Louisiana ( or ; , ; Louisiana Creole: Léta de la Lwizyàn) is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Louisiana is the 31st most extensive and the 25th most populous of the 50 United States. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties. The largest parish by population is East Baton Rouge Parish, and the largest by land area is Cameron Parish.
Much of the state was formed from sediment washed down the Mississippi River, leaving enormous deltas and vast areas of coastal marsh and swamp. These contain a rich southern biota; typical examples include birds such as ibis and egrets. There are also many species of tree frogs, and fish such as sturgeon and paddlefish. In more elevated areas, fire is a natural process in the landscape, and has produced extensive areas of longleaf pine forest and wet savannas. These support an exceptionally large number of plant species including many species of orchids and carnivorous plants.
Some Louisiana urban environments have a multicultural, multilingual heritage, being so strongly influenced by an admixture of 18th century French, Spanish, Native American (Indian) and African cultures that they are considered to be somewhat exceptional in the U.S. Before the American influx and statehood at the beginning of the 19th century, the territory of current Louisiana State had been both a Spanish and French colony. In addition, the pattern of development included importing numerous African slaves in the 18th century, with many from the same region of West Africa, thus concentrating their culture.
Louisiana was inhabited by Native Americans for many millennia before the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. During the Middle Archaic period, Louisiana was the site of the earliest mound complex in North America and one of the earliest dated, complex constructions in the Americas, the Watson Brake site near present-day Monroe. An 11-mound complex, it was built about 5400 BP (3500 BCE). The Middle Archaic sites of Caney and Frenchman's Bend have also been securely dated to 5600-5000 BP, demonstrating that seasonal hunter-gatherers organized to build complex constructions in present-day northern Louisiana. The Hedgepeth Site in Lincoln Parish is more recent, dated to 5200-4500 BP.
Nearly 2,000 years later, Poverty Point, the largest and best-known Late Archaic site in the state, was built. Modern-day Epps developed near it. The Poverty Point culture may have hit its peak around 1500 BCE, making it the first complex culture, and possibly the first tribal culture in North America. It lasted until approximately 700 BCE.
The Poverty Point culture was followed by the Tchefuncte and Lake Cormorant cultures of the Tchula period, local manifestations of Early Woodland period. The Tchefuncte culture were the first people in Louisiana to make large amounts of pottery. These cultures lasted until 200 CE. The Middle Woodland period starts in Louisiana with the Marksville culture in the southern and eastern part of the state and the Fourche Maline culture in the northwestern part of the state. The Marksville culture takes its name from the Marksville Prehistoric Indian Site in Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana. These cultures were contemporaneous with the Hopewell cultures of Ohio and Illinois, and participated in the Hopewell Exchange Network. Trade with peoples to the southwest brought the bow and arrow The first burial mounds were built at this time. Political power begins to be consolidated as the first platform mounds at ritual centers are constructed for the developing hereditary political and religious leadership. By 400 CE in the southern part of the state the Late Woodland period had begun with the Baytown culture and it was not all that much of a change in the cultural history of the area. Population increased dramatically and there is strong evidence of a growing cultural and political complexity. Many Coles Creek sites were erected over earlier Woodland period mortuary mounds, leading researchers to speculate that emerging elites were symbolically and physically appropriating dead ancestors to emphasize and project their own authority. The Mississippian period in Louisiana sees the emergence of the Plaquemine and the Caddoan Mississippian cultures. This period is when extensive maize agriculture is adopted. The Plaquemine culture in the lower Mississippi River Valley in western Mississippi and eastern Louisiana begins in 1200 CE and goes to about 1400 CE. Good examples of this culture are the Medora Site in West Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, and the Emerald Mound, Winterville and Holly Bluff sites in Mississippi. Plaquemine culture was contemporaneous with the Middle Mississippian culture in the Cahokia site near St. Louis, Missouri. This group is considered ancestral to the Natchez and Taensa Peoples. By 1000 CE in the northwestern part of the state the Fourche Maline culture had evolved into the Caddoan Mississippian culture. The Caddoan Mississippians covered a large territory, including what is now eastern Oklahoma, western Arkansas, northeast Texas, and northwest Louisiana. Archeological evidence that the cultural continuity is unbroken from prehistory to the present, and that the direct ancestors of the Caddo and related Caddo language speakers in prehistoric times and at first European contact and the modern Caddo Nation of Oklahoma is unquestioned today.
Many current place names in the state, including Atchafalaya, Natchitouches (now spelled Natchitoches), Caddo, Houma, Tangipahoa, and Avoyel (as Avoyelles), are transliterations of those used in various Native American languages.
