A fascinating yet painful look at some of New Orleans’ iconic landmarks that did not endure the test of time. As Benny Grunch would say, they just “ain’t dere no more.”
1. First Saint Charles Hotel
The first Saint Charles Hotel was built in 1835. A traveling Brit called it the “finest piece of architecture in the New World.” It met its fate in an 1851 fire that burned many other historic structures to the ground as well. This 1847 photo is one of the only known surviving photos of the structure.
“A blow across the shins with a racket is permissible, and broken heads are not uncommon.”
The Choctaw Nation of the lower Mississippi River Valley was one of the most influential yet lesser-known groups of 18th century New Orleans. Since French involvement in the region, interactions between the groups were frequent. Native-American and African-American relations were also common considering French and subsequent Spanish law was more lenient than English law.
Despite common belief, the American Revolution was more than 13 colonies fighting an oppressive European force; it was a transatlantic conflict involving multiple countries and their colonies. Louisiana, then under the Spanish flag, waged impressive campaigns to attack British territories and undermine the British war effort.
Spain decided to assist the rebels because of their humiliating loss to Great Britain during the French and Indian War, which was the North American theater of the Seven Years War. In 1762, Spain offered to help France in exchange for all of the Louisiana territory west of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans. However, Spain surrendered East and West Florida to Great Britain.
New Orleans’ once bustling Chinatown was one of the largest in the country, behind San Francisco and New York City. Due to numerous obstacles, ranging from stringent immigration policies to excessive demolition, Chinatown eventually faded from both modern maps and, for most residents, our collective memory. Tangible vestiges of this once active community are slim, yet its lore continues in New Orleans’ dynamic history.
The Civil War broke out in 1861. The Union captured New Orleans in April, 1862, saving the city from the destruction faced by other Southern cities. New Orleans remained an occupied city until the end of the war.
The American Gilded Age provided economic opportunities and living wages substantially higher than Europe. The rise of industrialization meant a demand for cheap labor. New Orleans, by far the most populated southern city, was ripe with economic opportunities from hungry factories and emptying plantations. Since busy trade routes already existed from Sicily to New Orleans, Italian migration was convenient. Italians poured into the city. Increase in labor competition outraged impoverished whites and the increase in Catholicization in an already Catholic dominated city incensed white Protestants, who had been migrating into New Orleans since the Louisiana Purchase. Italians were also known for their labor organization, inevitably upsetting those who control the means of production. Italophobia was rampant in 19th century New Orleans.
Race violence was all too common throughout American history. As I studied the history of my own parish, St. Bernard, I started to unravel a brutal massacre absent from almost any historical narrative. Congressional inquiries into the massacre paint an atrocity. At the time it was dubbed the St. Bernard Riot, but it really has no official name. What’s in a name, anyway? The term riot was provided by whites, whether in the newspapers or remaining government records. That term does not give it justice, and implies mass chaos must’ve ensued. It has been recognized and used by the very few who mention it, but I choose to label it by a much more appropriate term: The St. Bernard Massacre of 1868. It was not chaotic, but a deliberate, systematic slaughter of humans who were just liberated from their chains circa six years prior à la the Emancipation Proclamation. In order to understand the violence, we must understand the circumstances associated with it.