In this the year of the Tricentennial, I would like to honor the town that was the first to be established as a French colony in the Louisiana territory and is the oldest settlement in the Louisiana Purchase. Congratulations Natchitoches.

As for the Tricentennial, New Orleans is celebrating its 1718 founding based on when the French authorities decided that the land alongside the big bend in the Mississippi River was the best place to build a town, but by that year, the village of Natchitoches was already a spritely four years old having been established by the explorer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis in 1714.

Though New Orleans is a global city and Natchitoches is a small town, there are some similarities. Both have early European architecture featuring wrought iron. Both have a major Catholic church: St.Louis Cathedral in New Orleans and the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Natchitoches. Both have a famous local dish. In New Orleans, you name it; in Natchitoches, the meat pie. Front Street, which parallels downtown Natchitoches, has the charm of New Orleans’ Royal Street on a bluff. Both have a literary heritage —Tennessee Williams and Kate Chopin (though New Orleans can claim the latter, too). Both celebrate Christmas in a big way with Celebration in the Oaks in one and the Natchitoches Christmas Festival in the other. Also, both owe their existence to a river — although Natchitoches’, was created when the Red River shifted course in the 19th century leaving what is now known as Cane River Lake.

There are many differences of course, including that New Orleans is below sea level while Natchitoches is in the upstate hilly country. Still there is that glimmer of a common heritage. The French who settled both towns were not seeking religious freedom or ideological liberty. The Louisiana territory was a business venture and they were establishing trade opportunities. Sometimes it takes the stamina of the entrepreneur (a French word) to be the first to plant the flag.

Happy Tricentennial New Orleans. As word of the settlement spread up the rivers three centuries ago we suspect that there were folks in Natchitoches seeing opportunity from the news.