Exploration and colonization by Europeans
The first European explorers to visit Louisiana came in 1528 when a Spanish expedition led by Panfilo de Narváez located the mouth of the Mississippi River. In 1542, Hernando de Soto's expedition skirted to the north and west of the state (encountering Caddo and Tunica groups) and then followed the Mississippi River down to the Gulf of Mexico in 1543. Then Spanish interest in Louisiana lay dormant. In the late 17th century, French and French Canadian expeditions, which included sovereign, religious and commercial aims, established a foothold on the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast. With its first settlements, France lay claim to a vast region of North America and set out to establish a commercial empire and French nation stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to Canada.
In 1682, the French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle named the region Louisiana to honor France's King Louis XIV. The first permanent settlement, Fort Maurepas (at what is now Ocean Springs, Mississippi, near Biloxi), was founded by Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, a French military officer from Canada, in 1699. By then the French had also built a small fort at the mouth of the Mississippi at a settlement they named La Balise (or La Balize), "seamark" in French. By 1721 they built a wooden lighthouse-type structure to guide ships on the river.
The French colony of Louisiana originally claimed all the land on both sides of the Mississippi River and north to French territory in Canada. The following States were part of Louisiana: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.
The settlement of Natchitoches (along the Red River in present-day northwest Louisiana) was established in 1714 by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis, making it the oldest permanent European settlement in the Louisiana Purchase territory. The French settlement had two purposes: to establish trade with the Spanish in Texas, and to deter Spanish advances into Louisiana. Also, the northern terminus of the Old San Antonio Road was at Natchitoches. The settlement soon became a flourishing river port and crossroads, giving rise to vast cotton kingdoms along the river. Over time, planters developed large plantations and built fine homes in a growing town. This became a pattern repeated in New Orleans and other places.
Louisiana's French settlements contributed to further exploration and outposts, concentrated along the banks of the Mississippi and its major tributaries, from Louisiana to as far north as the region called the Illinois Country, around present-day St. Louis, Missouri. See also: French colonization of the Americas
Initially Mobile, Alabama, and Biloxi, Mississippi, functioned as the capital of the colony. Recognizing the importance of the Mississippi River to trade and military interests, France made New Orleans the seat of civilian and military authority in 1722. From then until the United States acquired the territory in the Louisiana Purchase on December 20, 1803, France and Spain traded control of the region's colonial empire.
In the 1720s, German immigrants settled along the Mississippi River in a region referred to as the German Coast.
France ceded most of its territory to the east of the Mississippi to Great Britain in the aftermath of Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War or French and Indian War, as it is known in North America. It retained the area around New Orleans and the parishes around Lake Pontchartrain. The rest of Louisiana became a colony of Spain after the Seven Years' War by the Treaty of Fontainebleau of 1763.
In 1765, during the period of Spanish rule, several thousand French-speaking refugees from the region of Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, Canada) made their way to Louisiana after having been expelled from their homelands by the British during the French and Indian War. They settled chiefly in the southwestern Louisiana region now called Acadiana. The Spanish, eager to gain more Catholic settlers, welcomed the Acadian refugees. Cajuns descend from these Acadian refugees.
Spanish Canary Islanders, called Isleños, emigrated from the Canary Islands of Spain to Louisiana under the Spanish crown between 1778 and 1783.
Expansion of slavery
In 1709, French financier Antoine Crozat obtained a monopoly of commerce in the French dominion of Louisiana that extended from the Gulf of Mexico to what is now Illinois. "That concession allowed him to bring in a cargo of blacks from Africa every year," the British historian Hugh Thomas wrote.
When France sold the Louisiana territory to the United States in 1803, it was soon accepted that enslaved Africans could be brought there as easily as they were brought to neighboring Mississippi though it violated U.S. law to do so. Though Louisiana was, at the start of the 19th century, a small producer of sugar with a relatively small number of slaves, it soon became a big sugar producer after plantation owners purchased enslaved people who had been transported from Africa and then to South Carolina before being sold in Louisiana where plantation owners forced the captive labor to work at no pay on their growing sugar cane plantations. Despite demands by United States Rep. James Hillhouse and by the pamphleteer Thomas Paine to enforce existing federal law against slavery in the newly acquired territory., slavery prevailed because it was the source of great profits and the lowest cost labor. The last Spanish governor of the Louisiana territory wrote that "Truly, it is impossible for lower Louisiana to get along without slaves" and with the use of slaves, the colony had been "making great strides toward prosperity and wealth."
Forced slave labor was needed, said William C. C. Claiborne, Louisiana's first United States governor, because unforced white laborers "cannot be had in this unhealthy climate." Hugh Thomas wrote that Claiborne was unable to enforce the abolition of trafficking in human beings where he was charged with doing so in Louisiana.
