Louisiana (New Spain)

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Spanish colonial Louisiana
District of New Spain

Flag Coat of arms
Cross of Burgundy Coat of arms
Location of New Spain
Territory of Louisiana (1762)
Capital Nueva Orleans
 •  Acquisition from France 1762
 •  Return to France 15 October 1802
Political subdivisions Upper Louisiana;
Lower Louisiana
DeSoto claiming the Mississippi, as depicted in the United States Capitol rotunda

Louisiana (Spanish: Luisiana, French: La Louisiane) was the name of an administrative district of the Viceroyalty of New Spain from 1762 to 1802 that consisted of territory west of the Mississippi River basin, plus New Orleans. Spain acquired the territory from France, who had named it La Louisiane in honor of King Louis XIV in 1682. It is sometimes known as Spanish Louisiana. The district was transferred back to France in 1800, under the terms of the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso.


Spain was largely a benign absentee landlord administering it from Havana, Cuba, and contracting out governing to people from many nationalities as long as they swore allegiance to Spain. During the American War of Independence, the Spanish funneled their supplies to the American revolutionists through New Orleans and the vast Louisiana territory beyond.

In keeping with being absentee landlords, Spanish efforts to turn Louisiana into a Spanish colony were usually fruitless. For instance, while Spanish officially was the only language of government, the majority of the populace firmly continued to speak French. Even official business conducted at the Cabildo often lapsed into French, requiring a translator on hand.[citation needed]


When Alejandro O'Reilly re-established Spanish rule in 1768, he issued a decree on December 7, 1769, which banned the trade of Native American slaves.[1] Although there was no movement toward abolition of the African slave trade, Spanish rule introduced a new law called coartación, which allowed slaves to buy their freedom, and that of others.[2]

A group of maroons led by Jean Saint Malo resisted re-enslavement from their base in the swamps east of New Orleans between 1780 and 1784.

Pointe Coupée conspiracy[edit]

On May 4, 1795, 57 slaves and three local white men were put on trial in Point Coupee. At the end of the trial 23 slaves were hanged, 31 slaves received a sentence of flogging and hard labor, and the three white men were deported, with two being sentenced to six years forced labor in Havana.[3]

Upper & Lower, or the Louisianas[edit]

Spanish colonial officials divided Luisiana into Upper Louisiana (Alta Luisiana) and Lower Louisiana (Baja Luisiana) at 36° 35' North, at about the latitude of New Madrid.[4]

This was a higher latitude than during the French administration, for whom Lower Louisiana was the area south of about 31° North (the current northern boundary of the state of Louisiana) or the area south of where the Arkansas River joined the Mississippi River at about 33° 46' North latitude.

Spanish communities in Louisiana[edit]

Main article: Isleños in Louisiana

In order to establish Spanish colonies in Louisiana, the Spanish military leader Bernardo de Gálvez, governor of Louisiana in this time, recruited groups of Spanish people of the Canary Islands to carried them to the Spanish colony. So, in 1778, a boat travel to Louisiana with more than 4,000 people from the Canary Islands. However, during the journey, the ship made stops in Venezuela and Havana, Cuba, where half the people disembarked (300 Canarians established in Venezuela). In the end, between 2,100[5] and 2,736[6] Canarians arrived in Louisiana and settled near New Orleans. They settled in what are today St. Bernard Parish and Barataria. However, many of the settlers were relocated in Louisiana for different reasons: Barataria suffered two hurricanes in 1779 and in 1780, so it was abandoned and its population was distributed in other areas of Louisiana (although some of its settlers migrated to West Florida).[7] and in 1782, a splinter group of the Canarian settlers of Saint Bernard emigrated to Valenzuela and they intermarried with Cajuns. Later, in 1790 another group of settlers of Canarian and Mexican origin from Galveston, Texas settled in Galveztown, Louisiana.

In 1779, arrived to Louisiana other boat with 500 people from the Malaga (in Andalusia). These colonists, led by Lt.Col. Francisco Bouligny, settled in New Iberia, where they married with Cajuns already living there.

In 1782, during the American Revolution, Bernardo de Gálvez recruited people from the three Canarian settlements of Louisiana and Galveztown to join the revolution. They participated in the three major military campaigns (Baton Rouge, Mobile and Pensacola), that expelled the British from the Gulf Coast. [6]

Haitian Immigration[edit]

Beginning in the 1790s, waves of immigration took place from Saint-Domingue, following a slave rebellion that started in 1791. Over the next decade, thousands of migrants landed in Louisiana from the island, including ethnic Europeans, free people of color, and African slaves, some of the latter brought in by each free group. They greatly increased the French-speaking population in New Orleans and Louisiana, as well as the number of Africans, and the slaves reinforced African culture in the city.[8]


Spanish exploration[edit]

French control[edit]

Spanish control[edit]

The Cabildo, next to the San Luis cathedral (See photo below.)
Calle de San Luis in the French Quarter of New Orleans
St. Louis (San Luis) Cathedral, on the former Plaza de Armas

French control[edit]

  • 1800 – In the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, Napoleon secretly acquired the territory, but Spain continued to administer it.
  • 1801 – The United States was permitted again to use the port of New Orleans.
  • 1803 – The purchase of Louisiana by the United States was announced.
  • 1803 – Spain refused Lewis and Clark permission to travel up the Missouri River, since the transfer from France to the United States had not been made official; they spent the winter in Illinois at Camp Dubois.
  • 1803 – On November 30, 1803, Spanish officials formally conveyed the colonial lands and their administration to France.
  • 1803 – France turned over New Orleans, the historic colonial capital, to the United States on December 20, 1803.
  • 1804 – On March 9 and 10, 1804, another ceremony, called Three Flags Day, was conducted in St. Louis to transfer ownership of Upper Louisiana from Spain to the French First Republic, and then from France to the United States.


  1. ^ Midlo Hall, Gwendolyn (1992). Africans in Colonial Louisiana. Louisiana State University Press. p. 336. 
  2. ^ [1] Berquist, Emily. Early Anti-Slavery Sentiment in the Spanish Atlantic World, 1765-1817
  3. ^ Midlo Hall, Gwendolyn (1992). Africans in Colonial Louisiana. Louisiana State University Press. p. 344. 
  4. ^ Reasonover, John R.; Michelle M. Haas (2005). Reasonover's Land Measures. Copano Bay Press. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-9767799-0-2. 
  5. ^ G. Armistead, Samuel. La Tradición Hispano - Canaria en Luisiana (Hispanic Tradition - Canary in Louisiana). Pages 26 (Prologue of the Spanish edition), 51 - 61 (History and languages) and 65 - 165 (Culture). Anrart Ediciones. Ed: First Edition, March 2007.
  6. ^ a b St. Bernard Isleños. LOUISIANA'S SPANISH TREASURE: Los Islenos. Retrieved December 22, 2011, to 19:28 pm.
  7. ^ Hernández González, Manuel. La emigración canaria a América (Canarian Emigration to the Americas). Pages 15 and 43 - 44 (about the expeditions and Canarian emigration of Florida and Texas), page 51 (about of the Canarian emigration to Louisiana). First Edition January, 2007
  8. ^ "The Slave Rebellion of 1791". Library of Congress Country Studies.
  9. ^ Bradshaw, Jim (27 January 1998). "Broussard named for early settler Valsin Broussard". Lafayette Daily Advertiser. 

See also[edit]