New Orleans: July 4, 1776

July 4 was on a Thursday in 1776 as it is this year, so it would have been a busy day for fishermen preparing to bring their catch to the markets in Catholic New Orleans for the next day’s meatless Friday. New Orleanians were unaware that in far off Philadelphia events were happening that would lead to the creation of a nation that the city would one day be a part of. Politically though, the pot was steaming locally as the continent’s destiny was being shaped. Some events from that day:

• Louisiana’s Spanish governor, Luis de Unzaga, was secretly helping the American cause by arranging for five tons of gun powder to be shipped up the Mississippi, under the flag of Spain. He wanted to help colonial forces ward off British efforts to capture Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania.
• Unzaga was awaiting word from Spain, to whom he had written 12 days earlier asking to be relieved of his command because of failing health and eyesight. The Spanish government instead transferred him to Caracas, Venezuela, and made him governor general there.
• A rule issued by the Cabildo, the seat of government under Unzaga, demanded that all devices used for measurement when selling goods had to be inspected and marked annually. If a measuring device was found to be fraudulent, the offender’s goods were donated to Charity hospital.
• There were no speeches given by the mayor of New Orleans because New Orleans did not have mayors until the beginning of American rule in 1803.
• Residents of the remote Canary Islands, a possession of Spain, were being dispersed by the Spanish government in spots along the isolated Louisiana gulf coast partially to help provide defense. One large settlement would be along Bayou Barataria. The area would eventually be named after the patron saint of Bernardo de Galvez who succeeded Unzaga as governor. It would be called St. Bernard parish and the settlers would be known as Islenos.
• On a plot of land northwest of the city stood an oak tree. The tree, would one day be named after John McDonogh, who had eventually purchased the land. Later, the property would become New Orleans’ City Park, the site of many future Fourth of July celebrations.  The oak’s age is estimated to be approximately 800 years. In 1776 it was already around 568 years old.
• An armed British boat, the West Florida, had been patrolling the Mississippi Sound since January and thus gave the British control of the lower Mississippi and the lakes. The boat would become a source of contention between the British and the Spanish government that controlled New Orleans. The West Florida was yet another reason why Spain would become a supporter of the revolution that erupted in July 1776.

• From that day on the city was on a course toward becoming part of a nation greater than its previous European possessors. As most New Orleanians went about their business on July 4, 1776, they did not know that there was indeed cause to celebrate.

BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), is due to be released Oct. 31. It is now available for pre-order at



Categories: The Editor’s Room