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
Louisiana (New Spain) (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) 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 retroceded to France, under the terms of the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso (1800) and the Treaty of Aranjuez (1801). In 1802, King Charles IV of Spain published a royal bill on 15 October, effecting the transfer and outlining the conditions.

However, Spain agreed to continue administering the colony until French officials arrived and formalized the transfer (1803). The ceremony was conducted at the Cabildo in New Orleans on 30 November of 1803, just three weeks before the formalities of cession from France to the United States pursuant to the Louisiana Purchase.


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.]]

In 1764, French fur trading interests founded St. Louis in the what was known as the Illinois Country. The Spanish referred to St. Louis as "the city of Illinois" and the region governed form St. Louis as the "District of Illinois". [5]

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-speaking Canary Islanders to be transported to North America.[6] In 1778, a boat traveled toward Louisiana with more than 4,000 people. However, during the journey, the ship made stops in Havana and Venezuela, where half the settlers disembarked (300 Canarians established in Venezuela). In the end, between 2,100[7] and 2,736[8] Canarians arrived in Louisiana and settled near New Orleans. They settled in Barataria and in what is today St. Bernard Parish. However, many settlers were relocated for various reasons. Barataria suffered hurricanes in 1779 and in 1780; it was abandoned and its population distributed in other areas of colonial Louisiana (although some of its settlers moved to West Florida).[9] In 1782, a splinter group of the Canarian settlers of Saint Bernard emigrated to Valenzuela.[8]

In 1779, another boat with 500 people from Malaga (in Andalusia, Spain), arrived in Spanish Louisiana. These colonists, led by Lt. Col. Francisco Bouligny, settled in New Iberia, where they intermarried with Cajun settlers.

In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War and the Anglo-Spanish War (1779-1783), Bernardo de Gálvez recruited men from the Canarian settlements of Louisiana and Galveston (in Spanish Texas, where Canarians had settled since 1779) to join his forces. They participated in three major military campaigns (Baton Rouge, Mobile, and Pensacola), which expelled the British from the Gulf Coast.

Later, in 1790 the settlers of Canarian and Mexican origin from Galveston settled in Galveztown, Louisiana, escaping of the fast floods and prolonged droughts of this area.[8]

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.[10]


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, commemorated as 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.

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Ekberg, Carl (2000). French Roots in the Illinois Country: The Mississippi Frontier in Colonial Times. Urbana and Chicago, Ill.: University of Illinois Press. pp. 32–33. ISBN 9780252069246. 
  6. ^ Santana Pérez, Juan Manuel; Sánchez Suárez, José Antonio. Emigración por Reclutamientos canarios en Luisiana (Emigration by Canarian recruitments in Louisiana). Servicio de Publicaciones, 1992. Page 133
  7. ^ G. Armistead, Samuel. La Tradición Hispano - Canaria en Luisiana (Hispanic Tradition - Canary in Louisiana). Pages 51 - 61. Anrart Ediciones. Ed: First Edition, March 2007.
  8. ^ a b c St. Bernard Isleños. LOUISIANA'S SPANISH TREASURE: Los Islenos. Retrieved December 22, 2011, to 19:28 pm.
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ "The Slave Rebellion of 1791". Library of Congress Country Studies.
  11. ^ Bradshaw, Jim (27 January 1998). "Broussard named for early settler Valsin Broussard". Lafayette Daily Advertiser.