The first colonists to arrive in New Orleans were the French, but the explorers had come first. They included men like LaSalle, who came down the Mississippi River in 1682 and claimed the land where the river ended for France. In 1699, two French-Canadian explorers named Pierre le Moyne and Jean Baptiste le Moyne sailed in from the Caribbean and landed on a tiny bayou they called Pointe du Mardi Gras as the Catholic holiday of Fat Tuesday was to fall the next day.
However, exploring the New World was an expensive proposition and the French were broke. Enter a Scottish man named John Law, who created a New World company in which the French could invest and thereby settle the Lower Mississippi Valley. In reality, the plan was a scheme to bilk money from the investors in return for selling them Louisiana. Law was given a monopoly on trade as well. Later, when it turned out that Laws company was merely and early version of a pyramid scheme, many of the settlers decided to stay on anyway.
During the first year of Laws operation, he decided that a town should be founded at a spot which could be reached from both Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi. In 1718, this town became La Nouvelle Orleans.
Development of the city began that year, but work was slow, thanks to brutal heat and the rising and falling waters of the Mississippi. There was talk of moving the city because of the danger of flooding, so levees were constructed, which spread out as the city and the plantations of the area grew.
At the same time, John Law was attempting to fulfill his promises to investors that he would have the colony settled with 6,000 settlers and 3,000 slaves by 1727. The biggest problem seemed to be the shortage of women. The white men, wrote the colonys Governor Bienville, are running in the woods after the Indian girls.
There was also a lack of education and medical care in New Orleans. Finally, Governor Bienville coaxed the Sisters of Ursuline to come from France and assist the new city. The first Ursulines arrived in 1727 and set to work caring for orphans, operating a school, setting up a free hospital and instructing slaves for baptism. They also provided a safe haven for the young middle class girls who had come in answer to the call for suitable wives. They first arrived in 1728 and continued to come until 1751, marrying those single male colonists who had been unable to snag one of the professional girls who had been sent from the Paris jails around 1720.
But things were far from perfect in New Orleans. Problems had started with the local Indian tribes and combined with political problems, the investors in John Laws company petitioned France to get rid of the unprofitable Louisiana colony. And so they did, leaving behind a sturdy and hard-bitten group of 7,000 colonists with a thriving business industry and an uncertain future.
In 1762, France passed the ownership of Louisiana to Spain in the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau. That same year, Spain entered the Seven Years War (the European arm of the French and Indian War) just in time to share defeat with France. As part of the Treaty of Paris at the end of the war, France had to give up its holdings in North America... however they had just given New Orleans and Louisiana to Spain the year before.
No one in Louisiana had any indication of this for months, when suddenly the colonists found themselves under the control of the much-hated Governor Don Antonio de Ulloa.
In 1768, 600 New Orleans citizens mounted the first revolutionary expedition of Americans against a European government. The ranks were made up of Acadians (French-speaking immigrants from Canada), who had been told they were going to be sold into slavery by the Spanish and German immigrants, who believed the Spanish were going to default on money owed to John Laws company. By November 1, Don Antonio had escaped to Cuba and his three aides were taken prisoner by the rebels.
His Majesty Carlos of Spain did not find this event amusing in the least and sent a 2,600 man mercenary force to New Orleans to re-take the city. The army was led by Don Alexander OReilly, an Irishman in the service of Spain. He later earned the nickname Bloody OReilly after he sent all of the revolutionaries before the firing squad.
The Spanish took the city back, but not for long. In 1800, the people of New Orleans discovered that the city had been given back to Napoleon of France as a result of the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso. But Napoleon was busy that year conquering the Turks, the Austrians and the Italians, plus ending a slave uprising on St. Domingue. And since New Orleans was struck with a terrible yellow fever epidemic, he allowed the Spanish to continue governing the colony.
Soon, another group began to influence the culture of the city. The residents called them the Kaintocks and these buckskin-clad American frontiersman descended on the city in force. The shrewd Americans had realized the thriving port of the city and began bringing keelboats loaded with goods down the Mississippi.
By 1804, the city would belong to America. Napoleon needed money and thanks to some stiff bargaining by President Thomas Jefferson, the Louisiana Territory, which was over 600 million acres, was soon in the possession of the United States. The cost of the territory, which stretched from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean was around $15 million, which makes it one of the greatest land deals in history!
In 1810, with its mixture of French and Spanish speaking Creoles, Anglo-Americans, slaves and free people of color, New Orleans was established as the largest city in the South and the fifth largest city in America. Louisiana would become the 18th state on April 30, 1812, and barely a month later, Congress declared war on Britain. A few weeks after Mardi Gras in 1814, rumors filled the city that the British were going to attack New Orleans.
The city was defenseless.... word had reached Louisiana that the Capitol and the White House in Washington had been burned and that President James Madison was unable to raise an army because the United States Treasury was empty. This was enough to rally the men of New Orleans!
Another hope arrived... General Andrew Jackson. The crusty Indian fighter came in December was racked with illness. Despite this, he quickly organized a defense of the city. He imposed martial law and enlisted the aid of not only the free people of color in New Orleans, but the nearby Choctaw Indians and the pirate Jean Lafitte as well.
On December 23, 1814 Jackson attacked the British troops who were camped along the banks of the Mississippi. The battles raged back and forth for many days, but finally on January 8, Jacksons army prevailed. His ragtag troops were made up of Kentuckian Long Rifles, ill-prepared militia men, Indians, Creoles, free men of color and pirates but they savagely attacked the British with only 15 men dead and 40 wounded.
The British were not so lucky. The carnage on their side consisted of 858 dead and about 2,500 wounded. They had nowhere to turn for medical care and legend has it that they sought refuge with the Ursuline Sisters, who would turn no one away. The stories say that many enemy troops were hidden within their walls.
Shortly after the battle, news reached the city that the British had signed a peace treaty at Ghent on Christmas Eve, two weeks before the Battle of New Orleans.
FOLLOW THIS LINK TO PART TWO OF NEW ORLEAN'S HISTORY!
LA BELLE EPOQUE - NEW ORLEANS IN THE CIVIL WAR - THE HUEY LONG YEARS
COPYRIGHT 2000 BY TROY TAYLOR. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.