Louisiana (New France)
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (April 2011)|
|Louisiana / French Louisiana
|Division of New France|
New Orleans (after 1723)
|-||Split west to Spain||1762|
|-||Split east to Great Britain||1763|
|-||Returned from Spain||15 October 1802|
|-||Louisiana Purchase||30 April 1803|
|-||Transfer to USA||10 March 1804|
|Political subdivisions||Upper Louisiana or Louisiana Territory
Lower Louisiana or Orleans Territory
Louisiana (French: La Louisiane; by 1879, La Louisiane française) or French Louisiana was an administrative district of New France. Under French control from 1682–1762 and 1802–04, the area was named in honor of Louis XIV, by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. It originally covered an expansive territory that included most of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River and stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains. Louisiana was divided into two regions, known as Upper Louisiana (French: Haute-Louisiane), which began north of the Arkansas River, and Lower Louisiana (French: Basse-Louisiane). The present-day U.S. state of Louisiana is named for the historical region, although it occupies only a small portion of the territory claimed by the French.
French exploration of the area began during the reign of Louis XIV, while French Louisiana was not greatly developed, due to a lack of human and financial resources. As a result of its defeat, in the Seven Years' War, France was forced to cede the eastern part of the territory in 1763 to the victorious British, and the western part to Spain as compensation for that country's loss of Florida. France regained sovereignty of the western territory in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800. But, strained by obligations in Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to sell the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, ending France's presence in Louisiana.
The United States ceded part of the Louisiana Purchase to the United Kingdom in the Treaty of 1818, following the War of 1812. This section lies above the 49th parallel north in a portion of present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan.
- 1 Nature and geography
- 2 History
- 3 Political and administrative organization
- 4 Religious establishment
- 5 Colonial society
- 6 The French and the Native Americans
- 7 Economy of Louisiana
- 8 The end of French Louisiana
- 9 French heritage today
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Nature and geography
In the 18th century, Louisiana included most of the Mississippi River Valley, from what is now the Midwestern United States south to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Demarcating the exact territory is difficult as it did not have formal, defined borders in the modern sense. Within this vast territory, only two areas saw substantial French settlement: Upper Louisiana (French: Haute-Louisiane), also known as the Illinois Country (French: Pays des Illinois), which consisted of settlements in what are now the states of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana; and Lower Louisiana, which comprised parts of the modern states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Both areas were dominated numerically by Native American tribes.
"At times, fewer than two hundred [French] soldiers were assigned to all of the colony, on both sides of the Mississippi. In the mid-1720s, Louisiana had some 2,500 French, plus 1,500 slaves. In contrast, Louisiana Indians numbered well over 35,000."
Generally speaking, Louisiana bordered the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Michigan and Lake Erie towards the north. On the east, the French colony was separated by the Appalachian Mountains from the Thirteen British Colonies. The Rocky Mountains region marked the western extent of the French claim. Louisiana's southern border was formed by the Gulf of Mexico, which served as the port for the colony.
The colony was mostly flat, which aided European movement through the territory. Its average elevation is less than 1,000 metres. The territory becomes more mountainous towards the west, with the notable exception of the Ozark Mountains, which are located in the mid-south.
Lower Louisiana comprised lands in the Lower Mississippi watershed, including settlements in what are now the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. It was first explored by the French in the 1660s and a few trading posts were established; serious settlement commenced with the establishment of Fort Maurepas near modern Biloxi, Mississippi in 1699. A colonial government soon emerged, with its capital moving originally at Mobile and later at Biloxi and finally at New Orleans. Whereas most settlers of Upper Louisiana mostly came from French Canada, Lower Louisiana was colonized by people from all over the empire, with different waves coming from including Canada, France, and the French West Indies. Louisiana was overseen by a governor general, and became an increasingly important colony through the early 18th century. In the 1720s the Illinois Country was added to its jurisdiction.
