300 Years Ago – More or Less: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose !

This weekend coming, the Saints will take on the Panthers. Put another way, the game will be Louisiana vs. Carolina. And in the light of the Tri-Centennial, this is truly a case of history repeating itself. In one of those bizarre thought-trains prompted by a TV news note on the upcoming game, it occurred to me that the Panthers decided (in a fit of geopolitical correctness) not to claim either North or South Carolina in their namesake. This led to the thought that in colonial times, until 1712, there was only one British colony south of Virginia, the colony of Carolina. Which in turn reminded me that a constant thorn in the side of French colonial Louisiana was the said colony. As we prepare to watch Sunday’s game, let’s look back to that original rivalry between New Orleans and Carolina. Maybe some good conversation during commercials and half-time can be gained.

It’s pretty well known that France wanted a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi in order to, among many other reasons, drive a wedge between the Spanish empire in the west and the looming British empire on the Atlantic seaboard. The “unoccupied” northern Gulf Coast also offered Louis XIV and his ministers a connection between their holdings in New France (aka Canada) and the Caribbean. After 1699, the colony was established and began to grow. The Louisiana government dealt with the Spanish presence in a variety of ways. Their handling of the expansion proclivities of British Carolina was centered in Lower Louisiana (the Arkansas delta down) and was primarily concerned with Native dealings. The “nations” between the lower Mississippi and the Atlantic coast thus became the chief “Indian Affairs” issue for officials in Louisiana and Carolina. Control of the Natives or,at least, friendly trade and military relations with them were the major tools of both French and British colonists. One of the more significant incidents of this rivalry was an uprising staged by Louisiana’s Native allies against trade interests from British Carolina. What has come down in history as the Yamasee War began in April of 1715. It has been called a “serious if temporary blow to English trade and westward expansion . . . against the grasping English traders and the expanding frontier settlements of Carolina” and was launched by a Creek confederacy including the Alibamon group. This in turn prompted the French to establish Fort Toulouse at the Alabamans on the Coosa.* The fort remained in operation until the end of the French & Indian Wars.

For the remainder of the 18th century, tensions remained between the Carolinians and New Orleanians until they were finally resolved by the Seven Year’s or French & Indian Wars ending in the French evacuation of North America in 1763. Throughout those years, most of the Natives along the Mississippi remained French trade partners and allies, while the Natives of the Tennessee Valley and those in the eastern forests between Mobile and the southern end of the Appalachian mountains tended to side with the British Carolinians. Of the “major” tribes, the Choctaw usually sided with Louisiana while the Chickasaw were friends of Carolina. The Creeks pretty much did not like either side. Another item to note was that the Natives were not bashful about playing one side off the other. As a common diplomatic means of treating with the Natives, the European custom of gift giving to the various groups was practiced by both colonies. The Natives were savvy enough to get gifts from both powers and then settle back into day to day relations.

Hopefully, this small Tri-Centennial footnote will add some enjoyment and depth to the friendly New Orleans/Carolina football rivalry, and provide another note of interest to your enjoyment of Sunday’s game. As well as once again justifying that old French saying, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose ! The more things change, the more they remain the same.

* see Thomas, Daniel H. Fort Toulouse; The French Outpost at the Alabamas on the Coosa. Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 1989. p.7 ff.

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