I heard from someone trying to make a monkey out of me that the famous African explorer, Henry Stanley, once lived in New Orleans. We have a bet. Can you settle it?
May I presume that you are not the Dr. Livingstone? Regardless, I can settle your bet, but I'm afraid you lose.
Stanley did spend time in New Orleans, arriving here in 1858. He was born John Rowlands in Denbigh, Wales, in 1841. His father died within weeks of his birth, and his mother left the baby in the care of his aged grandfather. He spent his youth depending on support from foster parents and uncles and lived for a time in St. Asaph, a workhouse/orphanage.
Rowlands sailed as a cabin boy from Liverpool, England, in 1857 on a ship that, after 52 days, docked in New Orleans. He later wrote in his autobiography that he had heard stories from the sailors about the city with its reputation for "slung-shots, doctored liquor, Shanghai-ing, and wharf-ratting ... scandalous stories of knifing, fighting, and manslaughter." His first evening in town, he was befriended by a sailor who lived in the city when in port. He took John to his boarding house where he was fed a grand meal. After dinner, he was taken to another house and shown to the parlor. The unsophisticated boy was then set upon by four wicked young ladies that so frightened him he fled.
He returned to the ship that night and stayed aboard a few more days. But tired of the abuse from the sailors, he made a decision: "Better to rot on this foreign strand than endure this slave's life longer."
Penniless, he went looking for a job and met the man who would change his life: Henry Morton Stanley, a prosperous broker who dealt between planters upriver and merchants in New Orleans. Stanley helped him get a job as an office boy and find a room in a boarding house.
He was invited many times to the St. Charles Avenue home of Mr. Stanley and his wife. The couple showed him loving parental care. Then came the day when the childless and widowed Mr. Stanley said, "As you are wholly unclaimed, without a parent, relation, or sponsor, I promise to take you for my son, and fit you for a mercantile career; and in future you are to bear my name, 'Henry Stanley.'" Stanley rose, dipped his hands in a basin of water, made the sign of the cross on the boy's forehead, went through the formula of baptism, and ended with a direction to wear his new name well.
Leaving New Orleans in 1859, they traveled a great deal for nearly two years until the elder Stanley's death in 1861. That same year, young Stanley enlisted in the Confederate service.
Stanley also wrote of his love of New Orleans. "I shared in the citizens' pride in their splendid port, the length and stability of their levee, their unparalleled lines of shipping, their magnificent array of steamers and their majestic river. I believed, with them, that their Custom House, when completed, would be a matchless edifice, that Canal Street was unequaled for its breadth, that Tchapitoulas [sic] Street was beyond compare, the busiest street in the world, that no markets equaled those of New Orleans for their variety of produce, and that no city, even Liverpool, could exhibit such mercantile enterprise, or such a smart go-ahead spirit, as old and young manifested in the chief city of the South. I am not sure I have lost all that admiration yet, though I have seen dozens of cities more populous, more cultivated, and more opulent. Many years of travel have not extinguished my early faith, but it would require ages to eradicate my affection for the city which first taught me that a boy may become a man."
After a very eventful life -- to say the least -- Stanley sailed to America for a lecture tour. On Sunday, March 29, 1891, he and his wife walked on the levee, drank coffee in the French Market, and tried to find places he remembered as a boy.