Upper Louisiana, also known as the Illinois Country, comprised territory in the upper Mississippi River Valley, including settlements and fortifications in what are now the states of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. French exploration of the area began with the 1673 expedition of Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette, which charted the upper Mississippi. Unlike Lower Louisiana, which received settlers from all over France and its empire, Upper Louisiana was primarily settled by colonists from French Canada. There was further substantial intermarriage and integration the local Illinois peoples. French settlers were attracted by the availability of arable farmland as well as the forests abundant with animals suitable for hunting and trapping. The region was initially governed as part of Canada, but was declared to be part of Louisiana in 1717. Between 1699 and 1760, six major settlements were established: Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Fort de Chartres, Saint Philippe, and Prairie du Rocher, all on the east side of the Mississippi River in present-day Illinois; and Ste. Genevieve across the river in Missouri. By the 1720s a formal government infrastructure had formed; leaders of the towns reported to the commandant of Fort de Chartres, who in turn reported to the governor general of Louisiana in New Orleans.
During the French and Indian War (the Seven Years' War), the British occupied the portion of Upper Louisiana east of the Mississippi. Upon its defeat in the war, France ceded this area along with all of Louisiana east of the river and many other holdings to Britain in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. The eastern Illinois Country became part of the British Province of Quebec, and later the United States' Northwest Territory. As a result of the cessation, many French settlers in the region relocated to the west side of the Mississippi. Here they founded outposts such as the important settlement of St. Louis (1764). This became a French fur trading center, connected to trading posts on the Upper Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and leading to later French settlement in that area.
A separate treaty at the time ceded Louisiana west of the river to Spain, France's ally in the war, as compensation for the loss of Spanish Florida to Britain. Even after France had lost its claim to Louisiana, settlement of Upper Louisiana by French-speakers continued for the next four decades. French explorers and frontiersmen, such as Pedro Vial, were often employed as guides and interpreters by the Spanish and later by the Americans. In 1800 Spain returned its part of Louisiana to France in the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, but France sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Through this time, but especially following the Louisiana Purchase, French Creoles, as they called themselves, began to move further into the Missouri Ozarks, where they formed mining communities such as Mine à Breton and La Vieille Mine (Old Mines).
A unique dialect, known as Missouri French, developed in Upper Louisiana. It is distinguished from both Louisiana French and the various forms of Canadian French, such as Acadian. The dialect continued to be spoken around the Midwest, particularly in Missouri, through the 20th century. It is nearly extinct today, with only a few elderly speakers still able to use it.
Exploration of Louisiana
17th century: Explorers
In 1660, France started a policy of expansion into the interior of North America from what is now eastern Canada. The objectives were to locate a Northwest Passage to China; to exploit the territory's natural resources, such as fur and mineral ores; and to convert the native population to Catholicism. Fur traders began exploring the pays d'en haut (upper country around the Great Lakes) at the time. In 1659, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart des Groseilliers reached the western end of Lake Superior. Priests founded missions, such as the Mission of Sault Sainte Marie in 1668. On May 17, 1673, Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette began the exploration of the Mississippi River, which they called the Sioux Tongo (the large river) or Michissipi. They reached the mouth of the Arkansas River, and then returned upstream, having learned that the great river ran towards the Gulf of Mexico and not toward the Pacific Ocean as they had presumed. In 1675, Marquette founded a mission in the Native American village of Kaskaskias on the Illinois River. A permanent settlement was made by 1690.
In 1682, Cavelier de La Salle and the Italian Henri de Tonti descended to the Mississippi delta. They left Fort Crèvecoeur on the Illinois River, accompanied by 23 Frenchmen and 18 Indians. They built Fort Prud'homme (later the city of Memphis) and claimed French sovereignty on the whole of the valley, which they called Louisiane in honor of the Louis XIV of France. They sealed alliances with the Quapaw Indians. In April 1682, they arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi. La Salle eventually returned to Versailles, where he convinced the Minister of the Marine to grant the command of Louisiana to him. He claimed that Louisiana was close to New Spain by drawing a map indicating the Mississippi as much further west than it really is.
With four ships and 320 emigrants, La Salle set sail for Louisiana. La Salle was not able to find the mouth of the river in the Mississippi delta and attempted to establish a colony on the Texas coast. La Salle was assassinated in 1687 by members of his exploration party, reportedly near what is now Navasota, Texas.
