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Historical Perspectives, 1682-1815

  1. Introduction
  2. A Brief Outline of Louisiana History, 1682-1815
  3. Native Americans in Louisiana
  4. Settling the Land
  5. Women and Families
  6. Slave Revolts and Insurrections


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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Louisiana Returns to France, 1802

Two more Spanish governors rotated through Louisiana (in 1798 Manuel Gayoso de Lemos replaced François-Louis Hector, Baron de Carondelet et Hoyelles, and in 1799 he was replaced by Manuel de Salcedo) before its purchase by the United States in 1803. Although France was in turmoil due to its revolution in 1789, many citizens of France and Louisiana still longed for Louisiana to become a French colony again.

By 1793 Europe was embroiled in another war. Napoleon Bonaparte as the new leader of the Republic of France planned a new French empire in the Americas with Louisiana as its centerpiece (Wall p. 80). In 1800, he forced Spain to return Louisiana at the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso. Spanish officials and troops continued to govern Louisiana while waiting for a French official to arrive. Napoleon felt this would give him time to build a military force to send to protect Louisiana from the Americans and British. The secret treaty failed to remain secret for long. Hearing about the treaty, President Thomas Jefferson worried what would happen to U.S. trade on the Mississippi. He decided to protect American interest by offering to purchase New Orleans from France.

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The Louisiana Purchase, 1803

In October, 1802, the Spanish intendant at new Orleans arbitrarily suspended the right of deposit. This action and the retrocession of Louisiana to France caused immediate consternation among the people of the West and led President Jefferson to instruct Robert R. Livingston, the American minister at Paris, to seek the purchase of a tract of land on the lower Mississippi to be used as a port. Early in 1803, James Monroe was sent as a minister plenipotentiary to France to participate in these negotiations. He was authorized to offer as much as ten million dollars for New Orleans and West Florida. But even before Monroe arrived in Paris, Napoleon, unable to suppress a slave rebellion in Santo Domingo, had abandoned his plans for a French empire in America and had decided to sell all of Louisiana. Possessing enough foresight to violate their instructions for the sake of this huge area between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains, Livingston and Monroe closed the negotiations with an agreement to pay France fifteen million dollars for the entire Louisiana territory (Farnham, 7). Napoleon’s minister of the treasury, the Marquis de Barbé-Marbois, dealt with Livingston and Monroe over terms of the Louisiana Purchase. The Louisiana Purchase encompassed close to one-third of the present continental United States including all of the present-day states of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska, as well as parts of Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and, of course, Louisiana.

By 1803, Louisiana had 50,000 inhabitants, approximately 28,000 of them slaves, with 10,000 of the total population living in New Orleans. Numbers had increased because of Spain’s liberal land policies, the inclusion in the count of the residents of British West Florida ceded to Spain at the end of the American Revolution and the arrival of the Acadians. Forced out of British Canada, Acadians arrived in Louisiana from New York and St. Domingue, with several thousand more arriving in the 1770s and 1780s. The Spanish government helped them establish farms, most in the Attakapas District. Along with the French Canadians, a group of Spanish immigrants arrived from the Spanish Canary Islands. In 1771, 700 Canary Islanders (Isleños) arrived and successfully settled in St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. A slave revolt, which began in 1791 in St. Domingue, brought 10,000 new settlers to Louisiana, mostly slaves and their French owners. New Orleans was the home of a large free black population; a smaller group of free blacks existed near Natchitoches. Many French citizens migrated to Louisiana rather than live under Napoleon, and many Spanish officials and settlers left Louisiana to return to Spain. However, the foundation for an American Louisiana had been laid. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 did not begin Anglo-American immigration into the area, it simply legitimized a process that had begun more than a decade earlier (Wall, p. 79).

Spain protested Napoleon’s sale of Louisiana, and Pierre Clément de Laussat, French commander in New Orleans, called the Purchase an Aimpudent lie. But the United States Congress hastily passed legislation authorizing the Purchase. President Jefferson named William Charles Cole Claiborne the first territorial governor and sent him and General James Wilkinson to take possession from Laussat. On November 30, 1803, Spain’s representatives, Governor Manuel de Salcedo and the Marqués de Casa Calvo, officially transferred Louisiana to France’s representative, Prefect Laussat. Although Laussat had been instructed to transfer Louisiana to the United States the next day, twenty days actually separated the transfers, during which time Laussat was governor of Louisiana.

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Louisiana as an American Territory, 1803-1811

Claiborne and Wilkinson arrived in Louisiana with 400 regular troops and about 100 Mississippi militiamen to take possession of the new American territory in December 1803. Claiborne faced a task never before encountered by an American. All previous United States territories had been inhabited in the main by English-speaking Protestants who shared a British tradition of self-government. Claiborne for a time became virtual dictator over people from radically different cultures who spoke different languages, practiced a different religion from the vast majority of U.S. citizens, and had no experience whatsoever with representative government” (Wall, p. 89). To add to Claiborne’s troubles former French Prefect Pierre Laussat and former Spanish governor, the Marquis de Casa Calvo both remained in Louisiana.

Claiborne worked hard to convert the non-Anglo citizens of Louisiana to democracy. They were dissatisfied with the responsibilities of jury service, voting, serving in elected bodies and judgeships. American Protestants were strict about the observance of the Sabbath and they strongly disapproved of the French, Spanish, and Creoles who attended mass (maybe) and then spent the rest of the day enjoying themselves with dancing, drinking, and gambling. Difficulty also arose in the courts where French and Spanish Louisianans were struggling to learn American law while being unable to speak English. Interpreters and French and Spanish lawyers were few. All of the various groups were offended when the United States Congress prohibited the continued importation of slaves from other countries. The French, Spanish, and Anglo-American landowners smuggled slaves without regard to the new laws. Conflict also continued between the colonies still held by Spain and Britain. By 1805, the United States and Spain had ended diplomatic relations. Spain did not want the Americans in Mexico. But an uneasy truce between the Americans and the non-Louisiana Spanish was maintained.

In Louisiana, a territorial government with an elected legislature was established in 1805. It was made up entirely of white male landowners with 200 acres who had held United States citizenship for three years. In 1806, the Territorial Legislature enacted a new slave code that took away even the few rights that slaves held under the Code Noir. They were no longer permitted to own or inherit anything, so self-purchase was made impossible. The 1806 code included passages demanding that free people of color living in the territory treat whites with deference (Wall, p. 94). In 1807, the Legislature created nineteen parishes as the unit of local government. A Civil Code was promulgated in 1807 that was modeled on Spanish law and the French Napoleonic Code.

