so she takes it upon herself to allow the warden of the prison to propose women who could be sent to this colony. Long loves the idea. Of course it’s great and everything is accepted. In the end, after she successfully done this, he comes in person to the prison and gives her a huge gift for the prison. Monetary gift, vast sum for the prison, allegedly. But there would have been a big profit for her. So she has every incentive to do this. When she gets it ready, she draws up an enormous list for him, very beautifully done, guaranteed to impress. And it’s called some inmates of the Salpêtrière Prison who should be sent to the islands. The islands referred to all French colonies in the Caribbean, etc. She had no idea. And most people in Paris didn’t either, that Louisiana was just not an island like everything else. And on this list, she listed the women’s names and she listed their crimes, for example. Manon Fontaine, who had been accused of murder. Yes. Never convicted of murder, Manon Fontaine. Never even close to convicted for murder. Manon Fontaine is down on that list as, quote, having murdered 15 men. So that’s the kind of warden Pancatelin was.

Gary: Truly remarkable that she was a serial killer without one murder.

Joan: Yeah, without even once. I mean, just random accusations of people who said immediately, oh, no, we’ve never seen her before. And she becomes a woman who’s killed 15 men.

Gary: Truly remarkable what the rumor mill could do in that day. And on that note, was there a type of woman marked for deportation?

Joan: I think you’re absolutely right to ask a question like this, Gary. If I could do it, put it in one word, I’d say ‘assertive.’ The women who were deported. I followed almost all of them through the legal system in Paris, through their arrest, through their imprisonment, etc. They were never passive. When they were accused, they didn’t just shut up and let them deal with them. They those who did, by the way, behave this way generally got off with far lighter sentences. They these women who became deported, tried to defend themselves as men, often always did. She would say, “I’m innocent, asked my mother. I don’t know these people I brought, etc.” All of them, when they were falsely accused, fought back. They talked back to the police. And I can’t stress enough how courageous it would have been for young women. Some of them are teenagers. Many of them were 15, 16, 14, even. And they work as laundries as they have no position in French society. They have no money. Many are orphans. If not, their families are desperately poor workers, barely earning a living, and they have nothing. No one cares about them. But an officer of the law, high ranking officer of the police, arrest them and they say no. They speak back, they defend themselves, they were courageous. And that’s the kind of behavior it took to get yourself deported.

Gary: A truly incredible story. Now, since you brought up deportation, the process was pretty shocking. Can you describe the actual movement of these women from Paris to the coast and then from the coast to the Western Hemisphere?

Joan: First of all, it began, of course, in Paris. The women were removed from the prison. They were chained to each other at the waist, and they were put into carts, open air carts, tumbles, they said, at the time of the revolution and just plopped in these carts on top of hay. They were driven to the coast to love or where the ship where they would board ship this way at night they were simply thrown into ditches because they couldn’t escape from the ditches. And they could sleep. They could sleep if they could in these ditches. They were not fed or barely fed along the way when they got to love. Same thing. Any officers who accompanied the women on the journey were paid by the prisoner and by the day. If you didn’t feed the prisoner, you made more money for yourself. So we can imagine how much food they received when they got to love, or they were eventually loaded onto a ship for transport. That ship was a ship that had been detoured its primary function in its history. The routine is the name of the ship. It means the mutinous woman. And that’s the origin of the my book’s title, La Mutine was this French slave ship. It had been created for the trade from West Africa to the Caribbean. It mainly went to Martinique at that period, but it made one voyage only from Le Havre to Louisiana that was indirectly like this. And that was to carry the women from France. They were chained in the hold of a slave ship to cross the Atlantic.

Gary: Where did these women first arrive and what were their living conditions?