- 1673: The Frenchmen Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette began the exploration of the Mississippi River from the North and determine that it must run into the Gulf of Mexico to the south.
- 1682: René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle descended the Mississippi to its mouth on the Gulf of Mexico.
- 1685-88: La Salle attempts to establish a colony on the Gulf of Mexico to secure the entire river valley for France. Operating from a camp, Fort Saint Louis (Texas), his mission's failure is due, in part, to not relocating the Mississippi's mouth.
- 1686: Arkansas Post is established by Henri de Tonti as a trading post at the site of a Quapaw Indian village, near where the Arkansas River meets the Mississippi.
- 1699: Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville explored Louisiana coast and founds Fort Maurepas at Old Biloxi (now in Mississippi) along the Gulf.
- 1701: Antoine Laumet de La Mothe founded Detroit.
- 1702: In January, Mobile (now in Alabama) was founded as capital of Louisiana by J.B. Le Moyne de Bienville for his brother Iberville.
- 1713: Étienne de Veniard, Sieur de Bourgmont published first report on explorations of the Missouri River.
- 1714: Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in Louisiana, was founded by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis.
- 1717: Official drafting of blacks began in Louisiana, to assist native tribe slaves.
- 1718: New Orleans was founded, at a crescent in river for protection from flooding.
- 1719: At Mobile, slave ships of first black Africans landed.
- 1720: Biloxi, Mississippi became capital of French Louisiana.
- 1720: Spanish Villasur expedition was slaughtered by Pawnee near Columbus, Nebraska effectively ending Spanish incursions into the territory until 1763.
- 1723: New Orleans became the official capital of French Louisiana.
- 1723: Fort Orleans established near Brunswick, Missouri.
- 1762: Treaty of Fontainebleau (1762) signed, by which France secretly ceded Louisiana to Spain
- 1763: Treaty of Paris signed by which France ceded the east side of the Mississippi and Canada to Great Britain prompting a Cajun migration to French controlled New Orleans and the west side of the river. Louisiana, including New Orleans is ceded to Spain.
- 1764: Pierre Laclède founded St. Louis.
- 1764: Terms of Treaty of Fontainebleau were revealed
- 1768: Creole and German settlers in the Rebellion of 1768 forced the new Spanish governor to flee
- 1769: Spain quelled the rebellion, executed the plotters and officially took possession imposing Spanish law
- 1778: France declared war on Great Britain, aiding the American revolution
- 1779: Spain declared war on Great Britain.
- 1788: Great New Orleans Fire (1788) destroyed most of New Orleans which was subsequently rebuilt in Spanish style
- 1793: Spain declared war on the French Republic in the French Revolutionary Wars.
- 1795: Spain was defeated by France in the War of the Pyrenees resulting in the Second Treaty of San Ildefonso.
- 1800: Secret Third Treaty of San Ildefonso signed by which France regained Louisiana in 1803.
- 1803: Napoleon Bonaparte sold Louisiana to the United States.
- 1804: Three Flags Day in St. Louis, when Spain officially ceded Louisiana to France, which then officially ceded it to the United States.
Political and administrative organization
It was not easy for an absolute monarchy to administer Louisiana, a territory several times larger than Metropolitan France. Louis XIV and his successors tried to impose their absolutist ambitions on the colony, often without giving the colonial administration enough financial means to do its work.
Absolutism in Louisiana
If the leaders of the Ancien Régime took control of, and sometimes encouraged, the colonization of New France, it was for many different reasons. The reign of Henry IV gave an important impetus to the colonisation of New France. Henry IV, the first Bourbon king, was personally interested in foreign affairs. In the 17th century, the ministers Richelieu and later Colbert advanced colonial politics. Louis XIV and his ministers were worried about the size of the kingdom, over which they constantly competed with other European nations. European rivalry and a game of political alliances greatly marked the history of Louisiana, in direct and indirect ways. Within those shifting conditions, the French desire to limit British influence in the New World was a constant in royal politics.
