When I first heard about the existence of the Sainte-Gême Family Papers, from Paul Lachance and Ginger Gould, little did I think that those papers would lead me to spend the next decade of my life working on this manuscript. I vividly remember Ginger telling me about this man who had written a long correspondence to a friend who lived in a little French town no one had ever heard of, St. Gaudens. I laughed and answered: “I was born there.” The coincidence did trigger my curiosity, of course. I started looking into the manuscript, archived at The Historic New Orleans Collection, and immediately understood the wealth of Jean Boze’s correspondence.
Very often, migrants’ letters contain little information on the migrants’ new abode. In the case of Jean Boze, the letters bear almost exclusively on his new home, New Orleans. Even though the letters were sent to France and kept there for over a century, they definitely belong to New Orleans, a fact not lost on Mrs. La Fonta Saintegême, who entrusted them to The Historic New Orleans Collection.
The wealth of this exceptional correspondence is, alas, beyond the grasp of many New Orleanians, because the almost 1,200 manuscript pages are written in French, and in outdated French at that.
I spent many hours, days, weeks, months reading the letters. What I hope to do with this book is give non-French-speaking readers access—although unfortunately limited access—to their extraordinarily rich content.
Publishing them in their entirety would have been a still better way to open a window onto New Orleans in its early American decades, still an insufficiently studied period in New Orleans’s history. However, their format made the task impossible. The letters are too numerous and too long, and they mostly resemble a logbook, dedicating a few lines or a few paragraphs to one event, constantly changing subjects, developing subjects in short paragraphs over several letters, sometimes repeating news and information that (p.x) has been given in previous letters. There is an appendix to this book, however, which has the transcript of one letter and its translation into English.
I thus decided to introduce readers to these letters through an essay, wandering through them, just as Boze wandered in the city’s streets and history for over two decades. The numerous translated quotes will give the readers some measure of the wealth of Boze’s writing, although they cannot be true to the picturesque style of the old Frenchman.
I hope this book will stir up people’s curiosity and bring many to The Historic New Orleans Collection’s beautiful Williams Research Center, in the heart of New Orleans’s Vieux Carré.