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Colonial Law in New Orleans, 1718-1803: Olde World Law in a New Land: Introduction


Welcome to the Law Library of Louisiana's online exhibit on colonial law in New Orleans from 1718-1803. Although our state and our legal system are very much a part of the United States, a look back at how law and government developed in Louisiana is both intriguing and perplexing. Unlike the other 49 states that are governed by common law, Louisiana remains under a system of civil law, which can all be traced back to the “recalcitrant independence” of the people who settled the land and lived under French and Spanish rule before becoming a territory of the United States and then the 18th state in 1812.

Decorative image containing the libguide title and three thumbnail images. Thumbnails are two documents in French, the other is a Territory of Orleans seal with a pelican.

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French Beginnings 1718-1743

French Beginnings title containing an image of a woman, standing near a ship. Image is a faded blue.

Our exhibit begins in 1718 with the founding of the city of New Orleans for the key reasons of geography and business. The French colonists at Biloxi and other settlements had difficulties with coastal storms, provisions, and poor soil for farming. Not only had the colony failed to make a profit, but a prior managing company had lost one million livres on its concession. The Commandant-General of Louisiana and a director of the new Company of the West, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, chose a location that was on a major river 33 leagues from the Gulf of Mexico, with fertile soil, and by a path to Lake Pontchartrain. In 1719 the Crown and Company created the Superior Council, composed of Bienville and eight others, to govern the colony. Colonists had to buy all needed goods from the Company; trade with outsiders was prohibited. The Superior Council followed the laws of the Custom of Paris. In addition to regular governing, the Council acted as investigator, prosecutor, jury, and judge in all civil and criminal matters.

Map of the Louisiana coast from Bay St. Joseph to St. Bernard Bay where all ports and ​anchorages are marked by anchors with the depth of water found there. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

La Louisiane

Before New Orleans was established, France already had colonists and administrators along the Gulf Coast. The French began settlements at Fort Maurepas (Old Biloxi) and Massacre Island (Dauphin Island) in 1699, Mobile in 1702, Natchitoches in 1714, and Fort Rosalie (Natchez) in 1716. In fact, there was considerable debate between different administrators and officials to where the new planned settlement, to be named after the Duc d’Orléans, should be located. Many wanted it to be located on a coastline, since seafaring ships could not enter the Mississippi River. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, built his town near an old portage on the river, despite opposition. Within a few years, this new town would become the colony’s capitol.


Map of the Louisiana coast from Bay St. Joseph to St. Bernard Bay where all ports and ​anchorages are marked by anchors with the depth of water found there. Image courtesy Library of Congress.


Map of France, titled Le royaume de France in 1724.

French Law

When La Salle began his explorations in North America, France did not have a homogenous set of laws for its own country. In fact, France would not have a civil code until 1804, after it had sold the Louisiana territory to the Americans.

Parts of southern France had a history of civil law which dated back to the first Roman conquest. The northern part of the country had no such history. Rather, each region developed its own customary law from old tribal laws. These oral traditions were collected and reduced to writing beginning in the early 16th century. The Custom of Paris was the compilation of laws for Paris and the surrounding area. It was composed of 16 sections and 362 articles. In 1664, Louis XIV's royal charter for the West India Company set The Custom of Paris as the controlling law in all French colonies.


Further reading:

John P. Dawson, "Codification of the French Customs," 38 Mich. L. Rev. 765, 800 (1940)

Jerah Johnson, "La Coutume de Paris: Louisiana's First Law," 30 Louisiana History 145, 155 (1989)


Title page for the Custom of Paris and the Superior Council in French

Custom of Paris and the Superior Council

“Civil government in its proper understanding began in Louisiana in 1712, with the Crozat grant given by Louis of France, who constituted Crozat the overlord, lessee or manager of the colony of Louisiana. That grant is interesting to us because in it we received the Custom of Paris as our fundamental law and the two things: the establishment of civil government and the enactment of a law for its guidance, fix the date at which the history of our legal institutions must always begin. From this point of view, the Custom of Paris is the cornerstone of the civil law of Louisiana.