The Sun King took care to limit the appearance of intermediary bodies and countervailing powers in North America. He did not want an assembly of notables or parliament. In the 1660s, the colony was royal property. In 1685, Louis XIV banned all publishing in New France. Between 1712 and 1731, the French possession came under the control of Antoine Crozat, a rich businessman, then under that of the Mississippi Company (created by John Law), which recruited immigrants to settle the colony. In 1731, Louisiana reverted to royal rule.
In contrast to Metropolitan France, the government used laws in the colony based on those of Paris (rather egalitarian for the time). This served as an equaliser for a while; riots and revolts against authority were rare. But, the centralised government had difficulty maintaining communications over the long distance and sailing time which separated France from Louisiana. Toward the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th, the colonists on the Gulf of Mexico were left almost completely to fend for themselves; they counted far more on the assistance of the Native Americans than on France. The distance had its advantages: the colonists smuggled goods into the colony with impunity.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's Minister of the Navy and Trade, was eager to stuff the coffers of the Crown. He dissolved the trading companies and took care to increase the production of the country and the colonies. Being a mercantilist, he believed it was necessary to sell as much as possible and to reduce reliance on imports. He imposed a French monopoly on trade. Colbert wanted to reduce the expenditure of the monarchy. It was, however, necessary to invest much money and to mobilize important human resources retain the American colony. Much work was done on the economic infrastructure (factories, ports) in metropolitan France, but the investment was insufficient in Louisiana. No plan to facilitate the movement of goods or men was ever carried out. The French budget was exhausted because of the wars in Europe, but the colonists in Louisiana did not have to pay royal taxes and were free of the hated gabelle.
Under the Ancien Régime, Louisiana formed part of a larger colonial unit, the French empire in America: New France (Nouvelle France), which included a part of what is now Canada. New France was initially ruled by a viceroy: this post was occupied by the Duke of Ventadour (1625). It was then equipped with a government like the other possessions of the Bourbons. Its seat was in the city of Québec until 1759. One Governor general, assisted by one intendant, was charged with ruling this vast empire. In theory, Louisiana was subordinate to Canada. It was explored and populated chiefly by French-Canadian colonists, rather than settlers from Metropolitan France. Given the enormous distance between New Orleans and Quebec, communications were limited outside of the cities and forts.
French settlements were widely dispersed, giving them a relative autonomy in fact, if not in law. The government decided to divide rule of the vast, diverse colony of New France into five jurisdictions, including Louisiana. The Country of Illinois, located at the south of the Great Lakes, was added to Louisiana in 1717. The first "capital" of French Louisiana was Mobile. The seat of government was transferred to Biloxi in 1720, then to New Orleans in 1722, where the governor resided. This individual was the most eminent figure, but not the most powerful. He commanded troops and was responsible for diplomatic relations. The second authority was the police chief-director. His functions were similar to those of the intendants in France: administrators and representatives of the king, they managed justice, the police force and finances. They managed the budget, set prices, chaired the higher council (the Court of Justice) and organized the census. Named by the king, the ordnance officer of Louisiana had broad capacities which sometimes came into conflict with those of the governor. The military stations of the interior were directed by commanders.
The French possessions of North America were under the authority of a single Catholic diocese, whose seat was in Quebec. The archbishop, named and paid by the king, was spiritual head of all New France. With loose religious supervision, the fervor of the population was very weak; Louisianans tended to practice their faith much less than did their counterparts in France and Canada. The tithe, a tax by the clergy on the congregations, produced less revenue than in France.
The Church nevertheless played an important part in the exploration of French Louisiana; it sent missions, primarily carried out by Jesuits, to convert Native Americans. It also founded schools and hospitals: by 1720, the Ursulines were operating a hospital in New Orleans. The church and its missionaries established contact with the numerous Amerindian tribes. Certain priests, such as Father Marquette in the 17th century, took part in exploratory missions. The Jesuits translated collections of prayers into numerous Amerindian languages for the purpose of converting the Native Americans. They also looked for ways to relate Indian practices to Christian worship, and helped show the Natives how these were related. A syncretic religion developed among new Christians. Sincere and permanent conversions were limited in number; many who received missionary instruction tended to assimilate the Holy Trinity into their belief of "spirits", or rejected the concept outright.
