Louisiana is located near the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, in the southern section of the United States. The first Europeans to establish colonies in Louisiana were the French, who created settlements as early as the 1700s.
The region was controlled by Spain for a time, but it eventually came back under French control. Throughout the colonial era, both African and European people came to the region. Most of what is now Louisiana was sold to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase, which occurred in 1803. In 1810, after the West Florida Rebellion, the rest of what is now Louisiana came under United States Control. Then, on April 30, 1812, Louisiana became the 18th state to join the Union. Louis XIV of France was the inspiration for the naming of Louisiana, which was also called “New France.” The land was called La Louisiane “Land of Louis” by Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle when he claimed the area for France.
Today, Louisiana’s three main cities are Shreveport, New Orleans, and Baton Rouge. Louisiana uses a system of parishes, rather than counties. Each parish is generally governed according to a system of “police juries.” They consist of elected officials who have similar duties to those of county commissioners.
Louisiana did have counties at one point in time, when it was a territory and the United States took possession of it. In fact, 12 counties were created at that point. However, they were too large to be properly governed. So, in 1807, 19 parishes were created, instead.
A 12-member jury was responsible for governing each parish in Louisiana. Justices of the peace and parish judges were also appointed. Jury duties included “execution of whatever concerns the interior and local police and administration of the parish.” They got the name “police jury” in 1811. At that time, they were also required by law to be elective positions.
Despite the 1541 and 1542 explorations of Hernando de Soto in the region, it took until 1699 for Louisiana to be founded. Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville and Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, two French brothers, founded it. Originally, the boundary of Louisiana started around midway between what are now Pensacola, Florida and Mobile, Alabama. Then it stretched north up to the Canadian border and west to the Calcasieu and Red rivers, near Spanish lands. Canada was in the possession of the French at the time. Colonial Louisiana included some or all of the following 10 states: Alabama (Western Part), Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana (Eastern Part), Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee.
From 1699 until it lost its holdings in North America in 1763, France ruled the colony of Louisiana. That took place after the Seven Years War came to a close. Great Britain gained control of all French holdings to the east of the Mississippi River at that time. Spain, meanwhile, gained control of the French territory to the west of the Mississippi River. However, researchers should note that, although it was located on the Mississippi River’s eastern bank, New Orleans actually went to the Spanish at that time. That was a result of the kings of Spain and France, who were cousins, working together to keep the city from being controlled by the British.
The part of Louisiana that was under Spanish control stayed that way from 1763 until 1800. Napoleon forced the Spanish to give up the land at that time, putting it back in the hands of the French. However, it was still governed by Spanish officials while Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon negotiated the transfer of the land to the U.S. Therefore, the Spanish records for Louisiana from 1800 to 1803 are potentially much more useful to researchers than the French records of the time.
France, Spain, and Great Britain battled for the area that is now Louisiana for almost three centuries. The Spanish were the first to come to it, but the French settlers stayed. Nevertheless, their monarchy didn’t know how to control the region and their settlers didn’t know how to control the fields. As a result, they couldn’t make their colony in lower Mississippi a successful one. Great Britain, meanwhile, kept trying to gain control of the French holdings in the region.
Eventually, the United States gained control of Louisiana, ending the battle between those major European countries for the region. Louisiana became United States property in December of 1803. Soon, it had a democratic government, and it eventually became a state.
The United States and England went to war in 1812, when Great Britain planned to take Louisiana over. However, it lost the Battle of New Orleans. So, Louisiana remained in the possession of the United States and celebrated its third anniversary of statehood a few months later.
Louisiana Ethnic Group Research
An impressive array of primary source materials exists, in addition to the census materials cited above, in both parish offices and at the Louisiana State University collections in Baton Rouge. In addition, a major ethnic group in Louisiana, the Creoles de couleur, has a unique place in its history.
The Amistad Research Center, located in the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library of Tulane University, provides resources on the African Diaspora, human relations, and civil rights.
Both Louisiana State University and offices in each parish hold extensive collections of source materials relating to African Americans. There is also a lot of information available about the “Creoles de couleur.” in various Louisiana archives and repositories.
Researchers should check the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University’s Howard-Tilton Memorial Library for information on civil rights and human relations relative to African Americans in Louisiana.
African-American genealogical guides can also be found on the website for the New Orleans Public Library. The Louisiana Division Special Collections and the African American Resource Center should also be consulted, as well as the New Orleans City Archives.
Louisiana was home to many Native Americans long before the French or Spanish settled there. Currently, there are members of several tribes in Louisiana, including the following: Choctaw, Chitimacha, Tunica-Biloxi, Houma, Coushatta.
Both civil records and church records often list Native Americans.