The year is 1803. The rumors swirl, thick as Maw-Maw's gumbo, and some of them are just as dark as her roux. New Orleans is in a transition, and how it will end is anybody's guess.
In the midst of this, the Ursuline nuns are concerned. They go about their business each day, operating a girl's boarding school, an orphanage, a hospital, and working among the poor and needy of the city.
They have been through transitions before, as New Orleans and the Louisiana Territory have swung from French to Spanish ownership and dominance and back again, but this new idea, of the area becoming part of the United States, has them wondering. What will happen to them and their work? After all, both France and Spain are predominantly Roman Catholic countries, and they were protected and sheltered to do the work to which they were dedicated.
Would the US be so open to them? Would they survive if there was yet another change of ownership?
When it finally became clear that the US would indeed be buying the Louisiana Territory, and New Orleans along with it, the very concerned sisters wrote an honest and open letter to the US President, Thomas Jefferson. In it, they asked if their lands and buildings would, like Catholic lands were in many Protestant countries, be confiscated, their work halted, themselves and those in their care endangered and forced to seek a new home elsewhere. Or would the nuns have to simply abandon everything and go back to the original founding abbey in France?
The response, which came directly from Thomas Jefferson (not from a secretary, but in his own hand), was beautifully worded and reassuring. This new country they would be part of, he told them, would give them the freedom to keep their land, continue their charitable works, practice their religion as they saw fit. He praised them for all the good they did in the community, and asked them to continue. The letter is one of the centerpieces of the museum in the Ursuline school and convent in New Orleans to this day.
Today marks the date in 1803 when the Louisiana Territory officially changed hands. Let the freedoms Thomas Jefferson held so dear, freedom of thought, religion, speech, conscience, the press, and peaceful assembly, ring out, here and around the world.
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Today in History:
Vespasian enters Rome to claim the title of Emperor, 69
Richard the Lionheart is captured in Vienna, 1192
Suleiman the Magnificent accepts the surrender of the surviving Knights of Rhodes, who are allowed to evacuate. They eventually settle on Malta and become known as the Knights of Malta, 1522
Peter the Great orders the Russian New Year changed from Sept 1 to Jan 1, 1699
The Louisiana Purchase is formally transferred from France to US for $27M, 1803
The international cantilever railway bridge opens at Niagara Falls, 1883
North America's longest railway, at 50,000km, the Canadian National Railways, is established, 1919
The first international dogsled mail leaves Minot, Maine for Montreal, Quebec, 1928
Cardiff is proclaimed the capital city of Wales, United Kingdom, 1955
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