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John James Audubon



During a life that spanned the first half of the nineteenth century and two continents, John James Audubon crossed the Atlantic Ocean twelve times and traveled thousands of miles through half of the United States, ranging from the Eastern seaboard to present-day North Dakota. Much of this took place on sailing ships, on foot, on horseback, and by stagecoach, as well as on flatboats, skiffs, and steamboats on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers. His birth in a French Caribbean colony (now Haiti) was followed by boyhood in northwestern France and emigration to the United States at age 18. Between 1803 and his death in 1851, Audubon lived first in Pennsylvania, then Kentucky, Ohio, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New York. During the years 1826-1839, while in Great Britain for the production of The Birds of America and Ornithological Biography, he divided his time mainly between Edinburgh and London, made a visit to Paris, and returned several times to North America in search of additional birds to draw. These return trips included stays in New Jersey, South Carolina, and Massachusetts, as well as expeditions to Florida, the Atlantic coast of Canada, and the U.S. Gulf coast as far as southeast Texas. After settling in New York in 1839, Audubon’s last expedition was his journey up the Missouri River in 1843 in search of mammal specimens for The Quadrupeds of North America.

Audubon and Louisiana

Before biographer F. H. Herrick published evidence in 1917 of Audubon’s real birthplace and date of birth, there was a long-perpetuated myth that the artist-naturalist had been born in Louisiana. On his first return to the United States in 1806 after visiting his family in France, Audubon traveled on a false passport that gave Louisiana as his birthplace in order to avoid conscription into French military service during the Napoleonic Wars. In later years, an embellished version of the Louisiana birth myth appeared in writings by Audubon and other family members in the U.S. to obscure the true facts of his birth which had been largely kept secret.

Louisiana nevertheless did play a key role in Audubon’s life, beginning in January 1821 when he arrived in New Orleans unknown and practically penniless at age 35 for what turned out to be his first extended stay in the state. At a pivotal time in his development as an artist, and pursuing a long-held passion to collect and draw as many American bird species as possible, Audubon added to his portfolio of birds while in New Orleans as well as during an unexpected four-month stay at Oakley Plantation near St. Francisville that year. Between 1823 and 1826, and again in late 1829, he spent a total of nineteen additional months in the St. Francisville area while his wife Lucy was employed as a teacher at two plantations there. Audubon sailed to England from New Orleans in 1826 with about 250 drawings to seek a publisher for what became his monumental Birds of America folio. Of the work’s first one hundred engraved plates, more than half were made from drawings done in Louisiana, and more Louisiana drawings were interspersed within later groups of plates as well. In the third volume of Ornithological Biography (1835), Audubon began his essay on the Great Blue Heron with the phrase “The State of Louisiana has always been my favourite portion of the Union, although Kentucky and some other States have divided my affections.” He made his last visit to Louisiana in 1837 with his son John Woodhouse, and was feted in New Orleans when they embarked on an expedition along the Gulf coast to Texas.  

Call numbers without a location after them indicate a title is held in more than one location at LSU Libraries. See linked catalog records for details.

For works that discuss multiple places associated with Audubon and include Louisiana, see under "Other Places" in this section.

For digital resources related to work done by Audubon in Louisiana, see under Web Resources in this guide.

For miscellaneous Louisiana publications and news items concerning Audubon held at LSU Libraries, see also the linked finding aids in catalog records for:

Louisiana Vertical File (Printed Material)

Louisiana Vertical File (Microfilm)

LLMVC Ephemera Collection

Call numbers without a location after them indicate a title is held in more than one location at LSU Libraries. See linked catalog records for details.

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