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State Capitol, Louisiana

Louisiana is the only state named for a king of France. French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, claimed the area for France in 1682. La Salle named it for his king, Louis XIV.


French settlers slowly colonized Louisiana. In 1803, the United States bought the Louisiana Territory from France. It was a lot bigger than what is now Louisiana. The territory doubled the size of the United States. A small part of that territory, called Louisiana, became the 18th state on April 30, 1812.

You’ll find lots of reminders in Louisiana of its French past. The state’s largest city, New Orleans, is named after a French duke, the Duc d’Orléans, a nephew of Louis XIV. The city’s oldest section is called the French Quarter. Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, means “red stick” in French. A French explorer named it after a red cypress tree growing there. Other signs of Louisiana’s French past include its Mardi Gras festival and its Cajun and Creole people.

Facts About Louisiana




Baton Rouge


4,500,000 people

Rank among states in population


Major cities

New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Shreveport


51,800 square miles
134,000 square kilometers

Rank among states in area



April 30, 1812, the 18th state

State nickname

The Pelican State

Name for residents


State bird

Brown Pelican

State flower


State tree

Bald Cypress




Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) is a colorful festival celebrated in many parts of the world. The Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans is especially famous. Many people flock to the city to watch the lively Mardi Gras parades with their decorated floats and costumed merrymakers. Costume balls are held in the evening.

Mardi Gras takes place just before the start of Lent. During Lent, Roman Catholics have traditionally given up meat and other foods. On Fat Tuesday, they feast on foods they wouldn’t be able to eat during Lent.


Do you know what a Cajun is? It’s someone whose ancestors came from Acadia. Acadia was a French colony in eastern Canada. If you drop the “A” and say “Cadian” fast, it sounds like Cajun.

The Acadians had to leave Canada after Britain took control of Acadia in the mid-1700s. The Acadians fled to Louisiana, where they tried to keep their French culture alive. Today, Cajuns speak an old style of French, mixed with English, African, and Native American words. Their Cajun music has become popular across America. Many restaurants serve Cajun food, such as gumbo and jambalaya.

Creole once referred only to someone whose ancestors were French or Spanish settlers of Louisiana. Now there are also black Creoles, who are of mixed black and European ancestry. Louisiana’s Creoles have their own culture, too.


Louisiana is nicknamed the Pelican State in honor of the state bird, the brown pelican. Colonies of brown pelicans once nested along Louisiana’s coast. In the mid-1900s, the birds nearly died out. DDT and other chemicals used on crops had damaged the shells of pelican eggs. Young pelicans didn’t hatch. The chemicals were banned, and new pelicans were brought to the coast. Pelican colonies are thriving once again.

Louisiana is a great place to see birds! Over half of all North American bird species can be found in the state at some time during the year. Ducks and geese fly for thousands of miles to spend their winters in the marshes of Louisiana’s coast.


The Mississippi River forms much of the eastern border of Louisiana. It empties into the Gulf of Mexico, south of New Orleans. As the fast-moving Mississippi enters the calmer gulf, it deposits much of the soil, sand, and other material it is carrying. As a result, a piece of land called the Mississippi Delta formed. It is one of the largest deltas in the world.

The delta is full of bayous, or slow-moving rivers. The bayous and the gulf provide Louisiana with shrimp, oysters, fish, and crayfish. Seafood figures in many of the state’s unique dishes.

The Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico also bring problems to the area. Hurricanes rise in the gulf and hit the coastline of Louisiana. The Mississippi occasionally floods the delta area.


Cotton and sugarcane once grew on plantations along Louisiana’s riverbanks. Planters could load bales of cotton and sacks of sugar directly onto boats. Black slaves worked the fields. They picked the cotton and harvested the cane.

The plantations are gone, but some plantation houses remain. Many of the houses are open for visits. Here you can learn about plantation life before the Civil War (1861-1865) ended slavery. Cotton and sugarcane are still grown in Louisiana, but not on plantations. Cotton is grown mainly in the northern part of the state, and sugarcane in the delta.

Oil refineries now stand along the Mississippi River where cotton and sugarcane once grew. Louisiana is a leading producer of petrochemicals (chemicals from oil) and natural gas. The discovery of oil in Louisiana in 1901 helped the state’s economy recover after the Civil War.


New Orleans was the main reason for the Louisiana Purchase. Its port controlled traffic on the Mississippi River. The river was the main trade route to the Midwest. Today, the enormous Port of South Louisiana extends 54 miles (87 kilometers) along the Mississippi, from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. It handles more cargo than any other port in the United States.

New Orleans became a great city because of its port. Today, tourists come to see the city’s picturesque French Quarter, enjoy its fine food, and listen to jazz. New Orleans is considered the birthplace of jazz.


Not many pirates have parks named after them. The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve honors a pirate’s role in the history of Louisiana.

French pirate Jean Laffite (also spelled Lafitte) attacked and robbed Spanish ships from his base in New Orleans. During the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States, the British offered Laffite money if he would help them capture New Orleans. Laffite refused. He helped the United States defend New Orleans and defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

 Source: Microsoft ® Encarta