Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast

Basic: Perseus. Apr. 2022. 448p. ISBN 9781541600584. $32. HIST
In 1720, 132 French women convicts were loaded onto a ship named La Mutine and sent off to the American colony of Louisiana where investor/con artist John Law’s expanding mainland empire was missing one desired commodity: women. Arrested and imprisoned in Paris on trumped-up charges of prostitution, smuggling, or theft, the women left France poor and unmourned. But in decades to come, many of them would rise to positions of lasting influence and wealth in colonial Louisiana. DeJean (Romance languages, Univ. of Pennsylvania; How Paris Became Paris) does a wonderful job of tracing the lives of these women through government and parish records, plotting their marriages, deaths, births and financial fortunes through succeeding decades. The collapse of Law’s shady empire in 1720 caused initial chaos in the colonies but also freed its residents to pursue their own destinies.
VERDICT The level of detail in this scrupulously researched tale makes for slow reading at times but it brings to light the contribution of these formidable women to the early history of Gulf Coast France, a contribution till now has largely swept under the carpet. A fascinating book for history lovers, not just academics.
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