French refugees from the West Indies, white and black, who had fled from the St. Domingue rebellion to Cuba, arrived in the Louisiana territory after 1809 when the Spanish government expelled them from Cuba. More than 3,000 slaves and 3,000 free people of color along with a small number of whites settled in New Orleans. The existing community of free blacks in New Orleans were outnumbered by the French immigrants and conflicts arose over culture and societal norms.

However, the largest group of new immigrants were Americans. They came from every state and territory held by the United States from 1803 to 1812 and settled in every part of the Louisiana Purchase. Many brought slaves with them, and smugglers continued to bring other slaves to Louisiana. New Orleans prospered through slave trade as well as by commerce on the Mississippi.

The 1810 census of the United States showed that the Territory of Orleans (the present state boundaries of Louisiana minus the area known as the Florida parishes) had more than 76,000 people living there. Only 60,000 inhabitants were required for statehood. The population as reported was almost evenly divided between whites and blacks. Women, free people of color, and the slaves were counted as qualifying Louisiana for statehood even though they could not vote nor serve in office. Native Americans were not counted. A constitutional convention was led by Julien Poydras. Twenty-six of the forty-three white, male delegates of the body had French surnames. They wrote a conservative constitution and called the new state Louisiana.

The framers of the first Louisiana constitution did not create a democratic document; they forged a government designed to keep themselves and those like them in power. Only white men of property could aspire to office, and only those who paid taxes could vote. Probably not more than one man in three could vote in 1812, and no more than 51 percent of adult white males even met registration requirements (Wall, p. 105).

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The State of Louisiana

The new state of Louisiana and its constitution were approved by Congress, who also added the Florida Parishes as part of the new state, with an admission date of April 30, 1812. Louisiana became the eighteenth state to join the United States. The new Louisiana legislature elected Claiborne to be their first governor. Almost immediately after his election Claiborne was faced with war. On June 18, 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain. Great Britain blockaded the Gulf of Mexico, closing the Mississippi and effectively halting New Orleans’ trade with Europe and the northeastern United States.

The state militias were expected to fight to protect Louisiana from British invasion. But militias made up of French and Spanish descendants had little faith in the United States’ ability to fend off an enemy. Claiborne’s challenge was to rally them to support the war effort. The continued distrust between the Louisianians and the Americans affected General Andrew Jackson when he arrived in New Orleans to protect the city against the British. Citizens openly debated whether to support Jackson or surrender to the British. Jackson declared martial law thereby further eroding relations among the factions. Although peace negotiations were taking place in the Netherlands neither the United States nor Great Britain were able to inform their armies in New Orleans and thereby prevent the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

Jackson planned ways to stop the British from entering Louisiana but they surprised him by entering through an unexpected route. To Jackson’s benefit the citizens of New Orleans and all the militias were willing to fight for the United States once the British were at their door. Jackson also received reinforcements from Tennessee and Kentucky. At this point the composition of Jackson’s army mirrored the racial and ethnic diversity of the state. To fill out his ranks, Jackson happily had accepted the services of two battalions of free men of color, who would render valiant service under fire. The Baratarians [Jean Lafitte and his pirates] had already rejected a proposal to fight for the British, but when Jackson promised them a U.S. pardon for their past misdeeds, they flocked to his standard. They, too, rendered good service, especially with the artillery. Finally, Jackson rounded out his little army with about 100 Choctaw warriors (Wall, p. 109).

The Americans defeated the British at New Orleans on January 8, 1815, unknowing that a peace treaty had been signed on December 24, 1814.

The new state of Louisiana had had little time to develop because of the War of 1812 but there was no turning back once the British and Jackson had left. Louisiana would show amazing abilities to overcome ethic divisions and economic hardships throughout its history.

See also:

  • Glenn Conrad, Editor. A Dictionary of Louisiana Biography. Lafayette, LA: Louisiana Historical Association, 1988.
  • Thomas J. Farnham, The Federal-State Issue and the Louisiana Purchase, Louisiana History 6 (Winter 1965): 5-25.
  • Louisiana State Museum online exhibition The Cabildo: Two Centuries of Louisiana History
  • Bennett Wall, et al. Louisiana: A History. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1997.

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Historical Overview

Six important linguistic or cultural groupings of Native-American tribes were indigenous to what is now the state of Louisiana at the time of European contact: the Attakapa; the Caddo; the Tunica; the Natchez; the Muskhogean, and the Chitimacha. Each could be further divided into subgroups or tribes but many did not survive their encounters with the Europeans.

The Natchez were systematically destroyed by the French in 1729. But the Caddo have continued with their culture unbroken to the present day. The Attakapa lived in the far southwest corner of present day Louisiana and were distantly related to the Opelousas tribe. They were very peaceful and easily overwhelmed by the Europeans and disappeared as a distinct group before the 19th century.

Tribes ranged from small clans of hunters to large communities of farmers. Evidence shows they had extensive cultural and economic exchange networks with tribes around them, reaching as far south as Mexico, Central American and the Caribbean. Material goods were traded, as were language, technology, and recreational practices.

As the Europeans arrived trade was established with the tribes and cultural interaction developed In the 1700s, Native Americans were the largest segment of Louisiana’s population. Archeological evidence shows that in the Native American societies of Louisiana tasks were defined along gender lines. Men hunted, made tools, constructed the buildings and canoes, and defended the communities. Women cared for the extended family, tended the crops, and made all clothes and cooking utensils.

As Europeans moved into Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee two other important groups of Native Americans migrated into Louisiana. The Biloxi came from the coast between Mobile Bay and New Orleans, settling near north Baton Rouge and in time blending with the Tunica. From the late 1760s throughout the rest of the century, the Choctaws moved into Louisiana and settled along the west bank of the Mississippi River north of Point Coupee. Eventually groups of Choctaw lived from the Mississippi border on the Pearl River to the Sabine River on the Texas border.

Caddoan Groups

The Caddoan groups lived north of the Attakapa at the present Texas-Louisiana border and north into Arkansas. The fertile land around the Red River provided them with excellent agricultural land. The Caddoan tribes made up three informal political confederacies: The Hasinai who lived to the west of Louisiana in present day east Texas, the Kadohadacho who lived in present northwestern Louisiana and southern Arkansas, and the Natchitoches who lived in near the present-day town of Natchitoches. They were capable of defending themselves against any enemies but attempted to live peacefully with other tribes as well as the Europeans.

Tunican Groups

The Tunican tribal groups lived to the east of Caddoans with the center of their lands at present-day Vicksburg, reaching north into Arkansas. The Tunica did not often come into the land that became Louisiana until the mid-eighteenth century when they came as far south as Baton Rouge.


