Louisiana's Exotic Roots
Diverse cultural influences shaped an exciting destination.
Louisiana’s story is older than anyone remembers. The ancient Indians who dwelt here are a bit of a mystery to us today, but they left behind monumental evidence of their civilization. Located along Bayou Macon near Monroe are the immense earthworks known as Poverty Point. Once a flourishing hub of trade, the site stands as a cryptic reminder that even 40 centuries ago, Louisiana was a vital destination and center of culture.
In 1698, King Louis XIV of France chose two brothers from Montreal to found a colony on the Mississippi River. On Mardi Gras day of the following year, Pierre Le Moyne and his 18-year-old brother Jean-Baptiste made camp near the mouth of the river. In this bountiful but unforgiving wilderness, it was a modest start for the colony called Louisiana.
The first permanent settlement in what is now Louisiana was at Natchitoches on the Red River. But grand plans were in the works for a port near the mouth of the mighty Mississippi. Within 10 years of his arrival, young Jean-Baptiste began building the city of New Orleans. Modeled after the cities of the Old World, its center was a church and a public square. New Orleans developed a distinctive architecture, blending the styles of Europe and the Caribbean. Before long, Bienville’s ragged little frontier town became the "Paris of the Americas."
When the Americans purchased Louisiana in 1803, its foreign customs and diverse peoples baffled them. This was a thriving European colony on American soil, and there was doubt whether the stubbornly strange people of Louisiana could ever be integrated into the United States. Even today, Louisiana’s unique history makes it one of the most surprising regions in the American landscape, which is why some have called it "America's foreign country."