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Louisiana (French: La Louisiane; by 1879, La Louisiane française) or French Louisiana was an administrative district of New France. Under French control from 1682–1764 and 1802–04, the area was named in honor of 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 was divided into two regions, known as Upper Louisiana (French: Haute-Louisiane), which began north of the Arkansas River, and Lower Louisiana (French: Basse-Louisiane). The present-day U.S. state of Louisiana is named for the historical region, although it occupies only a small portion of the territory claimed by the French.
French exploration of the area began during the reign of Louis XIV, while 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 eastern part of the territory in 1763 to the victorious British, and the western part to Spain as compensation for that country's loss of Florida. France regained sovereignty of the western territory in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso of 1800. But, strained by obligations in Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to sell 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 Great Britain in the Treaty of 1818, following the War of 1812. This section lies above the 49th parallel north in a portion of present-day Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In the 18th century, Louisiana included most of the Mississippi River Valley, from what is now the Midwestern United States south to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Demarcating the exact territory is difficult as it did not have formal, defined borders in the modern sense. 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 had some 2,500 French, plus 1,500 slaves. In contrast, Louisiana Indians numbered well over 35,000."
Generally speaking, Louisiana bordered the Great Lakes, particularly Lake Michigan and Lake Erie towards the north. On the east, the French colony was separated by the Appalachian Mountains from the Thirteen British Colonies. The Rocky Mountains region marked the western extent of the French claim. Louisiana's southern border was formed by the Gulf of Mexico, which served as the port for the colony.
The colony was mostly flat, which aided European movement through the territory. Its average elevation is less than 1,000 metres. The territory becomes more mountainous towards the west, with the notable exception of the Ozark Mountains, which are located in the mid-south.
Upper Louisiana, also known as the Illinois Country, comprised territory in the upper Mississippi River Valley, including settlements and fortifications in what are now the states of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. French exploration of the area began with the 1673 expedition of Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette, which charted the upper Mississippi. Unlike Lower Louisiana, which received settlers from all over France and its empire, Upper Louisiana was primarily settled by colonists from French Canada. There was further substantial intermarriage and integration with natives of the Illinois peoples. French settlers were attracted by the availability of arable farmland as well as the forests abundant with animals suitable for hunting and trapping. The region was initially governed as part of Canada, but was declared to be part of Louisiana in 1717. Between 1699 and 1760, six major settlements were established: 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 Missouri. 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.
During the French and Indian War (the Seven Years' War), the British occupied the portion of Upper Louisiana east of the Mississippi. Following their defeat in the war the French ceded the area, which became known as the Northwest Territory, as well as all of Louisiana east of the river, to Britain in the Treaty of Paris in 1763. As a result, many of the French settlers in the region relocated to the west side of the Mississippi. Here they founded outposts such as the important settlement of St. Louis. This became a French fur trading center, connected to trading posts on the Upper Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and leading to later French settlement in that area.
A separate treaty at the time ceded Louisiana west of the river to Spain, France's ally in the war, as compensation for the loss of Spanish Florida to Britain. Even after France had lost its claim to Louisiana, settlement of Upper Louisiana by French-speakers continued for the next four decades. 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. 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).
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. This 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.
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In 1660, France started a policy of expansion into the interior of North America from what is now eastern Canada. The objectives were to locate a Northwest Passage to China; to exploit the territory's natural resources, such as fur and mineral ores; and to convert the native population to Catholicism. Fur traders began exploring the pays d'en haut (upper country around the Great Lakes) at the time. In 1659, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart des Groseilliers reached the western end of Lake Superior. Priests founded missions, such as the Mission of Sault Sainte Marie in 1668. On May 17, 1673, Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette began the exploration of the Mississippi River, which they called the Sioux Tongo (the large river) or Michissipi. They reached the mouth of the Arkansas River, and then returned upstream, having learned that the great river ran towards the Gulf of Mexico and not toward the Pacific Ocean as they had presumed. In 1675, Marquette founded a mission in the Native American village of Kaskaskias on the Illinois River. A permanent settlement was made by 1690.