The Natchez were located in the areas of present-day northeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi south of the Tunica. Seven tribes of the Muskhogean linguistic family were found south of the Natchez lands from the Florida Parishes to the river delta below New Orleans. The best known of the Muskhogean tribes is the Houma as others did not survive into the era when Europeans first arrived.


The Chitimacha lived in the most southern part of current Louisiana west of the Mississippi River and in the swamp lands. The Chitimacha had the most advanced cultural life of the indigenous tribes. They produced high quality, elaborate crafts; worked metals into tools; and carved wooden objects and toys for their children. Their religion and social organization were complex.

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The European View: A Sampling of Travelers’ Accounts of Native Americans

Europeans exploring and settling the area encompassed by the Louisiana Purchase published their impressions and accounts of the native people they encountered there in travel journals and historical accounts. Information about the Native Americans and the interior of Louisiana were eagerly read in Europe and elsewhere in America.

One early French settler, Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz (1689?-1775) wrote extensively about the Native Americans in Histoire de la Louisiane (Paris: de Bure, l’âné, 1758), which was later translated into English as History of Louisiana, or of the western parts of Virginia and Carolina (London: T. Becket, 1774). Le Page du Pratz may have been born in France or the Netherlands. He studied to be an architect and was interested in the work of engineering. In May 1718 he sailed from La Rochelle, France to Louisiana under the auspices of the John Law Company. Le Page du Pratz was first granted land on Bayou St. John but in January 1720 he received a private concession of lands near the home of the Natchez Indians whom he befriended. He questioned and criticized Bienville’s massacre of the Natchez Indians in 1729. In 1728 he returned to New Orleans in order to assume the directorship of the Company of the Indies plantation. He lost his job when the Company surrendered its charter to Louisiana in 1734 and left Louisiana. La Page du Pratz began his account of Louisiana with the intention of correcting misinformation about the land. He first published his account in a series of articles in the Journal Oeconomique de Paris which he later expanded and published in 1758. Le Page du Pratz’s “account is most useful for his description of the Natchez and is the principal source for the anthropology and archaeology of these Indians.” (Conrad)

Two valuable accounts were written by Louis Narcisse Baudry des Lozières (1761-1841), entitled:

Voyage à la Louisiane, et sur le continent de L’Amérique septentrionale, fait dans les années 1794 à 1798 (Paris: Dentu, 1802) and

Second voyage à la Louisiane, faisant suite au premier de l’auteur de 1794-98 (Paris: Charles an XI, 1803).

Baudry des Lozières, a military officer stationed in St. Domingue, traveled through Louisiana from 1794 to 1798. He describes a battle between the forces of Bienville and the Chickasaw tribe that took place in 1734 and relates how that affected the current (in 1794) state of affairs in Louisiana. Much of the volume is a biography of Jean-Philippe de Grondel (1714-1804?) who served in the French military in Louisiana from 1732 to 1762 and served as a negotiator with the Chickasaws in 1750.

François Marie Perrin du Lac (1766-1824) traveled to Upper and Lower Louisiana, and described the Native Americans in the Missouri area in

Voyage dans les deux Louisianes, et chez les nations sauvages du Missouri, par les États-Unis, l’Ohio et les provinces qui le bordent, en 1801, 1802 et 1803 (Lyon: Bruyset aîné et Buynand, 1805).

He gives his impressions of the “Osages, Chawetas, Chicawchas, Scioux, and Chaguyennes.” While his physical descriptions were based on his own observations, his impressions of the family and social life of the Native Americans may have been drawn from the comments of colonists since he only spent limited time among the Indians.

President Thomas Jefferson sent Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from St. Louis to the western coast of Oregon territory in 1805. Clark submitted a report of their travels in January 1806 to which he attached reports by Dr. John Sibley of Natchitoches and William Dunbar of Natchez. Dunbar gives a description of the Washita River and Sibley compiles a statistical account of the Indians in the areas that he was familiar with. Sibley (1757-1837) came to Louisiana in 1802 and settled in Natchitoches around 1804. He served as a surgeon to the U.S. garrison at Fort Claiborne and then served as an Indian agent until 1814. The original reports were first republished in London in 1807, with the title,

Travels in the interior parts of America; communicating discoveries made in exploring the Missouri, Red River and Washita, by Captains Lewis and Clark, Doctor Sibley, and Mr. Dunbar; with a statistical account of the countires adjacent. (London: Printed for Richard Phillips … by J. G. Barnard, 1807).

As first governor of the Territory and state of Louisiana William C. C. Claiborne attempted to reconcile differences among the Americans, French, Spanish, Native Americans and other peoples living in Louisiana. In 1812, Claiborne sought to determine the truth behind stories that the Choctaws living in southeastern Louisiana were threatening war with the white settlers. Claiborne sent his representative, Simon Favre, to the Choctaw chief with a letter requesting the chief’s continued support of peace.

But Favre was arrested by Agent Dinsmore, provoking a letter dated Sept. 29, 1812 from Claiborne to Territory of Mississippi governor David Holmes, asking for Favre’s release and describing his thoughts on relations with the Choctaws and Chickasaws.

Henri Marie Brackenridge (1786-1871), while not always kind in his evaluations of the character of the various Native American tribes he interacted with, was sympathetic to their difficulties in living with the white settlers. Brackenridge began his travels in the lands that formed the Louisiana Purchase as a child, when he was sent by his father by flatboat to St. Genevieve to learn French. He later moved to New Orleans, where he studied Spanish, as well. A lawyer by profession, he commented about the United States’ “purchase” of Osage lands: “it is doubtful with me whether our extensive Indian purchases east of the Mississippi, were conducted in the fairest manner. … The governments of the Indian nations are generally republican; the chiefs propose, and the people approve or disapprove;…the consent of a few of the principal chiefs has generally been thought sufficient, but there are instances of those chiefs falling into disgrace in consequence of their unauthorised conduct.” H. M. Brackenridge.

Views of Louisiana together with a journal of a voyage up the Missouri River, in 1811 (Pittsburgh: Printed and published by Cramer, Spear, and Eichbaum, 1814).