With the grant of the Custom of Paris there was created for its administration the first law court in Louisiana, called the Superior Council. It was established for three years, made up of a lawyer who was the First Councillor or Presiding Judge, and an Attorney (or Procureur) General, who was at once the lawyer of the people and the legal adviser of the government. The remaining members of the Superior Council were laymen. This court was granted jurisdiction over all Louisiana, and in 1716 it was made a permanent establishment. Upon the passing of the Crozat regime in 1717 the Company of the West became masters of the colony. The Superior Council was reorganized in 1719, and thenceforward Louisiana, had at all times this court administered by a lawyer acting as its First Councillor or Presiding Judge, assisted by the Procureur General, who represented both the people and the government. This court followed, in pleading and practice, the forms prevailing before the court of the Chatelet in Paris.”

By Henry P. Dart, “Courts and Law in Colonial Louisiana,” The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Vol. 4 No. 3.

Further reading:

Jerry A. Micelle, From Law Court to Local Government: Metamorphosis of the Superior Council of French Louisiana, 9 Louisiana History 85, 107 (1968)

Abstracts of the Records of the Superior Council of Louisiana may be found throughout these volumes. Please see each volume's index for specific dates.

From Google Books:

The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 1

The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 2     

The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 3, No. 4

The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 4   


From The Internet Archive:

The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 1

The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 2

The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 3, No. 4   

The Louisiana Historical Quarterly, Volume 4


From The Hathi Trust; for some volumes full views are available, but many volumes only have search ability:

The Louisiana Historical Quarterly

Entire content of the tab is displayed in one image, containing title "Company of the West" with text and two images. First image is a colorful picture of a ship and people on land. Second image is a campsite at Biloxi, dated 1720.  

Lithograph image of a crowded and busy street in Paris. Some people are depicted in the windows and balconies. Mississippi Bubble

John Law’s Company of the West was built on pure speculation and hype, as was his Banque Générale, which had assumed all of the obligations of the French Treasury. When the scheme collapsed, investors were left with nothing, and the French economy suffered greatly. As a result, support for the new colony fell.

Here is a link to a period map of the Paris street.

Further reading:


Money and Trade Considered With a Proposal for Supplying the Nation with Money by John Law (1705)


The Economist, Law of easy money

This lithograph depicts Rue Quincampoix, where John Law had his bank.

Forbes, A Cautionary Tale Of Public-Private Partnerships: John Law And The Mississippi Company

Moneyweek, John Law: the gambler who broke France


Image from "The 18th Century Its Institutions, Customs, and Costumes. France, 1700-1789"; by Paul Lacroix, Published by Chapman and Hall, London [France 1700-1789]. Type: Antique engraved print. 

Map of early New Orleans, Lake Ponchartrain, and the rigolets.

Early Plan of New Orleans

This early plan of New Orleans shows the importance of its location. Seafaring ships came into Lake Ponchartrain via the Rigolets, and smaller craft then transferred cargo down the bayou to a point where it was carried overland to the town. Until the river was dredged, ships had to stop at a small fort, La Balize, at the mouth of the Mississippi, and then small craft had to transfer cargo 33 leagues upriver against a strong current, which could take weeks.


Joseph Antoine Vinache, Plan de la Ville Orleans et des environs dedie, courtesy The Historic New Orleans Collection, Acc. No. 1987.65 i-iii

Front page of a royal ordinance in French.

Royal Ordinances

Louis XV, born in 1710, had not yet reached the age of legal majority; Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, governed the kingdom as Regent. This ordinance of the Council of State established rules for future financial transactions between inhabitants of the Louisiana colony and the Company of the Indies. The colonists could buy slaves from the Company for 666 livres, with payment due in three years, in tobacco or rice. Colonists could buy French goods from the Company at 50% markup. Also, the plan stated that Louisiana would be divided into nine administrative districts: New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile, Alabama, Natchez, Yazoo, Natchitoches, Arkansas, and Illinois.


