Louisiana (New France)

French colonial Louisiana
La Louisiane
District of New France






FlagCoat of arms
Flag of New France (until 1760)Coat of arms
Location of New France
New France before the Treaty of Utrecht
CapitalMobile (1702–1720)
Biloxi (1720–1722)
La Nouvelle-Orléans (after 1722)
 • Established1682
 • Split west to Spain1762
 • Split east to Great Britain1763
 • Spanish retrocession21 March 1801
 • Louisiana Purchase30 April 1803
 • Transferred to the United States20 December 1803
Political subdivisionsUpper Louisiana;
Lower Louisiana
Today part of Canada
 United States
History of Louisiana
Flag of Louisiana.svg Louisiana portal

Louisiana (French: La Louisiane; La Louisiane française) or French Louisiana[1] was an administrative district of New France. Under French control 1682 to 1762 and 1801 (nominally) to 1803, the area was named in honor of King Louis XIV, by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle. It originally covered an expansive territory that included most of the drainage basin of the Mississippi River and stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Appalachian Mountains to the Rocky Mountains.

Louisiana included two regions, now known as Upper Louisiana (French: la Haute-Louisiane), which began north of the Arkansas River, and Lower Louisiana (French: la Basse-Louisiane). The U.S. state of Louisiana is named for the historical region, although it is only a small part of the vast lands claimed by France.[1]

French exploration of the area began during the reign of Louis XIV, but French Louisiana was not greatly developed, due to a lack of human and financial resources. As a result of its defeat in the Seven Years' War, France was forced to cede the east part of the territory in 1763 to the victorious British, and the west part to Spain as compensation for Spain losing Florida. France regained sovereignty of the western territory in the secret Third Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800. But strained by obligations in Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte sold the territory to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, ending France's presence in Louisiana.

The United States ceded part of the Louisiana Purchase to the United Kingdom in the Treaty of 1818. This section lies above the 49th parallel north in a part of present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Boundaries, settlement and geography

The Mississippi River basin and tributaries

In the 18th century, Louisiana included most of the Mississippi River basin (see drawing alongside) from what is now the Midwestern United States south to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Within this vast territory, only two areas saw substantial French settlement: Upper Louisiana (French: Haute-Louisiane), also known as the Illinois Country (French: Pays des Illinois), which consisted of settlements in what are now the states of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana; and Lower Louisiana, which comprised parts of the modern states of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama. Both areas were dominated numerically by Native American tribes. At times, fewer than two hundred [French] soldiers were assigned to all of the colony, on both sides of the Mississippi. In the mid-1720s, Louisiana Indians numbered well over 35,000, forming a clear majority of the colony's population."[2]

Generally speaking, the French colony of Louisiana bordered the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Michigan and Lake Erie towards the north; this region was the "Upper Country" of the French province of Canada. To the east was territory disputed with the British colonies on the Atlantic seaboard; the French claim extended to the Appalachian Mountains. The Rocky Mountains marked the western extent of the French claim, while Louisiana's southern border was the Gulf of Mexico.

The general flatness of the land aided movement through the territory; its average elevation is less than 1,000 metres (3,300 ft).[citation needed] The topography becomes more mountainous towards the west, with the notable exception of the Ozark Mountains, which are located in the mid-south.

Lower Louisiana (Basse-Louisiane)

Lower Louisiana in the white area - the pink represents Canada - part of Canada below the great lakes was ceded to Louisiana in 1717. Brown represents British colonies (map before 1736)

Lower Louisiana consisted of lands in the Lower Mississippi River watershed, including settlements in what are now the U.S. states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The French first explored it in the 1660s, and a few trading posts were established in the following years; serious attempt at settlement began with the establishment of Fort Maurepas, near modern Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1699. A colonial government soon emerged, with its capital originally at Mobile, later at Biloxi and finally at New Orleans (in 1722, four years after the city's founding). The government was led by a governor-general, and Louisiana became an increasingly important colony in the early 18th century.

The earliest settlers of Upper Louisiana mostly came from French Canada, but Lower Louisiana was colonized by people from all over the French colonial empire, with various waves coming from Canada, France, and the French West Indies.[3]

Upper Louisiana (Haute-Louisiane)

A new map of the north parts of America claimed by France under the names of Louisiana in 1720 by Herman Moll.

