Documenting Louisiana Sugar 1845-1917

Champomier, Statement of Sugar Made in Louisiana

For eighteen years, between 1844 and 1862, P.A. Champomier published the annual crop data for Louisiana's sugar industry. As he admitted himself, touring every cane sugar producing farm in the state was an "onerous" task and one that occupied Champomier for three months a year. Plying the bayous of Louisiana from north to south, Champomier either visited or corresponded with every sugar producing planter in each parish, noting the owner or business operating name (in case of partnerships and incorporations), the name of the plantation, but most significantly, recording the output of sugar in hogsheads (a wooden cask containing an inexact amount of sugar, but Champomier approximated them at 1000 lbs). Added to this, Champomier noted the technology used to grind the cane on each estate. This was divided into the relatively simple terms "horse" or "steam power" reflecting the facilities used for grinding the canes. Although the term "steam power" encompassed a wide array of mechanically powered sugar mills, Champomier included additional data on estates that utilized the latest evaporating processes for the manufacture of sugar, notably the Rillieux apparatus and single and double effect evaporators and vacuum pans. Champomier additionally recorded the geographic position of each estate, its location on rivers and bayous, proximity to Post Offices, and its distance to New Orleans. This data was collated by parish and recorded in tables that listed individuals and title, plantation name, technology, location, and output. Along with appendices, Champomier also provided a short page long survey of Texas cane sugar production, reporting individual farm output, much as he had done with Louisiana. These were in turn published in pamphlet form (17 x 10 cms) as Statement of the Sugar Crop of Louisiana (by year) and printed by Cook, Young, & Co. of New Orleans.

Champomier introduced and concluded his reports with a brief synopsis on the state of the industry, noting the relative size and quality of the crop and any adverse meteorological or flood conditions affecting the annual yield. He additionally detailed the technical state of Louisiana's cane industry, noting the number of facilities utilizing various technologies, and the prognosis for the following crop, based on his assessment of the seed cane and ratoons. Finally, Champomier also included a brief section to his Annual Report on the relative position of the Louisiana industry, vis-à-vis its competitors. He thus recorded the imports, exports, and stock of imported and domestically produced sugar and estimated U.S. consumption levels. Additionally, Champomier reported on the state of the New York and East coast sugar markets and listed the relative supply of sugars from the Caribbean and Latin America; like his contemporaries, Champomier focused his attention on Cuba, Louisiana's closest competitor for supply of the U.S. domestic market. These key aspects of production and market information gave Louisiana planters an annual compendium on the state of their industry and reports with which to enhance their competitive advantage. Importantly too, the annual data collection gave local and national merchants a portrait of the cane industry that detailed with precision the emerging and dwindling business concerns of individuals, businesses, and specific geographic locales. The reports, moreover, provided state and national politicians with a condensed overview of an industry that prospered under federal tariff protection and one that also profited other sections of the American economy. As the most capital-intensive agricultural enterprise in the country (one that far outstripped capital investment in any other branch of U.S. agriculture), Louisiana's cane sugar industry was a ready market for steam engines, boilers, grinding mills, and evaporators, most of which were produced by foundries in the Northern states. Champomier's detailed technical reports thus provided vital local intelligence on the state of the industry, its requirements, and its contribution to the broader national economy. Published in New Orleans, though annotated and condensed still further for report and comment in the New Orleans Price Current, the leading periodical De Bow's Review, the national trade periodical Hunt's Merchants' Magazine, and republished in U.S. Congressional Papers (notably the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents), Champomier's reports were not only unique in their detail, but provided planters, factors, and trade merchants, in Louisiana and elsewhere, with a brief regional business portfolio. As James De Bow noted in July 1851, planters and merchants "should liberally sustain the arduous labours of Mr. Champomier . . . the extent of his services to the state cannot be lightly passed over." Three years later, De Bow published his weighty three volume compendium, The Industrial Resources of the Southern and Western States. Again, he was effusive in praise for Champomier, noting that while errors were no doubt present in his reports, "they are altogether too unimportant to affect the general results. Nothing so reliable can be had from any other source." Musing on the role of his reports, Champomier concluded that his work was "highly appreciated by many intelligent planters and merchants, by the citizens of other states and the federal officers, by whom these services have been noted."

