History of New Orleans

Hoisting of American Colors over Louisiana. Painting depicting first raising of the USA flag with the Louisiana Purchase, in main plaza (now Jackson Square), New Orleans. Ceremony was December 20, 1803. Painting by Thure de Thulstrup on commission to commemorate centennial of the event. The painting has been praised for the research and historical accuracy which went into the period depiction. Painting is on display in the Cabildo Museum.

The history of New Orleans, Louisiana traces the city's development from its founding by the French, through its period under Spanish control, then briefly back to French rule before being acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. In the 19th century, it was the largest port in the South, exporting most of the nation's cotton output and other products to Western Europe and New England. It was the largest and most important city in the South; thus it was an early target for capture by the Union during the Civil War. With its rich and unique cultural and architectural heritage, it remains a major destination for tourism, conventions, and major sports events, even after the major destruction and loss of life during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


  • Colonial era 1
    • Spanish rule 1.1
    • Retrocession to France and Louisiana Purchase 1.2
  • 19th century 2
    • Early 19th century: a rapidly growing commercial center 2.1
      • Plantation slaves' rebellion 2.1.1
      • War of 1812 2.1.2
      • Antebellum New Orleans 2.1.3
    • The Civil War 2.2
    • Late 19th century: Reconstruction and conflict 2.3
    • 1890s 2.4
  • Epidemics 3
  • Progressive era drainage 4
  • 20th century 5
  • 21st century 6
    • Hurricane Katrina 6.1
    • Continuing recovery 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
    • Older histories 9.1
  • External links 10

Colonial era

1726 view of the young city of Nouvelle Orleans from across the Mississippi River.

The land mass that was to become the city of New Orleans was formed around 2200 BC when the Mississippi River deposited silt creating the delta which would be New Orleans. Before Europeans founded what would become known as the city of New Orleans, the area was inhabited by Native Americans for about 1300 years.[1] The Mississippian culture peoples built mounds and earthworks in the area. Later Native Americans created a portage between the headwaters of Bayou St. John (known to the natives as Bayouk Choupique) and the Mississippi River. The bayou flowed into Lake Pontchartrain. This became an important trade route. Archaeological evidence has shown settlement here dated back to at least 400 A.D.[2]

French explorers, fur trappers and traders arrived in the area by the 1690s, some making settlements amid the Native American village of thatched huts along the bayou. By the end of the decade, the French made an encampment called "Port Bayou St. Jean" near the head of the bayou; this would later be known as the Faubourg St. John neighborhood. The French also built a small fort, "St. Jean" (known to later generations of New Orleanians as "Old Spanish Fort" at the mouth of the bayou in 1701, using as a base a large Native American shell midden dating back to the Marksville culture.[3] These early European settlements are now within the limits of the city of New Orleans, though predating its official date of founding.

New Orleans was founded in 1718 by the French as Nouvelle-Orléans, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. After considering several alternatives, Bienville selected the site for several strategic reasons and practical considerations, including: it was relatively high ground, along a sharp bend of the flood-prone Mississippi River, which thus created a natural levee (previously chosen as the site of an abandoned Quinipissa village); it was adjacent to the trading route and portage between the Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain via Bayou St. John, offering access to the Gulf of Mexico port of Biloxi without going downriver 100 miles; and it offered control of the entire Mississippi River Valley, at a safe distance from Spanish and English colonial settlements.[4][5] From its founding, the French intended it to be an important colonial city. The city was named in honor of the then Regent of France, Philip II, Duke of Orléans. The priest-chronicler Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix described it in 1721 as a place of a hundred wretched hovels in a malarious wet thicket of willows and dwarf palmettos, infested by serpents and alligators; he seems to have been the first, however, to predict