It is difficult to estimate the total population of France's colonies in North America. While historians have relatively precise sources regarding the colonists and enslaved Africans, estimates of Native American peoples is difficult. During the 18th century, the society of Louisiana became quite creolized.
According to the demographer Russel Thornton, North America contained approximately seven million native inhabitants in 1500. The population plummeted from the 16th century onward, primarily because of the new infectious diseases carried by Europeans, to which the Native Americans had no acquired immunity. At the end of the 17th century, there were likely no more than 100,000 to 200,000 Native Americans in Lower Louisiana. French colonists forced a small number of Native Americans into slavery, in spite of official prohibition. These slaves were persons who had been captured by rival tribes during raids and in battle, and sold to French colonists. At the time, many were sent to Saint Domingue in the West Indies for sale as slaves, or to Canada. In Louisiana, planters generally preferred using African slaves, though some had Native American servants.
In 1717, John Law, the French minister of finance, decided to import African slaves into Louisiana. His objective was to develop the plantation economy of Lower Louisiana. The Company of the Indies held a monopoly of the slave trade in the area. It imported approximately 6,000 slaves from Africa between 1719 and 1743. A small portion of these were sent to the Illinois Country to cultivate the fields or to work the lead mines. The economy of Lower Louisiana consequently became slave-dependent. As in other French colonies, the treatment of the slaves was regulated by the Code Noir. The slaves often had a degree of autonomy beyond that suggested by the code. Initially, during public holidays, slaves were permitted to sell a portion of the crops they had cultivated. Some would hunt, cut wood or keep livestock far from the plantation. Lastly, although interracial marriages and regroupings of slaves were prohibited, planters often kept slave mistresses. The life and work of the slaves was difficult, with the intense harvest season and processing of sugar undoubtedly the hardest. The maintenance of canals for rice irrigation and travel also involved much labor.
Slave residences and furnishings as supplied by planters were modest. The slaves were given simple straw pallets as beds. They typically had some trunks and kitchen utensils. The condition of the slaves depended on the treatment they received from their masters. When it was excessively cruel, the slaves often fled and hid in the marshes or in New Orleans. The Maroon societies which runaway slaves founded were often short-lived; Louisiana did not have the larger and semi-permanent Maroon villages that developed in the West Indies. Meanwhile, slave revolts were not as frequent in this area as they were in the Caribbean. The possibility of being set free was rather low; the slaves could not purchase their freedom. One of the first slaves to be freed was Louis Congo, who, in 1725, received freedom, land, and compensation in exchange for becoming the public executioner of New Orleans. Some freed slaves (notably women and former soldiers) formed small communities, which suffered from segregation; justice was more severe against them, and they did not have right to possess weapons. Slaves contributed to the creolization of Louisianan society. They brought okra from Africa, a plant common in the preparation of gumbo. While the Code Noir required that the slaves receive a Christian education, many secretly practiced animism and often combined elements of the two faiths.
Who were the creoles?
The commonly accepted definition of Louisiana Creole today is the community whose members are a mixture of mainly French, Spanish, African, and Native-American heritage. Some individuals may not have each ethnic heritage, and some may have additional ancestries. It is estimated that 7,000 European immigrants settled in Louisiana during the 18th century - a number 100 times lower than the number of British colonists on the Atlantic coast. Initially, creole was the term used for Europeans (and sometimes, separately for Africans) born in Louisiana, in contrast to those who immigrated there.
Louisiana attracted considerably fewer French colonists than did its West Indian colonies. After the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, which lasted several months, the colonists had several challenges ahead of them. Their living conditions were difficult: uprooted, they had to face a new, often hostile, environment. Many of these immigrants died during the maritime crossing or soon after their arrival. Physical conditions were harsh, and the tropical climate was difficult for colonists. Hurricanes, unknown in France, periodically struck the coast, destroying whole villages. The Mississippi Delta was plagued with periodic yellow fever epidemics, to which malaria and cholera were added as part of the Eurasian diseases that arrived with the Europeans. These conditions slowed colonisation.
