Native Americans settle what is now Louisiana at least as long as 6,000 years ago. Tribes of the Muskhogean language occupy the east-central and southeastern region. Tunican tribes live along the coast and in the northeast, and tribes of the Caddoan group inhabit the north and northwest.
At the time of European arrival in the 16th century, there are more than 10,000 Native Americans in Louisiana. By about 1700, 15,000 from six different linguistic groups are likely present
(June 2) Spanish explorer and cartographer Alvarez de Pineda discovers the mouth of the Mississippi River, which he names the Espiritu Santo.
Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto discovers the Mississippi River. Members of his expedition become the first group of European men to travel down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.
French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet reach the Mississippi River, and later verify that it flows into the Gulf of Mexico rather than the Pacific Ocean.
French explorer René Robert Cavelier erects a cross at the mouth of the Mississippi River after descending the river from the Great Lakes. He claims the territory for Louis XIV of France, for whom Louisiana is named.
1699–1800 EARLY EUROPEAN EXPLORATION AND SETTLEMENT
The French establish Natchitoches, the oldest permanent settlement in Louisiana, in the Cane River. The site is near a village of Natchitoches Native Americans, which gives the settlement its name. The settlement has two purposes: to establish trade with the Spanish in Texas, and to deter Spanish advances into Louisiana. At this time Louisiana encompasses all land on both sides of the Mississippi River and north to French Canada.
Measuring three feet tall, the first levee is built on the Mississippi River to protect the below-sea-level New Orleans from flooding. The problem will plague residents and cause numerous disasters over the centuries.
New Orleans (or La Nouvelle-Orléans) is founded and named for Phillippe II, the Duke of Orleans. The St. Louis Cathedral is built in New Orleans, which is now the oldest cathedral in the U.S.
Hundreds of French colonists arrive in Louisiana, some of them settling in present-day New Orleans. The "Casket Girls" of New Orleans begin to arrive from France to marry the settlers. These girls are recruited from orphanages and convents; the name refers to the small chests in which they carry their clothes and dowry articles.
German families begin to settle along the Mississippi River in an area referred to as the German Coast.
Two ships arrive in New Orleans, carrying the first African slaves. From 1719 to 1750, thousands of Africans are transported to Louisiana from the Senegambian coast of Africa.
New Orleans’ capital moves from Biloxi (now located in Mississippi) to New Orleans.
(March) The French government issues a Code Noir ("Black Code") in Louisiana prohibiting persons of color from voting, holding public office, or marrying whites and also restricting former slaves’ freedom of movement.
Natchez Native Americans massacre 250 settlers and military personnel at Fort Rosalie after the French military commander attempts to seize land the Natchez consider sacred. Many French and African women and children are taken captive. Some of the slaves side with the Native Americans and earn their freedom as a result. The French retaliate in kind and exterminate the Natchez.
Sugar cane is first introduced to Louisiana. Today more sugar cane is produced in Louisiana than in Hawaii.
Spain acquires Louisiana when France cedes all lands west of the Mississippi to the country in the Treaty of Fontainebleau.
The Treaty of Paris provides 18 months for unrestrained emigration from Canada. As a result, French-speaking Acadians immigrate to southern Louisiana en masse after refusing to pledge allegiance to the English king. These are the descendents of Louisiana’s significant Cajun population. Later they are joined by another group of settlers called Creoles, descendants of African, West Indian, and European pioneers.
(October 28) Discontented with Spanish colonial bureaucracy, Germans and Acadians join French Creoles in an armed revolt against the Spanish governor of New Orleans.
King Carlos III of Spain sends Spanish settlers from the Canary Islands to Louisiana. They settle in St. Bernard Parish and become known as Spanish Cajuns.
(March 21) The Great New Orleans Fire destroys virtually the entire city of New Orleans. In total, 856 of 1,100 city structures are burned. Even the city’s only two operational fire engines are destroyed by the fire.
After learning of successful revolutions in France and Haiti, slaves in Pointe Coupée Parish plot to rise up, kill their masters, and abolish slavery in Louisiana. The plot is discovered and the plotters arrested before the rebellion takes place.
1800–1849 STATE OF LOUISIANA
Spain cedes Louisiana to France in the Treaty of San Ildefonso, an arrangement kept secret for two years. France and Spain become allies and combine forces against the British government.
The U.S. acquires Louisiana (and what will become 13 other U.S. states) from France for 78 million francs ($15,000,000) as part of the Louisiana Purchase. The purchase is lauded by supporters and savaged by critics of then-president Thomas Jefferson. It more than doubles the size of the United States and is a defining moment in the expansion of U.S. territory.