See also:

  • Braund, Kathryn E. Holland. Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Rade with Anglo-Americans, 1685-1815. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.
  • Conrad, Glenn R., ed. Dictionary of Louisiana Biography. New Orleans : Louisiana Historical Association, in cooperation with the Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1988.
  • Kniffen, Fred B. Indians of Louisiana. 2nd edition. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 1965.
  • Kniffen, Fred B, Hiram F. Gregory and George A. Stokes. The Historic Indian tribes of Louisiana from 1542 to the present. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1987.
  • LaVere, David. The Caddo Chiefdoms: Caddo Economics and Politics, 700-1835. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.
  • Louisiana State Museum online exhibition “The Cabildo: Two Centuries of Louisiana History”
  • Major, Louise V. Life of Jean-Philipe Goujon de Grondel. Baton Rouge: LSU Thesis, 1940.
  • O’Brien, Greg. Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750-1830. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.
  • Swanson, John R. The Indians of the Southeastern United States. New York: Greenwood Press, 1969.
  • Usner, Daniel H. American Indians in the Lower Mississippi Valley: Social and Economic Histories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  • Wood, Peter. Powhatan’s Mantle: Indians in the Colonial Southeast. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

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Under French Rule

To encourage settlement in Louisiana the French and Spanish governments granted land titles to settlers throughout the territory. Many thousands of acres of land were distributed this way before the territory was acquired by the United States in 1803.

As a French colony, claimed in the name of Louis XIV by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in 1682, Louisiana attracted few colonists until 1699 when a handful of male colonists arrived with Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville and his bother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville.

Governor Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac, appointed in 1813, began the importation of African slaves. In 1717, the Company of the West (Compagnie de l’Occident), founded by Scotsman John Law and chartered by the French crown to handle trade in the colony, increased settlement by importing French convicts, both male and female, most of whom were from debtor’s prison. The Company also imported slaves from the African regions of Guinea, the Gold Coast, and Angola, and from French-held islands in the Caribbean.

In 1720, the Duke of Orléans gave a new charter for the whole of Louisiana to the Compagnie des Indes (Company of the Indies), also headed by Law. Law and Orléans brought colonists to Louisiana through generous land concessions. 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.

Through many years of service as commandant and governor (1701-1713, 1716-1717). Bienville had sought for himself a land grant from the King with little success. Appointed again in 1718, Bienville finally achieved his desire in 1720 when the Company of the Indies granted him a concession of 213.5 arpents (an old French measure for land which equals about one acre) of land in New Orleans. However, Bienville’s land acquisition directly conflicted with a royal edict issued on November 1719 proclaiming that governors, lieutenant generals, and intendants (administrative officials under French, Spanish or Portuguese monarchs responsible for financial affairs) were not allowed to possess “plantations,” but could have only enough land for a “vegetable garden.” Bienville cleverly designed for himself a very large, 53.5-arpent “vegetable garden” between the present-day Bienville and Claiborne Streets in New Orleans and developed a scheme to sell the remaining land to settlers in return for payment in money, goods, and labor.

When John Law’s Company went bankrupt, in the spectacular debacle know at the bursting of the “Mississippi Bubble,” German settlers on Law’s lands found themselves desperate, as well as devastated by a recent hurricane. Bienville sought and received permission from the Council of Administration of Louisiana to settle the Germans colonists on his land in present St. James and St. Charles parishes. The area is now known as the “German Coast.” The combination of his exploitive rental terms to these families and Bienville’s failure to erect a levee to protect the settlers’ crops from ruinous annual floods resulted in mass departures. By 1724 all but one family had sold their contracts to the land and left.

In 1728, Bienville’s many political enemies sought to ruin him with an edict from the Council of State that annulled all land concessions from Manchac Bayou to the sea. Bienville fought this and by 1737 was back in control of his original lands as evidenced by his hiring of François Saucier, surveyor, to “examine, inspect, and survey his entire original concession above New Orleans”. (Briede, p. 902)

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Under Spanish Rule

When Spain gained control of Louisiana in 1762, its policies with regard to land grants were markedly different from those of the French regime. “During the first half of the eighteenth century, under France, a number of very large land-grants were given to wealthy and politically highly-placed individuals. They, in turn, parceled relatively small tracts from their concessions to the ordinary settler – reminiscent of the European manorial system. Under Spain, the granting of the land was far more liberal and diffuse. …lands were (directly from the crown) put in possession of very many colonists, most of whom were small owners, the common man, the petit habitant. It was usually the head of a family who initiated the process of land acquisition: his petition, or requête, was presented to the local commandant; then, the commandant would annotate the petition (usually a scrawl at the bottom of the page) as to whether or not the desired property was available and unencumbered. [Then]…the petition was sent to the governor in New Orleans for his approval or refusal. If the land title was clear, in the ‘royal domain,’ the governor’s approval most often followed as a matter of course. His confirmation also was added to the petition itself.” (Poret, p i.).

When Alejandro O’Reilly arrived as the Spanish governor of Louisiana he attempted to improve the recording of land grants. French grants were not well documented nor clearly recorded, which caused a measure of internal instability in the colony. In a proclamation on February 18, 1770, O’Reilly, with the approval of the crown, initiated the first official land policy in Louisiana. In that document, O’Reilly decreed: ‘All grants shall be made in the name of the king by the governor-general of the province, who will, at the same time, appoint a surveyor to fix the bounds thereof….’ He further stated that ‘the surveyor shall make three copies…, one of which shall be deposited in the office of the escribano [secretary or scrivener] of the government and cabildo, another shall be delivered to the governor-general, and the third to the proprietor, to be annexed to the title of his grant.’” (Haas, p. 5) O’Reilly’s decree was overturned by royal decree in October 1798 and the power to grant lands given back to the authority of the intendant, not the governor. In 1802 the Intendant Don Juan Bonaventure Morales closed the land office in Louisiana in New Orleans because “of the death of the assessor of this intendency.” (Burns, p. 564) According to O’Reilly’s decree he, and succeeding Governors-General, would appoint surveyors to “fix the bounds” of the land grants most often through the drawing of detailed land plats. The following six land plats were drawn by Spanish Surveyor General Charles (Carlos) Laveau Trudeau between the early 1780s, when he was first appointed to the post, and 1805, when he resigned the post. Charles Trudeau (1750-1816) was a native of New Orleans. After his resignation as Spanish Survey General in 1805, Trudeau decided to remain in Louisiana as an American citizen. One of Trudeau’s daughters, Celestine, became the second wife of American General James Wilkinson. Trudeau later became recorder for the city of New Orleans and president of the city council.

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Land Documents: Trudeau’s Plats

These plats are excellent examples of the land grants made in Louisiana, give an insight into land transactions, show the quality of Trudeau’s work, and provide names of land owners bordering on the land surveyed. Such plats were included with the land grants received by settlers from the French, Spanish and British kings.

