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Europeans in Louisiana


Sieur de la Salle
Sieur de la Salle

The French built forts and settlements along the Gulf Coast and in the Mississippi Valley, including Biloxi (1699), Mobile (1702), and Natchitoches (1714), which was the first permanent white settlement in the area of the present state. Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans), another early French settlement, was established in 1718 to secure the lower Mississippi against France’s rival colonial powers, Spain and Great Britain. In 1722, New Orleans became the capital of Louisiana. By then the colony also included several settlements farther upstream along the Mississippi.

Louisiana struggled as a royal colony from 1699 to 1712. As a result of fighting between France and Great Britain during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the colonists were cut off from France for years at a time. In 1712 the financially beleaguered French monarchy gave control of Louisiana to wealthy French financier Antoine Crozat. The population remained quite small throughout his proprietorship.

In 1717 the slow-growing colony came under the control of the Compagnie d’Occident (Company of the West), headed by Scottish financier John Law. Law gained great influence at the French court through his establishment of what became the French national bank. Because the bank invested heavily in the Company of the West and because Louisiana was the company’s greatest asset, Law needed to develop the colony rapidly to maintain public confidence in the bank. He undertook a promotional campaign that brought in several thousand settlers. Many were German indentured workers who sold their services for a specified period, after which they gained their freedom. The settlers also included convicts who were forced to migrate to the colony. According to one company official, 7,020 Europeans went to the colony between October 1717 and May 1721.

Because Law’s company had acquired the Compagnie du Senegal (Company of Senegal), which held the French monopoly on the slave trade, black slaves from Africa were brought to Louisiana in 1719. About 3,000 slaves arrived between 1720 and 1731. Law’s promotional literature led immigrants to anticipate quick profits from mining and other endeavors that would require little effort and investment. However, the harsh world they found was dramatically different. Many people died because the overwhelmed colonial government could not meet their needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Most of the survivors stayed because they lacked the means to return to Europe. Although a few large plantations were established, most of the immigrants tilled small subsistence farms, sometimes with slave labor.

These farmers engaged in small-scale production of tobacco and indigo for export. Law’s promotional scheme, known as the Mississippi Bubble or Mississippi Scheme, fell apart in 1720 as word of the brutal colonial conditions reached France. The company survived, however, and continued to administer the colony until 1731. In that year, as a result of French warfare with the Natchez people who lived on the east bank of the Mississippi, Louisiana was returned to the French monarchy.

Louisiana remained a French colony until the early 1760s but was always a heavy economic burden. With the British conquest of the French colonies in Canada during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Louisiana no longer had any strategic value to France. In 1762 France transferred the colony to Spain in the secret Treaty of Fontainebleau, to induce Spain to enter the war as a French ally. However, the following year the French and Spanish lost the war, and in the peace treaty Great Britain took nearly all of Louisiana east of the Mississippi. Spain kept the larger western part, along with the Ile d’Orléans (Isle of Orleans), the area around New Orleans. The Spanish part alone retained the name Louisiana. "Louisiana" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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