Louisiana: A Huge European Colony Converted into a State

Louisiana is a state of the United States of America, which lies on the South, near the Mexican Gulf. It has an area of 52,377 square miles and a population of 4,660,000 inhabitants. Its capital is Baton Rouge.

Map of Louisiana in 1803 when it was sold to the U.S by the French

Its Geography

Louisiana, small part of the old colony with the same name, has inherited from its French origins, special characteristics that are reflected in the legislation, place names and in the language. The descendants of the Criollos and the Acadians still represent almost one third of the state population, more densely located south.

The weather is subtropical: mild winters (55 degrees on average and 40 degrees minimum on January) and very hot summers (82 degrees on average and 91 degrees maximum on July;) regular precipitations (54 inches in New Orleans) particularly from March to September, with the highest intensity on July.

This climate enhances an abundant vegetation (tupelos, subtropical cypresses, like the Taxodium distichum, epiphytes) specially in the fluvial plains and in the marshy grounds on the Mississippi Delta region, drained by bayous (water channels bordered by embankments.) This amphibian environment, is perfect for different species of reptiles, batrachians, indigenous birds and fur animals.

At the upper levels of the coastal plain of the Mexican Gulf, which make up the rest of the state, the lands are covered by forests of pines and oaks, while a natural meadow covers the clayey lands near the southwest coastline.

The traditional economy was based on an archaic agriculture associated to profound social inequalities (powerful landowners, black farmers and Acadians). The current agriculture is still relatively undeveloped in certain aspects. For instance, it is the state with more acres of rice plantations, whereas it is the third one in rice production and the sixth in performance. To cope with this, there are sectors where new agrarian methods are practised: new rice plantations in the southwestern meadow (using mechanized cultivation systems and airplanes to spread the seeds, the fertilizers and the insecticides); new crop introductions such as the soy, orange trees and peach tree orchards and strawberries. The sale of livestock, poultry products, soy, rice, sugar cane, fruits and cotton reports every year near 1 billion dollars. The main agrarian industries are the ones of oil, sugar refineries and canning factories.

Fishing is also an activity very popular and important in Louisiana. In Louisiana are 4 of the 10 main fishing ports in the country: Cameron, Empire, Morgan City and Houma-Dulac ports, where everyday tons of shrimps, crabs and different varieties of low-value fish, like the menhaden (herring fish) are disembarked. These ports are also commercialization centers of oysters. Considering absolute amounts of fish produced, Louisiana occupies the first place in the country, and the third place if we take into account the value of these maritime products (approximately 90 million dollars.) It also occupies the first place in the amount of fur animals caught each year in tramps. However the value of the fur is relatively low.

The energy industry constitutes nowadays the main source of income for the state. The oil (105 million tons) and natural gas (228 billion cubic meters) are extracted from the southwest and the south, as well as in the continental shelf, in the form of dome-shaped structures that also contain salt (first salt producer with over 12 million tons produced each year). Louisiana is also the first producer in the United States of sulphur, producing about 4 million tons every year, coming mainly from underwater deposits. The exploitation of these mineral substances has given place to large chemical industries (refineries, rubber producers, of acids, bases and derivatives) which, combined with a growing forest exploitation, favored the creation of wood and paper factories.

As a result of the rural exodus and the progress of the industries, fishing exploitations and of the transports and services, the urban population makes roughly 70% of the total state population.

Lafayette (126,848 inhabitants) is the cultural center in the French-speaking Louisiana and the center of the oil industry in the state.

Baton Rouge (225,374 inhabitants) is the capital of the state. It is the market of a rich agrarian region (especially in sugar cane and rice) and a very important industrial center (oil refineries, synthetic rubber factories) and with a rapid economic expansion since the Second World War. Its port traffic has increased dramatically, landing nowadays 70 million tons of fish every year.

Shreveport (192,036 inhabitants) because of its history and economic relations is very linked to the state of Texas. Besides being the heartland of a cotton plantation region, it is also an important oil extraction center and a very industrialized city.

The metropolitan population of New Orleans (1,262,888 inhabitants) contains about 30% of the total Louisiana population, being the principal metropolis in the state. The city center has a very particular environment due to an intensive French implementation and because of the posterior Spanish conquest. Limited at the north by the Lake Pontchartrain and badly communicated with the southern bank of the Mississippi, the city expands along the left bank of the river. The port of the city is a very important center, both for commerce and tourism. It is the only port in Louisiana that receives international containers. Port NOLA (Port of New Orleans) generates about 100 million dollars in revenue each year.


It is very likely that the region was first explored by the Spanish Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca (1507-1559) during his long journey by foot throughout the southern lands of the current United States after the disastrous expedition by Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528. Later on, Hernando de Soto reached the lower course of the Mississippi river in 1540, in his attempt of conquering Florida. Finally, the French Cavelier de la Salle, who was advancing from the north, reached the mouth of the Mississippi on April 6, 1682. On day 9 he organized an inauguration event for celebrating the take-over of the land he had just traveled through, baptized with the name of Louisiana, after Louis XIV (also known as "The Sun King"). The ceremony took place very likely in the proximities to the current town of Venice, hundreds of miles away from New Orleans. This way, the development of the English commerce with the Indians from the interior of the continent became limited because of the French possessions... but only on theory. The success of his expedition encouraged La Salle to try colonizing these lands. From there, he traced a strategic plan to threat the Spanish colonies in the Mexican Gulf. However, these colonies were very far away from his lands, so in order to get funded, he brought to Versailles a tricked map where the lower course of the Mississippi river was redirected towards the west, making the distances closer to the Spanish possessions. This new expedition of La Salle, from Rochefort Port in 1864 ended up being a complete disaster and with the death of the discoverer.

In 1698, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville (1661-1706) was appointed to found a French colony in the mouth of the Mississippi. In March, he built the Maurepas Fort, in the northeastern part of the mouth (nowadays Ocean Springs). In 1700, it was built another fort, on the banks of the Mississippi and, the following year, the Saint-Louis Fort was constructed. In 1702, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville was appointed governor of the new territory. The new governor of this vast region, which covered basically the entire heartland of the current United States, committed himself to exploit the main resource of the area: the fur traffic. In 1717, a new attempt of exploitation was carried out by a company founded by John Law, which was basically an enterprise that participated in the black slaves trading with Africa. In 1718, New Orleans was founded, after the duke with the same name. Some plantations of indigo started providing the colony with supplemental revenues. The colony was receiving some population influx, but in very low numbers. But the vast territory continued to vegetate and its abandonment by France, didn't surprise anyone. In 1762, was given to the Spanish the lands at the north of the Mississippi, including the capital, whereas the English took up the easterly lands, according to the Paris Treaty, signed in 1763. On top of this, the new Spanish governor was expelled by the inhabitants of New Orleans in 1768 and it was not until the following year when the Spanish took control of the situation again.

The hostile relationship at the time between Spain and England, made the former one to support the English rebels during the Civil War. But in 1800, the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte forced the Spanish to give up their Louisiana possessions in the west. This event made possible for the new-born country (U.S.A) to occupy the Mississippi and its mouth for commercial purposes in 1795.

Former president Thomas Jefferson threatened the French Empire to support Great Britain (Napoleon's main enemy in Europe.) This was what Napoleon feared the most at the time. Scared, Napoleon decided to sell the rest of Louisiana to the United States in 1803 for 15 million dollars, a ridiculous price at that time, considering that the territory covered a vast extension, from the current state of North Dakota to the mouth of the Mississippi.

Source: Wikipedia

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