Date of Award
Planning and Urban Studies
David Gladstone, Elyette Benjamin-Labarthe
New Orleans, Louisiana, was founded in 1718 on what is known today to be unstable land. In 1719, a flood devastated the budding city. Several other strong storms quickly followed and forced reconstruction. The French colonists who built New Orleans had no experience with Louisiana’s climate or repetitive tropical storms and flooding. Damage from disasters occurred so frequently that the difficult work of reconstruction characterized the city’s first few decades. The lack of population of the area generated the sending of criminals and other unwanted individuals from France. These ended up taking an active part in the construction and reconstruction process.
This research examines the reasons for founding the city where it still stands today, early challenges confronting New Orleanians, and their adaptation to an inhospitable environment, specifically underpopulation, disasters, and inexperience. This dissertation displays for the first time colonial materials on a large scale: primary sources from various archives originally written in French and translated by the author.
Despite concerns that residents would leave their city to seek safer living conditions on higher land or move back to the home country as some did, early New Orleanians displayed a resilience that can be compared to that found recently in the aftermath of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. Other settlements had a different fate and eventually disappeared whereas New Orleans always rebuilt itself after each disaster, showing an exclusive sense of its own survival.
Since the location of New Orleans became obvious for commercial purposes, early disasters provided the opportunity to rebuild a new town, more adapted to the needs of the colony. Once that town was built and the other local cities proved to be ineffective as capital of the colony, New Orleans appeared as a suitable choice and therefore colonists started investing more into the future of their city.
Ugolini, Celine B., "The Resilience of New Orleans: Assessing a History of Disasters 1718-1803" (2014). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. 1894.