Louisiana - History and Heritage

Evidence of Louisiana’s earliest population can be found at the archaeological site at Poverty Point, in the northeast corner of the state. There, between 1650 and 700 B.C., a since-vanished civilization built a system of concentric ridges three quarters of a mile in diameter. Archaeologists have found evidence of a complex trade network, with artifacts at the site made of raw materials from as far away as the Great Lakes.

In 1702. French-Canadian explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded New Orleans in 1718, and soon French colonists were joined by Germans and Acadians, French-speaking people whom the British had kicked out of Nova Scotia. The latter would come to be called "Cajuns."

By the time the United States made the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Louisiana had passed into Spanish hands and then back to France. After the formation of the Orleans Territory, which included most of the current state, Louisianans petitioned to join the union, and it became the 18th state in 1812.

New Orleans was the site of the final battle in the War of 1812. Thought it was actually fought after a peace treaty had been signed, the 1815 Battle of New Orleans was a victory for the Americans and made future president Gen. Andrew Jackson a national hero. Today, the battlefield is part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park.

Louisiana’s thriving agricultural economy, based on sugarcane and cotton, was also dependent on slaves. The state seceded from the Union in 1861, but a year later the Union recaptured and occupied New Orleans. The war was followed by the tumultuous period of Reconstruction and then by decades of oppressive Jim Crow laws, which kept New Orleans’ large African-American population poor and disenfranchised. However, black culture in New Orleans thrived, giving rise to jazz music and the roots of rock and roll. In the first half of the 20th century, blacks migrating north brought New Orleans’ culture with them, enriching Northern cities.

The city’s historic French Quarter stayed dry through 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, and today parts of the rest of the city are being rebuilt. New Orleans has regained two-third of its pre-Katrina population, and locals and visitors alike keep the faith that the Big Easy will one day be itself again.

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