Cosmopolitan New Orleans

Image courtesy of Louisiana State Museum


During the 19th century New Orleans was a vital city in America. A recent addition to the United States, the Louisiana purchase made New Orleans United States soil in 1803 and statehood in 1812, New Orleans was well populated before it was an "American" city. This resulted in an extremely diverse population. Having previously been both Spanish and French, the people of New Orleans were not easy to define. It was not uncommon for African Americans, slaves and free men, Italians, Germans, Jews, Catholics, and of course Creoles to be living on the same block. This of course created a unique situation.

While many different types of people lived together in cities like New York and Boston, New Orleans was in a situation all its own. Unlike the cities of the northeast the people of New Orleans did not segregate themselves into separate communities. This was a direct cause of the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River made New Orleans a city with one purpose, the port. That port, still one of the largest in the world, was the center of New Orleans life. All these different people had a very common bond, the river. The majority of them were males who in some way worked the port. Whether it was as boatmen, longshoremen, or warehouse workers, they worked through the heat and humidity that is New Orleans. More importantly they did it side by side. Dr. Fitzmorris of Tulane University explains that they had no choice but to work together. Even the so called "Irish Channel" was quite populated with Germans, Italians, and African Americans, all working side by side. For those whose lives were not directly tied to working the river, they were still indirectly a part of river life. They depended on the river workers to frequent their shops, stay at their inns, and of course enjoy a night at their bars, sporting houses (brothels), and other venues of culture. The people of New Orleans were truly "melting" together forming a unique population and it was all thanks to the Mississippi River.


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