Louisiana became the 18th state to join the Union on April 30, 1812. Fondly nicknamed the Pelican State or Sportsman’s Paradise, it has a long and colorful history, and was an instrumental part of greatly expanding the United States. For generations before the Europeans stepped foot in the area, the land was home to several indigenous tribes including the Choctaw, Chitimacha, Atakapa, and the Natchez.
The first to visit the area were the Spanish explorers in 1528. Panfilo de Narvaez first, then in 1543, Hernando de Soto. However, it would still be another 100 or so years before other adventurers sought out the territory. In 1682, Robert de La Salle, a French explorer, claimed the land for King Louis XIV, calling it Louisiana.
Natchitoches, the first permanent settlement, was established in 1714. More French came to the territory to settle the region and in 1718 the city of New Orleans was established. Because of its locality, it became a major trade port for goods being transported down the Mississippi River, and would play a large role in the state’s history.
As plantations grew, the need for laborers to pick the cotton and sugarcane were needed and slaves were brought to work the fields. For a brief time, Spain took over the territory in 1763, but returned it to France in 1800. But in 1803, the U.S. purchased the territory from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase, a land deal that doubled the size of the nation. Originally, President Thomas Jefferson wanted to buy just the city of New Orleans because of its strategic port, but the French leader Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to sell the entire territory.
The land deal between the United States and France saw the U.S. gaining around 827,000 square miles of land for $15 million. Jefferson wrote a letter in April 1802 to Pierre Samuel du Pont after hearing rumors that Spain would return Louisiana to France. “This little event, of France possessing herself of Louisiana,” he wrote, “is the embryo of a tornado which will burst on the countries on both shores of the Atlantic and involve in its effects their highest destinies.”
The War of 1812 saw the last major battle in the famous city. The British had invaded with 11,000 soldiers. General Andrew Jackson was victorious against the invaders and that victory helped the Americans win the war.
In 1861, Louisiana joined the other southern states in seceding from the Union after Abraham Lincoln was elected president, becoming part of a “new” country called the Confederate States of America. The Mississippi River was an important route for transporting goods and materials, and it became a focus of the North to gain control of it by way of the port of New Orleans. In 1862, the Union forces were able to capture the city and held the port throughout the rest of the Civil War. The war ended in 1865 and Louisiana was readmitted into the Union in 1868.