Moreover, French villages and forts were not necessarily safe from enemy offensives. Attacks by Native Americans represented a real threat to the groups of isolated colonists; in 1729, their attacks killed 250 in Lower Louisiana. Forces of the Native American Natchez tribe took Fort Rosalie (now Natchez, Mississippi) by surprise, killing, among others, pregnant women. The French responded with warfare during the next two years: some Natchez were captured and deported as slaves to Saint Domingue; others left the area if they escaped.
Colonists were often young men, volunteers recruited in French ports or in Paris. Many served as indentured servants; they were required to remain in Louisiana for a length of time fixed by the contract of service to pay off their passage. During this time, they were "temporary semi-slaves". To increase the colonial population, the Crown sent filles de la cassette, young Frenchwomen, to the colony to marry the soldiers; they were given a dowry financed by the king. This builds on the 17th-century precedent when Louis XIV paid for transport and dowries for about 800 filles du roi (King's Daughters) to immigrate to New France to encourage marriage and formation of families in the colony.
By contrast, comfort women were described as those women "of easy virtue," vagrants or outlaws, and those without family, who arrived in Louisiana with a lettre de cachet; they were sent by force to the colony, especially during the Régence period early in the reign of Louis XV. Their stories inspired the novel Story of the Knight Of Grieux and Manon Lescaut, written by Abbé Prévost in 1731. In 1721, the ship La Baleine carried nearly 90 women of childbearing age to Louisiana; they were recruited from the Paris prison of La Salpetrière. Most quickly found husbands amongst the residents of the colony. These women, many of whom were most likely prostitutes or felons, were known as The Baleine Brides.
While communities of Swiss and German peoples also settled in French Louisiana, royal authorities always referred to the population as "French". After the Seven Years' War, in which Britain defeated France, the settlement attracted a variety of groups: Spanish settlers, refugees from Saint Domingue (particularly after 1791 when the slave uprisings began), opponents of the French Revolution, and Acadians. In 1785, 1,633 people of Acadian origin were brought from France to New Orleans, 30 years after having been expelled from their homeland by the British. Other Acadians were transported there by the British after their expulsion from Acadia. About 4,000 are thought to have settled in Louisiana, gradually forming the Cajun community.
Peasants, artisans, and merchants
Social mobility was easier in America than in France at the time. The seigneurial system was not imposed on the banks of the Mississippi, although the long lot land division scheme of the seigneurial system was adapted to some of the meandering rivers and bayous there. There were few corporations treated on a hierarchical basis and strictly regulated. Certain tradesmen managed to build fortunes rather quickly. The large planters of Louisiana were attached to the French way of life: they imported wigs and clothing fashionable in Paris. In the Country of Illinois, the wealthiest constructed stone-built houses and had several slaves. The largest traders mostly wound up settling in New Orleans.
The King sent the army in the event of conflict with the other colonial powers; in 1717, the colony of Mississippi counted 300 soldiers out of 550 people (Havard G, Vidal C, History of French America, p. 225.). However, the colonial army, like that of France, suffered from desertions. Certain soldiers fled to become coureurs de bois. There were few mutinies because repression was severe. The army held a fundamental place in the control of the territory. Soldiers built forts and frequently negotiated with the Native Americans.
Coureurs des bois
The coureurs des bois (literally "runners of the woods") played an important part, though not well documented, in the expansion of French influence in North America. By the end of the 17th century, these adventurers had journeyed the length of the Mississippi River. They were motivated by the hope of finding gold or of carrying out a profitable fur trade with the Indians. The fur trade, often practiced without authorization, was a difficult activity, carried on most of the time by young unmarried men. Many ultimately wished to go on to more sedentary agricultural activities. Meanwhile, a good number of them were integrated into native communities, learned the languages and took native wives. A well-known example is the French Canadian Toussaint Charbonneau, husband to Sacagawea, who gave birth to Jean-Baptiste. They took part in the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-1806.
