"When the first Colonists from Europe, arrived on the banks of the Mississippi, they had in a manner to conquer the solide earth from the inundations of that river; it was necessary to restrain the waters by dykes or levees sufficient to protect the land against the rage of inundations, especially at the time of periodic swells. Thence the origin of what is called Battures in this Territory, which are only certain portions of the bed of the river which the Mississipi [sic] leaves dry when its waters are low, and covers wholly or in great measure, in its annual swells.

There has existed from time immemorial, a considerable batture in front of the suburb St. Mary of New-Orleans. ... That batture seems to have been fortunately placed there to favor the building of the City which has risen near it; it may even be said that New-Orleans would perhaps never have existed, or that it would have been built but very slowly, but for the aid of that natural deposition of materials placed, as it were, at its door."

[P. Derbigny, Case laid before Counsel for their opinion on the claim
to the Batture situate in front of the Suburb St. Mary
, in
Superior Court, Batture Case documents, 1806-1808]

Profiles showing the level of the batture in front of the Faubourg Ste. Marie, 1807. This plan graphically illustrates the relationship between the batture and the levee.
[City Surveyor's Office Records]
The Batture lands described in the quote above and represented in the plan here shown are but one of the incredibly valuable gifts that the Mississippi River has bestowed on the city of New Orleans. Literally all of the land between the present-day Tchoupitoulas/Decatur corridor and the river is "new" land formed by the alluvial deposits left behind as the Mississippi's waters moved on toward the Gulf of Mexico. The Convention Center, Riverwalk, Canal Place, the Aquarium of the Americas, the Jax Brewery development, and the unfinished casino all occupy batture land. It is little wonder that the question of ownership of this valuable real estate kept local courts of law busy for decades following the Louisiana Purchase.

The Batture Case itself remains one of the most important lawsuits in Louisiana history. In the words of legal historian George Dargo,

... the controversy over the Batture of the Faubourg St. Marie dramatized the confrontation between diverse legal cultures. The political, social, and legal issues raised in the course of the Batture fight impinged with unparalleled immediacy upon larger questions of law and the overall problem of the conflict of legal traditions. Indeed, it seems to be an inescapable conclusion that the Batture controversy solidified local realignments which the Burr conspiracy had precipitated. At the same time it prepared the ground at the territorial and national levels of government for the adoption of the Digest of the Laws in Force on March 31, 1808, a moment when the clamor over the New Orleans Batture was still at its height. [Jefferson's Louisiana (1975), p. 101]
Thus the interaction of the river with the municipality influenced the development of the state's unique Civil Law doctrine. River commerce also was the force behind the creation in 1839 of the Commercial Court of New Orleans, a judicial body unlike any other in nineteenth century America. Essentially, this was a specialized court within the state's official judicial system. As Richard Kilbourne notes in his Louisiana Commercial Law (1980), "As its name indicates, the Commercial Court was created for the benefit of merchants." He goes on to say,
Most merchants in New Orleans were commission merchants engaged in the export trade. They did not buy or sell on their own account. For this reason, the maze of supporting industries surrounding commerce, such as insurance underwriting and bill brokering, also needed to be included in the ambit of commercial activities cognizable by the court. ... by freeing the docket of long, drawn-out cases involving landed property, succession proceedings, and tort actions, that judicial forum was reserved for the most pressing needs of commerce. [p. 88]

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iw/we 5/1998