Early Colonial Formation, Cultural Transformations and Creolization
Founded in 1718 as a French colonial trading post on the Mississippi roughly 100 miles upstream from the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans owes much of its history to its colonial relationship as a regional trading hub with the broader circum-Caribbean. Through successive French, Spanish, and ultimately U.S. control through the mid-nineteenth century, New Orleans evolved as an urban center of the Mississippi river plantation system founded on racialized slavery. Imported waves of enslaved Africans from the Senegambian and Congo regions of West and Central Africa as well an influx of French-speaking Haitians along with French, Spanish, and early Native American populations gave birth to a complex cosmopolitan city that, in contrast to the bi-polar black/white system of the Anglo-U.S., developed a three-tier racial system comprised of free whites, enslaved blacks and an intermediary class of free people of color, many of whom were racially-mixed creoles. These cross-currents contributed to a vibrancy of cultural mixing and transformation in which enslaved blacks and free people of color, compelled to accommodate impositions of European culture, created hybrid or creolized forms of expression through fusions of African and European cultural elements.