Karl Fredrick Darensbourg & Early Villages

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Captain Karl Fredrick Darensbourg, a German-speaking Swedish soldier, left France on the Portefaix on March 7, 1721, bringing with him three hundred German-speaking Swiss and Alsatian colonists bound for Louisiana from the Alsace- Lorraine area. When they arrived in Old Biloxi on June 4, 1721, Bienville appointed Darensbourg commandant. On December 15, Governor Bienville issued an order decreeing all owners of longboats and flatboats to surrender their vessels to the colonial administration. In January 1722, these vessels would transport the colonists to the settlement on the coast, west of New Orleans, where they joined colonists already in the villages of Hoffen, Marienthal, and Augsburg.

These engagés became concessionaires and were provided small land grants with no ownership rights. Darensbourg’s concession was named Karlstein in his honor. This area became known as Côté des Allemands or the German Coast. Darensbourg brought the news to the colony that Law’s plan had failed. This news was of great interest to residents of the colony. Historians have noted how ironic it is that the same settlers who brought the news of Law’s company’s collapse are the ones who were successful in settling the colony. They have also noted that the Swiss played an important role in the colonization of Louisiana in particular on the German Coast.

Map of Early Villages of the German Coast - Image
Map of early villages of the German Coast. (Map by Norman Marmillion) “With the help of perhaps 80 lumberjacks, carpenters, and other workers provided by the Company of the Indes, these Germans (Swiss and Alsations) built three villages modeled upon European towns in which houses were stretched out along the only road running through the village… Probaby with the help of the 80 individuals who had assisted in the construction of the villages, the Germans began to clear, cultivate, and sew the lands around them with the grains and vegetables.” – Reinhart Kondert, The Germans of Colonial Louisiana: 1720-1803 In 2003, the St. Charles Historical Foundation, with funding from a Dow grant, conducted an aerial search for these early villages using thermal imaging photography to register temperature differences that might indicate where cultural activity took place centuries ago. “Hot spots” were discovered in the area of the Nelson Coleman Correction Center.

The new company had no accommodations for the arrival of the immigrants. They were without food, shelter, or any means of transportation. They had no horses or plows. These German pioneers faced unbelievable hardships in their new country. The land was a tropical to semi-tropical forest covered with thick underbrush. Using the indigenous trees and brush as lumber brought on the problem of stumps and their removal. Not until ten years after their arrival did they even have a horse in the settlement to lend assistance. Consequently, many succumbed to these early hardships. Professor J. Hanno Deiler believes many more would have perished had they not come from such hardy German stock.

Darensbourg’s Death

Karl Fredrick Darensbourg
(Photo courtesy Tulane University, Special Collections, Kuntz Collection)

Karl Fredrick Darensbourg, the first commandant of the German Coast, served for over 48 years. He was beloved by the people of the German Coast. Darensbourg was born on January 25, 1694, in Stettin, Pomerania (presently Poland, but was a Swedish possession at the time). According to historian Reinhart Kondert, Darensbourg’s baptismal certificate from the Lutheran Castle Church in Stettin shows his name written as Carol Frideric Arensburg.

He was a Swedish officer on the Portefaix and later became one of the leaders of the 1768 revolution against the Spanish takeover of the French colony. He married German-born Marguerite Metzer, had two sons and four daughters, and all of his children married into prominent French families. Darensbourg earned the respect of all of Louisiana’s governors and was appointed Chevalier St. Louis in 1765 by the king of France. He died in 1777 at the age of eighty-four. Many of his descendants still reside on the German Coast where it is believed Darensbourg is buried.

1777: “Father of the German Coast” Dies

This text is © copyright material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.

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Further Reading

Waterford: Agriculture to Industry Book

Letter from O’Reilly to Arriaga
Annual Report of the American Historical Association 1945

Calendar of Louisiana Colonial Documents
The D’arensbourg Records 1734-1764
Louisiana State Archives and Records Commission

The earliest original acts of St. Charles Parish date from 1734, only three years after Louisiana became a crown colony. These historic documents are housed in the St. Charles Parish Courthouse. These first documents were recorded by Karl Fredrick Darensbourg, first commandant of the German Coast, and have been abstracted by Elizabeth Becker Gianelloni and published as Volume Three of the Calendar of Louisiana Colonial Documents, Part One, The Darensbourg Records, 1734–1769.

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