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 the History of New Orleans

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Ursula Delacroix
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Join date : 2009-08-31
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PostSubject: the History of New Orleans   Wed Sep 09, 2009 8:36 pm

New Orleans History

Hernando DeSoto is accredited for first discovering the Mississippi River. DeSoto’s exploration in 1543 took his expedition through the areas that are now the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana. They were the first white men to view the site of the city of New Orleans.

It took 133 years after DeSoto’s expedition for another explorer to come near the area of New Orleans. In 1673, a French Canadian fur trader, Louis Joliet, and a Jesuit missionary priest, Father Jacques Marquette, came down the Mississippi River.

The real story of Louisiana begins with its third episode: the expedition of Robert Cavelier de La Salle down the Mississippi River in the year 1682. “In 1682, LaSalle led an expedition of 56 persons entering the Mississippi River from the Illinois River to the Gulf of Mexico, which he reached on April 9, 1682. On this date, he disembarked, erected a cross on shore and a column inscribed with the name and the coat of arms of the king. Then he claimed all the land drained by the Mississippi for France and named that region Louisiana, in honor of King Louis XIV.” LaSalle returned to France in order to get supplies and settlers to form a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. However, LaSalle and his four ships never returned to the mouth of Mississippi River. He was unable to find the mouth or the river and ended up landing in Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast in February 1685. “LaSalle had never viewed the river from the South, so he had no points of reference. He became confused, lost his bearings, and made a few trial runs into the coast.”


The French Period:

France had a strong desire in setting up a colony in Louisiana. Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur d’Iberville, and Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville established the first settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the name of France. After establishing the Louisiana colony, Iberville returned to France.

“In his brother’s absence, Bienville often left the fort at Biloxi to explore the Mississippi. On September 15, 1699, on returning from such an exploration with a small band of friends, he was surprised to encounter the English Corvette, Carolina Galley, towering over him. The ship, loaded with settlers bent on colonization, had dropped anchor some 75 miles from the mouth of the river. The British officer in charge asked Bienville for directions to the Mississippi. Bienville told the officer that the Mississippi was much farther west, that he was in French territory, heavily guarded by forts, and that he was in danger in those waters. The British vessel weighed anchor, and, turning around, sailed to the Gulf. The bluff worked. To this day, the point in the river where the meeting took place is call English Turn.”

By 1712 the Louisiana colony had not prospered. The site was not self-supporting and the war between France and Spain made it difficult for France to maintain the colony. In 1717, the Louisiana colony, which had a population of 700 settlers, was transferred to the Company of the West, which was to have authority of the colony for 25 years.

“In April, 1722, the first complete plan for the city of New Orleans was signed by Pierre Le Blond de La Tour, who dispatched Adrian de Pauger to supervise the construction of the city.” The streets were laid out in a grid pattern that did not conform to the curve of the river. The exact site of the Vieux Carre (French Quarter) today is the place Bienville chose in 1718.

France lost control of New Orleans on November 13,1762, when the king of Spain, Charles III, accepted by the secret treaty of Fountainbleau, the gift of Louisiana from his cousin, Louis XIV, the king of France. However, the loss was not that great, since the Louisiana colony, including New Orleans, was never prosperous for France. Though the Louisiana colony was never a money-maker for France, “a city was established, trade was begun, and New Orleans was a living, breathing, seductive lady, to whom much had happened. Now, the lady was to become Spanish, or so the treaty said.”


The Spanish Period:

The city of New Orleans was never Spanish in its customs, culture, or language. When the French colonists came to Louisiana they brought their families and heritage. However, when the Spanish came, they came in smaller numbers and the men often came alone and married Creole girls, natives of Louisiana. The word “Creole” derives from the Spanish criollo, “a child born in the colonies.”
In 1765, The first governor of New Orleans under Spanish control was Don Antonio de Ulloa. The colonists had long been free and the trade restrictions that were in place under Spanish control and they were unwilling to submit to these hardships. The colonists rebelled against these restrictions in 1768, which forced Ulloa to leave the colony and sail to Havana.