The French and the Native Americans
While Ancien Régime France wished to make Native Americans subjects of the king and good Christians, the distance from Metropolitan France and the sparseness of French settlement prevented movement in this direction. In official rhetoric, the Native Americans were regarded as subjects of the King of France, but in reality, they were largely autonomous due to their numerical superiority. The local authorities (governors, officers) did not have the means of imposing their decisions and often compromised. The tribes offered essential support for the French in Louisiana: they ensured the survival of the colonists, participated with them in the fur trade, were used as guides in expeditions. Their alliance was also essential in the fight against the British.
The two peoples influenced each other in many fields: the French learned the languages of the natives, who bought European goods (fabric, alcohol, firearms, etc.), and sometimes adopted their religion. The coureurs des bois and the soldiers borrowed canoes and moccasins. Many of them ate native food such as wild rice and various meats, like bear and dog. The colonists were often dependent on the Native Americans for food. Creole cuisine is the heir of these mutual influences: thus, sagamité, for example, is a mix of corn pulp, bear fat and bacon. Today jambalaya, a word of Seminole origin, refers to a multitude of recipes calling for meat and rice, all very spicy. Sometimes shamans succeeded in curing the colonists thanks to traditional remedies (application of fir tree gum on wounds and Royal Fern on a rattlesnake bite).
Many colonists both admired and feared the military power of the Native Americans, but others scorned their culture and regarded them as racially less pure than the Whites. In 1735, interracial marriages without the approval of the authorities were prohibited in Louisiana. The Jesuit priests were often scandalized by the supposedly libertine ways of the Native Americans. In spite of some disagreements (the Indians killed pigs which devastated corn fields), and sometimes violent confrontations (War of the Foxes, Natchez uprisings and expeditions against the Chicachas), the relationship with the Native Americans was relatively good in Louisiana because the French were not numerous. French imperialism was expressed through some wars and the slavery of some Native Americans. But most of the time, the relationship was based on dialogue and negotiation.
Economy of Louisiana
Louisiana could be divided into two main areas, both with well-differentiated economic systems.
This comparatively sparsely-settled northern area of French Louisiana was formerly the southern part of French Canada and was transferred in 1717 by order of the King. It lies along the Mississippi and its tributaries, and was primarily devoted to grain and cereals agriculture. The French farmers lived in villages (such as near Fort de Chartres (the colonial adminstartive center), Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, and Sainte-Geneviève). They cultivated the land with paid and slave laborers, producing mostly corn and wheat. The fields were cleared with ploughs. They raised horses, cows and pigs, and also grew a little tobacco, hemp, flax and grapes (though most wine was still imported from France). Agriculture was seasonal and periodic flooding of the Mississippi took its toll on these communities.
The trading posts in the Illinois Country concentrated mostly on the fur trade. Placed at strategic points, they were modestly fortified. Only a few were made out of stone (Fort de Chartres, Fort Niagara). Like their American "mountain man" counterparts, the coureurs des bois exchanged beaverskin or deer pelts for weapons, cloth or shoddy goods, because the local economy was based on barter. The skins and fur are later sold in the forts and cities of New France. The Illinois Country also produced salt and lead and provided New Orleans with game.
A plantation economy
Lower Louisiana's economy was based on slave-owning plantations. The owners generally had their main residence in New Orleans and entrusted the supervision of the fields to a treasurer. The crops were varied and adapted to the climate and terrain. Part of the production was intended for use by Louisianans (corn, vegetables, rice, livestock), the rest being exported to France (especially tobacco and indigo).
The economic role of New Orleans
New Orleans was the economic capital of Louisiana, though it remained a village for several decades. The colonists built infrastructure to encourage trade; a canal was dug in 1723. The stores on banks of the Mississippi also served as warehouses. The city exported pelts from the interior as well as products from the plantations. It was also, of course, a local hub of commerce. Its shops and markets sold whatever the plantations produced.
The rare shipments from France brought food (lard, wheat...), alcohol and various indispensable finished products (weapons, tools, cloth, clothing). Fur and various products came from the interior, and the port sent tobacco and indigo to the metropolis. But these exports remained on the whole relatively weak. New Orleans also still sold wood, rice and corn to the French West Indies.
