Introduction from Diversity Comes Strength

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From Diversity Comes Strength

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 stands as the most significant event in the westward expansion of the United States and as an experiment to incorporate a substantially different culture. It was the beginning of the meeting of multi-cultural frontiers. The Louisiana Purchase changed what the United States had been and had a profound effect on what the United States would become.

The new territories of the Louisiana Purchase presented a significant challenge to the primarily Anglo-Protestant, adolescent United States of America. The southernmost part of the Louisiana Purchase was in effect a foreign country. Many of its inhabitants were Mediterranean, Caribbean, and African in origin. Most were Catholic, spoke different languages, and had a different view of government, law, and race. Louisiana was a richly multi-cultural frontier in which different ethnic groups jostled for power and primacy. Creoles of French and Spanish descent, Germans upriver from New Orleans, English settlers in what would become the Florida parishes, Acadians to the west of the metropolis, free people of color, slaves, and Native Americans would interact with the new waves of Americans from states such as Tennessee and Kentucky. Indeed the Louisiana Purchase started the United States encounter with diversity that continued throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and continues today.

Then as now, diversity brought about conflicts, some of which ended in accommodation and the realization that from diversity comes strength. Louisiana's history as a colony, territory, and state in the fifteen years from 1800 to 1815 was characterized not only by diplomatic, political, legal, and cultural friction but also by compromise among the various elements of its diverse population. Included during the period were the following momentous events or movements: the Louisiana Purchase (1803); the creation of the Territory of Orleans (1804); a massive immigration of French, African slaves, and free people of color from Saint Domingue (Haiti) to New Orleans (1809); the West Florida Rebellion (1810); the largest slave revolt in U.S. history in St. Charles and St. John parishes (1811); statehood (1812); and the Battle of New Orleans (1815). By the time of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, at the end of the War of 1812, the national experiment in colonialism had become a success. The battle served as a means of uniting the inhabitants in a common cause. Soldiers from Tennessee and Kentucky fought alongside Creoles, Acadians, free men of color, and Choctaw Indians. The battle was a great military victory and the United States' most multiethnic endeavor to that time.

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Louisiana as a French Colony, 1682-1762

Louisiana began as a French colony claimed in the name of Louis XIV by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in 1682 when he reached the mouth of the Mississippi River. Few colonists ventured to settle in Louisiana until 1699 when Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville and his brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville arrived to explore Louisiana and the Mississippi River. A few colonists, all male soldiers, arrived with them. Iberville and Bienville established relationships with the Native Americans, traveled the Mississippi River up to the mouth of the Red River, named lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, and established a base of operations first at Biloxi and later at Mobile.

Iberville deemed his adventures successful and returned to France to seek support from the crown and more French settlers. Bienville remained in Louisiana to explore. Although Iberville, with the support of the French government, devised a grand scheme to protect and develop Louisiana and make it profitable, the backing of the crown was drawn away by France's involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). Iberville fought in the war and lost his life to yellow fever in Havana in 1706.

Bienville built up a small trading business with the Native Americans, but few new settlers came to stay. Pressed for money to finance war, the crown in 1712 granted French merchant Antoine Crozat a proprietorship and all Louisiana trading rights for fifteen years. Crozat never visited Louisiana but sent Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac to administer the colony. Cadillac arrived in Mobile in May 1713 and was the first person officially to be called the Governor of Louisiana. Bienville stayed in the colony as the military commander of French troops.

Cadillac did not find it easy to govern Louisiana, nor did Crozat find it possible to make Louisiana profitable. During Crozat's proprietorship Cadillac began the importation of African slaves. Labor was scarce in Louisiana, and the local Native Americans proved unsuited to slavery. Crozat had made much of his fortune through slavery so he saw this as an investment. Cadillac was replaced as governor in 1716 by Jean-Michiele Lépinay because of his failure to manage the colonists and soldiers. Cadillac and Bienville argued constantly over the details of governing the colony. By 1717, an unsuccessful Crozat gave his rights back to the government.

During the early 1700s Louisiana's population was increased not only by slaves but also by clerics. The first clerics to settle in Louisiana belonged to the Jesuit order. They were followed by the Capuchins. From Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, the colony was governed by the See of the Bishop of Quebec, with the Jesuits having jurisdiction north of the Arkansas and Yazoo Rivers and the Capuchins south of that line.

