A History of New Orleans

By Tim Lambert

The Foundation of New Orleans

In 1682 the French explorer Robert de La Salle explored the River Mississippi and claimed Louisiana for France. In 1718 Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville founded the great city of New Orleans. It was named in honor of the Duke of Orleans. New Orleans was built in a strategic position to defend the entrance of the River Mississippi.

The first little settlement was devastated by a hurricane in 1721 but the engineer Adrien de Pauger laid out a new town on a grid pattern. It is now the French Quarter. Meanwhile, the first slaves arrived in New Orleans in 1720. Then in 1722 New Orleans was made the capital of Louisiana.

At first French, Germans, and Swiss were persuaded to migrate to New Orleans. However, the flow of immigrants soon declined and so convicts were sent there. Then in 1728 Ursuline nuns arrived. New Orleans slowly grew.

Then in 1756 came the Seven Years War. When it ended in 1763 the French king surrendered Louisiana to Spain. Under Spanish rule, New Orleans continued to grow although it suffered severe fires in 1788 and in 1794. However, in 1796 a sugar industry began in New Orleans.

New Orleans in the 19th Century

In 1800 Spain gave Louisiana back to France. In 1803 Napoleon sold it to the USA. In 1812 Louisiana was admitted to the Union. The same year, 1812 the first steamboat arrived in New Orleans. Then on 8 January 1815 during the War of 1812 British troops attempted to take New Orleans but they were defeated and were forced to retreat.

After the war, the population of New Orleans grew rapidly. Steamboats made trade along the Mississippi much faster and as a result, New Orleans thrived. By 1840 it was the second-largest port in the USA. However, in the 1830s a distinct American section was built separately from the French Quarter. By 1840 New Orleans was the fourth largest city in the USA. French, German, and Irish immigrants flocked to the city. By 1860 New Orleans had a population of 168,000.

The huge rise in population was despite outbreaks of yellow fever. The worst outbreak was in 1853. There was another epidemic of yellow fever in New Orleans in 1878.

Meanwhile, the first Jewish synagogue was built in New Orleans in 1828. n In 1861 Louisiana ceded from the Union. However, on 1 May 1862 Union forces occupied New Orleans and they held it for the rest of the American Civil War.

After the war, New Orleans suffered from animosity between the races. On 30 July 1866, a race riot broke out at Mechanics Institute. In September 1874 an organization called the White League fought with the police in New Orleans and troops were sent to restore order. The troops were withdrawn in 1877.

In 1896 a man named Homer Plessy challenged Louisiana’s segregation laws. However, the Supreme Court upheld the principle of segregation.

Meanwhile, at the end of the 19th century, a new form of music called jazz began in New Orleans

New Orleans in the 20th Century

In 1905 yellow fever struck again but this time people knew of the role of mosquitoes in spreading the disease. As a result, all standing water was drained, screened, or oiled. It was the end of the old threat of yellow fever in New Orleans.

New Orleans Museum of Art was founded in 1910.

During the 1930s New Orleans, like the rest of the nation suffered during the Depression. However, prosperity returned during the Second World War. The shipyards in New Orleans were kept busy.

In the late 20th century tourism became an important industry in New Orleans. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum was founded in 1972. The Superdome opened in 1975.

Then in 1978, Ernest N Morial became the first African-American mayor of New Orleans. His son Marc Morial was elected mayor in 1994. He was re-elected in 1998. Meanwhile, in 1984 New Orleans hosted the Louisiana World Exposition.

However, in 1995 New Orleans suffered severe floods.

New Orleans in the 21st Century

In August 2005 New Orleans suffered massive damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Much of the city was flooded. However, New Orleans gradually recovered from the disaster. People slowly returned to the city and in 2006 the Superdome reopened.

Today tourism in New Orleans is thriving. New Orleans also remains a busy and important port. In 2022 the population of New Orleans was 369,000.

Last revised 2024