New Orleans, Louisiana, November 12, 1794: Wealthy local plantation owner and former French musketeer in the services of Louis XV of France, Etienne de Bore, 53, has given up his drought stricken, bug infested indigo crop and is gambling all he owns on a crop he has never raised and knows little about—sugar cane.
De Bore recognizes that indigo is a valuable dye plant and has meant so much to our local livelihoods most of this century. But, de Bore insists that indigo has faded dramatically as a means of making a living because of our “current two year drought in Louisiana and those exasperating insects that have feasted on our indigo plants for the past several years and have stripped our crops absolutely naked.”
De Bore emphasized, “Every plantantion owner that I know is nearing bankruptcy. I refuse to sit idly by while being pushed to the poor house by a nature that is stingy with water and that is hurling a multitude of irksome bugs at us.”
All of his friends, relatives and especially his wife have strongly advised that he not take this unknown leap into sugar. “Wait nature out,” they say. But, risk taking is a part of de Bore’s personality. Spending 10 years as a highly trained, deadly efficient musketeer, protecting his King with his sword and his wits, he learned to be extraordinarily self-reliant and unflinchingly firm of character.
Last summer, a sugar maker, Antoine Morin, from Santo Domingo and for whom de Bore had great respect visited him at his plantation as he was out in the field planting his first crop of sugar cane.
“Monsieur Morin advised me that Louisiana was too cold to grow cane. It would never grow ripe enough to granulate into sugar,” said de Bore, as he recalled the conversation.
“I thanked him for his concern about my being somewhat rash and injudicious, but I told him I was convinced that I was right and I shall succeed.”
“Seeing that he could not change my mind,” de Bore said wryly, “Monsieur Morin asked me if he could become employed as my sugar maker. Knowing his abilities and my limitations in raising sugar cane, I hired him immediately.”
Of course, the Jesuits brought sugar cane to this territory more than 40 years ago in 1751, but no one has made anything from this plant in Louisiana but molasses since then. It will be absolutely historic to see if de Bore can prove his critics wrong and make his sugar gamble pay off.
De Bore will harvest his sugar cane in about three weeks. Every plantation owner within a hundred miles will be watching to see if the Louisiana sugar cane syrup can be granulated (refined) into a useable, saleable sugar.
One month later, de Bore and Morin, his sugar maker, ran the granulation test. Surrounded by skeptical family and friends, the sugar maker paused for dramatic effect, turned to them all, and emphatically announced, “It granulates!” Those two words echoed through the moss draped bayous and plantations all over southern Louisiana.
Motivated by pure survival, pure cane sugar plantations sprang up everywhere in the territory.
De Bore had the first major crop of sugar in Louisiana history. He made a respectable profit of $12,000 that first year, or about $200,000 in today’s dollars. Over the next quarter century, until his death on February 1, 1820, at age 79, de Bore became incredibly wealthy and a major influence in the early growth of New Orleans and Louisiana. Appointed by a representative of Napoleon Bonaparte, de Bore became the first mayor of New Orleans in 1803. Later, after Louisiana became a US Territory, de Bore was appointed by a representative of President Thomas Jefferson as the speaker pro tem of the Territory’s legislative council in 1806.
Today, Louisiana produces 20% of the sugar grown in the US, down from 50% in the 1850’s.
But, the sugar industry is still worth more than $2 billion a year to Louisiana’s economy. A successful part of Southern Memories that began some 215 years ago by a lone, risk taking musketeer named Jean Etienne de Bore.