New Orleans. NOLA. “The Big Easy.” “The City That Care Forgot.” This metropolis of many names holds a place near and dear to my heart. Situated along the Mississippi River only one hundred miles from its source, the capital of Louisiana is a site of rich history, diverse culture, and social individuality. Founded by the French, ruled by the Spanish and purchased by America, this port of abundant trade has never ceased to animate the imaginations of human beings since its conception.
While the area may have been explored to a shallow extent in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was the governor of French Louisiana, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieuf de Bienville, who officially founded “The Big Easy” in 1718. Four years later New Orleans, then Nouvelle-Orleans, was dubbed the capital of Louisiana, snagging the title from Biloxi. The city would soon come to know the face of disaster later that year. A vicious hurricane struck the vulnerable town and decimated the majority of its infrastructure, forcing government officials to rebuild the grid pattern we now know today as the French Quarter.
Only 44 years later, in 1762, the French sold their Louisiana territory to Spain, thus transforming “The Crescent City” into a Spanish trading city for the next 40 years. In progressive fashion, the city adopted Spanish stratification inclinations and actually acknowledged a social class composed of “free people of color.” Soon, however, in 1803 the city was yet again ceded, this time back to the French. Then, in a remarkably rapid transaction, the United States proposed the Louisiana Purchase and bought the rights to Louisiana, as well as a tremendous amount of other territory, in 1803.
With its impeccable location along the trade superhighway of the time, the Mississippi River, New Orleans gained rapid momentum in the early 19th century and was soon America’s 3rd largest city. The thriving metropolis was responsible for shipping an enormous quantity of produce to the Caribbean, South America, and even Europe. While slavery was undoubtedly a large facet of the commercial market, that is not to discredit the free black community mentioned previously. In fact, those free from shackles prospered. Perhaps, it was in part due to this reason that New Orleans was taken unopposed in the soon-to-come Civil War (I apologize but the remainder of this article is to be published in a second post).