Robert de La Salle claimed the territory of Louisiana for the French in the 1690s. The King of France awarded a proprietorship to the Company of the West, owned by John Law, to develop a colony in the new territory. Law appointed Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville Commandant and Director General of the new colony.
Bienville wanted a colony on the Mississippi River, which served as the main highway for trade with the new world. The Native American Choctaw Nation showed Bienville a way to avoid the treacherous waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River by entering Lake Pontchartrain from the Gulf of Mexico and traveling on Bayou St. John to the site where the city now stands.
In 1718, Bienville’s dream of a city became a reality. The city streets were laid out in 1721 by Adrian de Pauger, the royal engineer, following the design of Le Blond de la Tour. Many of the streets are named for the royal houses of France and Catholic saints. Contrary to popular belief, Bourbon Street is named not after the alcoholic beverage, but rather after the Royal House of Bourbon, the family then occupying the throne in France.
The city remained under French rule until 1763, when the colony was sold to Spain. Two major fires and the sub-tropical climate destroyed many of the early structures. Early New Orleanians soon learned to build with native cypress and brick. The Spanish established new building codes requiring tile roofs and native brick walls. A walk through the French Quarter today shows that the architecture is really more Spanish than French.
With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 came the Americans. These newcomers to New Orleans were viewed by the French and Spanish Creoles as low-class, uncultured rough and tumble people who were not suited to the high society of the Creoles. Although the Creoles were forced to conduct business with the Americans, they did not want them in the old city. Canal Street was built at the upriver edge of the French Quarter to keep the Americans out. So, today, when you cross over Canal Street, notice that all the old "Rues" change to "Streets" with different names. It is in the section that the old streetcars roll.
The Arrival of the Haitians
Late in the 18th century, a revolt in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) brought a number of refugees and immigrants to Louisiana. They were skilled artisans, well educated and made their mark in politics and business. One such successful newcomer was James Pitot, who later became the first mayor of incorporated New Orleans.
Free People of Color
Because the Creole codes were a bit more liberal toward slaves than that of the Americans, and under some circumstance, allowed a slave to buy freedom, there were many "free people of color" in New Orleans.
Because of its geographical location and the mix of cultures, New Orleans is a unique city. Her past is never far from her future and her people are devoted to keeping her a one of a kind city.