Haitian migration and influence
Louisiana and her Caribbean parent colony developed intimate links during the 18th century, centered on maritime trade, the exchange of capital and information, and the migration of colonists. From such beginnings, Haitians exerted a profound influence on Louisiana's politics, people, religion, and culture. The colony's officials, responding to anti-slavery plots and uprisings on the island, banned the entry of enslaved Saint Dominguans in 1763. Their rebellious actions would continue to impact upon Louisiana's slave trade and immigration policies throughout the age of the American and French revolutions.
These two democratic struggles struck fear in the hearts of the Spaniards, who governed Louisiana from 1763 to 1800. They suppressed what they saw as seditious activities and banned subversive materials in a futile attempt to isolate their colony from the spread of democratic revolution. In May 1790 a royal decree prohibited the entry of blacks – enslaved and free – from the French West Indies. A year later, the first successful slave revolt in history started, which would lead eventually to the founding of Haiti.
The revolution in Saint Domingue unleashed a massive multiracial exodus: the French fled with the slaves they managed to keep; so did numerous free people of color, some of whom were slaveholders themselves. In addition in 1793, a catastrophic fire destroyed two-thirds of the principal city, Cap Français (present-day Cap Haïtien), and nearly ten thousand people left the island for good. In the ensuing decades of revolution, foreign invasion, and civil war, thousands more fled the turmoil. Many moved eastward to Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic) or to nearby Caribbean islands. Large numbers of immigrants, black and white, found shelter in North America, notably in New York, Baltimore (fifty-three ships landed there in July 1793), Philadelphia, Norfolk, Charleston and Savannah as well as in Spanish Florida. Nowhere on the continent, however, did the refugee movement exert as profound an influence as in southern Louisiana.
Between 1791 and 1803, thirteen hundred refugees arrived in New Orleans. The authorities were concerned that some had come with "seditious" ideas. In the spring of 1795, Pointe Coupée was the scene of an attempted insurrection during which planters' homes were burned down. Following the incident, a free émigré from Saint Domingue, Louis Benoit, accused of being "very imbued with the revolutionary maxims which have devastated the said colony" was banished. The failed uprising caused planter Joseph Pontalba to take "heed of the dreadful calamities of Saint Domingue, and of the germ of revolt only too widespread among our slaves." Continued unrest in Pointe Coupée and on the German Coast contributed to a decision to shut down the entire slave trade in the spring of 1796.
In 1800 Louisiana officials debated reopening it, but they agreed that Saint Domingue blacks would be barred from entry. They also noted the presence of black and white insurgents from the French West Indies who were "propagating dangerous doctrines among our Negroes." Their slaves seemed more "insolent," "ungovernable," and "insubordinate" than they had been just five years before.
That same year, Spain ceded Louisiana back to France, and planters continued to live in fear of revolts. After future emperor Napoleon Bonaparte sold the colony to the United States in 1803 because his disastrous expedition against Saint Domingue had stretched his finances and military too thin, events in the island loomed even larger in Louisiana.
Purchase by the United States
When the United States won its independence from Great Britain in 1783, one of its major concerns was having a European power on its western boundary, and the need for unrestricted access to the Mississippi River. As American settlers pushed west, they found that the Appalachian Mountains provided a barrier to shipping goods eastward. The easiest way to ship produce was to use a flatboat to float it down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the port of New Orleans, from whence goods could be put on ocean-going vessels. The problem with this route was that the Spanish owned both sides of the Mississippi below Natchez. Napoleon's ambitions in Louisiana involved the creation of a new empire centered on the Caribbean sugar trade. By the terms of the Treaty of Amiens of 1800, Great Britain returned ownership of the islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe to the French. Napoleon looked upon Louisiana as a depot for these sugar islands, and as a buffer to U.S. settlement. In October 1801 he sent a large military force to conquer the important island of Santo Domingo and re-introduced slavery, which had been abolished in St. Domingue following a slave revolt there in 1792-3, and the legal and constitutional abolition of slavery in French colonies in 1794.
When the army led by Napoleon's brother-in-law Leclerc was defeated by the forces opposed to the re-enslavement of most of the population of St. Domingue, Napoleon decided to sell Louisiana.
Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, was disturbed by Napoleon's plans to re-establish French colonies in America. With the possession of New Orleans, Napoleon could close the Mississippi to U.S. commerce at any time. Jefferson authorized Robert R. Livingston, U.S. Minister to France, to negotiate for the purchase of the City of New Orleans, portions of the east bank of the Mississippi, and free navigation of the river for U.S. commerce. Livingston was authorized to pay up to $2 million.
