Today I spent a couple of hours at the Cabildo, part of the Louisiana State Museum. The Cabildo dates from when New Orleans was part of the Spanish empire and the building was the site of the government council. Today it has exhibits from the 1815 Battle of New Orleans—fought about a month after the war had actually ended—up through Reconstruction. Here are some bits of information I learned.
1. Joseph Savary, a free black man and professional soldier, formed a battalion of other free black men in 1814, called the Free Men of Color of the Louisiana Militia, and was the first black man to reach the rank of major. This battalion turned the tide against the British, leading to American victory. However, the white citizens of New Orleans were too uncomfortable with any armed black men, so the battalion was ordered to leave the city.
2. The 1959 hit song “The Battle of New Orleans” was written by an Arkansas schoolteacher, Jimmy Driftwood, in the 1930s to teach his students about the war. It became a #1 hit when Johnny Horton recorded it in 1959. Oddly enough, it also became a hit in Britain, though some of the lyrics considered insulting by the British were altered without changing the actual history (“bloomin’ British” replaced “bloody British”).
3. One room compared myths with history, pointing out, for instance, that while Hollywood movies like The Buccaneer (1938 and 1958 versions) made the pirate Jean Lafitte the ultimate hero of the 1815 battle, he actually played a very minor role. Andrew Jackson also was lauded as the ultimate hero, but not everyone was impressed. Some local citizens thought he was taking too long to lift martial law, and Jackson put one of them in jail. When a journalist wrote about this, Jackson jailed him as well. Later, Jackson was fined $1,000, approximately $17,000 today, for his high-handedness.
4. And Louisiana’s electoral votes never went to Andrew Jackson in his three runs for president, when he lost in 1824, and won in 1828 and 1832.
5. The Louisiana Purchase was rather like a three-way baseball trade. Spain turned over its territory to France on November 30, 1803, and France in turn sold it to the United States a few weeks later, on December 20.
6. New Orleans’ population continued its diversity from its settlement by Spain and France. In 1850, the city had immim grants from Ireland (20,000), Germany (11,500), France (7,500), and England and Scotland (2,500). The population also included 13,500 enslaved people and 11,000 free blacks, as well as 50,000 native-born in New Orleans or migrants from other states.