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New Orleans and Huey Long

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  • Ram Lau
    http://www.prairieghosts.com/nohistory1.html COPYRIGHT 2000 BY TROY TAYLOR. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. The first colonists to arrive in New Orleans were the French,
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3, 2005

      The first colonists to arrive in New Orleans were the French, but the
      explorers had come first. They included men like LaSalle, who came
      down the Mississippi River in 1682 and claimed the land where the
      river ended for France. In 1699, two French-Canadian explorers named
      Pierre le Moyne and Jean Baptiste le Moyne sailed in from the
      Caribbean and landed on a tiny bayou they called Pointe du Mardi Gras
      as the Catholic holiday of Fat Tuesday was to fall the next day.
      However, exploring the New World was an expensive proposition and the
      French were broke. Enter a Scottish man named John Law, who created a
      New World company in which the French could invest and thereby settle
      the Lower Mississippi Valley. In reality, the plan was a scheme to
      bilk money from the investors in return for selling them Louisiana.
      Law was given a monopoly on trade as well. Later, when it turned out
      that Law's company was merely and early version of a "pyramid scheme",
      many of the settlers decided to stay on anyway.
      During the first year of Law's operation, he decided that a town
      should be founded at a spot which could be reached from both Lake
      Pontchartrain and the Mississippi. In 1718, this town became La
      Nouvelle Orleans.
      Development of the city began that year, but work was slow, thanks to
      brutal heat and the rising and falling waters of the Mississippi.
      There was talk of moving the city because of the danger of flooding,
      so levees were constructed, which spread out as the city and the
      plantations of the area grew.

      At the same time, John Law was attempting to fulfill his promises to
      investors that he would have the colony settled with 6,000 settlers
      and 3,000 slaves by 1727. The biggest problem seemed to be the
      shortage of women. "The white men," wrote the colony's Governor
      Bienville," are running in the woods after the Indian girls".
      There was also a lack of education and medical care in New Orleans.
      Finally, Governor Bienville coaxed the Sisters of Ursuline to come
      from France and assist the new city. The first Ursulines arrived in
      1727 and set to work caring for orphans, operating a school, setting
      up a free hospital and instructing slaves for baptism. They also
      provided a safe haven for the young middle class girls who had come in
      answer to the call for suitable wives. They first arrived in 1728 and
      continued to come until 1751, marrying those single male colonists who
      had been unable to snag one of the "professional" girls who had been
      sent from the Paris jails around 1720.

      But things were far from perfect in New Orleans. Problems had started
      with the local Indian tribes and combined with political problems, the
      investors in John Law's company petitioned France to get rid of the
      unprofitable Louisiana colony. And so they did, leaving behind a
      sturdy and hard-bitten group of 7,000 colonists with a thriving
      business industry and an uncertain future.

      In 1762, France passed the ownership of Louisiana to Spain in the
      secret Treaty of Fontainebleau. That same year, Spain entered the
      Seven Years War (the European arm of the French and Indian War) just
      in time to share defeat with France. As part of the Treaty of Paris at
      the end of the war, France had to give up its holdings in North
      America... however they had just given New Orleans and Louisiana to
      Spain the year before.
      No one in Louisiana had any indication of this for months, when
      suddenly the colonists found themselves under the control of the
      much-hated Governor Don Antonio de Ulloa.
      In 1768, 600 New Orleans citizens mounted the first revolutionary
      expedition of Americans against a European government. The ranks were
      made up of Acadians (French-speaking immigrants from Canada), who had
      been told they were going to be sold into slavery by the Spanish and
      German immigrants, who believed the Spanish were going to default on
      money owed to John Law's company. By November 1, Don Antonio had
      escaped to Cuba and his three aides were taken prisoner by the rebels.
      His Majesty Carlos of Spain did not find this event amusing in the
      least and sent a 2,600 man mercenary force to New Orleans to re-take
      the city. The army was led by Don Alexander O'Reilly, an Irishman in
      the service of Spain. He later earned the nickname "Bloody O'Reilly"
      after he sent all of the revolutionaries before the firing squad.
      The Spanish took the city back, but not for long. In 1800, the people
      of New Orleans discovered that the city had been given back to
      Napoleon of France as a result of the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso.
      But Napoleon was busy that year conquering the Turks, the Austrians
      and the Italians, plus ending a slave uprising on St. Domingue. And
      since New Orleans was struck with a terrible yellow fever epidemic, he
      allowed the Spanish to continue governing the colony.