Born in France in 1794, just one year before Etienne Bore successfully granulated sugar in New Orleans, Champomier had witnessed during his lifetime the rapid growth of Louisiana's sugar industry from its inception to its high-watermark in 1861. As the nation descended into Civil War, Louisiana's cane planters celebrated their bumper crop of 460,000 hogsheads of sugar; it was the largest crop produced in the state to that date and it was the last crop made entirely by slave labor. It was the crowning moment of Louisiana's antebellum sugar industry but one that reflected a half century of economic growth and labor exploitation in the cane fields. Champomier's attention to the crop and the development of the sugar industry was unparalleled, but derived from his own expertise (he occasionally counseled and censured planters for their crop management) and his unwavering commitment to "the importance of correct knowledge in regard to the crops." A New Orleans commodities merchant himself, Champomier detailed in his Fourth Report of the Sugar Crop of Louisiana, "the minute and accurate statistics of each estate, informing as they do planters of the movements and results of each other, must stimulate individual industry, enterprise, and emulation." From his reports, Champomier calculated that "it can thus be inferred what may be expected in prices; what another year will develop; how we are comparing with other sugar countries." Turning agriculture into a precise discipline was never easy in the cane country, but Champomier's reports attempted to provide rational, ordered tables for statistical and judicious analysis. As T.B. Thorpe of the Louisiana Agriculturists' Association announced in 1846, planters and merchants needed to "make agriculture, as mathematics, an exact science." Clearly responding to this injunction, Champomier embraced fellow New Orleanian James De Bow's advice to "benefit of the nation" by imitating Massachusetts and collating "minute statistical reports." A symbol of the rational business-conscious culture of mid-nineteenth century industrializing America, Champomier celebrated the individual and collective value of the reports, noting that no-one could oppose his data collection, save those "who would abolish the whole principle of census taking, whether Federal, State, or Parish."

Through his annual reports, Champomier thus sought to apprise and guide planters, merchants, and traders, but perhaps most significantly he attempted to bring order and regulation to data collection and impose an urban, business orientated culture upon the occasionally disorganized state of the sugar industry. As planter James Hanna of Terrebonne Parish observed in 1858: "There is probably no interest in the United States, of the same importance, so much neglected by those engaged in its culture, or so much preyed upon . . . as the sugar interest of Louisiana; and there is probably none which so much requires combined energy and care in the promotion of its interests. While all other branches of industry are cared for by the associated efforts of those engaged in them, we are content to let the sugar interest float along on the current of daily events, and let it take its chance for good or ill, giving ourselves, collectively, very little concern about it."

But the disciplined lines of Champomier's reports bespoke a wholly different culture to that lambasted by Hanna. The regimented managerial accounting of Champomier's reports provided planters, merchants, and regional boosters with the detailed business information to promote the sugar interests and defend the productive capacity of both plantation slavery and the contribution of slaveholding sugar planters to the wealth and development of the United States. This was attempted, of course, in an atmosphere that was increasingly hostile to racial bondage and the concentrated wealth and power of the southern plantation elite. While Champomier himself reserved judgment on the morality of slavery and southern nationalism in the 1850s, his reports provided not only a rational business defense of cane sugar cultivation but offered a stalwart vindication of the role of plantation slavery and slaveholding in the regional economy. When the Civil War eventually came to Louisiana in April 1862 (the sugar parishes were among the first to be occupied by Federal troops), Champomier earnestly reported on "the disasters attending the war," chief among them was the disruption to the cane-growing country by indiscipline among the enslaved and the mass departure of African Americans from the plantation belt. As Champomier noted in the final sentences of his last sugar report, "some of the plantations are left almost entirely bare of working hands." Union General Nathaniel Banks would restore order to the sugar country in January 1863, but plantation slavery in Louisiana's cane world had finally come to an abrupt and violent end by the latter years of Champomier's life.

Richard Follett

Sources: P.A. Champomier, Statement of the Sugar Crop Made in Louisiana in 1850-51 (New Orleans: Cook, Young, & Co., 1851), ii; U.S. Patent Office, "Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year of 1848," 30th Cong., 2nd sess., House of Representatives Doc. No. 59. (Washington D.C.: Wendell and Van Benthuysen, 1849), 511; Proceedings of the Agriculturists' and Mechanics' Association of Louisiana, Annual State Fair, January 5, 1846 (New Orleans: B.M. Norman, 1846); De Bow's Review 20 (Feb, 1856): 226-228; De Bow's Review 11 (July 1851): 70; J.D.B De Bow, The Industrial Resources of the Southern and Western States (3 vols., New Orleans: Office of De Bow's Review, 1853), 285-286; P.A. Champomier, Statement of the Sugar Crop Made in Louisiana in 1861-62 (New Orleans: Cook, Young, & Co.), viii. Also see, Richard Follett, The Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana's Cane World, 1820-1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 2005).