To help build the population of Louisiana, the French colony in America, king Louis XIV emptied La Salpêtrière prison. In February 1721, eighty-eight former convicts, including a large number of women of easy virtue, disembarked in New Orleans. These women would become the founding mothers of the city. A nun belonging to the Ursuline order, which established a convent in New Orleans in 1727, wrote a letter complaining about the number of “fallen women” in the Crescent City. She ruefully observed: “For not only debauchery, but dishonesty and all other vices reign here more than elsewhere.” Other, more respectable women would arrive soon. In the same year that the Ursulines established their convent, the famous “casket girls” (because they carried large chests of clothing) came to marry the men of the colony. Apparently all found husbands quickly, since a French official noted, “This merchandise was soon disposed of.”
Why is it said that the casket girls brought vampires to New Orleans? The girls were pale from staying at the bottom of the ship on the way to Louisiana. Some had tuberculosis, and this caused them to throw up or cough up blood. The fact that the girls carried large caskets, which were said to contain vampire bodies or be their own beds, made superstitious people believe these young women had smuggled vampires into New Orleans.