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In 1719, a ship named La Mutine (the mutinous woman), sailed from the French port of Le Havre, bound for the Mississippi. It was loaded with urgently needed goods for the fledgling French colony, but its principal commodity was a new kind of export: women.


Falsely accused of sex crimes, these women were prisoners, shackled in the ship’s hold. They came from all walks of life: a disgraced noblewoman, a street vendor falsely accused of murder, a seamstress who became New Orleans’s first fashionista, and an illiterate laundress who became an Indian captive and eventual world traveler. Of the 132 women who were sent this way, only 62 survived. But these women carved out a place for themselves in the colonies that would have been impossible in France, making advantageous marriages and accumulating property. Many were instrumental in the building of New Orleans and in the European settling of Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, and Mississippi.

To discuss the incredible impact these women had on the French North American colony is today’s guest, historian Joan DeJean, author of the book Mutinous Women: How French Convicts Became Founding Mothers of the Gulf Coast. They were among the pioneering European settlers who built New Orleans, and the French trading outposts and permanent settlements that spanned the Mississippi River from the Gulf Islands to Illinois. Their legacy is present not only in those contemporaneous communities they shaped, but also in the descendants of these “first grandmothers” of the Gulf South now spread across the United States.

From their convictions and subsequent trials to their use of marriage to regain status, to relationships with Indigenous peoples amid changes in colonial governance and their ascension to property owners, these women’s stories represent the struggles of.

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"A 1719 Prison Ship Transported Dozens of Women Accused of Sex Crimes to New Orleans. They Became the Founding Mothers of the Gulf" History on the Net
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