Today in New Orleans History

August 7

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Ursuline Nuns Arrive in New Orleans
August 7, 1727

Painting "Landing of the Ursulines" by Paul Poincy -- a reproduction of a sketch drawn on the historic date by Novice Madeleine Houchard

In the 1720s the Company of the West (founded to administer the Louisiana Territory), through Father Beaubois, a Jesuit priest in New Orleans, persuaded the Ursulines of Rouen, France, to establish a convent in Louisiana with a dual objective: 1. To educate the young first; 2. To care for the sick.

The Ursulines graciously accepted the challenge. Mother Superior Tranchepain (an odd name for a nun – translated, it means slice of bread) along with nine nuns, two postulants, one servant and a cat started on their journey to New Orleans.

The first leg of the trip was by stagecoach from Rouen to Lorient, with a side visit to the palace of the King at Versailles. Young Sister Madeline wrote home that while going through Versailles she considered shutting her eyes in fear of what she might see. Versailles at that time was renowned as a veritable palace of sin.

The ship scheduled to take them to their new home was the Girondone. Shortly after leaving port it struck a reef and narrowly escaped being shattered to pieces. This episode was just the first of a series of horrible events still in store. A terrible storm soon struck. The nuns were kept off the main deck in fear that they would be washed overboard. All of them were relegated to one small cabin and literally tied to the secured furniture so they would not be thrown about and injured seriously.

Soon after the first storm ended a second and more violent one enclosed the ship. It was so severe that all the livestock on board died from seasickness. For the passengers death would have been merciful, so debilitating was their trauma. After the big blow the nuns were slowly regaining strength and equilibrium when a pirate ship appeared menacingly off the stern. Although concerned, the captain showed enough firepower to drive away the threat. During the following month yet another storm, less severe than the first and second, hit the ship before it finally arrived at Santo Domingo and solid ground. As a special gift the people of Santo Domingo gave the nuns a barrel of much-treasured sugar.

The next leg of the journey was uneventful. From Santo Domingo to Dauphin Island the nuns were truly jubilant, but prematurely so; the vessel ran aground. Out came the rosaries.

To reduce the weight of the ship the sugar had to be thrown overboard along with cannons and casks of liquor. Personal luggage was to be discarded next.

As the nuns said their rosaries the ship floated free and their belongings were spared. The ship finally reached the mouth of the Mississippi where nuns and luggage were loaded onto pirogues. Against the current they traveled toward their final destination, La Nouvelle Orléans.

Sister Madeline wrote that the five days on the Mississippi –perched atop luggage in unsteady pirogues, swatting mosquitos and looking out for snakes and alligators – were more tedious and treacherous than the seasickness of the storms and the threat of pirates.

In the early morning of Aug. 7, 1727, exactly five months from the day they had left Rouen, France, the Ursulines reached the port city of New Orleans, mosquito bitten and weather-beaten, but happy to arrive in their new home. One young nun wrote home and gave the following first impression: "Upon seeing New Orleans for the first time, I can only say it looks like a large cesspool."

In their training the Ursuline Nuns had learned the meaning of hardship. In their trip from France they endured it and found yet more disappointments after arrival. Construction of the convent which had been pledged to them was scheduled to take six months to complete. Unfortunately, with New Orleans’ proclivity for procrastination it took a total of seven years.

Reefs, storms, seasickness, pirates, mosquitos, snakes, alligators, construction delays and broken promises – none could deter the determined nuns who went on to accomplish their mission with dispatch and distinction.

By Buddy Stall at

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The August 7, 1909 edition of the Christian Science Monitor reported that a "buyers' convention" is being held here this week [in New Orleans], with about 1000 out-of-town retail merchants in attendance.

Ralph J. Bunche (August 7, 1903  – December 9, 1971) was an American political scientist, academic, and diplomat who received the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize for his late 1940s mediation in Palestine. He was the first African American and person of color to be so honored in the history of the prize. He was involved in the formation and administration of the United Nations. In 1963, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President John F. Kennedy. Bunche Village and Ralph Bunche school in Metairie are named for him.