Joan: So they have been shipped away from France, all labeled dangerous criminals, write murderers, etc. They get to the colony and no one wants them. Who wants a group of serial killers? Violent offenders. That’s how they were all described. So they landed what was then the colony’s principal port, which was off Dauphin Island, a largish barrier island off the coast of what is now Alabama. But Dauphin Island wouldn’t have them, so they threw them out of Dauphin Island, put them in rowboats, large rowboats, and rowed them a good distance on the Gulf. It would have taken several days to do this to another island ship island, which is now off the coast of Mississippi. And then they were simply left on Ship Island. Now, Dauphin Island had facilities. It was a port. There was no housing on Ship Island. There was nothing. They were left on Ship Island with no constructions, no housing of any kind. It was late February. Now the Gulf Coast is much warmer. Then other parts of this country today, late February in the Gulf Coast is not balmy and a barrier island gets extraordinary winds, very cold winds, cold, damp wind. The women were deposited there. There was no fresh water on the island. There was no food on the island. Nothing had ever been grown there. They had no shoes by this point. They were not given blankets. They didn’t even have tents. They had no tools to cut down anything to cover the ground. They had no tools to. Nothing fishing poles. Anything to get food. I cannot imagine how long they how they survived on Ship Island, how they fed themselves. But they some of them survived despite these conditions. And eventually then they’re taken. Someone decided that when people seem to. No one was I have no dates on these things. No one seemed in charge. No one cared about them. They’d gotten rid of them. That was the only objective, gotten them out of France. And then they had the colony had to deal with them.

Gary: Not the ideal vacation for sure. Your book details a number of areas where these women eventually went to. Let’s focus on two, the capital at the time of Biloxi, as perhaps we would pronounce it today, and the later capital and eventually large city of Nouvelle-Orléans or New Orleans. Can you tell us what happened to women and the town of Biloxi and then at New Orleans?

Joan: Biloxi was at that point had just been named capital. The capital had been Mobile, and they were moving it. They moved it to Biloxi. It was only briefly then by the time the women were deposited, they just deposited them on the shore at Biloxi. And by the time this happened, the decision had just been made that Biloxi would no longer be the capital, but they would move the capital to a new capital, which was New Orleans. And we’ll talk about New Orleans in a second. But Biloxi, this temporary place and Biloxi was in total havoc at the time. Nobody knew what was going to be the capital in France. The financial bust, the stock market bust had taken place. And John Law, the person behind all of this, had decided where people were to be sent to various concessions, land grants in the colony. All of this was over. No one knew there was no money. No one knew who was going to take charge of any of these. So various boatloads of colonists had been arriving, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of colonists. They were all just deposited on the beach at Biloxi and left there. The women arrive. They throw them into the mix. No. One, there’s no the no clear directives. It’s chaos. Once again, pestilence had broken out in these temporary camps on the shore. People were dying in huge numbers. The women quickly realized that nobody cared about them, that nobody whatever had been in the minds of people in Paris, nobody was thinking of them at this point. So they just went where they where they wherever they wanted to. A few remained in Biloxi, not many. Some went to Mobile and started lives there. Some went much farther afield. There were women who made it from Biloxi. And if people know geography, think of this from the beach at Biloxi, all the way up to the wheat, the first wheat fields in Illinois. So a huge distance along the Mississippi, all the way up there. And they began to farm. They began to farm some of the first wheat fields in this country. Some of them made it, too. It’s inconceivable to me how this would have been possible way into the wildest territory at the period in the Louisiana colony, in Arkansas and in Arkansas, they lived with virtually almost total isolation, with very few other Europeans and vast numbers of indigenous peoples on all sides of them. And one of the women, for example, who had been deposited in Biloxi, married a young Frenchman who became a major trader with indigenous people in Arkansas. So they had lives that were quite extraordinary on the fringes of the French colony of Louisiana. And then a huge contingent of the women made it to New. But people today will think in New Orleans, a city, etc., the capital was the promoters, the new capital of the colony. But there was no New Orleans yet. When the women got there, by the time they got there, this first big contingent of the deported women got to New Orleans. The French weren’t even sure yet that the site, the provisional site that had been chosen for it was the best site. So New Orleans might have been moved still. They weren’t sure that they’d like the name New Orleans. They were still considering other names. So the women got to New Orleans before it was. New Orleans, if you see what I mean. And so they are there for me. This is what so much of the story is inconceivable, that this is one of the most inconceivable things to think about being the first women. In what becomes a major capital of the French colonial empire. But at that point, New Orleans is what a few that was a tiny part of what became what is called the French Quarter today. And as a tiny part of that territory, that space excuse me, that had been cleared. But just summarily clear. I can’t even imagine what clearing was like in those conditions that meant you had to. Cypress trees have incredible roots. People that people had to dig up, cypress trees, they had to cut back cane breaks. This was dense and wild vegetation that had to be cleared to produce land on which any housing could be built. And not to mention any kind of public structures like you needed for a city. And to do that, there were a handful of soldiers assigned to New Orleans, and they had begun the clearing. But the clearing of a good part of the origins, the foundation of the city of New Orleans was done by these women and their husbands.