General Don Alejandro O’Reilly was ordered to take back possession of the colony in the Royal Name of Spain and punish the instigators and accomplices of the uprising that occurred in New Orleans. “Under his Cabildo Governing Council of Louisiana, O’Reilly abolished Indian slavery. He permitted many French officials to stay in office, and helped farmers by establishing land titles. Under O’Reilly’s Ordinance 0f 1770, a system of homesteading land was established. During his rule, roads and levees were installed.” General O’Reilly had a positive impact on New Orleans until he left Louisiana in 1770.

“In 1791, Francisco Luis Hector, Baron de Carondelet, known in Louisiana history as the ‘City-builder,’ began his administration. The civic improvements made during his term were many. A lighting system was created for New Orleans, and a night police force established, which was, necessarily, bi-lingua.” To guard the city against attack, Carondelet built forts, redoubts, batteries, and deep ditches around the city. He made treaties in the area, established a policy of free trade, and began the first newspaper in Louisiana, Moniteur de la Louisiane. The year 1795 saw the beginning of the granulation of sugar by Etienne deBore, whose plantation was at the site of the present Audubon Park. In 1797, Carondelet left the city, having governed with outstanding ability. In 1800, Louisiana was given back to France, which was ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte, with the Treaty of San Ildefonso.

Napoleon had a dream of the French empire in America, but with recent defeats in the Caribbean that dream came to an end. He feared that Louisiana would be impossible to protect against the British. On April 30, 1803, when Thomas Jefferson was America’s third president, the territory of Louisiana was purchased from Napoleon for the sum of $15,000,000.


Progress in a Period of Peace:

From 1810 until the Civil War, New Orleans was the largest city west of the Appalachians. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 and the granulation of sugar in 1795 had made these two products inexpensive and available to all. Their production increased a hundred fold, creating a plantation aristocracy in the South. By 1860, 2,000,000 bales of cotton were crossing New Orleans wharves annually. The coming of the steamboat presaged a whole new era of transportation and trade. The river became a highway for steamboats laden with cotton and sugar and other cash crops on their way to Europe and South America.

The growing business activity in the port city caused a growth in the number of banking houses, insurance companies, commission houses, and cotton and sugar factories. Banking institutions in England and in the Northeast financed them.

In 1831, the Pontchartrain Railroad, the first railroad west of the Alleghenies, began running from the lower end of the French Market, along Elysian Fields Avenue all the way from the river to the lake.

The two largest groups of immigrants in New Orleans in the two decades before the Civil War were the Irish and the Germans. By 1860, there were 25,000 Irish living in New Orleans. The Irish vied with the blacks for jobs digging ditches, collecting refuse, or stevedoring on the riverfront. As a group, they were viewed with disdain, not only because of the work they did, but because they were rowdy, boisterous, and clannish, hot-tempered, hard-drinking, and eager for a fight.

In the 1840s, the largest number of Germans arrived in New Orleans. By 1860, there were almost 20,000 Germans living in the city. In 1848, many waves of German immigrants came to America to escape political turmoil and revolution in Germany. Many were professionals and were very intelligent. Many were redemptioners, workers, drayman, brew masters, carpenters, and bricklayers. Germans were the largest group of foreign-speaking people in New Orleans from 1848 to 1900. Because of the large German population, beer making became an important business.

“Voodoo was a dominant force among the black population of New Orleans in the second half of the 19th century. It had come to the colony originally from Western Africa, with the first Negroes brought here as slaves. The practice spread and intensified when the black immigrants from Haiti arrived at the beginning of the 19th century. These Haitians, whose ancestors were also originally from Africa, believed strongly in voodoo and practiced it as a religion. They were allowed much freedom of personal expression by paternalistic rulers and lethargic.”

“Soon after the Louisiana Purchase, it became evident that the population of New Orleans was divided into three distinct groups, and it was within these divisions that they would organize politically: 1) the ancienne population, 2) the new French, and 3) the Anglo-Americans.” Anglo-Americans in New Orleans were almost all Democrats. The Democratic Party dominated national politics from 1801 to 1860. During this period, the opposition party had been called, at different times, Federalists, National-Republicans, and finally, Whigs. In New Orleans, the Whigs ceased to exist, because of their anti-slavery sentiments. From 1860 to 1864, during the Civil War, political parties had no purpose. During Reconstruction only two political parties remained, the Republicans and the Democrats. “For more than half a century, the South was referred to as the Solid South, because of the total and predictable adherence to the whites to the Democratic Party and its policies.”

