Settled by the French in 1718 as a strategic outpost near the mouth of the Mississippi River, ruled by the Spanish for 40 years and significantly impacted by people of African descent, New Orleans has become renowned for its well-into-the-night life, diverse musical offerings, festivals, Mardi Gras celebrations, Creole cuisine, nineteenth-century neighborhoods, and romantic strolls along the Mississippi River. As the birthplace of Jazz with 161 properties and districts listed on the National Register, including 26 National Historic Landmarks, New Orleans can best be described as what happens when history and cultures collide to create a vibrant city like no other.
The hometown of Louis Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson, the city continues to offer natives and visitors an entwined menage a trois of history, architecture, and culture. Since the city’s neighborhood layouts have not appreciably changed since their inception, visitors can often go to the very place where historical events occurred and visit addresses that housed the city’s historic individuals and institutions. It is a place where visitors can walk many of the same streets that New Orleanians walked nearly 300 years ago.
People of African descent—enslaved and free— have been in New Orleans since its earliest days. Between the years 1718 and 1722, boatloads of Africans from the Senegambia region of Western Africa arrived at the rare piece of high ground on the Mississippi near the Gulf of Mexico. Along with outcasts from French society, their common, unenviable task was to carve a French outpost from the inhospitable environment of the Louisiana swamps. Since that time, people of African descent have made a tremendous impact on the construction, survival, defense, and culture of the city that was called la ville de la Nouvelle Orleans.