CASTELLANOS, Henry C., attorney, journalist. Born, New Orleans, December 12, 1827; son of Cadiz native, Juan José, who had immigrated in 1816 and of New Orleans-born Manuela Sanchez. Education: Georgetown College, District of Columbia, and St. Mary College, Baltimore, graduated in 1847. Returned to New Orleans where he read law in the office of Christian Roselius (q.v.) while studying law at the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University). Admitted to the Louisiana bar, 1848, practiced law for several years. Taught for a while in New Orleans public schools and contributed to several newspapers including L'Abeille, the Delta, and the Courrier. Removed to Franklin, La.; founded, 1857, the Attakapas Register. In 1858, returned to New Orleans and the practice of law. Served in the artillery during the Civil War. In 1877, defended scalawag ex-governor J. Madison Wells (q.v.) and Gen. Thomas Anderson (q.v.) accused, as members of the Board of Election Returns, of having given the 1876 Louisiana electoral votes to Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1892, began publication, in the Times-Democrat, of articles later collected under the titles New Orleans As It Was (1895). Active in Democratic party politics in the 1890s and the defense of the Louisiana Lottery. Died, New Orleans, August 7, 1896.  Source:

Dutch-born Francis August Anthony Joseph Janssens, born on October 17, 1843, served as Bishop of Natchez (1881–1888) before being named the fourth Archbishop of New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 7, 1888 and installed on the following September 16.  During his tenure (1888–1897) he convened the fifth Archdiocesan Synod in May 1889, founded more than twenty-five new parochial schools, dedicated a new preparatory seminary at Gessen in September 1891, and established the Catholic Institute for Deaf and Dumb at Chinchuba in 1890. Janssens significantly reduced the immense debt incurred by Archbishop Napoléon-Joseph Perché; continuing the work of his immediate predecessor Francis Xavier Leray, he reduced it from $324,759 to about $130,000. Janssens' tenure also spanned the period of hardening racial divisions between whites and blacks. He once said, "There is nothing in my administration of the Diocese that worries me more than our colored people; to see what is done by the Protestants to capture them and how often they succeed." Believing that a separate parish would keep blacks within the Catholic Church and facilitate black leadership just as it had for Irish and German immigrants, Janssens established St. Katharine's Church in 1895 as the first parish designated for black Catholics; attendance, however, was optional. It was, however, his expressed hope "that anyone might occupy any pew or any seat anywhere in the church."  Janssens died aboard the steamer Creole, bound for New York City, aged 53 on June 9, 1897. He is buried at St. Louis Cathedral. 

BOSQUE Y FANGUI, Cayetana Susana, third wife of W. C. C. Claiborne (q.v.).  Born, New Orleans, August 7, 1796; daughter of Felicidad Fangui of New Orleans and Bartolomé Bosque (1759-1810), native of Palma, Majorca.  He was a wealthy merchant and ship owner who built the house at 617-621 Chartres Street, New Orleans, today known as the Bosque House.  Married (1) W. C. C. Claiborne (q.v.), the 37-year-old governor of Louisiana, November 8, 1812.  Children:  Sophronia Louisa (b. 1812) and Charles Claiborne (b. 1814).  Lived in Paris with the children after Claiborne's death in 1817; returned to New Orleans in the early 1820s.  Married (2) John Randolph Grymes (q.v.), December 1, 1822.  Children:  Marie Angeline (called Medora), John Randolph, Jr. (b. 1826), and Athenais.  Separated from Grymes, 1835, and removed to New York; built a villa on Staten Island from which she launched her daughters on the marriage market.  Sophronia married Jean Bernard Xavier Marigny de Mandeville (q.v.), April 12, 1835, St. Mary's Church, New Orleans; Medora married Sam Ward, wealthy New York banker, 1843; Athenais married German banker, Baron von Hoffman, 1855.  After that wedding, Susana sold her Staten Island estate and sailed to Europe with Medora, Sophronia, and their children.  Lived in Paris where she was described at age seventy as beautiful, clever, distinguished, elegant, hot tempered, and a fascinating raconteur.  Died in Paris.  Her obituary in the New Orleans Democrat, August 7, 1881, reported, "She was the famous beauty and belle of the Territory of Louisiana. . . ."  J.B.C.  Source:  Jane Lucas DeGrummond, "Cayetana Susana Bosque y Fangui, 'A Notable Woman,'" Louisiana History, XXIII (1982).  From

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Abreviations used on this site: NOPL (New Orleans Public Library), LOC (Library of Congress), LDL (Lousiana Digital Library), HNOC (Historic New Orleans Collection), WIKI (Wikipedia).

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