      Soon, another group began to influence the culture of the city. The
      residents called them the "Kaintocks" and these buckskin-clad American
      frontiersman descended on the city in force. The shrewd Americans had
      realized the thriving port of the city and began bringing keelboats
      loaded with goods down the Mississippi.
      By 1804, the city would belong to America. Napoleon needed money and
      thanks to some stiff bargaining by President Thomas Jefferson, the
      Louisiana Territory, which was over 600 million acres, was soon in the
      possession of the United States. The cost of the territory, which
      stretched from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean was around $15
      million, which makes it one of the greatest land deals in history!
      In 1810, with its mixture of French and Spanish speaking Creoles,
      Anglo-Americans, slaves and free people of color, New Orleans was
      established as the largest city in the South and the fifth largest
      city in America. Louisiana would become the 18th state on April 30,
      1812, and barely a month later, Congress declared war on Britain. A
      few weeks after Mardi Gras in 1814, rumors filled the city that the
      British were going to attack New Orleans.
      The city was defenseless.... word had reached Louisiana that the
      Capitol and the White House in Washington had been burned and that
      President James Madison was unable to raise an army because the United
      States Treasury was empty. This was enough to rally the men of New

      Another hope arrived... General Andrew Jackson. The crusty Indian
      fighter came in December was racked with illness. Despite this, he
      quickly organized a defense of the city. He imposed martial law and
      enlisted the aid of not only the free people of color in New Orleans,
      but the nearby Choctaw Indians and the pirate Jean Lafitte as well.
      On December 23, 1814 Jackson attacked the British troops who were
      camped along the banks of the Mississippi. The battles raged back and
      forth for many days, but finally on January 8, Jackson's army
      prevailed. His ragtag troops were made up of Kentuckian Long Rifles,
      ill-prepared militia men, Indians, Creoles, free men of color and
      pirates but they savagely attacked the British with only 15 men dead
      and 40 wounded.
      The British were not so lucky. The carnage on their side consisted of
      858 dead and about 2,500 wounded. They had nowhere to turn for medical
      care and legend has it that they sought refuge with the Ursuline
      Sisters, who would turn no one away. The stories say that many enemy
      troops were hidden within their walls.

      Shortly after the battle, news reached the city that the British had
      signed a peace treaty at Ghent on Christmas Eve, two weeks before the
      Battle of New Orleans.

      Following the Battle of New Orleans, during the War of 1812, the city
      was placed under siege once again.. this time by the Protestant
      Americans who came south to enjoy the new, French-speaking city. New
      Orleans was already considered the most important city in the south
      and the Americans were determined to enjoy it. They came in huge
      numbers and ended up offending the sensibilities of the Creole
      families of the Vieux Carre, who promptly slammed shut the
      wrought-iron gates of the Quarter.
      After the Louisiana Purchase, altercations between the Catholic
      Creoles and the Protestant Americans became so frequent that a strip
      of land between the French Quarter and the American Sector was
      designated as a "neutral ground". This literally was an act of
      Congress in 1807 and the strip later became known as Canal Street.

      In 1812, the steamboat NEW ORLEANS arrived in port and ushered in a
      new age for the city, and a new period of prosperity. The aristocrats
      of the city filled their lavish mansions with the finest Persian rugs,
      crystal chandeliers, and the best French wines that money could buy.
      However, luxuries aside, New Orleans was not a place for the weak.
      Located below sea level, in a hot and humid climate, it was a place of
      oppressive humidity from June to October and was infested with
      mosquitoes. The city was often hit with terrible cholera and tropical
      illness epidemics and was labeled a "damp grave" for those foolish
      enough to live there.
      And that's not to mention the hurricanes, thunderstorms from the Gulf
      of Mexico, and the frequent floods. The spring flooding was usually
      pour about two feet of muddy water and debris into the city, not to
      mention snakes and rats. New levees were constructed each time the
      devastation would hit the city but each time, the damage was horrible.
      In 1832, New Orleans was savaged by a cholera epidemic and in
      addition, between 1817 and 1860, there were 23 outbreaks of Yellow
      Fever. This wicked disease was spread by mosquitoes, which bred in
      household cisterns. The most serious epidemic of yellow fever hit the
      city in 1853, sending thousands to higher ground in surrounding cities
      like Natchez and Mobile. Over 8,000 people died before the cool months
      of Fall arrived.