In 1682, Cavelier de La Salle and the Italian Henri de Tonti descended to the Mississippi delta. They left Fort Crèvecoeur on the Illinois River, accompanied by 23 Frenchmen and 18 Indians. They built Fort Prud'homme (later the city of Memphis) and claimed French sovereignty on the whole of the valley, which they called Louisiane in honor of the Louis XIV of France. They sealed alliances with the Quapaw Indians. In April 1682, they arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi. La Salle eventually returned to Versailles, where he convinced the Minister of the Marine to grant the command of Louisiana to him. He claimed that Louisiana was close to New Spain by drawing a map indicating the Mississippi as much further west than it really is.
With four ships and 320 emigrants, La Salle set sail for Louisiana. La Salle was not able to find the mouth of the river in the Mississippi delta and attempted to establish a colony on the Texas coast. La Salle was assassinated in 1687 by members of his exploration party, reportedly near what is now Navasota, Texas.
It was not easy for an absolute monarchy to administer Louisiana, a territory several times larger than Metropolitan France. Louis XIV and his successors tried to impose their absolutist ambitions on the colony, often without giving the colonial administration enough financial means to do its work.
If the leaders of the Ancien Régime took control of, and sometimes encouraged, the colonization of New France, it was for many different reasons. The reign of Henry IV gave an important impetus to the colonisation of New France. Henry IV, the first Bourbon king, was personally interested in foreign affairs. In the 17th century, the ministers Richelieu and later Colbert advanced colonial politics. Louis XIV and his ministers were worried about the size of the kingdom, over which they constantly competed with other European nations. European rivalry and a game of political alliances greatly marked the history of Louisiana, in direct and indirect ways. Within those shifting conditions, the French desire to limit British influence in the New World was a constant in royal politics.
The Sun King took care to limit the appearance of intermediary bodies and countervailing powers in North America. He did not want an assembly of notables or parliament. In the 1660s, the colony was royal property. In 1685, Louis XIV banned all publishing in New France. Between 1712 and 1731, the French possession came under the control of Antoine Crozat, a rich businessman, then under that of the Mississippi Company (created by John Law), which recruited immigrants to settle the colony. In 1731, Louisiana reverted to royal rule.
In contrast to Metropolitan France, the government used laws in the colony based on those of Paris (rather egalitarian for the time). This served as an equaliser for a while; riots and revolts against authority were rare. But, the centralised government had difficulty maintaining communications over the long distance and sailing time which separated France from Louisiana. Toward the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th, the colonists on the Gulf of Mexico were left almost completely to fend for themselves; they counted far more on the assistance of the Native Americans than on France. The distance had its advantages: the colonists smuggled goods into the colony with impunity.
Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's Minister of the Navy and Trade, was eager to stuff the coffers of the Crown. He dissolved the trading companies and took care to increase the production of the country and the colonies. Being a mercantilist, he believed it was necessary to sell as much as possible and to reduce reliance on imports. He imposed a French monopoly on trade. Colbert wanted to reduce the expenditure of the monarchy. It was, however, necessary to invest much money and to mobilize important human resources retain the American colony. Much work was done on the economic infrastructure (factories, ports) in metropolitan France, but the investment was insufficient in Louisiana. No plan to facilitate the movement of goods or men was ever carried out. The French budget was exhausted because of the wars in Europe, but the colonists in Louisiana did not have to pay royal taxes and were free of the hated gabelle.
Under the Ancien Régime, Louisiana formed part of a larger colonial unit, the French empire in America: New France (Nouvelle France), which included a part of what is now Canada. New France was initially ruled by a viceroy: this post was occupied by the Duke of Ventadour (1625). It was then equipped with a government like the other possessions of the Bourbons. Its seat was in the city of Québec until 1759. One Governor general, assisted by one intendant, was charged with ruling this vast empire. In theory, Louisiana was subordinate to Canada. It was explored and populated chiefly by French-Canadian colonists, rather than settlers from Metropolitan France. Given the enormous distance between New Orleans and Quebec, communications were limited outside of the cities and forts.
