Why The Hell Did The French Put A Colony Here?
Pierce Lewis called New Orleans an “inevitable city on an impossible site.” Upon first glance, a swamp is not the most hospitable location for a city and New Orleans has certainly suffered at the hands of its climate. It is hot, humid, and wet allowing for mosquito’s to breed almost year round leading to outbreaks of Malaria and Yellow Fever. The proximity of the city to the river meant that anytime the river over flowed its banks especially during spring thaw, flooding would ensue. The Gulf of Mexico has historically meant Hurricanes and New Orleans is no stranger to storms. In addition, the alluvial landscape has posed difficult problems in regards to construction. The soil is largely composed of clay and thus poses settlement problems severe enough to have restricted the construction of large buildings prior to the 1960’s. It was not until 1967, with developments in geo-technical engineering, particularly in soil stabilization techniques that enabled the World Trade Center to be built. So the question arises as to why the French would settle such a disaster prone area.
Geographically speaking, New Orleans is a mistake – but from a military point of view, it is the perfect location. The city is near the mouth of the Mississippi and any power that controls the mouth, controls the commerce of the river. In addition, the city sits in the oxbow of the river and any invading force would have to slow way down in order to make the turn and avoid running aground. This shift in speed made the perfect vantage for ambush. Lake Pontchartrain is not a true lake but an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico and afforded the original colony a back door out for escape. These were the reasons the French found this location so appealing.
Despite the disadvantages, New Orleans did not just survive but managed to thrive. By the 1830’s, it became the wealthiest city in the United states and held that title until the outbreak of the Civil War.
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