      In 1860, New Orleans had the largest cotton market in the world and
      was, by far, the wealthiest city in America. It had been an American
      city for just over 50 years before it found itself at war. On February
      4, 1861 Senator Judah P. Benjamin announced to Congress that Louisiana
      had seceded from the Union. The state would stand alone for three
      entire months until it joined the Confederate States of America. When
      the war began, it would be General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
      and his regiment of Louisiana men who would open fire on Fort Sumter
      on April 12, 1861.
      The war in New Orleans came early and the city spent the greatest
      amount of the war under Union control, despite being located so far
      into the enemy territory of the Confederacy.
      In April of 1862, a fleet of 24 ships, under command of David G.
      Farragut, was ordered to sail up river and seize New Orleans. The
      Confederate defenders did everything they could to stop him. To reach
      the city, Farragut's ships had to get past Fort Jackson and Fort St.
      Commander David Dixon Porter, Farragut's younger foster brother, came
      up with a reckless plan. They would send a collection of small sailing
      vessels, each bearing a huge mortar, into the harbor and anchor them
      below the forts so that they could pound the defenses in advance of
      the fleet. They tried this but after six days of battering, the forts
      remained standing. Farragut decided on an even more daring scheme.....
      under the cover of night, they would run past the forts, smash the
      barricades and steam into New Orleans.
      At two o'clock in the morning, Farragut's warships started past the
      forts. The forts opened fire and the lead ship was hit 42 times. It
      caught fire but they managed to quench the flames and start forward
      again. It was a test of sheer will, but the four flagships somehow
      made it past the forts.
      As they approached New Orleans, a makeshift Confederate squadron of 8
      ships sailed out to meet them. Farragut sank all but 2 of them and the
      city surrendered without a shot.

      After the surrender, Lincoln named Benjamin F. Butler the military
      governor of occupied New Orleans. Butler saw no need to be gentle in
      his position and his methods earned him both admiration and scorn on
      both sides. He hanged a man suspected of desecrating the American
      flag, closed a secessionist newspaper and confiscated the property of
      anyone who would not swear allegiance to the Union.
      The women of New Orleans insulted Butler's men in the streets, calling
      them names and screeching at them. When a woman in the French Quarter
      opened her window and emptied the contents of a chamber pot over
      Admiral David Farragut's head, Butler issued General Order Number 28.
      It simply stated that any woman who insulted a member of the United
      States Army would be treated from that point as a prostitute, in the
      midst of plying her trade.
      Needless to say, the men and women of the south were outraged and
      called Butler everything from "unchivalrous" to "Beast". Butler
      refused to back down and the harassment of his men stopped and no
      woman was ever arrested.

      Butler also tore apart two other old New Orleans institutions... a
      historical landmark and the institution of slavery.
      The statue of Andrew Jackson had been standing in the city's Jackson
      Square for six years when the Union troops arrived, honoring the fact
      that Old Hickory had saved the city from the British in 1815. Butler
      order these words carved into the pedestal, calculated to enrage the
      citizens of New Orleans: "The Union must and shall be preserved."
      Butler also quickly turned the friction between masters and slaves to
      the Union's advantage. He declared the plantation owners to be
      disloyal to the Union and he confiscated their property, in this case,
      their slaves, and set them free. The freed blacks left the plantations
      and fled behind Union lines. "I was always a friend of southern
      rights, " Butler said, "but an enemy of southern wrongs".

      Congress re-admitted Louisiana to the Union in June of 1868. The
      period from the end of Reconstruction to the depression of the 1890's
      was marked by social and political upheaval, a failing cotton market
      and the loss of the major ports. It would not be until World War I
      before New Orleans would again be considered a major shipping port.


      In 1929, the Great Depression hit America, spelling catastrophe for
      many New Orleans banks and businesses. Following close behind the
      disaster came the voice of change for the desperate times. A former
      patent medicine salesman from northern Louisiana named Huey P. Long
      suddenly appeared on the scene and made a bid for the position of
      governor of the state. Long (who would later be nicknamed "The
      Kingfish") promised to break that hold that big business had on the
      wealth of the state and see it re-distributed back among the people.
      In a state where nearly 12 percent of the population was on federal
      aid, Long's promises found an eager audience!
      From the day that Long won office as the railroad commissioner at age
      25, he set out to break the back of Standard Oil, the
      Rockefeller-owned driller who was one of the largest in the state.
      Long was a revolutionary and the people at it up.
      After Long was elected governor in 1928, the state legislature in
      Baton Rouge came under his control. He used his power to revenge
      himself on the New Orleans politicians and newspapers who had opposed
      him. After serving as governor, he ran for and won a seat in the US
      Senate. Before leaving for Washington, he fired the legally elected
      lieutenant governor and replaced him with two designated successors,
      thus continuing to control the state from Washington. He even convened
      11 special sessions of the state legislature, which passed every bill
      that he proposed. Long was out of control.... but his reign was
      quickly coming to an end.

