Sunday, August 24, 2014

Some History of Coffee In New Orleans

The history of New Orleans as a coffee port may be considered as beginning with the transfer of Louisiana by Napoleon Bonaparte to the United States in 1803. In this year, according to Martin's History of Louisiana, New Orleans imported 1438 bags of coffee of 132 pounds each. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, settlers in large numbers had crossed the Allegheny Mountains from the Atlantic states into the valley of the Ohio River; and their crops of grain and provisions were exported by means of cheaply constructed rafts and boats, which were floated down the river to New Orleans, where they were generally broken up and sold for use as lumber and firewood—there being, at that time, no power available for propelling them back against the current of the river.

From 1803 until 1820, on account of the difficulty of navigating upstream, New Orleans imports did not increase as rapidly as exports. In 1814, however, the first crude steamboat had begun to carry freight on the river; and by 1820, the supremacy of New Orleans as the gateway of the Mississippi Valley had been for the time established by this new means of transportation. The coffee-importing business flourished; and, from its modest beginning in 1803, grew to 531,236 bags in 1857.


By this time, however, New Orleans had begun to feel the competition of the Erie Canal, and of the systems of east and west railroad lines which had been in the course of active construction during the preceding fifteen years. The railroad systems which had as their ports Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, entered upon a desperate war of freight rates, each in the endeavor to establish the supremacy of its own port. As the building of railroads had been entirely east and west, and no large amount of capital had been invested in north and south lines, much of the business of the valley was diverted to the Atlantic ports, apparently never to return to New Orleans.

In 1862, on account of the blockade of the port, not a bag of coffee was imported through New Orleans, and practically none came in until the year 1866, when the small amount of 55,000 bags was the total for the year. At about this time, Boston and Philadelphia became negligible importing quantities; the business of Baltimore continued to be quite prosperous; and New York rapidly increased her imports and took the commanding position.
 
Shipments were by sailing vessels, a full cargo being about 5000 bags. Fancy grades, like Golden Rios, washed and peaberries, were shipped in double bags. Musty coffees were common, and every bag in a cargo was sampled for must. S. Jackson was first to issue regular manifests. With the entry of steamers into the coffee transport business, New Orleans was placed at a disadvantage as steamer rates were about twenty cents a bag higher to New Orleans than to New York, and imports were limited. The subsequent revival of the business was due largely to Hard & Rand. Being unable to obtain steamer rates equal to those quoted in New York, Hard & Rand chartered steamers for New Orleans; and soon the trade began to offer cost and freight to New Orleans.