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Dry Goods, Cotton and Cane: 250 Years of Jewish Life, Business and Agriculture in Pointe Coupée Parish, Louisiana

Dry Goods, Cotton and Cane

  • DRY GOODS, COTTON AND CANE: 250 YEARS OF JEWISH LIFE, BUSINESS AND AGRICULTURE IN POINTE COUPÉE PARISH, LOUISIANA. With a record of permanent settlement since the 1720s, Pointe Coupée Parish is one of the oldest communities in the Mississippi River Valley. Créole in culture, owing to the predominance of its French, African, and blended ethnicities, the parish, however, owes much to its Jewish families, who once numbered in the hundreds and whose presence dated from the 1760s. In the wake of the Civil War, when the traditional plantation system collapsed, Jewish financiers, merchants, livestock dealers, and sugar and cotton brokers played prominent roles in shoring up Pointe Coupée's war-torn economy. Jews were held in respect and friendship, and not infrequently married into the larger Gentile population. The earliest Jewish families in Pointe Coupée hailed from the Iberian Peninsula, via the Netherlands and the Caribbean. They were succeeded by successive waves of immigrants from France, the German states, and, at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, from Austria-Hungary, Prussia, Romania and the Russian Empire. Their numbers were relatively small, but some communities had a particularly Jewish stamp, including the Lower Chenal of False River and Upper, or northern, Pointe Coupée. The Jewish people of Pointe Coupée Parish shared in the economic successes of their Gentile neighbors, and like them suffered from levee failures and disastrous floods, hurricanes, epidemics and crop failures. Most moved to better economic and educational opportunities in New Orleans and the cities of the American North and West. In the 21st century, the Jewish legacy lives on not only in local place names but in these immigrants' dedication to local education and philanthropy, thereby providing a rich tile in the cultural mosaic that is Pointe Coupée Parish, Louisiana.

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