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Spain acquired the territory of Louisiana in 1762 and controlled the region for more than forty years. What began as a strategic wartime transfer of land affected many aspects of life for the inhabitants of French Louisiana. Those who lived in Louisiana were mostly Creole (of French origin), and therefore accustomed to French legal and social traditions. The proceedings and cultural initiatives of the newly implemented Spanish government had an effect on life in the colony, and the remnants of these changes may still be observed in Louisiana today.
Transfer of Sovereignty from France to Spain
Spain acquired France as a result of the Treaty of Fountainebleau on November 3, 1762, which was signed by the Duque de Choiseul of France and Marques de Grimaldi of Spain. It took more than a year for the terms of the Treaty to be implemented. This delay in action may be attributed to two issues. First, Spain wished to acquire all of the Louisiana territory, including Mobile, but the Treaty stipulated that Spain receive only land west of the Mississippi River. Secondly, Spain was recovering from its participation in the Seven Years’ War, both economically and militarily, and this depleted Spain’s logistical ability to delve into the conquer of Louisiana. As a result of Spain’s hesitation to take control of Louisiana, citizens were unaware of the transfer until late April in 1764.
Political and Legal Changes
Notable modifications to the legal code in the Spanish period did not truly begin until the second Spanish governor, Alejandro O’Reilly, took control of the colony. O’Reilly was considered by all accounts to be a brutally efficient governor. Upon arriving in Louisiana in 1769 he quickly constructed the Cabildo (Grand Council), and substituted the existing French laws with the Castilian legal code. He also took measures to retain the French population, even against their will – O’Reilly halted all passport production within his first year as governor.
Social and Cultural Changes
While in control of Louisiana, the Spanish government made attempts to integrate its culture into that of its new colony. Promotion of the Spanish language was the first incidence of this policy, with the passage of a mandate that all public school curricula be taught in Spanish, as opposed to French. Louisiana also underwent many changes to various laws and rules ranging from the slave trade to gambling, and sale of liquor on the Sabbath. These changes in legal code reflected the legal and moral attitudes of Spain at the time.
Other enclaves of Spanish culture were brought about less traditionally. In 1788 a fire ravaged New Orleans in the heart of the city center, owing to the flammable cypress wood building frames and strong winds. More than eight hundred buildings were destroyed, and even more were burned in a similar fire in 1794. An affluent, Spanish-born architect named Don Andres Almonester funded and directed much of the rebuilding after the New Orleans fires. Consequently, these buildings were built with traditional Spanish styles and flairs, contrasting with the French influence of older buildings. This was another way that Spanish culture impacted Louisiana, and that same Spanish style of building can still be seen in today.
Response of French Louisiana to Spanish Policies
Starting from the initial announcement that France would cede Louisiana to Spain, the French and Creole people of Louisiana protested. French Louisianians were not open to Spanish culture. There was great upset and opposition to the rules and regulations, such as the Spanish language mandate for all schooling.
Politically, French inhabitants of Louisiana were opposed to any change in governance – they were of French origin, and therefore France should rule them. When the first Spanish governor of Louisiana Don Ulloa took office, many citizens of the colony insisted that the office be co-inhabited by Charles Aubry, the French alternative whom they considered to be the appropriate man for the job. Just one year after Ulloa assumed office, the vast majority of colonists blamed him and his people for causing a breakout of yellow fever, supposedly having carried it from Spain. This accusation led to a swift rebellion, and the end of Ulloa’s tenure. The uprising against Ulloa indicated just how resentful the people of Louisiana were.
After the violent tenures of Ulloa and O’Reilly, the remaining eight Spanish governors were received considerably more cordially by Creole colonists than their earlier predecessors, amending the law so that the local economy could grow and prosper. For example, Governor Luis Unzaga lessened trade restrictions with the French Caribbean, which both helped colonists’ personal prosperity and gave the Spanish colony an edge against that of England. This policy and subsequent others helped to ease the tension between the Spanish crown and bitter colonists who still yearned for French control.
Rededicated as French Territory
and the Legacy of Spanish Rule
In the year 1800, Spain and France signed the Treaty of Ildefonso, which gave Louisiana back to France in exchange for the Kingdom of Etruria (a small territory which is a part of present-day Italy). The treaty took effect three years later; however, France only controlled Louisiana for a mere thirty days before selling the territory to the United States under the terms of the Louisiana Purchase. This was the last time that Louisiana changed hands.
Evidence of Spain’s presence in Louisiana can still be found today. For example, many intersections in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter contain large tiles commemorating the language and legacy of the Spanish period. The Cabildo, or Grand Council government building commissioned by Alejandro O’Reilly, still stands today adjacent to Jackson Square, and is now a museum. And of course, the wrought iron gates and balconies, signature architecture of Spanish Louisiana, may still be seen during a walk in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
Cite This Entry
Chicago Manual of Style
"Spanish Colonial Louisiana, 1762-1800." In KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana, edited by David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 2010–. Article published , . http://knowla.org/entry.php?rec=773.
"Spanish Colonial Louisiana, 1762-1800." KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, . . Web. 25 May. 2013.
Would you like to learn more about this topic from books and other reading materials?
Holmes, Jack David Lazarus. A Guide to Spanish Louisiana, 1762-1806. New Orleans, LA: [A. F. Laborde], 1970.
Moore, John Preston. Revolt in Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976.
Reeves, Miriam G. The Governors of Louisiana. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1976.
Texada, David Ker. Alejandro O'Reilly and the New Orleans Rebels. Lafayette: University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1970.
Worth, Richard. Louisiana, 1682-1803: Voices from Colonial America. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2005.