French settlements were widely dispersed, giving them a relative autonomy in fact, if not in law. The government decided to divide rule of the vast, diverse colony of New France into five jurisdictions, including Louisiana. The Country of Illinois, located at the south of the Great Lakes, was added to Louisiana in 1717. The first "capital" of French Louisiana was Mobile. The seat of government was transferred to Biloxi in 1720, then to New Orleans in 1722, where the governor resided. This individual was the most eminent figure, but not the most powerful. He commanded troops and was responsible for diplomatic relations. The second authority was the police chief-director. His functions were similar to those of the intendants in France: administrators and representatives of the king, they managed justice, the police force and finances. They managed the budget, set prices, chaired the higher council (the Court of Justice) and organized the census. Named by the king, the ordnance officer of Louisiana had broad capacities which sometimes came into conflict with those of the governor. The military stations of the interior were directed by commanders.
The French possessions of North America were under the authority of a single Catholic diocese, whose seat was in Quebec. The archbishop, named and paid by the king, was spiritual head of all New France. With loose religious supervision, the fervor of the population was very weak; Louisianans tended to practice their faith much less than did their counterparts in France and Canada. The tithe, a tax by the clergy on the congregations, produced less revenue than in France.
The Church nevertheless played an important part in the exploration of French Louisiana; it sent missions, primarily carried out by Jesuits, to convert Native Americans. It also founded schools and hospitals: by 1720, the Ursulines were operating a hospital in New Orleans. The church and its missionaries established contact with the numerous Amerindian tribes. Certain priests, such as Father Marquette in the 17th century, took part in exploratory missions. The Jesuits translated collections of prayers into numerous Amerindian languages for the purpose of converting the Native Americans. They also looked for ways to relate Indian practices to Christian worship, and helped show the Natives how these were related. A syncretic religion developed among new Christians. Sincere and permanent conversions were limited in number; many who received missionary instruction tended to assimilate the Holy Trinity into their belief of "spirits", or rejected the concept outright.
It is difficult to estimate the total population of France's colonies in North America. While historians have relatively precise sources regarding the colonists and the slaves, it is on the other hand much more difficult to count the Native Americans. During the 18th century, the society of Louisiana became quite creolized.
According to the demographer Russel Thornton, North America contained approximately seven million native inhabitants in 1500. The population plummeted from the 16th century onward, primarily because of the new infectious diseases carried by Europeans, to which the Native Americans had no acquired immunity. At the end of the 17th century, there were likely no more than 100,000 to 200,000 Native Americans in Lower Louisiana. A small number of Native Americans were employed as slaves from the very start of the 18th century—in spite of official prohibition. These slaves were captured by rival tribes during raids and in battle. Sold to French colonists, they were often sent to Saint Domingue in the West Indies or, at times, to Canada. In Louisiana, planters generally preferred using African slaves, though some had Native American servants.
In 1717, John Law, the French minister of finance, decided to import African slaves into Louisiana. His objective was to develop the plantation economy of Lower Louisiana. The Company of the Indies held a monopoly of the slave trade in the area. It imported approximately 6,000 slaves from Africa between 1719 and 1743. A portion of these were sent to the Illinois Territory to cultivate the fields or to work the lead mines. The economy of Lower Louisiana consequently became slave-dependent. As in other French colonies, the treatment of the slaves was regulated by the Code Noir. The slaves often had a degree of autonomy beyond that suggested by the code. Initially, during public holidays, slaves were permitted to sell a portion of the crops they had cultivated. Some would hunt, cut wood or keep livestock far from the plantation. Lastly, although interracial marriages and regroupings of slaves were prohibited, planters and their workers often practiced cohabitation and kept mistresses. In the early years, there were few French women in the colony. The life and work of the slaves was difficult, with harvest season undoubtedly the hardest. The maintenance of canals for rice irrigation and travel also involved much labor.
