Louisiana History Portrait 1: Jean-Baptiste leMoyne, Sieur de Bienville

Okay, here’s my plan: I want to document each one of the characters portrayed by our company: Louisiana History Alive. (This is as much to encourage me to photograph and document the costumes as it is just simple bragging. <ha!>)

SO without further ado, I’ll start with our earliest historical figure, the founder of the City of New Orleans, and Governor numerous times by default: Jean-Baptiste leMoyne, Sieur de Bienville. (He prefers to be addressed as Commandant.)

Gov. Bienville is on my list of “secret Badasses of History.” There are some historical characters you automatically know are tough guys- Jean Lafitte or Wyatt Earp, for example.

Governor Bienville would eat those guys for lunch. And yet you never hear anything about him except that he was the first governor of the Louisiana colonies, and he dressed like a fancy 18th century gentleman, the end.

Gov. Bienville, in a pensive moment...

But did you know… Bienville was one of 12 children born to the leMoyne family in what is now Montreal, Canada, and he joined the French colonial navy at age 12?!? Wounded to the battle of Hudson bay, he recovered, and at the age of 19 he was sent on expedition with his older brother Pierre, Sieur d’Iberville, to explore the southern reaches of New France and claim/ settle the territories. They arrived in 1699, and like any young men would, the first thing they did was carve the 17th century equivalent of “Iberville was here” on a sizable chunk of bedrock.  So far, Navy at 12, explorer of an unsettled territory at 19, they set up the village of New Orleans, it was immediately washed away by a hurricane, they went over and founded Biloxi instead, but when the ground dried up, they went BACK to New Orleans- because Bienville knew that port on the Mississippi river was just too awesome to pass up, hurricanes or no hurricanes.

Early colonial grafitti

Early colonial grafitti

He wasn’t really the French Government’s first choice to be governor- he was considered by them to be a little too much of an unpredictable non-team-player. But he was there, and nobody else they tried to put up in that position was ornery enough to stick it out or survive.

In addition, he got in trouble with the church, not really having any particular use for them, and largely because he was not interested in helping them “save” the local native tribes from their heathen ways. Bienville was the first American politician to learn the regional native languages and dialects and negotiate with them without the use of an interpreter.  Also, based on numerous contemporary reports, he was tattooed pretty much from the neck down. In fact, fellow explorer Henri de Tonti reported:  “an officer, a man of breeding whose name you would recognize, who, as well as an image of the Virgin and the baby Jesus, a large cross on his stomach with the miraculous words which appeared to Constantine and an endless number of marks in the savage style, had a snake which passed around his body and whose tongue
pointed toward an extremity which I will leave you to guess.”

Wow. So on that note, I’m left with the enviable task of costuming such a larger-than life personage. This is one costume I TRULY wish I had more photographs of, and if I get more in the future, I’ll add them on. First two photos are of the winter version of the costume. It’s a jacket and breeches of a grey brocade with a fleur-de-lis pattern. the suit was drafted based on a suit dated approximately 1710 from (I believe) the V&A museum. The vest is a grey, olive, and teal paisley tapestry with an irish linen back. Cotton shirt- basic 18th c. style with buttons of caribou horn. Silk cravat, grey wool tricorne, grey silk clocked stockings and leather garters. This costume has nearly 125 buttons. <whew.>Gov. Bienville, secret badass.

Full-length view of winter vest.

(Particularly proud of paisley match CF and at pocket flaps)

We got booked for a rare warm-weather appearance for NOLA navy week. So in the interest of our actors not dying of heatstroke, I had to make some adjustments. Here are a few images with the new straw tricorn hat and replacement vest made of an embroidered dupioni with a muslin lining and back.Interestingly enough, the fleur-de-lis brocade was neutral enough that an olive and red vest coordinated with the suit every bit as well as the blue and brown tapestry. Traded out grey socks for cream-color, and he was good to go on a late spring afternoon!

Bienville, posing on the waterfront.

And he's off!









Sorry to go on interminably. I just effing love the way this costume turned out.

This entry was published on April 28, 2012 at 12:11 am. It’s filed under Costume design, Gov. Bienville, Louisiana History Alive, New Orleans, NOLA Navy Week and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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