Upper Louisiana, also known as the Illinois Country, was the French territory in the upper Mississippi River Valley, including settlements and fortifications in what are now the states of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana.[4] French exploration of the area began with the 1673 expedition of Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette, which charted the upper Mississippi. As noted above, Upper Louisiana was primarily settled by colonists from French Canada.[3] There was further substantial intermarriage and integration with the local Illinois peoples.[5] French settlers were attracted by the availability of arable farmland as well as by the forests, abundant with animals suitable for hunting and trapping.[6]

A map of Louisiana by Christoph Weigel, published in 1734

Between 1699 and 1760, six major settlements were established in Upper Louisiana: Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Fort de Chartres, Saint Philippe, and Prairie du Rocher, all on the east side of the Mississippi River in present-day Illinois; and Ste. Genevieve across the river in today's Missouri.[7] The region was initially governed as part of Canada, but was declared to be part of Louisiana in 1712, with the grant of the Louisiana country to Antoine Crozat.[8] By the 1720s a formal government infrastructure had formed; leaders of the towns reported to the commandant of Fort de Chartres, who in turn reported to the governor-general of Louisiana in New Orleans.[9]

The geographical limits of Upper Louisiana were never precisely defined, but the term gradually came to describe the country southwest of the Great Lakes. A royal ordinance of 1722 may have featured the broadest definition: all land claimed by France south of the Great Lakes and north of the mouth of the Ohio River, which would include the Missouri Valley as well as both banks of the Mississippi.[10]

A generation later, trade conflicts between Canada and Louisiana led to a defined boundary between the French colonies; in 1745, Louisiana governor general Vaudreuil set the northeastern bounds of his domain as the Wabash valley up to the mouth of the Vermilion River (near present-day Danville, Illinois); from there, northwest to le Rocher on the Illinois River, and from there west to the mouth of the Rock River (at present-day Rock Island, Illinois).[10] Thus, Vincennes and Peoria were the limit of Louisiana's reach. The outposts at Ouiatenon (on the upper Wabash near present-day Lafayette, Indiana), Chicago, Fort Miamis (near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana), and Prairie du Chien operated as dependencies of Canada.[10]

This boundary remained in effect through the capitulation of French forces in Canada in 1760 until the Treaty of Paris in 1763, after which France surrendered its remaining territory east of the Mississippi to Great Britain. (Although British forces had occupied the "Canadian" posts in the Illinois and Wabash countries in 1761, they did not occupy Vincennes or the Mississippi River settlements at Cahokia and Kaskaskia until 1764, after the peace treaty was ratified.[11]) As part of a general report on conditions in the newly conquered Province of Canada, Gen. Thomas Gage (then commandant at Montreal) explained in 1762 that, although the boundary between Louisiana and Canada was not exact, it was understood that the upper Mississippi (above the mouth of the Illinois) was in Canadian trading territory.[12]

Following the transfer of power (at which time many of the French settlers on the east bank of the Mississippi crossed the river to what had become Spanish Louisiana) the eastern Illinois Country became part of the British Province of Quebec, and later the United States' Northwest Territory.[13] Those fleeing from British control founded outposts such as the important settlement of St. Louis (1764). This became a French fur-trading center, connected to trading posts on the Missouri and Upper Mississippi rivers, leading to later French settlement in that area.

In the 1762 Treaty of Fontainebleau, France ceded Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to Spain, its ally in the war, as compensation for the loss of Spanish Florida to Britain.[14] Even after France had lost its claim to Louisiana, settlement of Upper Louisiana by French-speakers continued for the next four decades. French explorers and frontiersmen, such as Pedro Vial, were often employed as guides and interpreters by the Spanish and later by the Americans. The Spanish lieutenant governors at St. Louis maintained the traditional "Illinois Country" nomenclature, using titles such as "commander in chief of the western part and districts of Illinois" and administrators commonly referred to their capital St. Louis "of the Ylinuses".[10]

In 1800 Spain returned its part of Louisiana to France in the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, but France sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.[15] Through this time, but especially following the Louisiana Purchase, French Creoles, as they called themselves, began to move further into the Missouri Ozarks, where they formed mining communities such as Mine à Breton and La Vieille Mine (Old Mines).[7]

A unique dialect, known as Missouri French, developed in Upper Louisiana. It is distinguished from both Louisiana French and the various forms of Canadian French, such as Acadian. The dialect continued to be spoken around the Midwest, particularly in Missouri, through the 20th century. It is nearly extinct today, with only a few elderly speakers still able to use it.[3]

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