  • Plat, [between 1803 and 1812] No. 1730. Plat of land near the Tangipahoa River, for Juan [i.e. Jean] de Lassize. The plat show that the land to be granted to de Lassize’s was bordered by the Tangipahoa River, a vacant parcel of land, and land owned by B. Linier and ended at the border of Louisiana and the Mississippi Territory of the United States.
  • Plat, [between 1803 and 1812] No. 1731. Plat of land on the Tangipahoa River, for Juan [i.e. Jean] de Lassize. This plat shows a continuation of de Lassize’s land bounded by the land of H. Jones.
  • Plat, [between 1803 and 1812] No. 1732. Plat of land on the Tangipahoa River, for Juan [i.e. Jean] de Lassize. Also shows a continuation of de Lassize’s land but this part is bordered by two sides by vacant lands.
  • Plat, [between 1803 and 1812] No. 1733. Plat of land on the Tangipahoa River, for Juan [i.e. Jean] de Lassize . Also bordered by vacant lands.
  • Plat, ca. 1804 No. 1734. Plat of land for Juan [i.e. Jean] de Lassize near Lake Ponchartrain and the Tchefuncta River. In comparing the poor quality of the drawing of this plat with the more precise drawings of the previous four it would appear that this plat is a draft plat. Attached to this plat is a verbal description of the land in plats 1730 through plat 1734 to be granted to de Lassize.
  • Plat, 1804 July 30. Plat of land in the district of the Tchefuncta River and Lake Ponchartrain, for Mariana Joyeuse [i.e. Marie Anne Chauvin de Joyeuse] widow of Hugues Hernetus Crebs [i.e. Hugo Ernestus von Krebs]. The plat was verified and accepted in the presence of Brazilio Crebs [i.e. Basile von Krebs], son of Mariana.

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Related Documents

Other land-related documents include land grants, contracts and conveyances, proclamations and memorials, and hand-drawn maps.

Land grant, 1794 The land grant, signed by Luis Héctor Barón de Carondelet, the Spanish Governor of Louisiana, 1792-1797, awards land in Rapides Parish to Cesario Archinard, a resident of New Orleans. The land was surveyed by Carlos Trudeau, surveyor general of Spanish Louisiana. The field of 950 sq. arpanes (The French word is arpent and one equals about 0.85 of one acre) was drawn up March 29, 1794. This land was bordering field property of Mr. Dupare from one side, field of Mr. Richard Edmond Cuny from the other side, and the Rapides River according to the surveyor, Carlos Trudeau. Louisiana, 1794. Rapides Parish, No. 587. Land grant bears additional signatures. Baron de Carondelet (1747-1807) ruled Louisiana and West Florida during the most difficult years of the Spanish era. Although a native of France he entered Spanish military service in 1762. Cesar Archinard was the Spanish commandant of Poste du Rapide during the years 1789-1790 and 1799. He was a large landowner and successful planter. He first settled in Bayou Chicot (now in Evangeline Parish).

Proclamation, 1803 May 18 Photostatic copy of a translation of the proclamation issued by Spanish Governor Manuel Salcedo and the marques de Casa Calvo at New Orleans to the people of the Province of Louisiana on behalf of the King of Spain, concerning the transfer of the province, which had been under the control of Spain, to France, and detailing changes that will occur under French control of the territory. In this proclamation Salcedo declares that previous land grants would be honored by the United States government.

Land grant, 1804 Jul. 3 Title for land in West Feliciana Parish granted to Antonio Son by the Spanish government. Mentions survey drawn up by Don Carlos Trudeau but the plat is no longer in existence. The land granted to Son was bounded by lands held by Ancelmo Blanchard, Federico Kimball, Sr., Pedro Robin de Longny, Alexander Stirling, Luis Alston, and Frederico Kimbal, Jr.

Contract, 1804 Nov. 5 The Barrow family moved to the area known as Nuevo Feliciana in 1799, and built several plantation houses, one of which is the Highland plantation. Highland was built by William Barrow ca. 1804, and originally named Locust Ridge. It was eventually occupied by the Barrow-Norwoods, and was sold by the Barrow family in 1973 to Theodore G. Solomon. The contract or “articles of agreement” was drawn between William Barrow and John Arick to build the Highland plantation house.

Memorial of the House of Representatives of the Territory of Orleans praying that an alteration may be made in the law of last session, respecting the titles to lands and for a further encouragement to the culture of sugar. “December 31, 1805. Read and referred to Mr. Anderson … [et al.]” Washington City : Printed by William Duane and Son, 1806. Those living in Louisiana were greatly concerned about laws Congress had passed regarding their land holdings. Problems were the requirement that those claiming the land had to prove that they had lived on and cultivated the land since before 1800; that those living on the land could no longer cut the cypress trees in the swamps owned by the United States government as they had been allowed to do when it was French or Spanish land; and that they could no longer use the land between their current holdings and the river. Not having access to those lands would hamper their livelihood of growing sugar cane.

Conveyance, 1809 Jan. 6 A conveyance of land from David White, of the District of Baton Rouge, to Parson Carter. The conveyance bears the signature of four witnesses in New Feliciana, one of which is Richard Devall.

East Baton Rouge and the City of Baton Rouge A manuscript map of the City of Baton Rouge ca. 1809 by surveyor Ira Cook Kneeland (d. 1810). Kneeland was born in Massachusetts. After settling in Louisiana he became assistant surveyor of the Baton Rouge District, 1806-1810. In this position he laid out the plan for Beauregard Town (in Baton Rouge) in 1806 and for New Valentia at the mouth of Bayou Sara in Feliciana in 1808. He left Baton Rouge with Spanish authorities during the West Florida Rebellion of 1810.

A map of four tracts of land, granted by the Spanish government to David Bradford, esq., deceas’d [i.e. deceased], for himself and three of his sons, [between 1809-1826] The Bradford family settled in East Feliciana Parish and owned large tracts of land that extended into the plains area of Northern East Baton Rouge Parish, also known as Buhler’s Plains. The map shows four tracts of land, granted by the Spanish government to David Bradford, esq., deceased, for himself and three of his sons, [Edmund, Abelard, and David, Jr.] “sixuare [situated] on a branch of Redwood Creek near the Plains called Buhler’s.” The survey refers to an 1802 Spanish land patent of Abelard Bradford, son of David Bradford. The tract of land was surveyed by Christopher Bollino.

