Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz

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Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz (1695?–1775) [1] was an ethnographer, historian, and naturalist who is best known for his Histoire de la Louisiane. It was first published in twelve installments from 1751–1753 in the Journal Economique, then completely in three volumes in Paris in 1758. After their victory in the Seven Years' War, the English published part of it in translation in 1763. It has never been fully translated into English.

Seven Years War Global conflict between 1756 and 1763

The Seven Years' War was a global conflict fought between 1756 and 1763. It involved every European great power of the time and spanned five continents, affecting Europe, the Americas, West Africa, India, and the Philippines. The conflict split Europe into two coalitions, led by the Kingdom of Great Britain on one side and the Kingdom of France, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Swedish Empire on the other. Meanwhile, in India, some regional polities within the increasingly fragmented Mughal Empire, with the support of the French, tried to crush a British attempt to conquer Bengal. The war's extent has led some historians to describe it as "World War Zero", similar in scale to other world wars.


The memoir recounts Le Page's years in the Louisiana colony from 1718 to 1734, when he learned the Natchez language and befriended native leaders. He gives lengthy descriptions of Natchez society and its culture, including the funeral rituals associated with the 1725 death of Tattooed Serpent, the second-highest ranking chief among the people.

Natchez language language, now extinct

Natchez is the ancestral language of the Natchez people who historically inhabited Mississippi and Louisiana, and who now mostly live among the Creek and Cherokee peoples in Oklahoma. The language is considered to be either unrelated to other indigenous languages of the Americas or distantly related to the Muskogean languages.

Natchez people Native American people who originally lived near the present-day city of Natchez, Mississippi

The Natchez are a Native American people who originally lived in the Natchez Bluffs area in the Lower Mississippi Valley, near the present-day city of Natchez, Mississippi in the United States. They spoke a language with no known close relatives, although it may be very distantly related to the Muskogean languages of the Creek Confederacy.

Tattooed Serpent

Tattooed Serpent was the war chief of the Natchez people of Grand Village, which was located near Natchez in what is now the U.S. state of Mississippi. He and his brother, the paramount chief Great Sun, allied his people with the French colonists. He was a friend of the colonist and chronicler Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz. Du Pratz described their friendship and Tattooed Serpent's death and funeral in detail in his chronicle.

It also includes his account of Moncacht-apé, a Yazoo explorer who told him of completing travel to the Pacific Coast and back, likely in the late 17th or early 18th century. Through this traveler, Le Page learned of oral traditions held by indigenous people of the West Coast. They told of the first Native Americans reaching North America by a land bridge from Asia. Le Page's book was carried as a guide by the Lewis and Clark Expedition as it explored the Louisiana Purchase starting in 1804.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas Pre-Columbian inhabitants of North, Central, and South America and their descendants

The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the Pre-Columbian peoples of North, Central and South America and their descendants.

Lewis and Clark Expedition American overland expedition to the Pacific coast

The Lewis and Clark Expedition from May 1804 to September 1806, also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition, was the first American expedition to cross the western portion of the United States. It began near St. Louis, made its way westward, and passed through the Continental Divide of the Americas to reach the Pacific coast. The Corps of Discovery was a selected group of US Army volunteers under the command of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend Second Lieutenant William Clark.

Early life

Le Page Du Pratz was born in 1695 either in the Netherlands or France, and was raised in the latter country. He was educated, graduating from a French cours de mathematiques, and identified as an engineer and professional architect. Serving with Louis XIV’s dragoons in the French Army, he entered conflict in Germany in 1713 during the War of the Spanish Succession. [1]

Netherlands constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Europe

The Netherlands is a country located mainly in Northwestern Europe. The European portion of the Netherlands consists of twelve separate provinces that border Germany to the east, Belgium to the south, and the North Sea to the northwest, with maritime borders in the North Sea with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. Together with three island territories in the Caribbean Sea—Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba— it forms a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The official language is Dutch, but a secondary official language in the province of Friesland is West Frisian.

French Army Land warfare branch of Frances military

The French Army, officially the Ground Army to distinguish it from the French Air Force, Armée de l'Air or Air Army, is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces. It is responsible to the Government of France, along with the other four components of the Armed Forces. The current Chief of Staff of the French Army (CEMAT) is General Jean-Pierre Bosser, a direct subordinate of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CEMA). General Bosser is also responsible, in part, to the Ministry of the Armed Forces for organization, preparation, use of forces, as well as planning and programming, equipment and Army future acquisitions. For active service, Army units are placed under the authority of the Chief of the Defence Staff (CEMA), who is responsible to the President of France for planning for, and use, of forces.

War of the Spanish Succession major European conflict (1700–1714) after the death of Charles II

The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) was a European conflict of the early 18th century, triggered by the death of the childless Charles II of Spain in November 1700. His closest heirs were members of the Austrian Habsburg and French Bourbon families; acquisition of an undivided Spanish Empire by either threatened the European balance of power.

On 25 May 1718, Le Page left La Rochelle, France, with 800 men on one of three ships bound for Louisiana. He arrived on 25 August 1718. Le Page lived in La Louisiane from 1718 to 1734; about half of the period, 1720 to 1728, he lived near Fort Rosalie and Natchez on the Mississippi River. He had land and cultivated tobacco; in New Orleans he had bought two slaves, as well as a Chitimacha woman as a companion. She likely bore his children. In Natchez he learned the language of the Natchez people, whose homeland this was, and befriended local native leaders. [1]

La Rochelle Prefecture and commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

La Rochelle is a city in western France and a seaport on the Bay of Biscay, a part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department.