Gary: A truly remarkable task for women who had just made the trip from Paris to the coast, then across the Atlantic. Now, speaking of those who had made the remarkable journey, can you tell us what eventually happened to men all Fontaine?

Joan: I certainly can carry for me the there were many of course doing a book like this is a was incredibly painful at times to read about the injustices committed on these women, the punishments they endured, the deaths of many of them during the initial process, and just the horrors of all of it. But later on I had some joy out of things. And often Ted was the woman who I think gave me the greatest happiness because I’ve told you about her arrest and you yourself questioned about all the things that happened to her during the judicial process in France. How she was condemned on the basis of basis of ridiculous. Just a joke. A historical joke. Because she allegedly had not respected her banishment, she shipped off to Louisiana. She quickly marries a blacksmith. Now, blacksmiths tend to be strong men, strong hands to do the work of a blacksmith’s men. Fonteyn was a strong woman. That’s why I stress the fact that she had spent her life walking every day with huge weights, huge loads on her back. She was she knew hard work. A blacksmith and an itinerant intended street vendor together started clearing land. She also remained mental, remained the smart young. She was less young at this point. But the smart woman she had been when she remembered to keep that document, asking her to come, the summons, asking her to come back to Paris. It’s just that she could show it to the police. She learned that in the very beginnings of New Orleans, they knew they didn’t have enough soldiers to clear the land, so they needed help. So if a private citizen cleared land and if that private citizen built a structure on that land, that was it. They were property owners. This only happened at the very beginning, but Manon Fontaine and her blacksmith husband, whose name was Bourguignon the Burgundian, because he came from a tiny village in Burgundy, Manon and Bourguignon cleared land. And so they were property owners. They were tiny little dwellings. But Manon Fontaine lived in New Orleans from the beginnings of New Orleans until 1734. She was one of the original residents when she died in 1734. Manuel Fontaine owned five lots in what is today the French Quarter. I assure you they are prime addresses in the French Quarter and at as she knew she was very ill. Just before her death, she drew up a beautiful will. She asked various friends to come and be witnesses at her will, and she gave away her property. She detailed one lot to so-and-so, one lot to so-and-so. So and so let me money for bread during my last illness. I’m going to pay them back. She, a great aristocrat in France, very frequently left huge debts when they died. They didn’t pay their debts. They didn’t pay their servants. They just left them. They abandoned all of this man. Often ten paid every cent that she owed. And the will is so beautiful. It’s a testimony to what I think is another quality. These women possessed the ability to forge these deep and lasting bonds. They were good friends, good friends to the people with whom they had crossed the Atlantic and those horrendous circumstances and good friends to the people they knew. So Manon Fontaine in 1700 in Paris is treated like expendable, not even worthy to be a part of Paris. 1734 in New Orleans, Manon was called Madame, ‘Lady.’ She was worth the highest title of respect because she was an important member of the community in New Orleans. Now, that’s, I think, a pretty remarkable life to live out between 1717-1734.

Gary: That is incredible. Now, some women were nearly as successful, perhaps even more so, while others were not. Can you talk a bit about some of the other women who were deported right there?