The end of French Louisiana
The Seven Years' War and its consequences
The hostility between the French and British flared up again two years before the beginning of the Seven Years' War in Europe. In North America, the war became known as the French and Indian War. After some early victories from 1754 to 1757, thanks to help from their Native American allies, the French suffered several disastrous defeats in Canada from 1758 to 1760, culminating in the surrender of the capital city, Quebec. With the loss of Canada, defense of Louisiana became impossible.
The Treaty of Paris, signed on 10 February 1763, formalized the eviction of the French from North America. Canada and the east bank of the Mississippi were handed over to Great Britain. New Orleans and the west bank of the river had been secretly given to Spain the previous year. This decision provoked the departure of a few settlers; however, the Spaniards effectively took control of their new territories rather late (in 1766), and there was not much Spanish immigration. To the East, the United States foresaw the conquest of the West; commercial navigation on the Mississippi was opened to Americans in 1795.
The ephemeral renewal of French Louisiana
During the French Revolution, Louisiana was agitated under Spanish control: certain French-speaking colonists sent petitions to the metropolis and the slaves attempted revolts in 1791 and 1795.
The Treaty of San Ildefonso, signed in secrecy on October 1, 1800, envisaged the transfer of Western Louisiana as well as New Orleans to France in exchange for the Duchy of Parma. However, Napoleon Bonaparte soon decided not to keep the immense territory. The army he sent to take possession of the colony was first required to put down a revolution in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti); its failure to do so, coupled with the rupture of the Treaty of Amiens with the United Kingdom, prompted him to decide to sell Louisiana to the young United States. This was done on April 30, 1803 for the sum of 80 million francs (15 million dollars). American sovereignty was established on December 20, 1803.
French heritage today
French colonization in Louisiana left a cultural inheritance which has been celebrated significantly in recent decades. The heritage of the French language, Louisiana Creole French and of Cajun French is that which has been most threatened; for this reason, the CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) was created in 1968. A subject of debate is the variety of French that should be taught: that of France, Canadian French, standard Louisiana French or Cajun French. Today, many Cajun-dominated areas of Louisiana have formed associations with Acadian communities in Canada, which send French professors to re-teach the language in the schools. In 2003, 7% of Louisianans were French-speaking, though most also spoke English. An estimated 25% of the state's population has some French ancestry, carrying a number of last names of French origin (e.g., LeBlanc, Cordier, Dauthier, Dion, Menard, Pineaux, Hébert, Ardoin, Roubideaux…).
Many cities and villages have names of French origin. (See French in the United States for a list of these.) They include St. Louis, Detroit, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Mobile, Des Moines, St. Cloud and Duluth. The flag and the seal of the state of Minnesota carry a French legend. The Iowa state flag uses a variation of the French national flag as its base. Historical festivals and commemorations point out the French presence: in 1999, Louisiana celebrated the 300th anniversary of its foundation; in 2001, Detroit did the same. In 2003, the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase was commemorated on numerous occasions as well as by a formal conference to recall its history. Certain places testify to a cultural inheritance left by the French; a prime example is the French Quarter of New Orleans. Many French forts have been rebuilt and opened to visitors.
A key part of Louisianan culture finds its roots in the French period: Creole songs influenced the blues and jazz. Cajun music, often sung in French, remains very much alive today. New Orleans' Carnival, with its height at Mardi Gras, testifies to a long-lived Roman Catholic tradition.
- New Orleans
- Louisiana (New Spain)
- Spanish colonization of the Americas
- British colonization of the Americas
- Louisiana Purchase
- List of French possessions and colonies
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- (French) Site du ministère de la culture française: La Louisiane française (1682-1803)
- (French) Bibliothèque Nationale de France: La France en Amérique
- (French) Archives Canada-France: Nouvelle-France. Histoire d'une terre française en Amérique
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- (French) Hérodote: 9 avril 1682, Cavelier de la Salle baptise la Louisiane
- (French) University of Laval: 30 avril 1803 : traité d'achat de la Louisiane
- Museum of the State of Louisiana
- Fort Rosalie, Mississippi
- New France: 1524-1763
- History of New Orleans