      On September 8, 1935, Huey Long was murdered by a Baton Rouge doctor
      named Dr. Carl Weiss. The doctor's motive has never been clear and
      been much debated, although some have stated that he was blackmailed
      by Long. The stories go that the Kingfish planned to reveal that the
      doctor's wife, who came from a prominent St. Landry Parish family, had
      black blood.
      However, the family of Dr. Weiss, who was killed during the
      assassination attempt, still maintain that he was not the killer at
      all. They say that he was killed in the crossfire of an assassination
      by the bodyguards of Huey Long himself!

      The people of New Orleans are as strange and wondrous a mix as the
      city itself, reveling in its French heritage and its segregation from
      American culture. The melting pot of the city is European, African and
      Cuban, creating a strange blend of style and usually Catholic-based
      traditions which sometimes puzzle the outsider.
      Of all of the various cultures however, the most famous remain the
      Creole and the Cajuns...


      In the early days of New Orleans, the French Company if the Indies
      needed to colonize the territory, so they accepted just about any
      able-bodied volunteers. As Louisiana was known for being a lawless and
      distant frontier, it was soon realized that no decent folks would want
      any part of it. So, the eager "volunteers" usually came from French
      debtor's prisons and houses of correction. Among them were 88 "working
      girls" who were given a choice between prison and the New World.
      In 1720, an agent of France named Phillipe, Duc d'Orleans, put a stop
      to the practice of flushing out the unsavory elements of France and
      sending them to New Orleans. Of course, this may be why, among modern,
      upscale residents of the city, you can rarely find anyone who claims
      an ancestor in New Orleans prior to 1727!
      One of the city's preeminent cultures are the Creoles, although this
      is confusing as two distinctly separate groups claim the title. White
      Creoles use the word to describe themselves as people of European
      colonial ancestry, while the other group are the "mulattos",
      "quadroons" and Octoroons" - the light-skinned, part African, Catholics.
      Both groups use the word to differentiate themselves as people
      descended from the European colonists and as long-time familial
      residents of New Orleans. Both are very proud of their heritage and
      their culture often sets them apart from other residents of the city,
      especially in the historic years of the city.


      The term Cajun is actually from the word "Acadian". Acadia was the
      French Canadian colony founded in 1604 by Samuel de Champlain and now
      called Nova Scotia. Champlain was joined in 1632 by 300 settlers who
      were fleeing from religious persecution and they lived in isolation
      for almost 100 years until the French and Indian War in 1754. After
      the war, the British demanded the Acadians pledge allegiance to
      England and give up their Catholic religion. When they refused, they
      were rounded up separated and deported. Many of them were sent back to
      France; others to the American colonies and other remained in hiding.
      They would have remained a lost group had not the Spanish invited them
      to settle in Louisiana. As Catholics and enemies of the British, the
      Acadians were ideal Louisiana settlers.
      By 1763, the first Acadians had burrowed deep into the Louisiana
      swamps, living in the swamps and with the Indians, learning to eat
      crawfish and alligator and building canoe-like boats called
      "pirogues". They were isolated from the urban French in New Orleans
      (and what they considered the uppity Creoles) and their language
      remained much like the 17th century French of their ancestors. This
      makes their culture so separate, even today.


      Another (huge) part of New Orleans culture is Mardi Gras. In many
      Catholic dominated cities around the world, the days preceding Easter
      are called Lent, a period of fasting and penitence. Lent begins with
      Ash Wednesday, which reminds believers of their own mortality... but
      in New Orleans, the Tuesday before Lent is Mardi Gras... which
      literally means "Fat Tuesday"... the last gasp of frivolity before a
      period of austerity.
      In New Orleans, the term "Carnival" refers to the season of balls and
      parades which begin on Twelfth Night (January 6) and continues through
      Mardi Gras. On that day, one krewe (or club) hosts the first ball of
      the season. The high point of Carnival is the parade -filled, 4-day
      weekend that begins on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday and ends in
      an all-out bash on Mardi Gras day.
      That final day (and frankly, the days before it) are a literal riot of
      people, colors, and of course, copious amounts of alcohol. I can say
      that everyone should experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans at least one
      time in their lives... that is if you are not uptight, and if you have
      no objections to viewing all manner of female anatomy! I don't
      recommend it for married men (unless you wife is really free-thinking)
      or for those who want to enjoy sight-seeing in the city (historical
      sight-seeing, I mean)


      Isn't it interesting how disreputable (albeit colorful) characters of
      yesterday are often turned into heroes many years later? It's true
      that Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre did help to save the city of
      New Orleans during the War of 1812.... but why not? They had been
      plundering and robbing the region for years?
      The brothers Lafitte were known to have been in New Orleans as early
      as 1805 and were most likely French. The pirate's base of operations
      was in Barataria Bay , near New Orleans, and within striking distance
      of the Gulf of Mexico, where trading ships made their entrances and
      exits from the Mississippi River. By 1811, this was a thriving pirate
      community with 32 armed warships... more than the entire American navy
      at the start of the War of 1812!
      Andrew Jackson enlisted the aid of the pirates in fighting the British
      at the Battle of New Orleans, after which the men were pardoned of
      piracy charges. The Lafittes then went right back to piracy. By 1818,
      they had established a colony of privateers off the coast of Galveston.