See also:

  • Conrad, Glenn R., ed. Dictionary of Louisiana Biography. New Orleans : Louisiana Historical Association, in cooperation with the Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1988.
  • Briede, Kathryn C. “History of the City of Lafayette. Louisiana Historical Quarterly 20 (October 1937): 895-964.
  • Burns, Francis P., “The Spanish Land Laws of Louisiana,” Louisiana Historical Quarterly 11 (October 1928): 557-581.
  • Haas, Edward F. “Odyssey of a Manuscript Collection: Records of the Surveyor General of Antebellum Louisiana,” Louisiana History 27 (Winter 1986): 5-26. Pintado, Vincente Sebastian Survey Papers. Mss. 890, 1223. Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections. LSU Libraries Special Collections. Baton Rouge, LA Microfilm Pintado.
  • Poret, Ory G. Spanish land grants in Louisiana, 1757-1802: Abstracts of documents from the archives of the State Land Office relating to the lands west of the rivers Mississippi and Atchafalaya. Ville Platee, LA: Provincial Press, 1999.
  • Trudeau, Charles Laveau. Louisiana miscellany. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, [1978]. Microfilm 5969.
  • United States. Congress. American State Papers, Documents, Legislative and Executive of the Congress of the United States, selected and edited under the authority of Congress. Public Land Laws. Volume 5. Washington, Gale & Seaton, 18
  • White, Joseph M. A new collection of laws, charters and local ordinances of the governments of Great Britain, France and Spain relating to the concessions of land in their respective colonies: together with the laws of Mexico and Texas on the same subject. Philadelphia: T. & J.W. Johnson, 1839. Microfilm 4508 Reel 28, no. 1359.

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Native Americans

Anthropologists have identified six important linguistic or cultural groupings among the Native Americans who were living in Louisiana at the time of European invasion: the Attakapa; the Caddo; the Tunica; the Natchez; the Muskhogean, and the Chitimacha.

Caddoan families lived in permanent villages of large houses made of timber and with thatched roofs. The women furnished the dwellings with colored rugs, baskets, jewelry, and decorated pottery that they created. These items were also used for trade. The Tunica lived east of the Caddoans. They also had a highly developed economy, hunted, fished, and engaged in subsistence agriculture and engaged in trading networks. The Tunica families lived in villages but tended to be more nomadic than Caddoans.

The Chitimacha lived in the southern part of present-day Louisiana and in the deep delta and Mississippi River swamp areas. The women and men produce elaborate crafts, carved wooded objects, made toys for their children, and worked metal such as copper into tools; enjoyed a highly developed form of social organization with an elite class, and observed a relatively complex religion. The families lived in villages of substantial wooded houses with thatched roofs.

The Choctaw moved into area in the 1760s as they were pushed further and further away from the Atlantic coast by Europeans. They lived in small family groups clustered in villages of rude huts and sometimes settled near the European settlements. They supported themselves as hunters and some farming. Baskets of cane made by the women were of the finest quality and were prized possessions, then and now. One early French settler Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz, observed that “most of the labour and fatigue falls to the share of the women,” while Indian men had “a great deal of more spare time than the women.”

History of Louisiana, or of the western parts of Virginia and Carolina (parts I and II)

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European Settlers

The women and children in rural Louisianan during the colonial and territorial eras socialized by visiting and performing together productive tasks for their families such as knitting and quilting. Social functions, weddings, christenings and funerals, plus religious days’ events were occasions for recreation. In New Orleans there was a more formal and cosmopolitan life with dancing, musical events, opera, balls and cotillions and grand balls for New Year’s and eventually for Mardi Gras. Through the interactions of all the cultures, French, Spanish, Native American, German, and Caribbean, Louisiana’s unique cuisine developed during the colonial era. Louisiana’s humid climate made it impossible to grow staples of the European diet such as wheat and grapes. Hence most residents, except the very rich, began to rely on native crops: rice, green herbs, Indian corn, red pepper (instead of black), lots of local salt, fish, shellfish, wild game, chicken and pork. Women developed ways to prepare and preserve such foods for their families.

During the time that Louisiana was the Territory of Orleans (1803-1812), children were taught at home or in private school if their parents could afford it. The very rich sent their male children to France for education. Most whites remained illiterate, slaves were not educated, and free blacks educated their own children. Territorial governor William C.C. Claiborne wanted educational institutions in Louisiana. His government gave the College of Orleans a charter but it never developed beyond a high school level.

Women were educated either at home or in Catholic schools. The Territorial Acts of 1804 mandated that academies to educate the female sex be established in each county as “the prosperity of every state depends greatly on the education of the female sex, insomuch that the dignity of their condition is the strongest characteristic which distinguishes civilized from savage society.” So few “female academies” existed in 1805 that Edith Smith Buhler Devall, of Buhler’s Plains near Baton Rouge (part of Buhler’s Plains is the current location of Magnolia Cemetery), had to send her daughter Margaret to the Ursuline Convent School in New Orleans. Margaret wrote her mother that she was unhappy with her situation.

In a letter dated May 22, 1805, Mrs. Devall admonished her daughter to take advantage of her opportunity for an education “…in the necessary accomplishments of a female…” and to mind her temper.

During the period 1800-1815, women in Europe and America did not have equal rights with men, and they were limited in what they could do without male consent. Women who settled in Louisiana were allowed to own lands and other property such as slaves. Property came to women most often as an inheritance or dowry. Women could dispose of property, but if a woman was married, her husband had to consent to the sale of property. If she was widowed or unmarried, other male relatives were part of any legal transactions.

For example, Marie Jeanne Villier of St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, needed the consent of her husband, Louis Villier, to sell a 20-year-old man named Raymond to Louis LaBlanc of St. Martin Parish for $700.

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Slaves and Free People of Color

In New Orleans the urban population included free people of color and by the beginning of Spanish rule over half were female. Free black women were documented as slave owners and owners of real estate and business. Most historians have written that the large number of free black females existed because of the extramarital unions between white men and slave women. “From 1769 to 1803, approximately 42 percent of the slave women emancipated in Louisiana had gained their freedom for reasons relating to concubinage.” (Wall, p. 72) By the late eighteenth century male visitors to New Orleans were practically obsessed with writing about “plaçage.” “Under this system a young free black woman would be “placed” by her parents under the legal protection of a white man, usually a person of good economic and social standing. The man accepting the plaçage would provide a home for the young woman, often having an “unofficial” family with her in addition to a “legal” one that he might have elsewhere in the city.” (Wall, p. 72) Numerous historians since that time have also shown excessive attention to this topic.

Proslavery writers in the eighteenth century argued that race mixing would result in a weaker white race even while they ignored “plaçage,” concubinage, and miscegenation. Southern whites tended to express horror at race mixing, even while they engaged in it. As if in defense of their behavior, proslavery “advocates suggested that the availability of slave women, who were powerless to resist the unwanted sexual advances of white men, helped guard white women from the lust of white men.” (Wall, p. 72) Also in Louisiana laws were enacted to protect white women from slave and free men of color by requiring that a slave convicted of raping a white woman be put to death. There were no laws against white or black men raping black women.