Slave residences were modest; they slept on simple straw pallets. They typically had some trunks and kitchen utensils. The condition of the slaves depended on the treatment they received from their masters. When it was excessively cruel, the slaves often fled and hid in the marshes or in New Orleans. The Maroon societies which runaway slaves founded were often short-lived; Louisiana did not have the larger and semi-permanent Maroon villages that developed in the West Indies. Meanwhile, slave revolts were not as frequent in this area as they were in the Caribbean. The possibility of being set free was rather low; the slaves could not purchase their freedom. One of the first slaves to be freed was Louis Congo, who, in 1725, received freedom, land, and compensation in exchange for becoming the public executioner of New Orleans. Some freed slaves (notably women and former soldiers) formed small communities, which suffered from segregation; justice was more severe against them, and they did not have right to possess weapons. Slaves contributed to the creolization of Louisianan society. They brought okra from Africa, a plant common in the preparation of gumbo. While the Code Noir required that the slaves receive a Christian education, many secretly practiced animism and often combined elements of the two faiths.
The commonly accepted definition of Louisiana Creole today is the community whose members are a mixture of mainly French, Spanish, African, and Native-American heritage. Some individuals may not have each ethnic heritage, and some may have additional ancestries. It is estimated that 7,000 European immigrants settled in Louisiana during the 18th century - a number 100 times lower than the number of British colonists on the Atlantic coast. Louisiana attracted considerably fewer French colonists than did its West Indian colonies. After the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, which lasted several months, the colonists had several challenges ahead of them. Their living conditions were difficult: uprooted, they had to face a new, often hostile, environment. Many of these immigrants died during the maritime crossing or soon after their arrival.
Hurricanes, unknown in France, periodically struck the coast, destroying whole villages. The Mississippi Delta was plagued with periodic yellow fever epidemics, to which malaria and cholera were added as part of the Eurasian diseases that arrived with the Europeans. These conditions slowed colonisation. Moreover, French villages and forts were not necessarily safe from enemy offensives. Attacks by Native Americans represented a real threat to the groups of isolated colonists; in 1729, the attacks on Natchez killed 250 in Lower Louisiana. Forces of the Native American Natchez tribe took Fort Rosalie (now Natchez, Mississippi) by surprise, killing, among others, pregnant women. The French response ensued in the following two years, causing the Natchez to flee or be deported as slaves to Saint Domingue.
Colonists were often young men, volunteers recruited in French ports or in Paris. Many served as indentured servants; they were required to remain in Louisiana for a length of time fixed by the contract of service. During this time, they were "temporary semi-slaves". To increase the colonial population, filles de la cassette, young Frenchwomen, were sent to the colony to marry soldiers there, and given a dowry financed by the king. (This builds on the 17th century example in what is now Canada: about 800 filles du roi immigrated to New France under the monetary sponsorship of Louis XIV.) Comfort women were females "of easy virtue," vagrants or outlaws, and those without family arriving with a lettre de cachet; they were sent by force to Louisiana, especially during the Régence period early in the reign of Louis XV. Their stories inspired the novel Story of the Knight Of Grieux and Manon Lescaut, written by Abbé Prévost in 1731. In 1721, the ship La Baleine brought close to 90 women of childbearing age from the prison of La Salpetrière in Paris to Louisiana where most of them quickly found husbands amongst the residents of the colony. These women, many of whom were most likely prostitutes or felons, were known as The Baleine Brides. French Louisiana included communities of Swiss and German settlers; however, royal authorities never spoke of "Louisianans" but always of "French" to designate the population. After the Seven Years' War, the settlement became a more mixed affair, with the population enriched with the arrival of various groups: Spanish settlers, refugees from Saint Domingue (particularly after 1791), opponents of the French Revolution, and Cajuns. In 1785, 1,633 people of Acadian origin were brought from France to New Orleans, 30 years after having been expelled from their homeland by the British. Other Acadians made it to the colony on their own; altogether, about 4,000 are thought to have settled in Louisiana.
Social mobility was easier in America than in France at the time. The seigneurial system was not imposed on the banks of the Mississippi, although the long lot land division scheme of the seigneurial system was adapted to some of the meandering rivers and bayous there. There were few corporations treated on a hierarchical basis and strictly regulated. Certain tradesmen managed to build fortunes rather quickly. The large planters of Louisiana were attached to the French way of life: they imported wigs and clothing fashionable in Paris. In the Country of Illinois, the wealthiest constructed stone-built houses and had several slaves. The largest traders mostly wound up settling in New Orleans.
