Nerd Talk Tuesday : New Orleans Weird Origin Story

Nerd Talk Tuesday : The Weird Origins of New Orleans


New Orleans is known to be one of the most unique cities in the United States. Judging from the plethora of Mardi Gras photos, the title appears well earned! 

The origin story of this city, however, is even more interesting than its reputation for food and nudity. Most history books mention the cities unique culture, taking inspiration from both Spanish and French influence, but the textbooks leave out some of the more sordid details. 


I’ll bet no one told you that New Orleans was settled by convicts. 


Hear that, Australia? You’re in good company!

To give a brief overview, Louisiana was first inhabited by native groups, including the Choctaw, Tunica, and Natchez. You’re shocked, I know, but moving on…


Spanish explorers were the first to set foot in the Louisiana territory, but did not claim the land for Spain. Following the Spanish was the French, who did stake claim to the territory. Thus, in 1682, the French founded “La Louisiane” and Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Bienville founded the city capital New Orleans in 1718. Not long after claiming the territory, France experienced military and political turmoil that forced it to relinquish La Louisiane to Spanish colonial rule from 1718 to 1803. Finally, in 1803, the Uncle Sam took the territory off of Spain's hands and thus, Louisiana was born! 


Sounds pretty dry and uninteresting, I know, but it gets better! 


It turns out that, during it’s time under French rule, Louisiana had some rather salacious occupants…

As the British did with Australia, the French monarchy began sending its less offensive prison mates to La Louisiane to settle the incredibly unwelcoming land. In 1719, John Law officially offered Parisian prisoners the option to settle the budding town of Biloxi. While the prisoners were provided land, jobs, and provisions, no one mentioned that the area was riddled with fires, disease, flooding, and death. 


It was a brilliant marketing plan on the part of France.


The current occupants and settlers of La Louisiane, however, did not think the plan was all that great. With an influx of rather unsavory neighbors, many current residents chose to relocate a bit further down the road, avoiding the “bad side” of town, if you will. Setting up shop a few streets over, these more well-to-do residents formed (you guessed it) New Orleans! 


Thus, while the city of New Orleans was not, itself, formed by convicts (I’m looking at you, Biloxi), it was the direct result of convicts! 


That’s a nice bit of trivia conversation on your next Spring Break trip to Mardi Gras.