I barely made it under the porch ceiling before the daily torrent of rain came crashing down. A typical summer afternoon in Louisiana includes at least one hard rain. Watching the rain has always been a pastime for me. It seems most of my childhood was spent watching rain in the sub-tropical climate of Louisiana. Today, I still rock back and forth in my rocking chair enjoying the cool temperatures that accompanies the rain. I watch the Spanish moss, draped over the limbs of a cypress tree, riding the wind like a kite-surfer. I often wonder what Louisiana looked like when Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, claimed the territory around the mouth of the Mississippi River. He made the claim for King Louis XIV of France back in 1682. Louisiana’s history is as rich in flavors and colors as is a gumbo. Sit back and let me tell you a little bit about my unique home state.
Louisiana is easy to distinguish on the map of the United States. It is situated along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, is Texas’ eastern neighbor, and looks like a boot. Yes, that’s right, a boot, like the kind you wear on your feet. Throughout its colorful history, Louisiana has seen ten different flags wave over its landscape. Most people know it exchanged hands between the Spanish and French on more than one occasion. It also had the Union Jack of the British government fly overhead; mostly in areas north of Lake Ponchartrain, which is north of New Orleans. Louisiana was attractive to many foreign governments because it is home to the mouth of the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi River almost divides the United States along a north-south axis. It begins near the most northern point connecting with Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the tip southern edge of the continent draining into the Gulf of Mexico. Combined with its major tributaries, the Mississippi River drains 1.2 million square miles (3.1 million square kilometers) of the North American continent. Even the earliest explorers noted the river for its commercial potential. Initially moving agricultural products, manufactured goods, and people, the Mississippi River was one of the major arteries for economic prosperity. The United States gained its current control of the river in 1803 when President Thomas Jefferson negotiated the successful purchase of the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon, Emperor of France, for approximately $0.06 USD per acre.
The economic potential President Jefferson envisioned was realized. In Louisiana, the primary cash crops of indigo, cotton, and sugar (all of which love the hot and rainy climate!) was easily moved to foreign markets through the port of New Orleans. The oil and petrochemical industries were attracted to Louisiana because of the ability to easily move products between refineries and domestic and international markets.
Commercial industries were not the only beneficiaries of prosperity using the Mississippi River and Louisiana swamps. Pirates and privateers, like Jean Lafitte, also used the river and its tributaries for commercial gain by attacking ships and confiscating wares and goods aboard. Lafitte and his men would use torrential rains of Louisiana as a screen to evade the authorities. Later, he would become an American national hero when he helped General Andrew Jackson defeat the British during the Battle of New Orleans in 1812.
In my next article, I’ll continue to expound on a few more historical and fun facts about Louisiana.