Ordinance of the Council of State appointed by the King of France to administer the Company of the Indies, September 2, 1721, courtesy French Colonial, Spanish Colonial, and Nineteenth-Century Louisiana Documents, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University Administrative Rules


Document image in French.

From Company Back to the Crown

This document marks the official end of the control of Louisiana by the Company of the Indies and its return to the French Crown. By this decree, Louis XV accepts the return of the Province of Louisiana and “Le pays des Sauvages Illinois” from the Company of the Indies, together with their exclusive trading rights there.


Arrest du Conseil d’Estat du roy, concernant la retrocession faite à Sa Majesté par la Compagnie des Indes… 23 janvier 1731, courtesy The Historic New Orleans Collection, Acc. No. 99-16-L

Illustration of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville.

International Relations

The city of New Orleans did not develop in isolation. Its origin and growth were deeply intertwined with the both the French plans for Louisiana, and with the surrounding indigenous nations. A governor who could successfully negotiate with the existing nations would greatly aid the settlement, one who dealt with them in a capricious manner would bring disaster. Bienville, who had an ability to quickly learn the indigenous languages, successfully negotiated with them for land concessions by following their local customs, such as smoking the calumnet with the leaders, and always keeping his word. Bienville’s replacement, Pierre Dugué de Boisbriand, also had extensive experience negotiating with various indigenous nations. Etienne de Périer, however, who became governor in 1727, did not bother with maintaining good diplomatic relations with the indigenous nations. Sieur de Chépart, Périer’s new commandant of Fort Rosalie, was accused of abuse of power towards the Natchez and was tried in New Orleans in 1728. Périer had appointed Chépart, and allowed him to return to power in Fort Rosalie after the trial. Chépart demanded that the Natchez give up the land where they had a temple containing the Natchez graves, in order to construct a new plantation. Governor Périer backed up Chépart, who threatened to burn down the temple after the Natchez protested the land seizure. The Natchez then planned and carried out a surprise attack on Fort Rosalie in November 1729, killing nearly every French man there, as well as many women and children. The African slaves were spared. The Natchez Massacre cause a panic in New Orleans. As a reprisal, Chépart ordered the massacre of a small village of the Chaouacha. As the conflict continued, hundreds of Natchez taken captive were sold as slaves in Saint-Domingue. In 1732 Governor Périer was recalled to France, and Bienville became governor once more in 1733.



Image of Bienville from Alcee Fortier's A History of Louisiana: The American domination, pt. II, 1861-1903, New York: Goupil & Co. of Paris, 1904.

  • Many place names in New France came from the indigenous peoples. Mississippi is one example. Iberville named the bay Biloxi after the tribe he had met living there, the Bilocchy tribe. 
  • La Louisiane was a large territory which contained many nations. Contemporary accounts mention the Bayougoulas, Tangipahoas (destroyed by the Quinipissa), Quinipissas (later took the name Mougalachas), Houmas, Natchez, Tonicas, Chickasaws, Alibamons, Choctaws, Illinois, Sioux, Shawnee, Ouabache, Osage, Miami, Iroquois, Huron, Ottawas, Chouanous, and Cherokee.

French Rule Continues 1743-1768

French Rule Continues title containing an image of a woman, standing near a ship. Image is a faded blue.


Man in image is Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil.PIERRE de RIGAUD de VAUDREUIL Colonial Governor  1743 - 1753

Vaudreuil followed Bienville as governor. He arrived in New Orleans in May 1743 to a colony in decline.  As Governor he reanimated royal support and successfully managed local social, economic, and political matters

Colonial Power Structure – Balance of Powers or Unsteady Governance born of Conflict?
Colonial Governors were appointed by the Crown - often after years of military service or administrative service in another French colony.  The Governor was the King's most senior representative and in theory, served to promote the mercantile mission of the colonial enterprise.  The Governor's oversaw  military matters and executive level administrative matters.  The commissaire ordonnateur  was also appointed by the Crown.  The commissaire ordonnateur oversaw fiscal matters and secondary administration duties.  As keeper of the purse, the commissaire ordonnateur was often in conflict with the Governor.  The Superior Council was an old world institution transplanted on colonial soil.  While it was comprised of men who were usually appointees of the Governor, the interest of these locals often superseded the interests of the Crown.
Vaudreuil’s Accomplishments

