Steven is an avid history enthusiast and amateur writer who enjoys bringing the past back through vivid storytelling.
Louisiana’s Introduction to the World Theater
In 1682, the French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle named Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV of France. While European interest in the territory waned and waxed over the years, Louisiana eventually became a cultural and economic center in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. The close ties between France and the Ivory Coast of West Africa facilitated a prolific slave trade comprised of Sene-gambian captives. These slaves were used to fuel Louisiana’s economic progress and eventually laid the foundations of modern Louisiana Creole culture.
The continuous influx of immigrants over the years has led to a diverse and colorful society that holds strongly to tradition and the celebration of life. While the origins of Creole in Louisiana are the topic of fervent dispute among historical sources, it is generally accepted that the slave trade under the French colonists, and the ensuing slavery revolts in Haiti, had the most direct impact on the culture.
The First Settlers of Louisiana
Although La Salle had the honor of naming Louisiana, the territory had long been the home of indigenous Native Americans dating back to the Archaic Period. In 1528, Europeans first discovered the mouth of the Mississippi River during an expedition led by Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez. Almost 15 years later in 1543, Captain De Soto encountered hostile tribes while trying to find the mighty Mississippi river to follow it back to the Gulf of Mexico. Following these expeditions European interest lay dormant until the 17th century when the French began sniffing around the region, and following La Salle’s expedition they established the first colony at Fort Maurepas.
The Great Upheaval of the Acadians
The effects of the Seven Years War between the British Empire and France had a meaningful impact on the population of Louisiana, and more specifically New Orleans. The British gained control of Acadia during the war and began an expulsion of the French Canadians that called the area home. Many of these displaced immigrants made their way to the Spanish territory of New Orleans and the parishes surrounding Lake Pontchartrain. Their descendants in Louisiana have become the people known as Cajuns. Not to be confused with Creoles, the Cajun culture is founded in Acadian roots and influenced by hundreds of years in the melting pot that is New Orleans.
Slavery in Louisiana
In 1706, French colonists in Louisiana introduced the concept of chattel slavery to the region. Settlers began raiding indigenous tribes and slaughtering the men, sparing the women and children in order to make them domestic slaves. It was not until 1710 that the French discovered the value of African slaves. During the War of the Spanish Succession, Spanish men-at-war seized slave ships and redirected them towards the territories at Louisiana. This was the beginning of a trend for the French Empire that saw its peak in a four-year blitzkrieg from 1717-1721. During these years eight French slave ships transported over 2000 Sene-gambian slaves to New Orleans under the worst possible conditions. Slaves and sailors alike suffered from scurvy due to a lack of vitamin C and poor nutrition. Many of the slaves perished en route due to infection and dysentery that resulted from deplorable waste management conditions. The French engaged in the detainment and importation of thousands of slaves into the Louisiana area until they declared war with Britain in the 1750’s.
The Language of Bondage
The term Sene-gambia refers to the area between the Senegal and Gambia Rivers, and is commonly used in context with the French slave trade of the first half of the 17th century. The tribal people in these areas were fragmented into various societies with unique traditions, as well as many that they shared with their immediate neighbors. The languages spoken in the Sene-gambia region at that time were Sereer, Wolof, Pulaar, and Malinke, and were known to be so similar that they were referred to as being mutually intelligible. Many of these tribesmen were captured, shipped, and sold into slavery in the Americas and West Indies. With a need to communicate, the slaves assimilated their own shared African dialects with those of their masters and created the first variety of Louisiana Creole.
Some historians have suggested that the term Creole was first applied to the European colonists that were born in the territory. These pre-African slave days could have included French, Spanish, German, Irish, Acadian, and Canarian immigrants. The available information implies that the modern Louisiana Creole culture and language is the product of a long process of adaptation, refinement, and improvisation.
The Many Faces of Louisiana Creole
The known history of Louisiana is comprehensive and well-documented. It is possible to assume from the facts available that every major period of cultural or racial immigration in Louisiana’s history has played a role in shaping the Creole language and lifestyle. While French, Spanish, and English remain key ingredients of Louisiana Creole, other contributions came from slave owners fleeing Haiti, both white and black, that sought asylum in the pro-slave American South. Haitian Creole included aspects of other languages not found in Louisiana at that time and added a unique, exotic injection to the existing dialects. The small territory soon became a cultural capital in the Caribbean and gave birth to a new proud nation of Louisiana Creoles.
Influences That Impacted Louisiana Creoles
The area of southern Louisiana witnessed the arrival of many different cultures since its discovery by Europeans. While the traditions of the French and Acadian settlers, along with those of their Native American and African slaves, contributed a significant amount of influence on modern Louisiana Creole culture, it would not be complete without the myriad other immigrants that sought refuge in New Orleans. The Louisiana territories were shuffled between France and Spain during the last half of the 17th century, but during the periods of Spanish control many mainland and Canary Islanders, Spanish subjects known as Isleños, used this period to migrate to the Louisiana area. Consequently, they introduced the Spanish language to the region and played their part in forging the Creole culture into what is today.
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© 2012 Steven P Kelly
Steven P Kelly (author) from Tampa, FL on May 19, 2012:
Thanks for reading Alex.
AlexK2009 from Edinburgh, Scotland on May 19, 2012:
I liked this. Thanks
Steven P Kelly (author) from Tampa, FL on May 16, 2012:
@Buddinglinguist- I did not know that about LSU, but I guess if any school should have a Cajun French program...I could sit and talk ancestry for hours myself. Thanks for reading my article.
buddinglinguist on May 15, 2012:
LSU offers a few Creole courses now and then, and (just for the record) has an excellent Cajun French program. I also know a few Creole people (I'm from Southern Louisiana); it's really interesting talking to them about their families and ancestries, not to mention their dialects/languages.
Steven P Kelly (author) from Tampa, FL on May 15, 2012:
@Paul- Thank you my friend! I think that's my first vote on HP! I'm sure 'Nawlins could use your money these days. Thanks for reading.
@Levertis- It was my pleasure.
@Wesley- I continuously learn stuff about my hometown in Florida that I never knew. There is just so much history along the Gulf states. Thank you for the kudos!
Wesley Meacham from Wuhan, China on May 15, 2012:
Great article. Having grown up in Northern Louisiana I knew much of this but your hub is well written and organised. Louisiana history is full of fun things. voting up.
Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on May 15, 2012:
What an interesting history! Thanks for sharing.
Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on May 15, 2012:
This is an awesome historical account of the Creoles in Louisiana. I've been to New Orleans once and really would like to return and explore the rest of the state. Voted up and sharing.