Louisiana is divided into the Territory of Orleans (south of 33 degrees latitude) and the District of Louisiana (north of 33 degrees latitude). The District of Louisiana eventually becomes known as the Missouri Territory.
A massive uprising of over 400 slaves in St. Charles and St. John Parishes is suppressed. Sixty-six slaves are killed in battle and 16 are executed; their heads are cut off and strung up on poles along the roads as examples to the remaining slaves.
(April 30) The territory of Orleans becomes the 18th state in the Union, the State of Louisiana.
(January 8)The Battle of New Orleans. General Andrew Jackson leads 3,100 backwoodsmen to victory against 7,500 British veterans in the last engagement of the War of takes a month for the news to reach Louisiana. Jackson becomes a national hero and is later elected president.
The first natural gas field is discovered in Louisiana at a depth of 400 feet. Today the state is a leader in natural gas, petroleum, and sulfur production.
The first Mardi Gras parade is held in New Orleans, initiated by students who are home from school in France. They form a parade of masked marchers on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the period of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras eventually becomes the state’s main tourist attraction, drawing hundreds of thousands to New Orleans’ downtown French Quarter each year.
An epidemic of yellow fever and cholera kills more than 5,000 people in New Orleans. More than 41,000 people die from the disease in New Orleans from 1832 through a final outbreak in 1909.
The St. Charles streetcar begins running under horse and mule power. It is the longest of New Orleans’ streetcar lines, and today is the oldest continuously operating street railway system in the world.
By 1840 New Orleans has the biggest slave market in the U.S. More than one million enslaved African Americans undergo forced migration from the upper South to the Deep South in the slave trade.
1850–1900 THE CIVIL WAR AND RECONSTRUCTION ERAS
(January 26) Louisiana joins the Confederacy, becoming the sixth state to secede from the Union.
(May 26) The Union blockades New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama.
Café du Monde opens in New Orleans, becoming famous for its powdered sugar-covered beignets.
Twenty major Civil War battles are fought in Louisiana, a result of Union strategy to cut the Confederacy in half by seizing the Mississippi River.
Federal troops gain control of the Mississippi River in New Orleans and occupy the city. Confederate cotton sales cease, which leads to hyperinflation.
Louisiana responds to President Lincoln’s plan to readmit southern states to the Union by drafting a new constitution. The new constitution abolishes slavery, but does not give African Americans voting rights. It does, however, authorize the legislature to extend voting rights to black men who fought for the Union, own property, or are literate. It is the first state charter to implement Lincoln’s conciliatory approach to former Confederate states.
(June 25) Louisiana is readmitted to the Union.
Louisiana begins to "lease" out convicts as laborers for revenue. The system lasts until 1928 after over 100,000 convicts have been subjected to the practice.
Banker Edmund McIlhenny travels to new Orleans and acquires some pepper seeds he uses to develop a hot sauce. Based in Avery Island, the McIIhenny Company trademarks his sauce under the name Tabasco in 1906.
(April 13) The Colfax Massacre. After a contested election for governor, white men armed with rifles and a small cannon overpower African-American state militia trying to control the Grant Parish courthouse in Colfax on Easter Sunday. The massacre results in the deaths of 105 African Americans. Nine men are arrested and charged with the murder of only one man.
(January 8) Both Democrat Francis T. Nicholls and Republican Stephen B. Packard are sworn in as governor after they both claim to have won the recent election. In February, Packard relinquishes his claims to the governorship.
(April 27) Federal troops are ordered out of New Orleans, ending the North’s post–Civil War rule in the South.
The Louisiana state legislature passes the Louisiana Separate Car Act, which calls for railroad companies to provide "separate but equal" accommodations for whites and African Americans. In 1894 the act is extended to include train station waiting rooms.
A hurricane kills over 2,000 people in southern Louisiana and Mississippi.
The state legislature passes an act prohibiting interracial marriages.
A new state constitution includes the "Grandfather Clause" to permit illiterate whites to vote. A poll tax, residency requirement, and literacy test is included to disqualify most potential African American voters.
1900–1929 EARLY 20TH CENTURY
The New Orleans "Blue Book" in printed annually as a directory of the 2,000 prostitutes working in the notorious Storyville section of the city.