♦Open Port Policy.  Vaudreuil promoted trade between Louisiana and numerous Spanish  colonial ports.  Although technically illegal, this trade sustained the colony during a time when the majority of colonial sea-based trade was interrupted by the War of Austrian Succession.  Without an Open Port Policy, colonial Louisiana would have floundered.

♦Increased Agricultural Yields.   French colonies were established as part of a Mercantile economic system.  Based on a theory of sustainability and surplus, a French colony was expected to produce enough raw materials to sustain the colony.  More importantly, a colony was expected to produce surpluses which could be returned to the Crown and used to bolster Trade. Vaudreuil successfully raised agricultural output in his first years as Governor. 

♦Diplomatic Success.  Vaudreuil eased unrest and tension between the colonists and the Chickasaw and the Choctaw. 

♦Infrastructure and building projects.  Vaudreuil conceived and began military fortifications, levee construction, public roads, and churches.

♦Expanded local government.  Vaudreuil increased the number of local officials in order to more effectively handle judicial matters. 

♦Curried favor with the Local Population.  In today's terms, Vaudreuil marketed the Crown and his administration through social events, private balls, and public celebrations.

Image Credit:  Pierre de Rigaud de Vaudreuil, Center for Louisiana Studies Archive, University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Portrait of Mme Pierre de Rigaud de Vaureuil.

Mme Pierre de Rigaud de Vaureuil. 


Image Credit:  Mme Pierre de Rigaud de Vaureuil, Center for Louisianana Studies Archive, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Manuscript notice of the Inauguration and Reception for Vaudreuil, French Superior Council, dated May 27, 1743.

Notice of the Inauguration and Reception for Vaudreuil, French Superior Council.  May 27, 1743

Image Credit:  1743-05-27 French Superior Council record, Louisiana State Museum Records for the FR Superior Council (1714 - 1769), Louisiana State Museum.


Manuscript thumbnail view of plans and placement for a proposed Church in colonial New Orleans, by Lernorman et Vaudreuil of New Orleans, dated 1745.


Plans and placement for a proposed Church in colonial New Orleans.  Lernorman et Vaudreuil.  New Orleans.  1745. 


Image Credit:  Louisiana State University Libraries, Special Collections, Louisiana State University

Portrait of Louis Billouart de KerlerecLOUIS BILLOUART, CHEVALIER de KERLEREC
Colonial Governor 1753 – 1763
By 1753, the Louisiana colony was once again in decline.  Speculation and inflation were rampant.  Three-fourths of the population were insolvent. Agricultural productivity was in crisis.  War and other foreign entanglements preoccupied the Crown.  Relations between the colony and Native American tribes were strained.   
Kerlerec attempted to reverse the economic strife through the use of his executive authority.  
♦To keep the colony afloat, the Governor sanctioned illicit sea trade between the colony and Spain.  
♦The Governor bolstered military and municipal fortifications in order to address numerous external threats to the colony.
♦Through his executive powers, the Governor attempted to expand and cement colonial growth by issuing land grants and promoting building projects. 
Kerlerec’s administration was thrown into disarray when his commissiare ordonnateur, Vincent Gaspard-Pierre de Rochemore, tried to undermine him with upper echelons at Versailles.  As the keeper of the colonial purse, Rochemore exposed prior fiscal mismanagement - but laid the misappropriation at Kerlerec’s feet.  The scandal became known as the The Louisiana Affair.  In reaction, the Crown recalled and censured both Kerlerec and Rochemore.  Disgraced and temporarily imprisoned in the Bastille, Kerlerec eventually cleared his name.  Sadly, his accomplishments are overshadowed by the scandal.
Image credit: Louis Billouart de Kerlerec, Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Portrait of Mme Louis Billouart de Kerlerec

Mme Louis Billouart de Kerlerec


Image Credit:  Mme Louis Billouart de Kerlerec.  Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Map planning diagram of project to develop New Orleans

Plan de la Nouvelle Orleans.  The plan shows a heavily fortified and developed New Orleans.  The project was never realized.  The money for the construction was misappropriated.  The scandal came to be known as The Louisiana Affair and resulted in a royal censure of both Kerlerec and the devious, Rochemore.

