New Orleans, located at the mouth of the Mississippi, is a city rich in history and mystery and has been the center of commerce and trading for many years. Whether it is location or government and political leaders, New Orleans has played a large role in the history of the United States as well as Louisiana. The crescent shaped city located below sea level has been home to many people of all walks of life and every nationality. In the book The World That Made New Orleans – From the Spanish Silver To Congo Square, Ned Sublette goes into great detail about the history of New Orleans. He describes this culturally rich world, a melting pot of people, and describes how each group was brought together creating the city we know today as the city of New Orleans. New Orleans is known as the birth place of Jazz, blues, and gospel music. It is known for its people’s unique brand of English and food. The old buildings take visitors on a trip back into history and at night the city captivates people with its mystery. It is filled with so much history even down to its street names, and there is no doubt that people always have been and always will be curious about the “Big Easy”. All the things that bring people to New Orleans is rooted in a complex history involving immigration, slavery, war, crime all these things contributed to the “Crescent City” that at many times seemed in constant turmoil.
Anyone who wants to tell the complex story about the history of New Orleans has to be able to tell the difference between fact and fiction. So much has been fictionally written about New Orleans that complicates its history even more. Ned Sublette begins his story of New Orleans at the very beginning, before New Orleans was any place of value to anyone. Sublette begins his story with the expedition of Iberville and his brother Bienville. Iberville set out to explore the Mississippi after the expedition of Joliet and Marquette did not turn out as well as the French king had planned. On May 3, 1699, Iberville set up a campsite on the East Bank of the Mississippi River. He arrived there on the day known as Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday which is the day before Ash Wednesday. He named his campsite Ponte du Mardi Gras. In addition to the new French settlers, that arrived when Iberville first settled, Sublette also gives details
about the Indians and the free blacks that were living in that area at the time, and through his descriptions the reader can start to see the beginning of the cultural melting pot that New Orleans is now known for today.
Years after Iberville settled the area, the settlements finally started becoming stationary and the people began to learn the lay of the land; however, there began to be a need for something more. In the beginning of the immigration only men were settling, but women were needed to maintain the homes and so that the population could grow. First they enslaved Native American girls but that did not work out. Approximately five years after Iberville landed in the area twenty two French girls were brought to Louisiana to take the place of the Native American girls.
While the area encompassing New Orleans was under French rule hardly any French leaders or French people expressed too much interest in the area. In 1715 Duc of Orleans took over as regent and like others before him he expressed very little interest in the territory; however, the city of New Orleans was named after him upon its completion by Bienville and those working on it in 1715. Adding to the diversity, around this time French rulers decided to make New Orleans a penal colony. They shipped many men and women from France to New Orleans. They were constantly looking for a way to make money and they used New Orleans in any way they could. Regardless of the nature of their crime these men and women were imprisoned and brought to New Orleans. There were years of struggle and strain for the colony as far as obtaining food and protecting themselves whether it be from disease or man because they all came from the city. They had hardly any help for the mother country or even training on how to plant crops and hunt so many died as a result. The main reason the French were interested in the territory was because of the Mississippi river and what it meant for their trade and commerce to have control over the land. The French knew that the only way to obtain full control over the mouth of the Mississippi would be to set up colonies there. They cared very little about the welfare of the colonies. All they cared about is the money that could be made with it in their possession.
Years later, after the initial colonization, New Orleans was under attack because of the French and Indian war in 1762. Eventually their dreams of controlling the land ended with the loss of the Louisiana territory. They were forced to give up the land to the Spanish as a reward for Spain’s assistance to the French. The Spanish Rulers did not want the land around the Mississippi before but now they saw how valuable it was to the French and it became a priority for the Spanish, but it was only an afterthought until the loss of the war. The people living in the area were unaware of the change of hands from being a French colony to a Spanish colony. Lots of changes were made in the territory by the Spanish but the people living there wanted nothing to do with the Spanish control. This new change of hands also contributed to the cultural diversity in the area. The territory and the colony remained Spain’s until Napoleon took over the land and demanded that it is handed over to him in 1800. Regardless of what people heard of the land and of the city of New Orleans for some reason many still viewed it as a new and fresh start. Adding to the diversity of the culture was the Acadians. These people were forced to leave Canada and after settling in a few places and it not working out many ended up in New Orleans and were called Cajuns. Also at this time the slave trade was increasing. New Orleans became the most populated by blacks at that time whether free or not. Many people, whom were not welcomed anywhere else, fled to New Orleans and many people still do today. Americans also settled in New Orleans from the newly established United States as well as Cubans from Saint Domingue who were escaping the first Haitian Revolution. Finally after the changing of hands and all the people who came to New Orleans between 1800-1809 the population nearly doubled. In the end Sublette closes his book with the stories of the last slave ship that came in the 1900s to a city that was the quintessential melting pot of the rest of the United States and one of the most unique and historically rich cities in the Nation.
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Ned Sublette’s book was very informative and I would definitely recommend the book to students taking this class because it helped me piece together and obtain a better understanding of the history of the mysterious city. He did a good job of telling the complex story of New Orleans but I felt as I was reading it that different parts in his chapter were broken up so much that it did not flow very well. For example on pages 66-67 he has a section on the word funky and the history of the word which I thought
was interesting but not necessary to the history of New Orleans. Another example is on page 127 where he is explaining some of the Cuban influence in the city of New Orleans then the next section is about the street grid of the French Quarter. Sublette also entitled the chapters with names that did not reflect what the chapter was really about. For example chapter five pages 36-44 entitled “Mardi Gras” Sublette tells the story of Iberville’s exploration and mentions only once about the first settlement on the east of the Mississippi which was called Ponte Du Mardi Gras. The chapter title could have reflected more about what the chapter was to be about. As I continued reading more and more I realized that Sublette’s book provided some interesting information. Regardless of the little issues I would definitely recommend this book to anyone taking this class because it really helped reinforce the information learned in the classroom.
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