New Orleans is a city in southern Louisiana, located on the Mississippi River. Most of the city is situated on the east bank, between the river and Lake Pontchartrain to the north. Because it was built on a great turn of the river, it is known as the Crescent City. New Orleans was founded in 1718 by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville, and named for the regent of France, Philippe II, duc d'Orleans. It remained a French colony until 1763, when it was surrendered to the Spanish. In 1800, Spain ceded it back to France; in 1803, New Orleans, along with the entire Louisiana Purchase, was sold by Napoleon I to the United States. Like the early American settlements along Massachusetts Bay and Chesapeake Bay, New Orleans served as a distinctive cultural gateway to North America, where people from Europe and Africa initially intertwined their lives and customs with those of the native inhabitants of the New World. The resulting way of life differed dramatically from the culture than was spawned in the English colonies of North America. New Orleans is a place where Africans, Indians and European settlers shared their cultures and blended together. Encouraged by the French government, this strategy for producing a tough, durable culture in a difficult place, marked New Orleans as different and special and it still continues to distinguish the city today.
African Americans make up about half of the city of New Orleans population to date. How did this come about? Well, during the eighteenth century, Africans came to the city directly from West Africa. The majority passed neither through the West Indies nor South America, so they developed complicated relations with both the Indian and...