Slaves represented both labor and capital and plantation owners want them to be healthy and productive. Most able bodied adult slaves and older children worked in the fields. In the plantation houses slave women worked as cooks, baby nurses and maids, cooked for all the plantation slaves, or served as midwife to slaves and whites. Slave women in the cities held other occupations and had more freedom of movement and reduced supervision. They peddled vegetables, bread, gumbo, rice cakes, and other items. Some female slaves from outlying plantations were allowed to come into town to sell goods from their gardens. In New Orleans those who could afford to do so owned slaves for domestic work or hired slaves from others for this work.

Slave children under age 10 could not legally be separated from their mothers. In New Orleans “surplus” children of domestic slaves were often sold. As the price of cotton fluctuated, so did the price of slaves. When male salve field hands sold for $1,000, females would sale for $750-$800. Skilled slaves were valued higher. “Young light-skinned women could bring as much as $2000, a sum usually paid by men who wished to have a slave mistress.” (Wall, p. 159)

See also:

  • Arnold, Morris. Colonial Arkansas, 1686-1804: A Social and Cultural History. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
  • Brasseaux, Carl A. The Founding of New Acadia: The Beginnigs of Acadian Life in Louisiana, 1765-1803. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1987.
  • Brasseaux, Carl A. and Glenn R. Conrad. The Road to Louisiana: The Saint-Domingue Refugees, 1792-1809. Lafayette, LA: USL, 1992.
  • Couch, R. Randall. “The Public Masked Balls of antebellum New Orleans: A Custom of Masque Outside the Mardi Gras Tradition.” Louisiana History 35 (1994): 403-31.
  • Crété, Liliane. Daily Life in Louisiana, 1815-1830. Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1978.
  • Deiler, J. Hanno. “The System of Redemption in the State of Louisiana,” Louisiana Historical Quarterly (1929): 426-427.
  • Logsdon, Joseph. “Immigration through the port of New Orleans,” in Mark Stolarik, ed. Forgotten Doors: The other ports of entry to the United States. Philadelphia: Balch Institute Press, 1988. p. 107-113.
  • Dunbar-Nelson, Alice. “People of Color in Louisiana, Part I.” Journal of Negro History 1 (October 1916): 361-76.
  • Dunbar-Nelson, Alice. “People of Color in Louisiana, Part II.” Journal of Negro History 2 (January 1917): 51-78.
  • Hanger, Kimberly S. Bounded Lives, Bounded Places: Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans, 1769-1803. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.
  • Malone, Ann Patton. Sweet Chariot: Slave Family and Household Structure in Nineteenth-Century Louisiana. Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1992.
  • Wall, Bennett, et. al. Louisiana: A History. 3rd ed. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1997.

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Slave Revolts and Insurrections

Rumors of insurrections, rebellions, and slave uprisings circulated often in Louisiana, and Louisiana was not a peaceful place. From 1729 to 1810 documented, armed insurrections included four by slaves, two by white land and property owners, and five by Native Americans.

Actual slave rebellions did not occur that often. An unsuccessful slave uprising occurred in 1730 led by a slave named Samba. In 1795, Point Coupee Parish was the site of a slave revolt linked to the ongoing slave revolt in St. Domingue (now Haiti). Fifty-seven blacks and three whites were convicted of planning an insurrection and twenty-three were hanged. The St. Domingue slave revolt, which began in 1791, brought 10,000 new settlers to Louisiana, mostly slaves and their French owners. Another group of St. Domingue refugees arrived in 1809-1810.

Pierre-Louis Berquin-Duvallon (1769-?) fled the slave revolt in St. Domingue and by 1800 had settled in New Orleans “with a few slaves which he had trouble introducing into the colony.” In 1802 he traveled throughout Louisiana and wrote Vue de la colonie espagnole du Mississipi, ou des provinces de Louisiane et Floride Occidentale, en L’année 1802. (Paris: Imprimerie expeditive an XI, 1803), a “rather jaundiced view of Louisiana which aroused the ire of creole society.” Berquin-Duvallon’s book was popular enough however to be translated into German in 1804 (Schilderung von Louisiana. Aus dem französischen des von Duvallon herausgegebenen werkes zweckmässig abgekürzt, Weimar, 1804) and English in 1806.

Claude C. Robin (b. 1750) and his son traveled in Louisiana and the Caribbean, 1802-1806. He recorded their observations of the rebellion and the subsequent settlement of the refugees in Louisiana in Voyages dans l’intérieur de la Louisiane, de la Floride occidentale, et dans les isles de la Martinique et de Saint-Domingue (Paris: F. Buisson, 1807).

Louisiana’s citizens were rightly concerned that the successful slave uprising in St. Domingue would lead to uprisings in their territory. New Orleans and the surrounding countryside saw the largest slave revolt in U.S. history in 1811. It began January 8, 1811, on a plantation owned by Manuel Andry in St. Charles Parish, thirty-six miles south of New Orleans (near the present-day town of Norco). Charles Deslondes, a refugee from St. Domingue who worked as a slave driver on the plantation, organized the other slaves on the plantation. With the support of runaway slaves, or “maroons,” who lived in the nearby swamps, Deslondes’ band wounded Andry and killed his son. Seizing weapons on the plantation, they set off on the road along the river headed for New Orleans, gathering recruits from other plantations as they went. Accounts differ, but they numbered between 150 and 500 strong. Alarmed planters fled with their families down-river to New Orleans ahead of them, sounding the alarm. During the night of January 9 and the morning of January 10, a detachment of United States regular troops and two companies of militia attacked the slaves at Jacques Fortier’s plantation in St. Charles Parish, stopping the advance on New Orleans. Sixty-six slaves were killed. Seventy-five were held for questioning. After a week of investigation, Judge Pierre Bauchet Saint Martin of St. Charles Parish empanelled a tribunal of five plantation owners, some of whom had suffered property damage in the revolt. Of the seventy-five slaves who were held, twenty-five were tried at Noel Destrehan’s plantation. On January 15, 1812, after one day of investigation, the tribunal condemned eighteen of the slaves. They were taken to the plantations of their respective masters, where they were shot and their heads cut off and mounted on poles as an example to the remaining slaves.