Unable to find a new investor to replace Crozat, the Duke of Orléans, regent for the new King Louis XV, and the Council of the Marine established an investment company to run Louisiana, the Company of the West. Bienville stayed in Louisiana as Director General, an employee of the company, but with the rights of a commandant and technically those of governor. Still Louisiana did not prosper. Some progress was made in settling new areas such as Natchitoches in 1714 through profitable trade with Native Americans and the Spanish in Texas.

The French treasury in 1720 was almost bankrupt and the Duke of Orléans gave a new charter for the whole of Louisiana to a corporation headed by Scotsman John Law. Law's Company of the Indies assumed the charter of the Company of the West. Law and Orléans saw the new venture as a way to bring colonists to Louisiana through generous land concessions, to increase trade, and to make Louisiana profitable for France at last. During the years it existed under the Company of the Indies, Louisiana enjoyed its first flush of prosperity. More ships arrived under the Company's reign than had come to the colony from the time of its founding through the advent of Company control (Conrad, 37).

In 1717, the Company sought to increase settlement in the colony by importing French convicts, both male and female, most of whom were from debtor's prison. The Company also imported slaves to improve the economy. Many came from the African regions of Guinea, the Gold Coast, and Angola. Others were sent from the French islands of the Caribbean. By 1721 settlements included New Orleans, Biloxi, Dauphin Island, Mobile, Natchez and Natchitoches. New Orleans attracted mostly French settlers including government workers, military personnel and families, and the business class. Law's Company sponsored 2,000 German colonists who eventually settled above New Orleans on land granted to them by Bienville in present St. James and St. Charles parishes. The area is known as the German Coast.

Meanwhile, Bienville had succeeded in establishing New Orleans in 1718, on a crescent-shaped section of the Mississippi River, which at that time was 100 miles from the mouth of the river. The town was named in honor of the ruling regent of France, Philippe, Duke of Orléans. New Orleans became the capital of French Louisiana in 1721 and prospered more than the rest of Louisiana. By 1722, three hundred French colonists lived in New Orleans; by 1728 the population was 1,000. In 1725, Father Raphael of Luxembourg, a Capuchin friar, founded the first school in Louisiana to further the Roman Catholic faith and to teach basic reading skills. In 1727, the Ursuline nuns, under contract with the Company, came to New Orleans to establish a convent, a chapel, and school, and to administer a local hospital. They also aided the single young French women, known as casket girls, whom the Company had recruited to come to Louisiana as prospective brides for the men in the colony.

But Louisiana under the Company of the Indies fell victim to Law's Mississippi Bubble. Law sought to finance Louisiana by selling inflated shares of his company. When the Company could no longer pay dividends on the stock the bubble burst and Louisiana became synonymous with failure and fraud.

The government again asked Bienville to serve as governor and to help Louisiana recover. Bienville served in Louisiana as commandant and governor four times, 1701-1713, 1716-1717, 1718-1724, 1733-1743. These years of colonial service brought him few rewards and insurmountable problems that included: the indifference of the home government; the colony's constant drain on the French treasury; the dearth of population; the dual system of government that pitted governor against commissaire and ensnared the colony's government; and a protracted series of Indian wars (Conrad, p. 72). Bienville always had trouble cooperating with other French officials in the colony, especially those who served as commissioners. In 1725, his bickering with Commissioner Jacques de La Chaise grew so troublesome that the king recalled Bienville to France.

Bienville had maintained a positive relationship with the Native Americans but trouble developed between French officials and the Natchez tribe in 1729 while Bienville was in France. The governor that succeeded Bienville, Étienne de Périer, arrived in 1727. He insisted that the previous policy of allowing the Native Americans to maintain their ownership of their tribal lands be ended. The Natchez refused to surrender their lands, attacked the fort at Natchez, and took several prisoners. Fearful colonists fled to New Orleans, even though the Natchez showed no signs of pressing their rebellion. Governor Périer sent 700 soldiers to defeat the Natchez and free the hostages. Once the hostages were released French officials systematically exterminated the Natchez tribe. Some, including the chief, were sent as slaves to St. Domingue, and the few that remained in Louisiana joined other tribes. The colonists believed they were under continual threat by the Indians. Many sought to remain in New Orleans where food supplies were becoming scarce. Disease, unemployment, and arguments among officials made life even more difficult. Colonists were also terrified because of a slave uprising in 1730. Once again the king asked Bienville to serve as governor of Louisiana.

