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“There is on the globe one single spot, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans …”

  Letter of Thomas Jefferson to Robert R. Livingston (the U.S. Minister to France), April 18, 1802.
On the necessity of acquiring New Orleans from France.

PROLOGUE:           

  Jean Baptiste LeMoyne, Sieur de Bienville stood on the bank of the river. Here the land was a few feet above the watercourse, and behind him stretched “a well-worn road” that led about two or three miles to the bayou. As he gazed at the river, to his left, lay a great bend, disappearing to the south and heading beyond view down to the Gulf.To Bienville’s right, the river ran straight ahead as far as the eye could see. Here, too, the river was running south, for LeMoyne was standing at the top of the bend that would give the city one of its enduring nicknames, the Crescent City. Just beyond his sight, the river turned west for a few miles, then north again, and finally west again, defining a U shape that would cradle the city in its curves and have visitors eternally questioning which way was north, or east, or whatever. Of course, today’s locals know one did not follow the compass points in New Orleans, one traveled uptown or downtown, on the riverside or the lakeside – for this was the way the streets moved. They led away north or west from the river’s U, but bent and turned, split in two, or joined together.

  The only road where Bienville and his 50 laborers stood that day however, ran back north by east and winded its way across a little bayou named Sauvage, later called Chantilly, whence it continued on to the large bayou, then called Tchoupic, that continued roughly north to the big lake that the French called Pontchartrain. On either side of this road or portage stretched the endless cypress and palmetto swamp that would become one of our nation's largest seaports. It was the spring of 1718. Earlier that winter, two ships had arrived at Dauphin Island carrying Sieur de Bienville’s commission as commandant-in-chief (or governor) of the Louisiana colony and instructions from the new Company of the West to effect the following resolutions: , “The Company decided to build a town on the Mississippi , named for the Regent.  “An undated resolution in a register of the company states: ‘Resolved that they will establish thirty leagues up the river, a town which they will name New Orleans, which one may reach by the river and by Lake Pontchartrain.” A further entry states that , as of October 1, 1717, a cashier and warehouse keeper for the company’s commercial office at New Orleans were appointed.  By June of 1718 Bienville informed the Ministry of Marine that work on the new town was well begun. “

  Today, New Orleans is no stranger to disaster. It has now become cliché to speak of Katrina in 2005 and the BP oil spill in 2010 as case studies in catastrophe. Yet another cliché is about the people of southeast Louisiana  being resilient, about the spirit of the region being irrepressible, and about the unique strength of character that is the Creole/Cajun joie de vivre, cuisine, and culture. As we approach the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city, none of this should come as a revelation or surprise. Because if New Orleans and its environs could survive the chaos, corruption, and general incompetance that was French colonialism in Louisiana, mere hurricanes and industrial accidents certainly have no chance of bringing down the people or the ambience of this “Queen City of the South”!

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