Some slaves involved in the revolt escaped to Orleans Parish, where they were captured and tried. Jailed in the Cabildo in New Orleans, the slaves’ cases were heard in the City Court, January 15-18 and again on February 2. As was the custom, they were tried by a tribunal consisting of a judge or two justices of the peace and three to five white landowners or “freeholders.” Slave owners who served on the tribunals included Louis Leblanc, J.E. Boré, Daniel Clark, Peter Colsson, Stephen Henderson, Chas Jumonville, Thomas Porée P. Dennis LaRonde, Jacque Villére, and J.B. Labatut.

A typical example of a case related to the 1811 revolt is Territory v. Guery or Gery, the slave of James Fortier City Court #185. The charge is insurrection. The case record consists of two documents, an arrest warrant and a bill of information. The arrest warrant names two other defendants besides Gery – they were tried separately. The warrant notes that the three slaves were arrested and further calls for the summoning of five “good and lawful freeholders of the City of New Orleans” to act as a tribunal in the case: Messrs. De La Croix, Bellechasse, Duverge, Livaudais, and Lanusse. The document is dated January 16, 1811 and signed “John Drouillard, deputy Sheriff.”

Also on the warrant is the Clerk of Court Thomas S. Kennedy’s order for the sheriff to call the tribunal. The qualifications to serve on the tribunal are reproduced from the legislation that established the tribunal system. Neither the proprietor of the slave, nor any relation of the owner within four degrees of consanguinity, may serve on the tribunal The charge of insurrection is stated formally: “having made or caused to be made an insurrection in the Territory of Orleans, or having been an accomplice, aider and abettor of persons making or causing to be made an insurrection in the said Territory.” The front of the bill of information is in French, but the verdict and sentence are written on the back in English, signed by the five members of the tribunal and approved by City Court Judge L. Moreau Lislet.

Other examples of case files from the 1811 insurrection include:

  • Territory v. Negro Jerry, slave of James Fortier City Court case #185
  • Territory v. Negro Etienne (Neptune), slave of James Fortier City Court case #186
  • Territory v. Negro Jean, the slave of Madame Christiene City Court case #187
  • Territory v. Garret, Daniel, the slave of Mr. Butler and Mr. McCutcheon City Court case #188
  • Criminal case file no. 189, Territory of Orleans v. Hector, the slave of I.E. Trask, 1811
  • Territory v. Louis, the slave of Israel E. Trask City Court case #190
  • Territory v. Jessamin, the slave of Noel Destrehan City Court case #191
  • Territory v. Theodore, the slave of Judge Truard City Court case #192
  • Territory v. Gilbert, the slave of Mr. Andry City Court case #193
  • Territory v. Caesar, the slave of Israel E. Trask City Court case #194
  • Territory v. Jaco [Jacob], the slave of the late Mr. Mueillon City Court case #195

Several theories about what caused the revolt emerged in Louisiana and the United States. Some blamed disgruntled Spanish planters in Louisiana, while others attributed it to pirate Jean Lafitte and the French government. Governor William C. C. Claiborne and others in New Orleans, especially native whites, blamed slaves from the West Indies for instigating the revolt, because the purported leader of the attack, Charles Deslondes, was from Saint Domingue, where slaves had launched a successful and brutal revolution against their masters (Thompson, 19-21).
As a result of the 1811 revolt, the Louisiana legislature and those in several other slaveholding states and territories, passed new and tougher slave control laws. Additionally, Claiborne called on the legislature to enact reforms to improve the quality and effectiveness of the local militia (Thompson, 22). Claiborne also introduced the controversial Act providing for the payment of slaves killed and executed on account of the late insurrection in this Territory. The New Orleans City Council passed a series of ordinances to regulate and restrict slaves’ activities in the city. Slaves not owned or temporarily hired by New Orleans residents could not be in the city. Those slaves who did live in New Orleans could not congregate except for funerals or dances, and then only with the mayor’s approval. They were barred from gathering in the streets, public squares, meat markets, or tavern houses. Property owners who did not report illegal slave meetings could be heavily fined (Thompson, 29). Reports of the revolt came just as Congress was debating admitting Louisiana as a state. In addition to heightening concern about possible large-scale slave uprisings around the United States, the insurrection raised doubts about folding a large slave and foreign-born population into the fledging U.S. republic.

Threats of slave insurrection continued in the Territory of Orleans. In October 1812, authorities uncovered a plot among slaves on the Bellechasse, Castantato, McCarty and Laneusse, and Bienville plantations to revolt in New Orleans. Some of the leaders were captured, interrogated, and sentenced to death by a tribunal of slave owners. Related cases include:

  • Territory v. Orphee (slave of P. Thomas) City Court case #227
  • Territory v. Isaac or Jacques, a slave of Domingue Fletas City Court case #228
  • Territory v. Honore, a slave of Mr. Lemege City Court case #229
  • Territory v. Joseph, a slave of Mr. Bellechasse City Court case #230
  • Territory v. Charles, a slave of Mr. Bienvenu City Court case #232
  • Territory v. Lindor, a slave of A. Bienvenu City Court case #233
  • Territory v Raimond, a slave of A. Bienvenu City Court case #235
  • Territory v Colin, a slave of Mr. Villamil City Court case #240
  • Territory v Antoine, a slave of Mr. Boniquet City Court case #241
  • Territory v Charles, a slave of Mr. Marigny City Court case #242

Throughout Louisiana, whites feared revolts as long as slavery existed. Not all acts of rebellion, however, occurred on such a large scale as the events of 1811 and 1812. Slaves were indicted for individual acts: allegedly attempting to poison their masters (Territory v. Marie Rose, a slave City Court case #182 and Territory v. Simon and Juliette, the slaves of M. Drausin and Lucien Labrache City Court case #215); committing mutiny against an overseer (Territory v. Negro slave Andre City Court case #207 and Territory v. Negro slave Andre City Court case #221—these involved the same slave on a plantation owned by the Ursuline nuns); and committing arson (Territory v. Ambrose, the slave of Benjamin Farrar City Court case #214).

See also:

  • James Dorman, “The Persistent Specter of Slave Rebellion in Territorial Louisiana,” Louisiana History 18 (Fall 1988): 389-404.
  • Junius P. Rodriguez, “Always `En Garde’: The Effects of Slave Insurrection upon the Louisiana Mentality, 1811-1815,” Louisiana History 33 (Fall 1992): 399-416.
  • Thomas Marshall Thomspon, “National Newspaper and Legislative Reactions to Louisiana’s Deslondes Slave Revolt of 1811,” Louisiana History 33 (Fall 1992): 5-29.
  • Albert Thrasher, “On to New Orleans!”: Louisiana’s Heroic Slave Revolt, ([New Orleans, La.]: A. Thrasher, printed by Cypress Press, c1995).