Louisiana (New France) Administrative district of New France

Louisiana or French Louisiana was an administrative district of New France. Under French control 1682 to 1762 and 1801 (nominally) to 1803, the area was named in honor of King Louis XIV, by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. It originally covered an expansive territory that included most of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River and stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains.

Natchez, Mississippi Sole incorporated city in Mississippi, United States

Natchez is the county seat and only city of Adams County, Mississippi, United States. Natchez has a total population of 15,792. Located on the Mississippi River across from Vidalia in Concordia Parish, Louisiana, Natchez was a prominent city in the antebellum years, a center of cotton planters and Mississippi River trade.

When Le Page wrote his memoir more than a decade after returning to France, he used the verbatim words of many of his Native informants, rather than describing the "manners and customs of the Indians" in the detached fashion of so many later colonial authors. Because of his own interest in the origins of Native Americans, Le Page was especially attentive to the account by the Yazoo explorer Moncacht-apé. He had traveled to the Pacific coast and back (a century before the later Lewis & Clark Expedition sponsored by the young United States). Le Page devoted three entire chapters to the Yazoo man's account of his travels. Moncacht-apé was curious about the origins of his people and traveled to learn more. When he reached the Pacific coast, Moncacht-apé heard Native oral histories that referred to an ancient land bridge from Asia. [2]

Pacific Ocean Ocean between Asia and Australia in the west, the Americas in the east and Antarctica or the Southern Ocean in the south.

The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.

Land bridge

A land bridge, in biogeography, is an isthmus or wider land connection between otherwise separate areas, over which animals and plants are able to cross and colonise new lands. A land bridge can be created by marine regression, in which sea levels fall, exposing shallow, previously submerged sections of continental shelf; or when new land is created by plate tectonics; or occasionally when the sea floor rises due to post-glacial rebound after an ice age.

Carte de la Louisiane, or Map of Louisiana, Histoire de la Louisiane (1757) CartedelaLouisiane.jpg
Carte de la Louisiane, or Map of Louisiana, Histoire de la Louisiane (1757)

Le Page lived at Natchez from 1720 to 1728 under the colonization scheme organized by John Law and the Company of the Indies. His familiarity with the local Natchez, and knowledge of their language and customs, is the basis for some of the unique aspects of his writings. He returned to New Orleans in 1728 to take an appointment as manager of the Company's plantation across from the river from the city; he managed 200 slaves in the cultivation of tobacco. By this move, he avoided being killed in the so-called Natchez Rebellion or Natchez Massacre of 1729. Tensions and retaliatory attacks had escalated as European settlers encroached on Indian territory.

During the uprising by the Natchez, Chickasaw and Yazoo, which Le Page described in detail, the Natives destroyed Fort Rosalie and killed nearly all of the male French colonists there. The Native Americans did not kill enslaved Africans or French women and children, whom they took as captives. [3]

After the massacre, the French king ended the concession of the Company of the Indies and seized control of the plantation which Le Page was managing. French troops with Indian allies retaliated and attacked, putting down the Natchez Rebellion by 1731. They sold several hundred captive Indians into slavery and transported them to their colony of Saint-Domingue in the Caribbean, which was developed by slave labor for sugar cane plantations. [4] Le Page du Pratz also wrote about the supposed Samba Rebellion of 1731, in which he allegedly participated in arresting the conspiratorial slaves.


Le Page du Pratz waited more than fifteen years after his return to France before he wrote and published his memoir of Louisiana. The Memoire sur la Louisiane was published by installments between September 1751 and February 1753 in the Journal Oeconomique (Economic Journal), a Paris periodical devoted to scientific and commercial topics. In 1758 the three octavo volumes of the Histoire de la Louisiane were published. Part of the book was devoted to his ethnographic descriptions of the Native peoples of Louisiana, particularly the Natchez. His account included descriptions of the funeral of the Tattooed Serpent, the second-highest ranking chief, with drawings of the funeral procession and people offering themselves for sacrifice. Other sections described the history of the colony, from the Spanish and French explorers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through establishment of the French settlements along the Mississippi. [5]

The title page to the one-volume English edition of 1774 which Benjamin Smith Barton loaned to Meriwether Lewis to take on the expedition of 1804-06. LePage-LewisandClark.jpg
The title page to the one-volume English edition of 1774 which Benjamin Smith Barton loaned to Meriwether Lewis to take on the expedition of 1804–06.

In 1763 after the British had defeated France in the Seven Years' War, an English translation of part of Le Page du Pratz's work was published in London. The publishers changed the title, releasing it as The History of Louisiana, or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina. This appeared to subordinate the former French colony to its English neighbors to the east, which had essentially claimed all lands west of each colony. The preface asserted that the English "nation may now reap some advantages from those learning from the experience of others, what they do or are likely to produce, that may turn to account." [5] The Lewis and Clark Expedition believed Le Page's work important enough to include among the guides which they took on their two-year journey beginning in 1804. [6]

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  1. 1 2 3 John C. Van Horne, "Memoir of a French Visitor: du Pratz, History of Louisiana", Discovering Lewis & Clark
  2. Gordon M. Sayre, "A Native American Scoops Lewis and Clark", Common-Place, vol. 5 (4) July 2005, accessed 3 May 2009
  3. Ginny Walker English, "Natchez Massacre 1729", State Coordinator, Mississippi American Local History Network, 2000–2003, accessed 3 May 2009
  4. "Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz: A Biographical Outline", University of Oregon, accessed 3 May 2009
  5. 1 2 Gordon Sayre, "Antoine-Simon Le Page du Pratz, The History of Louisiana (L'Histoire de la Louisiane (1758)), accessed 3 May 2009
  6. "Lewis & Clark—Expedition—Supplies", National Geographic

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