Abstract

The initial European incursions in the American continent were marked by tenuous and sometimes provocative cultural exchanges, relentless uncertainty and confusion, muddled nostalgia, horrific violence, and immense distances. The recent discovery of the shipwreck The Belle in Matagorda Bay has reinvigorated scholarly interest in the French colony founded by René-Robert Cavelier (Sieur de La Salle) in Texas in the late seventeenth century. The company's attempt to bring European culture and life to the Americas was colored by local customs, class distinctions, long stints of boredom, vengeance, and murder; there were also several important social transitions, including that of men and women who abandoned European life altogether, conflicting in-group etiquettes among the French (including mutiny), and the looming complications of a return home. This article examines the diary of Henri Joutel, one of the members of the La Salle company who survived the ordeal and returned to France. It focuses on how the company affiliates balanced harsh labor and constant uncertainty with home-rituals involving food consumption and religious ceremony, and measured interactions (including military alliances) with Native Americans, which became enormously important to their subsistence.

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