      As mentioned already, some of the very first female settlers in New
      Orleans were prostitutes who were released from French prisons. For
      those men not "lucky" enough to snag one of these fine catches, there
      were also the "casket girls"
      These young ladies were imported by the Ursuline sisters to provide
      suitable wives for the male colonists. These upstanding, middle0class
      ladies were called "casket girls", either because of the style of hats
      they wore, or because of their government issue chests of clothing and
      linen (it all depends on what history you read). Anyway, they first
      began arriving in 1728 and continued to come until 1751.
      However, prostitution had its roots in the very foundation of the city
      and continued to play a prominent part for many, many years to come.

      In 1744, a French officer commented that there were not 10 women of
      blameless character in the city of New Orleans, in reference to the
      many houses of prostitution which operated there. We have no idea if
      he meant this as a criticism or a compliment!
      In 1803, after the puritanical Americans took control, they attempted
      to clean up the bawdy houses and rowdy atmosphere of the city. The
      practice of prostitution was then prohibited on the ground floors of
      any building... so saloons and gambling parlors opened on the ground
      floors instead! By 1857, madames and their girls were also required to
      obtain licenses to work.... a service which was personally
      administered by the mayor!

      During the Civil War, the occupying Union Army found the bawdy houses
      to their liking and a string of them opened along the old basin canal.
      In the 1870's, New Orleans' most famous madame, Josie Arlington,
      formally opened her own bordello in this neighborhood.
      Around the turn-of the-century, Alderman Sidney Story proposed an
      ordinance to rid the better residential neighborhoods of the
      bordellos. The sporting houses were then restricted to a single area
      on the far side of the French Quarter. Ironically, the area came to be
      called "Storyville" after the alderman.

      In Storyville, women such as "Countess" Willie Piazza and Josie
      Arlington ran pash and luxurious houses with oil paintings, fine wines
      and potted palms. Many of the houses were staffed by the madame's
      stunning octoroon and quadroon "nieces", who were usually girls whose
      families had fallen on hard times. The popularity of female Creoles of
      color in the bordellos caused many old-line Creole families to send
      their strictly raised daughters to convents until they were old enough
      to marry.
      When World War I began, Josephus "Tea Totaling" Daniels, Secretary of
      the Navy, threatened to close down the New Orleans naval base if
      Storyville was not shut down. Because of this, the district was
      officially closed in 1917 and prostitution once again became a
      clandestine activity.
      Most of the area of Storyville was torn down in the 1930's to make way
      for the Iberville Housing Project.


      One of the most notorious crimes of the 19th century involved the 1890
      assassination of David Hennessy, the first superintendent of the New
      Orleans police department. Nineteen members of a Sicilian gang were
      accused of the crime but they were acquitted of the crime in 1891. An
      angry mob then proceeded to break into the Parish prison and hang 11
      of the accused men. For years afterward, the slur "Who Killed the
      Chief?" could lead to an outbreak of violence against Italians.
      The upstanding Italians of New Orleans have long been plagued by the
      reputation of their notorious kinsmen... as New Orleans was a port of
      entry for many Italians into the United States. It also served as the
      beginning for many of America's first Mafia families, who later moved
      on to Chicago and New York.

      The most famous Mafia boss to stay in New Orleans was Carlos "Little
      Man" Marcello. His family settled in Algiers, the community across the
      river from New Orleans, and he started out as a small-time hood. By
      the 1940's, he had moved into the big business, when he went to work
      for New York gangster Frank Costello in the slot machine racket. In
      May 1947, he was made head of the local Louisiana crime family and was
      said to have organized a number of murders, including the Kennedy
      At his federal bribery trial 34 years later, Marcello swore that he
      was nothing more than a humble tomato salesman employed by the Pelican
      Tomato Company... although he did own a little property which was
      estimated to be worth $30-$40 million. His eventual conviction kept
      him in jail for six years but in 1989 he returned home to resume his
      life as a husband, father and grandfather of 11.
      Carlos Marcello died in his sleep in 1993 at the age of 83. Many
      called it the end of the "Godfather" era.
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