Bienville returned to New Orleans in 1733 and immediately sent home all the frontier settlers who had come there during the Natchez uprising. He worked closely with the Superior Council to improve Louisiana, and strove to increase the quality and quantity of food for the colonists and the military. Bienville then turned his attention to problems with the Chickasaw tribe near Memphis. The Chickasaw harbored some of the Natchez who had escaped Périer's forces and refused to turn them over to the French military. After several small battles won by the Chickasaw and several by the French, the Chickasaw decided to turn over the Natchez warriors and accept peace. However, no decisive victory occurred, and Bienville felt demoralized at this lack of clear victory. Tired of Louisiana, he sought retirement in 1740 and left the colony in 1743 in his mid-sixties. Bienville is viewed as either a saint or a sinner in Louisiana history and the full story of his role in the early life of Louisiana has yet to be told. Whatever the full story, the founding and life of Louisiana as a French colony is also the story of Bienville.

The new governor, the Marquis de Vaudreuil, worked to solve Louisiana's financial problems and bring more settlers to the colony. In the 1740s Louisiana's German Coast received new citizens when France opened Louisiana to settlement from the Alsace-Lorraine provinces on the French-German border. Other Swiss-Germans who had joined the French army were sent to Louisiana stations and stayed once their enlistment time had ended. But Vaudreuil was faced with continuing problems with the Chickasaw and the Choctaw who traded with the British and played one group of Europeans against the others. The Chickasaw raided French farms as far south as Baton Rouge. Vaudreuil was finally able to gain a peace treaty with the Chickasaw. Slavery continued to grow in the colony and by 1763 the slave population in Louisiana was estimated to be 10,000. Most were from Africa or descended from Africans. Some were from the French islands of the Caribbean. All slaves under the slave law of the colony, the Code Noir, were required to be baptized in the Roman Catholic faith and to marry in the Church. The Code also governed slave owners' rights to grant freedom to their slaves.

Defeated in the French and Indian War of 1754-1763 (known in Europe as the Seven Years' War), France ceded western Louisiana and New Orleans to Spain and lost Canada and eastern Louisiana to the British at the first Peace of Paris. Thus Baton Rouge became the strategically important southwestern corner of British North America. The English established their own fort in Baton Rouge, named Navy captain George Johnstone first governor of the West Florida colony and gave him the power to grant lands.

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Louisiana as a Spanish Colony, 1762-1802

Spain was slow to send officials to begin their rule in Louisiana. The residents continued life as if they were still in a French colony. Governor Kerlerec returned to France when his term of office ended. Because no Spanish officials had yet arrived a minor French official, Jean-Jacques Blaise d'Abbadie was ordered to replace Kerlerec as temporary commandant, but after a brief illness he died in February 1765. Captain Charles Philippe Aubry, the commanding officer of French troops in Louisiana became acting commandant and waited for the Spanish to arrive.

Unhappy about being placed under the rule of Spain, the leaders of New Orleans's business community led discussions that inflamed the colony. In March 1766, the Spanish governor Antonio de Ulloa arrived in Louisiana with only seventy-five soldiers. Whether it was dislike of New Orleans, fear of the citizens, or an eagerness to be near an escape route, Ulloa landed at Balize, an outpost near the mouth of the river, and stayed there, venturing to New Orleans for only a few days. Aubry was left to serve as the de facto ruler of Louisiana even though taking orders from Ulloa in Balize. Louisiana citizens took offense that Ulloa did not accept the colony with pomp and ceremony in New Orleans. They were insulted that he tried to rule through the military and civilian officers of the old French government. Then Ulloa issued new commercial decrees that changed trade practices within the colony. Merchants had been accustomed to trading with French ports in the Caribbean, in addition to conducting illegal commerce with the nearby British colonies. Ulloa's new trade decrees ended such trade (Wall p. 57).

New Orleans citizens and merchants along with the Superior Council, still composed of French residents, strongly opposed Ulloa's decrees. In October 1769, a mob of 400 took control of the city, forced Ulloa onto his boat in the Mississippi River, and gave him an ultimatium to leave Louisiana. Aubry advised him to do so. Ulloa left the colony and the leaders of the Insurrection of 1768 rejoiced in their success. What they wanted was to be a French colony again and they quickly petitioned the king to reassert rule over Louisiana.

