The French Period

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The French Period -


fter ten years of war against England, France's treasure was depleted. Louis XIV and his ministers hoped to correct the deficit with the help of the colonies in the New World. Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, a French-Canadian fur trader, presented to the King of France a plan for founding a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River. His sponsor was Louis de Phelypeaux, Comte de Pontchartrain. In the company of his brother, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, Iberville left France in October of 1698 with four ships and 200 settlers, including women and children. On March 2, 1699, after arriving at Mobile Bay, Iberville found the mouth of the Mississippi and began traveling upstream. He encountered a bayou, which he named Mardi Gras in honor of the day. Iberville established colonies at Biloxi and Ocean Springs. He went back to France and returned to Louisiana the following year. After his death of yellow fever in La Habana in 1706, his brother Bienville became the Governor of Louisiana. The first concessions of land in what would be New Orleans were granted in 1708. Life in the colony was very difficult and the settlers depended on supplies from France, which was at war against Spain. Louis XIV gave control of Louisiana to Antoine Crozat, a wealthy banker, for a term of 15 years.

A Map of New France Containing Canada and Louisiana in North America (1712-17) This map, a hand-colored engraving by Herman Moll, shows the territory of Louisiana entrusted by King Louis XIV to Antoine Crozat for colonial exploitation.
The Historic New Orleans Collection

Control of the colony passed to the Company of the West, known later as the Company of the Indies. After the death of Louis XIV, a Regent, Duc Philippe of Orleans, occupied the throne of France. John Law, a Scotsman of dubious past, became an advisor to the Regent. He devised a plan to populate Louisiana by selling shares and bringing people to the colony willingly or by force. The person selected by Law to implement the Company's venture was Bienville, who at 37 was named Governor for a second term. Construction on the site of the new city--called Nouvelle Orleans in honor of the Regent--began in 1718 under Bienville's direction, against the advice and suggestions of everyone else involved, including the Royal Engineers and Law himself. Bienville prevailed, selecting the site that Iberville had chosen earlier (approximately where Esplanade Avenue is today). In June of 1718, three ships arrived at the new city, bringing 800 new people in addition to the 700 already there. Pierre le Blond de la Tour, the Royal Engineer, signed the first completed plan of New Orleans in April 1722. Streets were laid out in a grid pattern, with St. Louis Parish and the Place d'Armes in the same location where St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square are today. In 1723 New Orleans became the capital of Louisiana, after Biloxi, the city chosen by the Superior Council, had burned down. Bienville remained as governor until 1725, and was responsible for the arrival of the Ursuline nuns, who built their first convent in 1730.

Taking Possession of Louisiana and the River Mississippi by Cavalier De La Salle (c. 1860) This color lithograph by Bocquin was printed by Lemercier & Cie. It illustrates the historic moment when the newfound territory received its name in honor of King Louis XIV of France.
The Historic New Orleans Collection

In 1731 the Company had returned Louisiana to France. The population was 7,000. For a third time, Bienville received the investiture of governor. In 1743, after 44 years in Louisiana, he requested to be relieved of his command and went back to France. The Jesuits settled in his abandoned plantation. Pierre Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudrieul, replaced Bienville until 1753, when he was appointed Governor of Canada. Vaudrieul established the first levee system in New Orleans. After his departure to Canada, Vaudrieul was replaced by Louis Billouart, Chevalier de Kerlerec. The new governor never came to terms with his commissioners. Kerlerec was recalled to France and sent to La Bastille. At the end of the war, France lost all its colonies in the Americas, the most important being Canada. To consolidate its victory, England declared war against Spain. On November 13, 1762, Charles III of Spain received Louisiana from Louis XV, after signing the secret treaty of Fontainbleau. When the Treaty of Paris was signed on February 10, 1763, the English received Florida from Spain as compensation. Louisiana was in Spain's hands.

View of Jackson Square, New Orleans (1855) In this original color lithograph, Jackson Square is framed by St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo, and the Pontalba Apartments, among other historic buildings (originally published by Dčrler and Pessou & Simon).
The Historic New Orleans Collection