An official transfer of Louisiana to French ownership had not yet taken place, and Napoleon's deal with the Spanish was a poorly kept secret on the frontier. On October 18, 1802, however, Juan Ventura Morales, Acting Intendant of Louisiana, made public the intention of Spain to revoke the right of deposit at New Orleans for all cargo from the United States. The closure of this vital port to the United States caused anger and consternation. Commerce in the west was virtually blockaded. Historians believe that the revocation of the right of deposit was prompted by abuses of the Americans, particularly smuggling, and not by French intrigues as was believed at the time. President Jefferson ignored public pressure for war with France, and appointed James Monroe a special envoy to Napoleon, to assist in obtaining New Orleans for the United States. Jefferson also raised the authorized expenditure to $10 million.
However, on April 11, 1803, French Foreign Minister Talleyrand surprised Livingston by asking how much the United States was prepared to pay for the entirety of Louisiana, not just New Orleans and the surrounding area (as Livingston's instructions covered). Monroe agreed with Livingston that Napoleon might withdraw this offer at any time (leaving them with no ability to obtain the desired New Orleans area), and that approval from President Jefferson might take months, so Livingston and Monroe decided to open negotiations immediately. By April 30, they closed a deal for the purchase of the entire Louisiana territory of for 60 million Francs (approximately $15 million). Part of this sum was used to forgive debts owed by France to the United States. The payment was made in United States bonds, which Napoleon sold at face value to the Dutch firm of Hope and Company, and the British banking house of Baring, at a discount of 87½ per each $100 unit. As a result, France received only $8,831,250 in cash for Louisiana. Dutiful English banker Alexander Baring conferred with Marbois in Paris, shuttled to the United States to pick up the bonds, took them to Britain, and returned to France with the money – which Napoleon used to wage war against Baring's own country.
When news of the purchase reached the United States, Jefferson was surprised. He had authorized the expenditure of $10 million for a port city, and instead received treaties committing the government to spend $15 million on a land package which would double the size of the country. Jefferson's political opponents in the Federalist Party argued that the Louisiana purchase was a worthless desert, and that the Constitution did not provide for the acquisition of new land or negotiating treaties without the consent of the Senate. What really worried the opposition was the new states which would inevitably be carved from the Louisiana territory, strengthening Western and Southern interests in Congress, and further reducing the influence of New England Federalists in national affairs. President Jefferson was an enthusiastic supporter of westward expansion, and held firm in his support for the treaty. Despite Federalist objections, the U.S. Senate ratified the Louisiana treaty on October 20, 1803.
A transfer ceremony was held in New Orleans on November 29, 1803. Since the Louisiana territory had never officially been turned over to the French, the Spanish took down their flag, and the French raised theirs. The following day, General James Wilkinson accepted possession of New Orleans for the United States. A similar ceremony was held in St. Louis on March 9, 1804, when a French tricolor was raised near the river, replacing the Spanish national flag. The following day, Captain Amos Stoddard of the First U.S. Artillery marched his troops into town and had the American flag run up the fort's flagpole. The Louisiana territory was officially transferred to the United States government, represented by Meriwether Lewis.
The Louisiana Territory, purchased for less than 3 cents an acre, doubled the size of the United States overnight, without a war or the loss of a single American life, and set a precedent for the purchase of territory. It opened the way for the eventual expansion of the United States across the continent to the Pacific.
Note: Louisiana west of the Mississippi River was mostly part of the Louisiana Territory, which was ceded by Spain to France in 1803 and then sold by France to the United States. In 1804 much of the present State was included in the newly established Orleans Territory; the rest of the Louisiana Purchase became Louisiana Territory, renamed Missouri Territory in 1812. Louisiana was admitted as a State on April 30, 1812 and immediately added the Florida Parishes east of the Mississippi and north of Lake Pontchartrain, although these still were claimed by Spain until 1819. Also in 1819, the boundary with Mexico (Texas) was settled by treaty, bringing the State to essentially its present limits. In 1810 the census covered most of the settled parts of what is now Louisiana, except for the Florida Parishes east of the Mississippi River. By 1820 census coverage extended to virtually all of the present State. Louisiana's primary subdivisions have long been termed parishes instead of counties; both terms appear in early censuses.. Total for 1810 is for Orleans Territory, and excludes the Florida Parishes east of the Mississippi River. Total for 1830 includes 210 persons returned in the aggregate rather than by county. Total for 1890 includes 1 Indian in prison, not reported by parish.
Births, Marriages, and Deaths
On Ancestry.com, the following Louisiana vital records databases are available to subscribers:
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
Outstanding guide to Louisiana family history and genealogy (FamilySearch Research Wiki). Birth, marriage, and death records, wills, deeds, county records, notarial records, archives, Bible records, cemeteries, churches, censuses, directories, immigration lists, naturalizations, maps, history, newspapers, and societies.