The King sent the army in the event of conflict with the other colonial powers; in 1717, the colony of Mississippi counted 300 soldiers out of 550 people (Havard G, Vidal C, History of French America, p. 225.). However, the colonial army, like that of France, suffered from desertions. Certain soldiers fled to become coureurs de bois. There were few mutinies because repression was severe. The army held a fundamental place in the control of the territory. Soldiers built forts and frequently negotiated with the Native Americans.
The coureurs des bois (literally "runners of the woods") played an important part, though not well documented, in the expansion of French influence in North America. By the end of the 17th century, these adventurers had journeyed the length of the Mississippi River. They were motivated by the hope of finding gold or of carrying out a profitable fur trade with the Indians. The fur trade, often practiced without authorization, was a difficult activity, carried on most of the time by young unmarried men. Many ultimately wished to go on to more sedentary agricultural activities. Meanwhile, a good number of them were integrated into native communities, learned the languages and took native wives. A well-known example is the French Canadian Toussaint Charbonneau, husband to Sacagawea, who gave birth to Jean-Baptiste. They took part in the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-1806.
While Ancien Régime France wished to make Native Americans subjects of the king and good Christians, the distance from Metropolitan France and the sparseness of French settlement prevented movement in this direction. In official rhetoric, the Native Americans were regarded as subjects of the King of France, but in reality, they were largely autonomous due to their numerical superiority. The local authorities (governors, officers) did not have the means of imposing their decisions and often compromised. The tribes offered essential support for the French in Louisiana: they ensured the survival of the colonists, participated with them in the fur trade, were used as guides in expeditions. Their alliance was also essential in the fight against the British.
The two peoples influenced each other in many fields: the French learned the languages of the natives, who bought European goods (fabric, alcohol, firearms, etc.), and sometimes adopted their religion. The coureurs des bois and the soldiers borrowed canoes and moccasins. Many of them ate native food such as wild rice and various meats, like bear and dog. The colonists were often dependent on the Native Americans for food. Creole cuisine is the heir of these mutual influences: thus, sagamité, for example, is a mix of corn pulp, bear fat and bacon. Today jambalaya, a word of Seminole origin, refers to a multitude of recipes calling for meat and rice, all very spicy. Sometimes shamans succeeded in curing the colonists thanks to traditional remedies (application of fir tree gum on wounds and Royal Fern on a rattlesnake bite).
Many colonists both admired and feared the military power of the Native Americans, but others scorned their culture and regarded them as racially less pure than the Whites. In 1735, interracial marriages without the approval of the authorities were prohibited in Louisiana. The Jesuit priests were often scandalized by the supposedly libertine ways of the Native Americans. In spite of some disagreements (the Indians killed pigs which devastated corn fields), and sometimes violent confrontations (War of the Foxes, Natchez uprisings and expeditions against the Chicachas), the relationship with the Native Americans was relatively good in Louisiana because the French were not numerous. French imperialism was expressed through some wars and the slavery of some Native Americans. But most of the time, the relationship was based on dialogue and negotiation.
Louisiana could be divided into two main areas, both with well-differentiated economic systems.
This sparsely-settled northern area of French Louisiana, criss-crossed by the Mississippi and its affluents, was primarily devoted to cereals. The very few French farmers lived in villages (such as Fort de Chartres, Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, and Sainte-Geneviève). They cultivated the land with paid laborers, producing mostly corn and wheat. The fields were cleared with ploughs. They raised horses, cows and pigs, and also grew a little tobacco, hemp, flax and grapes (though most wine was still imported from France). Agriculture was at the mercy of the rough climate and periodic floods of the Mississippi.
The trading posts in the Illinois Country concentrated mostly on the fur trade. Placed at strategic points, they were modestly fortified. Only a few were made out of stone (Fort de Chartres, Fort Niagara). Like their American "mountain man" counterparts, the coureurs des bois exchanged beaverskin or deer pelts for weapons, cloth or shoddy goods, because the local economy was based on barter. The skins and fur are later sold in the forts and cities of New France. The Illinois Country also produced salt and lead and provided New Orleans with game.
