300 Years Ago: May, 1716

1716 was not especially a good one in Louisiana. That year may, perhaps, be taken as a “poster year” for the economic stagnation of the colony and for establishing Louisiana’s reputation which would stain the colony for the rest of the French regime through the 1760’s. Even though by 1730 and through the late twenties, the thirties, and the forties Louisiana would begin to produce enough to feed itself as well as produce the occasional surplus. The mid-18th century saw the emergence of the first Creole generation, the establishment and growth of cities and towns, of plantations, farms, and fisheries, and of the culture that would define the region down to the present day. But whatever success may be found in the future French Louisiana, 1716 would always overshadow the view of the colony in the eyes of the outside world. 
As the Crozat regime crumbled, the Regency government in Paris took some steps to reorganize the colony. But it was an uphill battle all the way. There were several underlying problems which seemed unsurmountable. First, the French colonists and soldiers were bound to the coast. Since the fishing industry was hardly begun, this staple of today’s Creole economy and culture was, for all intents and purposes, non-existent in 1716. Nothing much, except vegetables, would grow well along the sandy pine forests of the coast so agriculture – again an anchor of future growth remained largely undeveloped. The only firm economic activity was the Indian trade and this was never to be a major economic engine. Second, land tenure was a hit and miss proposition. It wasn’t really settled for a decade or so, and thus French farms were slow in development. Third, both the Crozat monopoly and the attitudes of New Spain were totally opposite the encouragement of any sort of trading systems which would benefit any and all along the Gulf coast. Official trade was expensive and restrictive to all concerned. So it is no wonder that most people ignored it and unofficial trade (smuggling and piracy) found a ready market for its goods and services. 

In spite of all of this some positive or, at least, encouraging steps forward occurred in 1716. Natchitoches was established the previous year and would grow to be “the most important European post on the edge of the Atlantic world”. There Spanish trade goods and cattle would enter the Louisiana colony – both as contraband and as legitimate trade goods or as Louisiana produce. Natchez, or rather Fort Rosalie, was established in the the early spring of 1716 and would eventually become another success story of French Louisiana. In France, the Council of the Navy became the political headquarters of the Louisiana colony, eventually giving Bienville the virtual command of Louisiana under various titles – usually governor. This Council would soon establish the new capital of Louisiana at New Orleans. “In May 1716, the Banque Générale Privée (“General Private Bank”), which developed the use of paper money, was set up by convicted murderer and millionaire gambler John Law. It was a private bank, but three quarters of the capital consisted of government bills and government-accepted notes.” Wikipedia. John Law and his bank would eventually become the Company of the West and run Louisiana through the decade of the twenties. 

1716 would not be any major turning point in Louisiana history, but it helped set the tone for the next decade of so of the growth of French Louisiana. 

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