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What do you give for a 200th Anniversary?

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image is just a drawing of Louisiana with a fleur de lis superimposed over it and the data April 20 1912I am from Louisiana and sometimes I like to use my home state as a jumping off point for a blog post. 2012 brings a perfect opportunity, because it is Louisiana’s Bicentennial.  On April 30, 1812 Louisiana was admitted as a state into the Union.

For a little historical background on the years before Louisiana became a state, I want to go back to the early years of Europe’s interest in what is now Louisiana.  Beginning with the French, land in the the new world was claimed by Renee-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in the late 17th century in the name of King Louis XIV of France.  This territory would become part or all of many modern day states, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Portrait of Louis the Fourteenth
Louis XIV, King of France, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing slightly right, wearing armor.

A few years after La Salle, Louis XIV sent Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville to further advance French interests.  Later he sent d’Iberville’s brother Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, and it was he who established the city of New Orleans in 1718.  Alas, the French didn’t hold onto their territories long.  In 1763 French lands east of the Mississippi River were given to the British as part of the Treaty of Paris in the wake of France’s loss of the French and Indian War while Spain took possession of the holdings on the west side of the river in the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau.  This transfer of lands resulted in two groups of people settling in Louisiana.  Many of the French living in Nova Scotia (Acadia) immigrated to the Louisiana territory after the British forced them out, while Spain sent people, often referred to as Isleños, from the Canary Islands.

Small map of the Louisiana Purachase overlayed on a map of the United States run in a newspaper
Washington Times. February 26, 1899.

France reacquired the Louisiana territory from Spain under Napoleon Bonaparte as part of the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800.  To much local dismay, this was not to last.  In 1803 the United States took possession of the French holdings in what is known as the Louisiana Purchase for the price of about $15 million dollars, one of the better real estate deals in history.  President Thomas Jefferson then sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to survey the newly purchased lands in what became known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition (also known as the Corps of Discovery Expedition).

Louisiana brought a lot to the Union, including sugar, rice, and cotton crops.  While she didn’t bring the Mississippi River per se, she did bring a major port New Orleans where those crops were traded.  The river and the city have a shared history and have been an important part of commerce to and from the United States. This strategic importance made it an important target in two wars.  Just a few years after statehood, in January of 1815, Andrew Jackson led American forces to victory against the British at Chalmette in the War of 1812 and in 1862 the city fell to Union forces during the Civil War.

Drawing is a bird's eye view of the city of New Orleans and the Mississippi River that has a number of ships seen from the West Bank
Bird’s-eye view of New Orleans, Louisiana with the Mississippi River in the foreground. c1851

Today the Port accounts for millions of tons of cargo each year, most of which is steel, forest products, rubber, containerized cargo, and copper. Considering the region’s love of coffee it’s no surprise that the Port of New Orleans is the nation’s premier coffee-handling port.  All of that trade at the Port brought other economic interests like railroads – the city was also a major railroad hub – and money.  All of this trade and money made it one of the largest banking cities in the United States though much of the 19th century.

Image show small structures including one shake with two people in front on the bayou surrounded by cypress trees
Fisherman’s home along the bayou, Akers, Louisiana 1938. U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information

You can’t talk about Louisiana without mentioning two other contributions – music and food.  Jazz (sometimes referred to as Jass in its early years) is a musical tradition whose history is most closely associated with New Orleans – particularly the notorious Storyville – and produced one of the city’s most famous sons – Louis Armstrong, also known as Satchmo.  But Jazz isn’t the state’s only musical tradition, there is also Zydeco which is more associated with Cajun country.  And in Louisiana, you can’t have the music without the food, particularly Cajun and Creole cooking.  Cooking in Louisiana almost requires seafood, and as a business, seafood has always been important.  Today the Louisiana Seafood Promotion Board estimates about 1/3 of the seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from or by way of, Louisiana.  The state accounts for about 90% of the crawfish, is the largest supplier of live crabs, supplies about 69% of shrimp, and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the state’s coast account for about 70% of the oysters.  [1]

The Gulf of Mexico is more than just seafood and trade.  One industry that developed many years after statehood is the oil and natural gas industry.  The first oil well in Louisiana was drilled on land in 1901, and by the late 1930’s they were drilling in the shallow waters off the cost.  Drilling increased as a result of the ability to drill deeper, and by the 1980’s there were wells all over the state and coastal waters.  The industry lost ground in 1980’s but did rebound, and according to 2008 figures from the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, 25% of the oil and 25% natural gas of the United States flows though the state. [2]

Happy 200 Louisiana.


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