NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - It may be hard to imagine what New Orleans was like in 1718, the year it was founded, three centuries ago. But an exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection is bringing that founding era to life with drawings, maps and artifacts from the earliest days of the city.
It was the river that attracted the earliest settlers to the city - the same river that today makes it such a vital port for America.
When the French chose to build their settlement along a crescent-shaped bend in the river, they were moving into an area that was already inhabited by Native Americans.
"The archeological levels suggest that Native Americans congregated on what we now call New Orleans," said John Lawrence. "And they stayed here long enough to use and discard things, to have meals, to maybe establish temporary shelter."
Lawrence is with the Historic New Orleans Collection, which has an exhibition on the city's founding era. It features artifacts from Native Americans, like a pair of bear claw moccasins and pottery - items that would have been common to tribes in the area. France's claim to Louisiana was recognized in a treaty that ended a pan-European war.
"When that concluded in 1697, one of the consequences was the recognition of the French claim to Louisiana, which Lasalle had made in 1682," Lawrence said. "And in fact, the notarial document that was executed at Lasalle's claiming Louisiana is part of this exhibition."
From its very beginning, the settlement of New Orleans was laid out in a neatly organized grid. There were beautiful depictions of the city, complete with mountains to lure new settlers. The drawing of an infant city shows New Orleans just 8 years after it was founded.
"I think it shows very well the scattered nature of, um, of the houses that were along this cleared spot," Lawrence said.
A year later, the Ursuline Sisters arrived from France. Their role in the new settlement extended beyond education,
"But they were also asked to minister as a nursing order to, um, to the needs of the colonists as well," Lawrence said
The exhibit shows the colonial influences of France and Spain, the arrival of enslaved Africans, and the frontier nature of an isolated, booming and unique city.
"The exhibition, New Orleans the Founding Era, represents a remarkable opportunity to look at the early years of the city," Lawrence said.
The rich mixture of cultures that was part of the city's founding era is now in the city's DNA that has made it one of the most unique cities in America. You can experience the exhibit at through May 27.