Massacre, Mardi Gras, and Torture in Early New Orleans

TitleMassacre, Mardi Gras, and Torture in Early New Orleans
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsWhite, Sophie
JournalWilliam and Mary Quarterly
Date PublishedJuly 2013


The earliest known Mardi Gras masquerade in New Orleans dates to 1730. Forming part of his “Relation du Voyage de la Louisiane ou Nouvelle France,” Marc-Antoine Caillot's account of hedonistic cross-gender disguises was an unexpected narrative twist, for it was book-ended by events surrounding the 1729 uprising in which the Natchez Indians captured, tortured, and killed colonists and freed their African slaves. The narrative begins with the arrival in New Orleans of denuded survivors, then moves to the masquerade, before ending with an account of the ritual stripping, torture, cannibalism, and killing of a powerful Natchez woman captive. Tunica allies had captured her, and they engineered her torture on the square frame within the town. Most galling for Caillot was the fact that the French survivors of the uprising then imitated, and even outdid, Indian torture methods and anthropophagy practices, raising questions about the risks of Catholic French men and women becoming Indian. Caillot's topsy-turvy masquerade allowed him to play with the implications, for colonists, of misrule rituals that created only temporary inversions of identity, and to signal that the metamorphosis of the French into Indians was reversible and controllable. When the Mardi Gras participants reverted to normative roles and apparel following Lent, the effect was to reaffirm and strengthen the status quo, in the same way that the colonial disorder and the gendered disruption caused by the Natchez uprising would also be reversed.

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