By Ari Kelman
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Additional resources for A River and Its City: The Nature of Landscape in New Orleans
If so, they underestimated people’s investment in the dispute, largely because they misunderstood the signiﬁcance of the Mississippi and its waterfront for New Orleanians. Rather than settling the issue, by ruling for Gravier the court inﬂamed an array of interests resolved to 19 20 Chapter 1 ﬁght for the batture. The concerned parties included New Orleanians who valued the batture as a public space; riparian proprietors who feared for their land values; New Orleans’s Conseil de ville (city council), which hoped to consolidate its control over the riverfront; and President Thomas Jefferson, who believed that the batture was a key part of his plans for what was then known as the West.
He did not know that the batture controversy was only beginning. Within days of his victory, Livingston sank an additional investment of seventy-seven thousand dollars into the batture and began contemplating improvements on his property. He hoped to turn his piece of the waterfront into a private port, likely to accommodate the steamboats his brother Robert was building back east with an eye toward navigating the Mississippi system. Livingston planned ﬁrst to erect a new artiﬁcial reclamation levee to keep the batture dry year-round.
Lore abounded in the city, recounting ﬂoods as recent as those in 1785, 1791, and 1799, when water had stood in the French Quarter. Locals also were wary of the river’s geomorphology. They knew that even though the Mississippi might deposit yards of batture accretions in one spot, it could also erode land elsewhere, seemingly on a whim. Finally, New Orleanians, sub- A Batture Laid Out 39 scribing to the era’s medical misconceptions, believed that digging in the city gave rise to murderous epidemics by releasing foul, pestilential vapors into the air.