Skip to main content

About this collection


The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 stands as the most significant event in the westward expansion of the United States and as an experiment to incorporate a substantially different culture. It was the beginning of the meeting of multi-cultural frontiers. The Louisiana Purchase changed what the United States had been and had a profound effect on what the United States would become. By 2003, this digital collection will provide materials for modern researchers - from the middle school student to the adult scholar or lifelong learner - to study the complex process of opening the West from the points of view of the diverse heritage, peoples, and cultures involved. Eventually more than 25,000 pages of materials will be made available through this project.

The new territories of the Louisiana Purchase presented a significant challenge to the primarily Anglo-Protestant, adolescent United States of America. The southernmost part of the Louisiana Purchase was in effect a foreign country. Many of its inhabitants were Mediterranean, Caribbean, and African in origin. Most were Catholic, spoke different languages, and had a different view of government, law, and race. Louisiana was a richly multi-cultural frontier in which different ethnic groups jostled for power and primacy. Creoles of French and Spanish descent, Germans upriver from New Orleans, English settlers in what would become the Florida parishes, Acadians to the west of the metropolis, free people of color, slaves, and Native Americans would interact with the new waves of "Americans" from states such as Tennessee and Kentucky. Indeed the Louisiana Purchase started the United States' encounter with diversity that has continued throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Then as now, diversity brought about conflicts, some of which ended in accommodation and the realization that from diversity comes strength. Most ethnic groups were distrustful of the others. Louisiana's history as a colony, territory, and state in the fifteen years from 1800 to 1815 was characterized by diplomatic, political, legal, and cultural friction and accommodation among the various elements of its diverse population. Included during the period were the following momentous events or movements: the Louisiana Purchase (1803); the creation of the Territory of Orleans (1804); a massive immigration of French, African slaves, and free people of color from Saint Domingue to New Orleans (1809); the largest slave revolt in U.S. history in St. Charles and St. John parishes (1811); statehood (1812); the Creek War (1813-14); and the Battle of New Orleans (1815). By the time of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, at the end of the War of 1812, the national experiment in colonialism had become a success. The battle served as a means of uniting the inhabitants in a common cause. Soldiers from Tennessee and Kentucky fought alongside Creoles, Acadians, free men of color, and Choctaw Indians. The battle was a great military victory and the United States' most multi-ethnic endeavor to that time.

The materials in this collection consist of primary sources that document the heritage, peoples and cultures of the area that was to become the state of Louisiana during a critical and tumultuous period in its history, 1800-1815. These sources come from the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections of the Louisiana State University Libraries, and the New Orleans City Archives and Louisiana Collection of the New Orleans Public Library. The project is a partnership with these two libraries and the LSU Digital Library and has been funded by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The sources include books published in or about Louisiana during the period (with a few reminiscences of the period that were published later), including travel accounts, political tracts, and scientific and religious works. Materials also include maps ranging from original plans of Baton Rouge and New Orleans to sketchier depictions of the Louisiana frontier; pamphlets and government records and publications documenting the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, two pivotal events that frame the period; French-language pamphlets depicting society and commerce; and manuscripts. The manuscripts include letters and official documents of government officials and bodies, family papers of Louisiana residents, and accounts of travelers. Many of the documents deal with New Orleans, which was then the largest city in the South and the nation's second largest port. Others reflect events in the geographic area that would become the state of Louisiana in 1812, as well as the vast new western areas claimed by the United States. All the materials document the remarkable cultural and ethnic heritage of Louisiana during this period.

Select the collections to add or remove from your search