Monday, February 20, 2017

Casquette or Casket Girl—They’re More than Fiction

So, there I was, innocently reading The Casquette Girls by Alys Arden, when something extraordinary occurs to me. What was this thing that occurred to me, dear reader? I began to wonder if this tale of vampires and magic set in the lush, devastating aftermath of a whole-heart hurricane was based on some real hard-truths. NOLA is known for their heavy past of voodoo, creole traditions, the supernatural, and good old Southern prejudice. With all of this in mind, I went ahead and typed my question in the search bar.

This is basically the tale of how I fell down the worm hole of fact and fiction. Who doesn’t love a good Southern Gothic?

Here’s the scoop on the real Casket Girls of the Southern United States: let’s begin with what going on with the whole casket/casquette thing. The bag that they brought all of their belonging with them over from France was called a casquette. It’s not some coffin they tote around/ are shipped over here in. It’s literally just like a suitcase.

Why were they coming over here in the first place, you ask? Fantastic questions! I’m so glad you’re curious. It looks to me like these are women of little or no means. They were “recruited from orphanages and convents” to marry the men who came over to Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana*: French colonies. These women weren’t even twenty years old when they set sail to leave their own past behind. The reason they were chosen for this endeavor? Their virginity.

Got to love the 1700s and their standards of womanhood.

Now, I bet you are curious about the reason that the crown decided to ship these girls in, and the reason that the male colonists couldn’t just marry the women already there. These women were largely prostitutes. So, in the rat-brained corner of the men’s consciousness, it was fine to sleep with them, pay them for sex—but marriage? That was out of the question. This, of course, was a widely accepted truth of the time.

When the Casket Girls (or Pelican Girls—this was because of the name of the ship that they rode on to actually get to the New World) landed ashore, they were entrusted to holy people (nuns). They lived in the nunnery, and this actually spurred the tall tales told on ghost yours in modern NOLA.

Spoiler: the shutters aren’t closed to keep the vampires in; they’re hurricane shutters, folks. A little less spooky, don’t you think?

Summary of the Ladies: they ranged in age from 14-19, they’re French, and they are not carrying vampires with them to the Americas. They lived with nuns for a bit and were dispersed among three states. They were to be married off to the man of their choosing in the French territories.

Personally I find that last bit hard to believe, but I read an (a single) account of a woman who held out her hand in marriage and married some super influential dude. I wish I could find that source. I read it-promise. I’m not that off my rocker yet.

*Louisiana bounced from Spanish to French rule in the early days


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