HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE.
I promise I won’t repeat this for a long time (maybe a couple of months). But to just set the tone once more re: the TriCentennial. The date of the founding of New Orleans may be placed anywhere (depending on how one defines “founding”) between 1717 and 1722. So I plan to continue this blog for a while yet. During a typical New Year’s task of reviewing and cleaning out old files (this one specifically on the http://1718neworleans.com website, I came across an old essay I had written back in 2012 which I named and later posted on the site as:
1698: A PRELUDE TO LOUISIANA
Enjoy this look back to the beginnings of our project and I hope you pick up sense of what the “founders” were dealing with.
Forests of odd-looking trees. Marshes and prairies of waving grasses. Water everywhere… lakes, bayous, a spectacular river, and soggy swamps. Insects galore. Half-naked Indians with strange customs. Strange foods. Unpredictable, unmerciful weather. LaSalle had passed through this landscape in 1682 and claimed it all for France. None of his countrymen, though, made it back until an expedition under the LeMoyne brothers of Canada arrived in 1699. This is the prelude to what they would find as they paddled and slogged through the land that would eventually become New Orleans. It was largely due to these very elements – good and bad – that the City of New Orleans is what it is today. Understanding the original inhabitants and the basic geography of this area is key to understanding how New Orleans came into existence in the first place, and why it is still such a dynamic and economically important city today.
The Native Americans
By 1650, Spain, Britain, and France had divvied up North America among themselves. No thought, of course, was given to the people who actually lived here. After all, they had no guns, were often migratory, living off the bounty of the earth in cooperation with the needs and requirements of the land. Besides, there were not a whole lot of them. To the European mind, therefore, the American continents were vast, empty lands upon which to plant their civilization. It appears that the French, as opposed to the other Powers, saw the natives as a bit more than half-naked savages. They were partners in trade, teachers about the land and its bounty, and a fertile population for the spread of the One, True, Catholic faith. This attitude was rooted in the Gallic approach to colonial policy. French strategy called for the creation of a balance to the economic and military advantages that Spanish and English colonies were providing to their countries. As the Englishmen and women settled in significant numbers along the coast and began to civilize the wilderness into what would become the USA, the French created some smaller settlements in the North, then began moving westward in sizable numbers. The coureurs de bois (literally, rovers of the forests and freelancers), the voyageurs (government sanctioned travelers), and the Jesuits spread French Catholic influence among the Natives all along the rivers and lakes above the 40th Parallel (the line that slices North America in half longways, approx. at the latitude of St. Louis, MO). While the French were not exactly enlightened in their opinion of the Native Americans and still considered them to be savages, they generally treated them with respect. Since they were more interested in religious conversion, trade, and lining their pockets as opposed to settling down, the Frenchmen created a less intrusive presence than the English. These Gallic attitudes permeated the social and geographical matrix that became known as Louisiana.
There will be a few more installments to this story.