At Burnt Sugarcane (Kenner), the sweet sugar will wait

Photo Jefferson Historical Society of Louisiana

The town of Kenner is located in the western outskirts of New Orleans, where the Louis Armstrong International Airport is situated. Kenner’s origin dates back to early Colonial French Louisiana, after the founding of New Orleans in 1718.

The Compagnie des Indes then held the monopoly of the colony’s commercial activities and turned Lower Louisiana into colonial settlements supported by plantations and slaves. It was on the site of Kenner that two of the first land concessions on the shores of the Mississippi River were awarded in 1720 at a place the cartographers named “Cannes Brûlées”. Why “Burnt Sugarcane”? Was sugarcane being grown? Here is the explanation…

Burnt Sugarcane Harvesting

La Salle’s Landing in Kenner: the famous French explorer landed in 1682 in a Native American village which later became “Cannes Brûlées” and then Kenner (photo Do The Ton, artist Corinn Beckert)

André Pénicaut was a marine carpenter hired in September 1699 to accompany Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville on his second voyage to Louisiana. He reported that while exploring south of Lake Pontchartrain he saw, at Kenner’s present location, large sugarcane fields on the north riverbank of the Mississippi. He also recorded having seen nearby harvested fields most likely resulting from sugarcane burning carried out by Native Americans along the Mississippi. But was it done for hunting game or … for better watching French voyageurs? Whatever the reason, this place was initially called “Cannes Brûlées”.

In 1720, the two concessions were jointly owned by two French nobles from the South-West. However, the land had nothing to do with the sugarcane industry. The two co-owners were Joseph de Montesquiou d’Artagnan from Gascon and Martin Diron d’Artaguiette from Basque. The first was a former captain of the King’s Musketeers and the cousin of d’Artagnan, a famously known character. The second was a navy commissioner who left the colony in 1712 after entrusting the management of his concession to his younger brother Bernard. At the outset, the two concessions produced mainly indigo and tobacco. It was only in the 1750s that sugarcane was introduced to the region by … Jesuits from the island of St. Domingue (now Haïti).

Sugarcane field burning is carried out before harvesting to make the process easier and requires less manual labor. It takes place during the harvest season, preferably in August. In the burning process, the field is set on fire and the leaves are burned off the sugarcane stalks. The burning gets rid of the “trash” which keeps the soil rich when left in the fields. Just so you know…