On two occasions last year, we were victims of customer service as defined by United Airlines but we were duly compensated with travel vouchers that enabled us to fly almost for free to New Orleans. We spent four days in this culturally diverse and strategic city over the Memorial Day long weekend at the end of May and can say that we were pleased to visit once but never want to go back again.
The French arrived in 1718 to found Nouvelle-Orléans so they had a port near the mouth of the Mississippi and since they already owned a good chunk of Canada, they claimed everything in between. Thrilled with their new possession, the French government set about boosting its population by giving prisoners one-way tickets to the new colony. Sydney residents might notice some parallels at this point. Free settlers eventually came too and the city prospered shipping sugar and cotton from plantations where the labor was imported—from Africa in slave ships.
However, in 1763 the city’s residents were dismayed to learn that in a deal between the European powers, France gave all its land west of the Mississippi, including New Orleans, to Spain. New construction was then in the Spanish-colonial style.
In another re-alignment in 1802, France got Louisiana back again but immediately sold it to the new United States. Big trouble arrived in 1812 in the form of a fleet of British warships. The British were displeased with America’s attempted invasion of what we now call Canada (more …). In the Battle of New Orleans, the British tried to take the city but the Americans were able to drive them back. Given the slow communications, both sides were unaware that a peace treaty had already been signed thousands of miles away.
The city really took off when steamboats were introduced after 1810 allowing cargo to be shipped up the Mississippi rather than just floated down it. All the products of the interior flowed out through New Orleans and manufactured goods flowed the other way.
I mentioned in an earlier letter after visiting a plantation in South Carolina that the house was nothing like Tara in Gone with the Wind. Throughout the South, plantations were destroyed during the Civil War and in any case, owners generally lived in town, not on the land. Nottaway, not far from New Orleans, was an exception on both counts.
One of the Union commanders had been a guest at the house and knew the slaves were treated well, so he ordered a Union camp be set up on the riverbank adjacent to the house. Passing gunboats would know not to fire on it and passing troops would not burn it. An Australian now owns it!
The city fell on hard time after the Civil War ended in 1865. The plantations could not afford to pay their former slaves a proper wage and railways across the West reduced the need for riverboats. Eventually though, the river was dredged allowing huge barges to go north as far as Minneapolis and tourists started coming—at first in small numbers and now in enormous herds. At times I had the impression there were more of us than there were local residents.
Lake Pontchartrain sits to the north of the city and there is a 24 miles (39km) bridge across it! It looks to me like a pork project—some congressman won Federal money to build a bridge, even if there was not much on the other end.