Entrepreneur Madam Walker becomes the first female African-American millionaire. Born to former slaves on a Louisiana cotton plantation, she develops her own line of hair care products for women of color. Her company makes economic independence a reality for the many African-American women she hires.
The name "jazz" is given to the uniquely American music originating in the African-American community of New Orleans. Jazz bands are popular in the gambling houses and brothels in Storyville.
The Great Mississippi Flood, the worst river flood in U.S. history, devastates 1,300,000 acres of land, kills 247 people, and leaves 300,000 people in 10 states homeless. The levee system of the Mississippi breaks in 145 places. Much of New Orleans’ St. Bernard Parish is destroyed, and 330,000 African-American victims are moved to 154 relief camps. The flood leads to the Flood Control Act of 1927, which calls for the world’s longest levee system to be built.
1930–1950 THE GREAT DEPRESSION AND WORLD WAR II
Law enforcement officers and posse members gun down notorious outlaw bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow beside the Jamestown-Sailes highway, ending the most spectacular manhunt seen in America up to that time, which had lasted two years and spanned much of the South and Midwest.
Fraud and corruption scandals force Governor Richard Leche to resign office.
(May 12) A Nazi U-Boat attacks the cargo ship Virginia at the mouth of the Mississippi River, killing 26 crewmembers. From 1942 to 1943, more than 20 U-Boats are deployed in the Gulf of Mexico.
1950–PRESENT MODERN LOUISIANA
Reverend T.J. Jemison organizes a boycott against segregated buses in Baton Rouge. The protest is the first of its kind and would become a model for the 1955 Martin Luther King, Jr.–led protests in Montgomery, Alabama.
Louisiana creates the first man-made river diversion to flush out salt water, destroying oyster reefs in the eastern estuaries.
The New Orleans Citizens Committee offers free one-way rides to African Americans willing to move North.
Louisiana becomes the 46th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. The state had initially rejected the amendment on July 1, 1920.
Corrine Claiborne "Lindy" Boggs becomes Louisiana’s first congresswoman when she assumes her husband’s congressional seat after he is killed in a plane crash.
Oil is discovered off the coast of Louisiana at an underwater site. After production peaks at 15,000 barrels per day, it slows to 4,000 barrels per day by 1989. In 1999 production suddenly increases to 13,000 barrels per day. Geologists are unable to account for the source of the oil.
Louisiana passes a law that requires schools to allow students a brief time in "silent meditation." In 1992 the wording is changed to "silent prayer or meditation." In 1999 the word "silent" is deleted. In 2001 a federal appeals court strikes down the law.
Louisiana repeals the country’s last racial classification law, which had stated that anyone with 1/32 African or African-American heritage qualifies as "black."
Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke is elected to the State Legislature. Duke will later run unsuccessful campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the presidency.
Couples seeking marriage in Louisiana are given the choice between a "traditional" or "covenant" marriage. The covenant marriage is designed to make divorce more difficult, requiring counseling and a two-year mediation period prior to divorce.
(August 29) Hurricane Katrina pummels Louisiana and other Gulf States, leading to the evacuation of New Orleans. After levees fail, the hurricane floods nearly 80 percent of the city and the death toll reaches at least 1,500 statewide. Property damages are estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars. In the months following the hurricane, New Orleans loses nearly half its population as residents are forced to relocate. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s perceived mishandling of the emergency causes a national uproar amid allegations of racism and classism (most of the storm’s victims in New Orleans are low-income African Americans).
In the Gulf of Mexico, an explosion on the offshore oil drilling rig called Deepwater Horizon causes 11 deaths and an oil spill that flowed continuously for three months. The rig's operator, BP, admits fault and commits $20 billion to a spill response fund, but many claims are initially denied, and payouts are slow. As of early 2012, an oil seep near the well persists, and tar balls and oil continue to wash up on the shores of Louisiana.
Click to enlarge an image
1519: Alonso Álvarez de Pineda's map of the Gulf Coast
1673: Father Jacques Marquette
1682: Cavelier de La Salle, 19th-century engraving
1682: Louis XIV of France, for whom Louisiana is named
1718: Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, France
1718: St. Louis Cathedral
1729: A postcard of Fort Rosalie from 1907
1778: Charles III of Spain
1788: Great New Orleans Fire, map showing area in flames
1803: Simplified graphic of United States acquisitions
1815: Diagram of the Battle of Chalmette Plantation, also known as the Battle of New Orleans
1815: Battle of New Orleans
1827: Mardi Gras. This postcard, circa 1900, shows Rex in procession down Canal Street.