Chapter 14

Early American Settlers in Louisiana
by Tansy Waguespack

 

 

Maps: American Settlements (maps created by M.B. Newton)

Introduction
          When one thinks about Louisiana, one almost automatically thinks of it as a state dominated by the French and Acadian cultures. The Southern part of the state is known as "Cajun land". There is a strong Cajun culture in South Louisiana. The culture ranges from the style of cooking to their way of celebrating at the "Fais-do-do". Is Louisiana just about French culture?  If studied well enough, Louisiana has more than French culture.  Even though Louisiana is known for its French settlers, many American settlers have made big contributions to the South.

          Many American settlers came to Louisiana during its early years as a state. When Louisiana was under Spanish rule, Americans were encouraged to settle here. Other Americans came for reasons other than the persuasion from the Spanish. The soil in the areas east of Louisiana became very unfertile and made it difficult to farm, so many Americans packed up their families and moved to Louisiana where the soil was more fertile. Other American settlers looked at the South Louisiana as business opportunity because of the port of New Orleans. New Orleans was their supplier base because of the trading port.

Settlement Patterns

 By December 20, 1803, American settlers gained control of the New Orleans area, and they put the first American governor into office, William Claiborne. Claiborne and the rest of the American settlers did not get along with the French very well because they could not quite adapt to the French cultures, language, and traditions. Of course, this did not stop Americans from settling in Louisiana. Between 1805 and 1810, the migration of Americans into Louisiana doubled. They controlled many of the businesses in New Orleans, and many built homes across from Canal Street in the garden district. By 1806, the American settlers outnumbered the French in all areas of Louisiana except for the South. American settlers came from many parts of the United States: Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, New York, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky. Many settlers from Mississippi settled in Terrebonne parish and the parishes north of Ascension. Americans from Tennessee settled in Lafourche parish, and settlers from Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Missouri settled in St. Charles parish. American settlers from Texas seemed to have dominated the rest of Louisiana.

Farming
          Although the American settlers took control of Louisiana in some aspects, the French still remained in control of South Louisiana. Their cultures and traditions remained strong, and the American settlers soon began to adapt to the new way of living. The Americans did not give up their style of farming the crop Louisiana seems to love the most in the South, sugarcane.  Although sugarcane farming was learned from the Haiti immigrants, the American settlers mainly brought it to South Louisiana.  Since the Americans used the soil in other areas of the United States, they came to Louisiana for the fertile soil and migrated to the South because the soil was most fertile in that area. They farmed the sugarcane crops year after year, and the French began to do some of the same farming. Today, sugarcane is the dominant crop in South Louisiana and has become quite useful to its economy.

 

Music & Entertainment
          Besides sugarcane farming, the American settlers also brought with them their own style of music. Most of Louisiana’s music came from African American heritage such as jazz, blues, zydeco, and many others. Settlers from Tennessee and Kentucky brought country and bluegrass to Louisiana, which soon became as popular as the other music genres. The Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport showcased country music for many years. Elvis Presley made his first professional debut at Shreveport’s Hayride. Many of today’s artists have carried on the country/bluegrass music of the early settlers.

    Another past time of South Louisiana are athletic events, particularly football.  The American Football league expanded and South Louisiana was awarded the franchise by the NFL on All Saints Day in 1967 under the ownership of Tom Benson.  Since then, the Southern part of the state has supported the New Orleans Saints.  In Lafourche parish, many families support the Saints football team because of players such as Bobby Hebert.  Football has become a Sunday ritual for most.  See www.neworleanssaints.com for more information on the team and its history.

Politics
          South Louisiana is very supportive of American politics.  Much of this support has originated from the American settlers.  Much of the South is Democratic, and has supported people such as Edwin Edwards who served as governor for several years.  There was a turn in politics in 1979 when David Treen was elected governor.  He was the first Republican governor since the Reconstruction.  Edwin Edwards was the first governor to serve as a three-term governor.  Politics in the South has not always been honest, but they still support a Democratic government. For more information on Louisiana's government see www.state.la.us.

Conclusion
          Although the early American settlers adapted to the French cultures and traditions, they did leave behind sugarcane farming and country/bluegrass music, which reflects some of the American culture.  They have contributed in many ways to South Louisiana, and some of their contributions are still practiced today.  Both the French and the American settlers have played a major role in developing South Louisiana into what it is today.