Date of Award

12-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

History

Major Professor

Daniel M. Feller

Committee Members

Ernest F. Freeberg, Lorri M. Glover, John B. Romeiser

Abstract

On April 30, 1803, the Jefferson administration purchased French Louisiana. Initially American lawmakers rejoiced at the prospect of American domination of the Mississippi River. Yet within a few short months this optimism was replaced with uncertainty and alarm as lawmakers faced the task of incorporating Lower Louisiana into the Union. As Americans tackled the many unintended consequences of the Louisiana Purchase, Louisianans also had to confront the ramifications of the landmark acquisition and the encroachment of a new American government in their lives. From 1803 to 1815, American lawmakers and Louisianans embarked on a parallel journey to incorporate Lower Louisiana into the political, social, and cultural infrastructure of the young republic.

The American part of this historic journey has been well documented as many historians explore how American lawmakers passed key legislation and implemented programs of Americanization to bring Lower Louisiana into the Union. Louisianans’ perspective, however, has remained quite secondary. By exploring the lives of individual Louisianans, this project examines how they too shaped the incorporation of Lower Louisiana and how their class, race, and ethnicity influenced their participation in that process. In highlighting the experiences of Creole elite families, prominent political figures, and Lower Louisiana’s free people of color, it becomes clear that Louisianans employed vital strategies of negotiation to sufficiently assimilate to gain American citizenship and acceptance, while also preserving vital aspects of their French identity. By utilizing tools such as political activism, military service, and the conversation of attachment, Louisianans came into the Union on their own terms and ultimately created a Franco-American culture that still pervades Louisiana today.

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