New Orleans is a major U.S. port and the largest city in Louisiana. New Orleans is the center of the New Orleans Metropolitan Area, the largest metro area in the state.
New Orleans is located in southeastern Louisiana, straddling the Mississippi River. It is coextensive with Orleans Parish, meaning that the boundaries of the city and the parish are the same. It is bounded by the parishes of St. Tammany (north), St. Bernard (east), Plaquemines (south) and Jefferson (south and west). Lake Pontchartrain, part of which is included in the city limits, lies to the north and Lake Borgne lies to the east.
The city is named after Philippe II, Duc d'Orléans, Regent of France, and is well known for its multicultural and multilingual heritage cuisine, architecture, music (particularly as the birthplace of jazz), and its annual Mardi Gras and other celebrations and festivals. The city is often referred to as the "most unique" city in America.
La Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans) was founded May 7, 1718, by the French Mississippi Company, under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, on land inhabited by the Chitimacha. It was named for Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, who was Regent of France at the time. His title came from the French city of Orléans. The French colony was ceded to the Spanish Empire in the Treaty of Paris (1763) and remained under Spanish control until 1801, when it reverted to French control. All of the surviving 18th century architecture of the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) dates from this Spanish period. Napoleon sold the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Thereafter, the city grew rapidly with influxes of Americans, French, Creoles, Irish, Germans and Africans. Major commodity crops of sugar and cotton were cultivated with slave labor on large plantations outside the city.
The Haitian Revolution of 1804 established the second republic in the Western Hemisphere and the first led by blacks. Haitian refugees, both white and free people of color (affranchis or gens de couleur libres), arrived in New Orleans, often bringing slaves with them. While Governor Claiborne and other officials wanted to keep out more free black men, French Creoles wanted to increase the French-speaking population. As more refugees were allowed in Louisiana, Haitian émigrés who had gone to Cuba also arrived. Nearly 90 percent of the new immigrants settled in New Orleans. The 1809 migration brought 2,731 whites; 3,102 free persons of African descent; and 3,226 enslaved refugees to the city, doubling its French-speaking population.
During the last campaign of the War of 1812, the British sent their best forces to conquer New Orleans. Despite great challenges, the young Andrew Jackson successfully cobbled together a motley crew of local militia, free persons of color, United States regulars, Kentucky riflemen and area pirates to decisively defeat the British troops, led by Sir Edward Pakenham, in the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815.
As a principal port, New Orleans played a major role during the antebellum era in the Atlantic slave trade. Its port handled huge quantities of commodities for export from the interior and imported goods from other countries, which were warehoused and then transferred in New Orleans to smaller vessels and distributed the length and breadth of the vast Mississippi River watershed. The river in front of the city was filled with steamboats, flatboats, and sailing ships. Despite its dealings with the slave trade, New Orleans at the same time had the largest and most prosperous community of free persons of color in the nation, who were often educated and middle-class property owners.
The population of the city doubled in the 1830s and by 1840, New Orleans had become the wealthiest and third-most populous city in the nation. Dwarfing in population the other cities in the antebellum South, New Orleans had, consequently, the largest slave market. Two-thirds of the more than one million slaves brought to the Deep South arrived via the forced migration of the internal slave trade. The money generated by sales of slaves in the Upper South has been estimated at fifteen percent of the value of the staple crop economy. The slaves represented half a billion dollars in property, and an ancillary economy grew up around the trade in slaves — for transportation, housing and clothing, fees, etc., estimated at 13.5 percent of the price per person. All of this amounted to tens of billions of dollars during the antebellum period, with New Orleans as a prime beneficiary.
The Union captured New Orleans early in the American Civil War, sparing the city the destruction suffered by many other cities of the American South.
During Reconstruction New Orleans was within the Fifth Military District of the United States. Louisiana was readmitted to the Union in 1868, and its Constitution of 1868 granted universal manhood suffrage. Due to the state's large African American population, many blacks held public office. In 1872, then-lieutenant governor P.B.S. Pinchback succeeded Henry Clay Warmouth as governor of Louisiana, becoming the first non-white governor of a U.S. state, and the last African American to lead a U.S. state until Douglas Wilder's election in Virginia, 117 years later. In New Orleans, Reconstruction was marked by the horrible Mechanics Institute race riot (1866), but also by the successful operation of a fully racially-integrated public school system. Meanwhile, the city's economy struggled to right itself after practically grinding to a halt upon the declaration of war in 1861, the nationwide Panic of 1873 conspiring to severely retard economic recovery.
Reconstruction ended in Louisiana in 1877, and white southern Democrats, the so-called Redeemers, succeeded in stripping power from the Republican Party and gradually circumscribing the only recently-acquired civil rights of African Americans. In New Orleans, the public schools were resegregated, and would remain so until 1960.
New Orleans' large community of well-educated, often French-speaking free persons of color (gens de couleur libres), who had not been enslaved prior to the Civil War, sought to fight back against the incipient forces of Jim Crow. As part of their ongoing campaign, they recruited one of their own, Homer Plessy to test whether Louisiana's newly-enacted Separate Car Act was constitutional. Plessy duly boarded a commuter train departing New Orleans for Covington, Louisiana, sat in the car reserved for whites only and was arrested. The case spawned by this incident, Plessy v. Ferguson, was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896. The court, in finding that "separate but equal" accommodations were constitutional, strengthened by effectively consecrating the already-underway Jim Crow movement. The ruling was a key development in the nadir of race relations reached during this period.