New Orleans is a blend of many nationalities

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  • New Orleans is a blend

    of many nationalities

    "It's impossible to get a suit made in this city,'' a gay blade reportedly once said of New Orleans. "All the tailors are busy making flags!"

    The young man may have been overstating the case, but he was not far from correct, for New Orleans and the surrounding territory has lived under five flags: those of the French monarchy, Spain, the French Republic, the United States, the Confederacy, and again the US.

    La Nouvelle Orleans was founded by Le Sieur de Bienville in 1718 as a French colony. One of the first permanent settlements in the Mississippi valley, the small cluster of huts connected by miserable roads was situated on a land pocket formed by a curve in the Mississippi. The shape of the land gave New Orleans the name of the Crescent City.

    With the city still in its infancy, the pirate Lafite started a thriving slave trade. Working from headquarters in nearby Barataria, he offered all types of merchandise, human and otherwise, to the French families. Much of his booty came from English ships sailing to the eastern colonies to supply troops fighting the American revolution.

    Through a complicated marriage of politics and royal families, France gave the New Orleans colony to Spain, which did little more than import a series of governors and a few troops. The French colonists deeply resented Spanish rule; and celebrations were the order of the day when France regained control in 1803. However, the colonists' happiness was short-lived; Napoleon sold New Orleans to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase that same year.

    260 AORN Journal, January 1974, Vol 19, N o 1

  • The original French colonists had treated the Indians as untouchables; the blacks as animals; and the Spanish a s intruders. However, their treatment of Americans, who by 1800 had established themselves in a tightly controlled area of the city, was even less tolerant. The different language, unpolished manners, and business methods of the Americans all increased the distrust of the French, who co,nsidered the Americans to be foreign intruders. However, over the years, all the nationalities which came to New Orleans mingled to produce a culture and people unique to the area.

    For example, racial mixtures of black and white are described by specific words. At one time these racially mixed people ascended the social order according to their amount of white ancestry.

    The Cajan, who primarily lives in the

    Jackson Square, hub of the historic French Quarter, is the town square of the original city. I t is surrounded by historic sites such as St Louis cathedral.

    bayou country, i s a mixture of white, Indian and black ancestry. The unique almost-French speech which developed among these people i s one of the attractions of the area today.

    The haughty, powerful Creole, a descendant of French and Spanish ancestors, assumed control of the original city, or vieux carre. Although the exteriors of the homes may have been neglected, civic and business leaders spent thousands of dollars to maintain a grand lifestyle within.

    The fortunes of le vieux carre have changed in a tide of prosperity and poverty. Bordellos could be found next to the mansions of civic leaders; immediately beyond were slave quarters and the huts of the poor.

    has been called the city that care forgot. However, residents of le vieux carre, or French Quarter, forgot to care, and the area became slum. Fires and plagues started there and swept through the city. One blaze in 1788, which completely destroyed the original city, was counted as a blessing. Residents rebuilt the area in the years following the fire. However, the French Quarter again fell into disrepair. It was not until artists moved to the area about 1935 that it began to regain i ts former charm and character. Today, a continuing renovation program preserves flavor of the area.

    The French Quarter i s the central tourist attraction in the city, especially during Mardi Gras. Many visitors bypass the rest of the modern city with i ts well-developed central business area, modern suburbs, thriving factories, busy port-of-entry commerce and seafood industry.

    Because of all i t s festivities, New Orleans

    AORN Journal, January 1974, VoL 19, No I 261

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