By Ari Kelman
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Extra info for A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans
At that time, the federal government began assisting its land-hungry citizens, eager to settle the Mississippi Valley, by sponsoring the conquest of the region’s Native Americans. The government also began negotiating treaties with foreign nations, designed to secure the western settlers’ rights to navigate the region’s highway of commerce, the Mississippi system. In the controversies surrounding those negotiations, Jefferson learned what the river and its banks meant to the West. The importance of the Mississippi for westerners was simple: the river promised economic survival.
In 1803, Gravier gazed at the accreting batture in front of the Faubourg St. Mary and saw proﬁt potential in the silt. No seer, Gravier was a savvy speculator who recognized the value of land in postcolonial New Orleans. But his plan for the batture was complicated because he 24 Chapter 1 owned none of the riparian lots in the faubourg. Nonetheless, he reclaimed a portion of the batture in front of the settlement by erecting an artiﬁcial levee to keep approximately four hundred square feet of sediment dry year-round.
2 The contested nature of property rights in New Orleans also contributed to the dispute, because adherents to the civil-law tradition predominating in Louisiana and the common-law-inﬂuenced legal system in place throughout the rest of the United States fought over the city’s waterfront. Additionally, clashing perceptions of the Mississippi, and what people called nature, played a role in the controversy. The ﬁght also centered on competing notions of the proper use of urban space in New Orleans, as the combatants involved in the case were concerned with controlling the riverfront at a time when shifting deﬁnitions of public rights transformed that landscape into a battleground.