The Spanish king felt the colonists had committed treason. Alejandro O'Reilly was dispatched to New Orleans with a military force sufficient to control the colony. When asked to give a full report regarding the rebellion, Aubry did so, including the names of the leaders of the events. With full pomp and ceremony, O'Reilly entered New Orleans with his military force and quickly began an investigation of the insurrection. In a few weeks he came to a decision and issued a proclamation granting amnesty to all but thirteen of those involved. These leaders, many of whom were also leaders of New Orleans businesses, were charged with treason. At their trials O'Reilly served as judge and jury. One was set free, six were sentenced to death and the other six were given long prison sentences.

O'Reilly expelled British merchants, instituted reforms in the colonial government, decreed fixed prices for goods to lessen inflation, and improved trade between Spain's other colonies and Louisiana. O'Reilly improved relations with the Native Americans and in 1769 ordered a census to be taken. The census listed 14,000 persons living in Louisiana. Approximately 3,500 in New Orleans. Native Americans were not counted, and the majority of the 14,000 were slaves.

Besides Commandant O'Reilly, the Spanish government included a governor, Luis de Unzaga. O'Reilly left Louisiana as soon as his reforms were in place. Unzaga then allowed British traders to operate once again in Louisiana and to reestablish the illegal trade that O'Reilly had banned, realizing that commerce with the British was important to the economic life of Louisiana.

Bernardo Galvez replaced Unzaga in 1776. Galvez improved administration of the colony but again stopped the underground trade with the British traders. Instead he sought to improve the economic life of the colonists by supporting the tobacco and sugar trades, and by extending Louisiana merchants' ability to trade with a wider group of Spanish ports. Galvez is best known for leading his troops against the British at Baton Rouge and Pensacola in aid of the American Revolution. By the time Galvez arrived in Louisiana, the American rebels were being supplied with needed goods from New Orleans.

Succeeding Galvez, Governor Esteban Miro ruled over a Louisiana that was beginning to prosper. Miro improved relations with the Native Americans and furthered the free trade laws instituted by Galvez. The trade of the colony was increasingly controlled by the Anglo-Americans. A Spanish survey in 1784-5 counted 25,000 people, 5,000 of whom lived in New Orleans. Again Native Americans were not counted; 16,544 were slaves. Miro wanted to improve the settlement of Louisiana so in 1786 he began recruiting settlers through a generous land policy targeted toward Anglo-Americans. Americans soon held large land grants in the Florida parishes and the Opelousas District.

Spain's ally France continued to cause problems in Louisiana. With the overthrow of the French king in 1789 revolutionary fervor was rampant in the colony. To protect the interests of the Spanish crown and maintain royal authority, Governor Carondelet forbade revolutionary clubs and other outward signs of French revolutionary support. In 1795 however, a slave revolt broke out in Point Coupee Parish which could be linked to the French revolution or to the ongoing slave revolt in St. Domingue (Haiti). Carondelet convicted fifty-seven blacks and three whites of planning an insurrection. Twenty-three were hanged.

The second Peace of Paris, which had ended the American Revolution in 1783, failed to settle important boundary questions in the lower Mississippi valley and along the Gulf coast. Great Britain returned East and West Florida to the control of Spain and gave the infant United States title to all its lands westward to the Mississippi River. In so doing, however, this Peace failed to note precisely the exact southern boundary between the United States and Spanish territory. The Americans argued that the boundary extended far to the south along the thirty-first parallel. Spain contended that the division line crossed the region at 32 20' latitude and thus lay farther to the north, approximately even with Natchez. Spain pressed its claim by holding Natchez, where an English-speaking officer, Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, guarded its interests. In addition, the United States and Spain quarreled over navigation rights on the Mississippi River. The United States claimed that the Peace of Paris (1783) had provided its citizens with full rights to travel the river to its mouth, while Spain held the opposite view. At various times in the 1780s and 1790s, the Spanish government at New Orleans accordingly attempted to close the river to American navigation (Wall, p. 79).

Because of American needs to navigate and trade on the Mississippi River and at New Orleans, President Washington sent Thomas Pinckney to Spain to attempt to put an end to the boundary and riverine disputes. Pinckney and Spanish Minister of State Manuel de Godoy signed a treaty at the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial near Madrid on October 17, 1795. Known as Pinckney's Treaty or the Treaty of San Lorenzo it secured the thirty-first parallel as the southern boundary of the United States (today's northern boundary between Louisiana and Mississippi); the right of U.S. citizens to full navigation of the Mississippi; and a three-year period of tax-free right to deposit American goods at New Orleans 'for transfer from river craft to ocean-going vessels.' This Right of Deposit constituted a major diplomatic victory for Pinckney (Wall, p. 80).

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