Louisiana was inhabited by Native Americans when European explorers arrived in the 16th century. The state has been governed under 10 different flags beginning in 1541 with Hernando de Soto's claim of the region for Spain.
Many place names in the state are transliterations of those used in Native American dialects.
In the late 17th century, French expeditions established a foothold on the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast. In 1682, the French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle named the region Louisiana to honor France's King Louis XIV. The French colony of Louisiana originally claimed all the land on both sides of the Mississippi River and north to French territory in Canada.
Recognizing the importance of the Mississippi River to trade and military interests, France made New Orleans the seat of civilian and military authority in 1722. From then until the United States acquired the territory in the Louisiana Purchase on December 20, 1803, France and Spain traded control of the region's colonial empire.
During the period of Spanish rule, several thousand French-speaking refugees from the region of Acadia (now Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, Canada) made their way to Louisiana following British expulsion after the Seven Years' War. They settled chiefly in the southwestern Louisiana region now called Acadiana. The Spanish, eager to gain more Catholic settlers, welcomed the Acadian refugees. Cajuns descend from these Acadian refugees. In 1800, France's Napoleon Bonaparte acquired Louisiana from Spain in the Treaty of San Ildefonso, an arrangement kept secret for two years.
Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, was disturbed by Napoleon's plans to re-establish French colonies in America. With the possession of New Orleans, Napoleon could close the Mississippi to U.S. commerce at any time. Jefferson authorized Robert R. Livingston, U.S. Minister to France, to negotiate for the purchase of the City of New Orleans, portions of the east bank of the Mississippi, and free navigation of the river for U.S. commerce. However, on April 11, 1803, French Foreign Minister Talleyrand surprised Livingston by asking how much the United States was prepared to pay for the entirety of Louisiana, not just New Orleans and the surrounding area. With the acquisition of Louisiana, Jefferson nearly doubled the size of the United States overnight.
Through much of its early history Louisiana was a trading and financial center, and the fertility of its land made it one of the richest regions in America as first indigo then sugar and cotton rose to prominence in world markets. Many Louisiana planters were among the wealthiest men in America.
The plantation economy was shattered by the Civil War although the state continued to be a powerful agricultural region. The discovery of sulphur in 1869 and oil in 1901, coupled with the rise of forestry sent the state on a new wave of economic growth. Eventually, Louisiana became a major American producer of oil and natural gas and a center of petroleum refining and petrochemicals manufacturing, which it remains to this day.
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