Lower Louisiana's economy was based on slave-owning plantations. The owners generally had their main residence in New Orleans and entrusted the supervision of the fields to a treasurer. The crops were varied and adapted to the climate and terrain. Part of the production was intended for use by Louisianans (corn, vegetables, rice, livestock), the rest being exported to France (especially tobacco and indigo).
New Orleans was the economic capital of Louisiana, though it remained a village for several decades. The colonists built infrastructure to encourage trade; a canal was dug in 1723. The stores on banks of the Mississippi also served as warehouses. The city exported pelts from the interior as well as products from the plantations. It was also, of course, a local hub of commerce. Its shops and markets sold whatever the plantations produced.
The rare shipments from France brought food (lard, wheat...), alcohol and various indispensable finished products (weapons, tools, cloth, clothing). Fur and various products came from the interior, and the port sent tobacco and indigo to the metropolis. But these exports remained on the whole relatively weak. New Orleans also still sold wood, rice and corn to the French West Indies.
The hostility between the French and British flared up again two years before the beginning of the Seven Years' War in Europe. In North America, the war became known as the French and Indian War. After some early victories from 1754 to 1757, thanks to help from their Native American allies, the French suffered several disastrous defeats in Canada from 1758 to 1760, culminating in the surrender of the capital city, Quebec. With the loss of Canada, defense of Louisiana became impossible.
The Treaty of Paris, signed on 10 February 1763, formalized the eviction of the French from North America. Canada and the east bank of the Mississippi were handed over to Great Britain. New Orleans and the west bank of the river had been secretly given to Spain the previous year. This decision provoked the departure of a few settlers; however, the Spaniards effectively took control of their new territories rather late (in 1766), and there was not much Spanish immigration. To the East, the United States foresaw the conquest of the West; commercial navigation on the Mississippi was opened to Americans in 1795.
During the French Revolution, Louisiana was agitated under Spanish control: certain French-speaking colonists sent petitions to the metropolis and the slaves attempted revolts in 1791 and 1795.
The Treaty of San Ildefonso, signed in secrecy on October 1, 1800, envisaged the transfer of Western Louisiana as well as New Orleans to France in exchange for the Duchy of Parma. However, Napoleon Bonaparte soon decided not to keep the immense territory. The army he sent to take possession of the colony was first required to put down a revolution in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti); its failure to do so, coupled with the rupture of the Treaty of Amiens with the United Kingdom, prompted him to decide to sell Louisiana to the young United States. This was done on April 30, 1803 for the sum of 80 million francs (15 million dollars). American sovereignty was established on December 20, 1803.
French colonization in Louisiana left a cultural inheritance which has been celebrated significantly in recent decades. The heritage of the French language, Louisiana Creole French and of Cajun French is that which has been most threatened; for this reason, the CODOFIL (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) was created in 1968. A subject of debate is the variety of French that should be taught: that of France, Canadian French, standard Louisiana French or Cajun French. Today, many Cajun-dominated areas of Louisiana have formed associations with Acadian communities in Canada, which send French professors to re-teach the language in the schools. In 2003, 7% of Louisianans were French-speaking, though most also spoke English. An estimated 25% of the state's population has some French ancestry, carrying a number of last names of French origin (e.g., LeBlanc, Cordier, Dauthier, Dion, Menard, Pineaux, Hébert, Ardoin, Roubideaux…).
Many cities and villages have names of French origin. (See French in the United States for a list of these.) They include St. Louis, Detroit, Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette, Mobile, Des Moines and Duluth. The flag and the seal of the state of Minnesota carry a French legend. The Iowa state flag uses a variation of the French national flag as its base. Historical festivals and commemorations point out the French presence: in 1999, Louisiana celebrated the 300th anniversary of its foundation; in 2001, Detroit did the same. In 2003, the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase was commemorated on numerous occasions as well as by a formal conference to recall its history. Certain places testify to a cultural inheritance left by the French; a prime example is the French Quarter of New Orleans. Many French forts have been rebuilt and opened to visitors.
A key part of Louisianan culture finds its roots in the French period: Creole songs influenced the blues and jazz. Cajun music, often sung in French, remains very much alive today. New Orleans' Carnival, with its height at Mardi Gras, testifies to a long-lived Roman Catholic tradition.
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