“In 1860, New Orleans was the largest city in the South, and the largest cotton market in the world, handling in that one year, two million bales of cotton. Thirty-five hundred steamboats docked at its wharves, and its trade amounted to $324,000,000. It was a trans-shipment center for all exports coming down the Mississippi, and the port held a virtual monopoly on trade in the interior of the country.” New Orleans was sixth in size among urban cities in the nation with a population of 168,000.


Rebirth and Resurgence:

In the decades following the Civil War, there was a sharp decline in the commercial importance of the city and New Orleans was impoverished. There was no money for expensive renovations, and the French Quarter began to deteriorate. “In the year 1908, an entire block of the finest buildings in the Quarter was destroyed to build the Civil Courts Building. The Old St. Louis Exchange Hotel, with its majestic dome, once the pride of the Vieux Carre and the site of the State Capitol in 1874, was allowed to fall into decay; badly damaged in the 1915 hurricane, it was eventually demolished.” To counter the deterioration of the area, The Vieux Carre Commission was established in 1921 to renovate, restore, and remodel the old buildings and put them to new uses so that they might pay their own way. This began the renaissance of the Vieux Carre.

After the Civil War, when slaves were no longer available for work in the cotton and sugar fields, orientals began arriving in Louisiana. Many remained in New Orleans and there developed a Chinatown near the present Public Library.

Between 1865 and 1945, New Orleans became a railroad center.

“Today, there are 22 pumping stations in the city, the largest drainage system in the country. The city is underlaid with a network of 1,500 miles of drainpipes and more than 240 miles of canals. The drainage system has a combined capacity of 36,300 cubic feet per second.”

Since 1899, New Orleans has provided its residents with pure drinking water. The river is the largest water supply available in the United States, 309 billion gallons daily, approximately the amount consumed in the entire United States.


Growth in a Modern City:

The late twenties and early thirties brought to the city of New Orleans unemployment, soup lines, and deflated bank accounts. Like all other cities in the United States, New Orleans was suffering the effects of the Great Depression. When Huey Pierce Long was elected governor of Louisiana in 1928 and the United States senator in 1932, the people of Louisiana felt they had found some one that would be able to make their lives better.

“Long had built up on of the most powerful political machines in the United States, and in the face of incredible obstacles, put over his radical program by the sheer exuberance of his personality. His doctrine was one of socialism, a revolution of the poor whites. ‘Every Man a King’ and ‘A Chicken in Every Pot’ were slogans of his ‘Share the Wealth’ program.”

In spite of his Mafia-like tactics, Long was a governor to whom the city is indebted for the New Orleans Airport, for the extensive lakefront development, the Huey P. Long Bridge, the enlargement of Charity Hospital, the LSU Medical Center, and free school books in the public schools of Louisiana.

In the late 1950s the population moved out of the city and into newly developed suburbs. The completion of the Pontchartrain Causeway, the world’s longest bridge at 24-mile long, in 1957, which spanned Lake Pontchartrain, allowed for commuters to work in New Orleans and live in Covington, Mandeville, or Folsom. By the 1970s there was vast suburban development along Interstate 10, east of New Orleans.

“Because of the speed with which this expansion took place, and the enormity of the area it covered, New Orleans has become, in the last quarter century, a city within a city. At the center is the old New Orleans. On the outskirts is suburbia. In this respect, it is no better or worse than most big urban communities, and it is following a national pattern (of urban sprawl).” Much of the newly developed land is sinking and many subdivisions are prone to flooding. Also, the new suburbs are boring and homogeneous, nothing like the individual architectural personality that is present within the city of New Orleans.



Credit to:
Garvey & Widmer, Beautiful Crescent: A History of New Orleans, 2002
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