Joan: All kinds of different faiths. Naturally, Gary, not everyone has the same thing. Manon was incredibly successful in terms of putting having a foothold in New Orleans. She was not worth a lot of money. Her lots were not prestigious when the home in which she lived at the end was sold after her death so that her debts could be paid. It was described as a shack. She had not lived excessively well. Some of the women accumulated really extensive, expensive properties, more prestigious properties. They built better houses. One of them, for example, is a remarkable young woman from Orleans, France. So early, all the older she ended up living in also in New Orleans. Marie Dodeans her first husband was a ship’s captain. That’s a very prestigious marriage. At the start, her ship captain husband was killed during the natural French wars in 1729. So she’s a widow with children. She remarries in New Orleans and she marries a carpenter. And they do they do well. They have more she has more children, but he dies as well. Her third marriage was to a New Orleans merchant, a fabric merchant in New Orleans. And one of her daughters from her second marriage married the fabric merchant’s junior partner. So through the textile industry, the French French fabrics were much desired in the United States and through the textile industry. These men were really prosperous. So Marie Dodeans she was a desperately poor dockworkers daughter. In all they all her father carried sacks around the docks and lived from hand to mouth. She became another well respected resident of New Orleans with very prestigious properties, and one of her daughters owned an incredibly valuable and prime real estate with fine houses, houses that were singled out for their significance. So some women had lives in which they had greater financial prosperity. Others had had so many descendants, they had numerous children. And some of those children became prosperous. Some of the women who lived in mobile, mobile, as the French called it, had their descendants. Children and grandchildren owned huge territories in the city and around the city. So their families amassed property and prestige. And some of them, of course, didn’t have prestigious lives, but they held on. And I think all of these kinds of stories. There’s so many different kinds of stories that I can’t tell you, a quarter of them, but they were never I want to stress this. Not once were they accused of crimes. They were certainly not thieves. They were certainly not prostitutes, as the French legal system claim. They were certainly not murderers. They were upstanding citizens and they were respected in all their communities.

Gary: Yes, for the full story, they will have to get the book. And on that note, you mention how this is a virtually unknown part of history, but you argue that it should be more well known given the documentation available. Can you explain how this history was hidden in plain sight and how you came to rediscover it?

Joan: Yeah. Thank you, Gary. That’s a, it’s a good question. It was purely an accident. My favorite period is the very late 17th century, in the very early 18th century, and especially in Paris. And I was digging in prison, the prison and arrested police archives and prison archives in Paris are extraordinary and dense. And one day I was looking for someone in 1719, I no longer remember who or why. I was looking for someone whose last name began in F they’re alphabetized. And I came across this file, which was Manon Fontaine’s file, and it had her name on the cover as they are supposed to do. They don’t always. But someone else in a different handwriting had added a note. And other female prisoners for Louisiana. And I was born in Louisiana. So I noticed this note and I started reading these stories. And I this explains it was in plain sight right there. And you could find them. However, the few people who have ever looked at any of this have always believed what was in that file. And as I told you in that file, Manon Fontaine is there, and she’s down as having murdered 15 men. Other women are listed as these other women as prostitutes. So people and not many people have looked into them. People just copied this. And the first women to the found women who found New Orleans are listed as serial killers, etc.. Manafort, ten, is down in number. In the few studies that mention her, she’s down as having murdered 15 men. But I am more suspicious of the Parisian police in the early 18th century because this is these were not the first prisoners whose stories I had followed. So I knew about police corruption and the issue it was. And I just decided I would see what I could dig. And I began with Manon Fontaine and I went to the National Archives. A completely different archive contained all the records of the judicial system. So what happens at the time? Arrests and trials. And I just, I have a very simple strategy: I try to read everything. And I was going through the boxes. And there’s one big, really heavy, big box of trials for 25 year period in Paris. It’s a big box, but 25 years is a lot of time and a lot of people were arrested and tried. And so I didn’t have much hope, but I went through trial after I would look at the covers and in the very bottom of that box there was a file from Fontaine, Marie, and it was her. It was the story of the 1700 arrest in Paris. So it was in plain sight. But you had to be suspicious of the police in order to dig. And once I saw that, I knew I couldn’t quit. So it just continued. Years of digging.

Gary: What a remarkable story. The book is Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast. Thank you very much for being on the podcast.

Joan: Thank you, Gary, for having me. Thank you for your interest in these women.


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