From its earliest days as a meeting ground and trading site for various Native American tribes to its modern rebirth in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the history of NOLA has been a colorful saga. Each wave of inhabitants has added something unique and indelible to the eclectic mix that makes up the Crescent City. Visitors to modern New Orleans can experience this rich narrative for themselves.
Pre-Colonial New Orleans
The history of NOLA pre-dates the arrival of Europeans. While Native Americans never established a permanent settlement on the land that would one day become New Orleans, it was nonetheless an important location. Mississippian peoples, a grouping of pre-Columbian cultures in the region, built a portage between Bayou St. John and the Mississippi, linking Lake Pontchartrain to the great river and the Gulf of Mexico beyond. The land alongside the bayou provided a meeting ground for various tribes to trade wares and information.
French to Spanish, Then (Briefly) Back to French
In the 1680s, René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, led two expeditions from French Canada all the way down to the mouth of the Mississippi River. La Salle’s reports that the continent’s great river opened into the Gulf promised to open the vast heartland of North America to trade with Europe. In the 1690s, French explorers and fur traders began arriving in search of the mouth of the river, settling in the area that would later be known as the Faubourg St. John neighborhood.
In 1718, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville established La Nouvelle Orleans. What began as little more than a colonial toehold would eventually grow into one of the world’s busiest ports. After Britain’s victory in the Seven-Years War, French Louisiana was ceded to the Spanish. The history of New Orleans under Spanish rule spans roughly four decades, but the well-established French culture proved resistant to the influences of the Iberian Peninsula. One of the most prominent remnants of this era is St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, built in 1789. In 1800, the territory was secretly granted back to France for only three years, as Napoleon then sold it to the United States to fund his conquest of Europe.
An American City
In 1803, representatives of Thomas Jefferson went to Paris and agreed to purchase 828,000 square miles for $15 million. The nascent United States nearly doubled in size at a price of about 4 cents per acre. The 19th Century began a new chapter in the history of NOLA, and saw the emergence of the city as one of the most important ports in the United States, with hundreds of riverboats plying the Mississippi. By 1840, New Orleans was the third largest city in the country and by far the wealthiest. In the decades to come, many of the newly-minted millionaires built stately mansions upriver from the French Quarter with grounds so stately and well-manicured that the area became known as the Garden District. A population of freed slaves thrived under more lenient conditions than other parts of the South, making possible the mixing of musical traditions that would eventually produce the earliest forms of Jazz.
Every year, millions of visitors flock to the city that care forgot, eager to partake in its legendary cuisine, culture, music, and nightlife. Whether you’re in town for a day or a lifetime, contact the locals in the know at Joieful to dig deeper into the history of NOLA with immersive experiences catered to your interests.