HISTORY OF NEW ORLEANS
New Orleans, La keeps its rich history as present and essential as any other American metropolis. House after house, street after street, indeed complete neighborhoods, exude a richness of place and function as touchstones for its enchanting history and complex culture. Look for it. In New Orleans, history can strut as loudly as a Carnival on foot krewe, or creep as softly as an inexperienced lizard on a courtyard wall. Thrilling. Colorful. Tragic. Inspiring. Learn something about the history of the town.
PIRATE AND PRIVATEER DAYS
The drift of goods from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans attracted smugglers, privateers, and pirates, with Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre among the most infamous. At some stage during the Battle of New Orleans (1815) at Chalmette, Lafitte assisted Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson and the Americans to secure a victory against the British. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, 941 Bourbon Street, is reputed to have been the pirates’ base. Probably dating back to the 1770s, it boasts the oldest bar shape in the United States, and is still a famous saloon today.
In the mid-1800s, New Orleans and Baton Rouge were the two cities that attracted the attention of millionaires in America. Their wealth came mostly from sugar cane plantations, which depended on the hard work of thousands of enslaved African Americans. In the 1850s alone, Louisiana plantations sold more than $20 million in sugar a year.
Sugar and cotton were transported by steamboats to global markets. While thousands of dockworkers toiled at the wharves of New Orleans to unload goods and transfer the cargo to ocean-going ships, finance and logistics were handled by hundreds of bankers, merchants, elements, insurers, and legal professionals. Millions had been made inside the commerce, and lots of it went to the effective aristocracy. The opulent mansions of the Garden District and the opulent townhouses of the French Quarter bear witness to the grandeur of that time. But that beauty couldn’t mask the reality that this was an enslaved society, in addition to the country’s busiest slave marketplace, in the course of the antebellum generation, 1803-1861.
New Orleans ranked as the third-largest metropolis in the kingdom and the fourth-busiest port in the world in 1840. It had a population of 102,193, of whom fifty eight percent had been white, 23 percent had been enslaved African Americans; and 19 percent had been people of color. The French-speaking Creoles and the English-speaking Anglo-Americans competed for electricity in the French Quarter and the Lower Faubourgs, the Anglo-Americans in the area known as the Central Business District, Lower Garden District, and the Garden District. All neighborhoods occupied the slender crescent-shaped natural levee that bordered the Mississippi River, behind which the swamp was uninhabitable. Floods, hurricanes, and fires continued as did yellow fever, dengue, malaria and cholera epidemics.
THE AGE OF JAZZ
It’s still there: the rustle of skirts on heart-of-pine floors; Ragtime music tinkled through an open Treme window; a whiff of chicory smoke; iced oysters and lager beer on the street.Discover Victorian New Orleans in about the 18th century, while the town won traction, while arts and performance flourished, and while thousands of gingerbread-adorned houses appeared overnight.. The Fairgrounds (1872), Audubon Park (1886), New Orleans Museum of Art (1911) and many different of the metropolis’s brilliant services came into being in this era.
The past due Victorian period also saw the emergence of jazz, a brand new musical style that could turn out to be New Orleans’ finest cultural contribution to the kingdom and the world. Even before jazz got started, various ethnic and racial groups found common ground by making music. New Orleans continues to make excellent contributions in diverse musical genres, including rap, hip-hop, leap, and funk.
There was also a rise of a literary and creative community during the Jazz Age in New Orleans. The “French Quarter Renaissance” boasted figures including Faulkner and Anderson, Woodward and Wogan Durieux, and Tennessee Williams, who took ideas from the “rattling tram” running down Bourbon and up Royal Street while writing A Streetcar Named Desire.
WORLD WAR II
New Orleans played a crucial role in the epic struggle of World War II. Local shipbuilder Andrew Higgins, whose boats were designed to navigate shallow Louisiana bayous, realized they would serve well for delivering infantrymen to shallow beaches while avoiding deep-water harbors in enemy hands.
Built using men, women and races from local shipyards, “Higgins Boats” were used during D-Day on Normandy’s beaches and in the Pacific’s island-hopping marketing campaign.They were such a success that General Dwight D. Eisenhower would call Higgins “the man who won the battle for us.” The story of New Orleans’ heroic role in the struggle is depicted in the National WWII Museum of New Orleans.
The post-WWII period was defined by a continuum of progress. New highways and bridges were built to draw in new suburban development; a new city administration complex opened in downtown; and current skyscrapers have transformed the city’s previously modest skyline.
In the Sixties, the Civil Rights movement brought dignity and new possibilities to Black New Orleanians. But then, like some other places, resistance to school integration, white flight, and a reduced tax base left a few inner-city neighborhoods impoverished and divested.
By the end of the Nineteen Eighties, with mechanization of port industries and the decline of well-paying delivery jobs, a recessional and population exodus began. However, by the end of the Nineties, tourism became more important and a fresh social class emerged.
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans on August 29, 2005, driving a storm surge into manmade canals and breaching federal levees in numerous locations. Eighty percent of the urbanized East Bank flooded, tens of hundreds of people were trapped for days, and thousands may have perished. Evacuees never came back, and some neighborhoods, specifically the Lower Ninth Ward, survive today with significantly reduced populations.
While restoration proved slow and contentious in the beginning, sheer grit got the New Orleans people through the crisis and led to a renaissance of civil spirit and cultural pride. The city’s beloved New Orleans Saints won the franchise’s first Super Bowl in February 2010, and the sustained revival of spirit attracted well-informed young people to be a part of this epic tale, transforming the Crescent City all over again.
New Orleans still has its rich culture, its proud people, and its historic neighborhoods, which have survived and prospered against all odds. New Orleanians have always kept to their precise traditions, eliciting pride in the neighborhood and rejoicing in delicacies, tunes, and celebrations. Tourists from everywhere in the country can’t stay away. Bienville started this great experiment on the banks of the Mississippi more than three hundred years ago, so we are glad you’re right here as we embark on our fourth century.