Early Louisiana

Louisiana has a long and colorful history. The region was possibly visited by Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow survivors of a Spanish expedition of 1528, and it was certainly seen by some of De Soto’s men (1541–42). In 1682, La Salle reached the mouth of the Mississippi and claimed for France all of the land drained by that river and its tributaries, naming it Louisiana after Louis XIV. Europeans did not permanently settle there until 1699, when Pierre le Moyne, sieur d’Iberville, founded a settlement near Biloxi. This settlement became the seat of government for Louisiana, an enormous territory embracing the entire Mississippi drainage basin.

In 1702, Iberville’s brother, the sieur de Bienville, was appointed governor and moved the territorial government to Fort Louis on the Mobile River. This colony was later moved (1710) to the present site of Mobile (Alabama), and Mobile became the capital of Louisiana. French missionaries and fur traders explored some of the vast territory, and Natchitoches (the oldest settlement within the present boundaries of the state of Louisiana) grew from a French military and trading post established (c.1714) to protect the Red River area from the Spanish.

In order to increase the value of the colony, France granted (1712) a monopoly of commercial privileges, which in 1717 passed to a company organized by John Law. The promise of riches under Law’s Mississippi Scheme brought many settlers to Louisiana, and a large number of them remained even after his scheme had collapsed. New Orleans was founded in 1718, and in 1723 the capital was transferred there. Large numbers of Africans were brought in as slaves, and the Code Noir, adopted in 1724, provided for the rigid control of their lives and the protection of the whites.