Image Credit:  Plan de la Nouvelle Orleans,  Accession No. 1980.014.7.  Gift of the Friends of the Cabildo.  Louisiana State Museum 


Portrait of Jean Jacques Blaise D'AbbadieJEAN JACQUES BLAISE d’ABBADIE
Colonial Governor 1763-1765
Before his appointment as the commissionaire ordonnature during the  troubled Kerlerec administration, d'Abbadie graduated from the rigorous Jesuit institution, the College of Harcourt; served in several Ministry and Marine posts, and saw active duty during the Seven Years War.  As it turned out, d’Abbadie never actually assumed his appointment.  En route to the colony, he was captured at sea by the British and returned to France.  There he received another appointment:  Director General for the Louisiana colony.  The position of Director General was created by the Crown in order to further centralize executive and political power.  
Director General
The new position represented a departure from the former colonial power sharing structure.  The Crown wanted to concentrate political power and enforcement of colonial law in the hands of the Executive authority.  The position was created to facilitate the transfer of royal power, land, and materials from France to Great Britain and Spain (as stipulated by the Treaty of Paris) and importantly, discourage interference and subterfuge by locals.  . 
♦He offered locals a choice of staying and submitting to British rule or relocating to another French colony.  
♦He used his diplomatic skills and his increased executive authority ato establish better relations with the indigenous tribes during the transfer of French colonial rule to England and Spain. 
♦He oversaw the transfer of magazines, barracks, hospitals, artillery, and other royal  properties to England and Spain and transferred all but 200 regular military out of the Louisiana colony to Haiti. 
Early Demise
The pressure of the assignment may have contributed to d’Abbadie’s death.  In 1764, he died from complications of a stroke.  
Image Credit:  Jean Jacques Blaise D'Abbadie, Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Louisiana at Lafayette 

Manuscript letter from the Duc de Choiseul to Director General d’Abbadie





A letter from the Duc de Choiseul instructing the new Director General, d’Abbadie, to end French operations and turn the territory over to Spain and Great Britain.


Image Credit:   Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Manuscript letter from Pierre-Joseph Neyon de Villiers, Fort Chartres to Jean-Jacques Blaise d'Abbadie 




Letter from Pierre-Joseph Neyon de Villiers, Fort Chartres to Jean-Jacques Blaise d'Abbadie discussing a new settlement to be built, rumors regarding English troops, and relations with Native Americans. 


Image Credit:  Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Manuscript military discharge issued to sublieutenant Devergés by Charles Philippe Aubry, sealed with a wax stampCHARLES PHILLIPE AUBRY
Colonial Governor 1765 – 1766
Aubry’s tenure was brief, turbulent, and controversial.  Like his predecessor d’Abbadie, his primary mission was to hold the Louisiana colony until France ceded it to Great Britain and Spain.   Like the other governors before him, he used his executive and military authority to prepare for the transition. 
♦Aubry took control of what was left of France's military presence in colonial Louisiana.  He engaged the local Native American tribes in diplomacy in order to quell unrest and to convince the native people to accept the English as the region's new colonial authority. 
♦As part of the transition, Aubry used his administrative authority to "quiet' land titles and rectify local grants and concessions among the local population
The Acadiens
The removal and dislocation of French speaking inhabitants of Maritime Canada took place during the French and Indian War – also known as the Seven Years War.  British colonial officers feared the Acadians were in league with their enemy, the French.  The British, New England legislators and colonial militia carried out The Great Expulsion also known as Le Grand Dérangement.  Between 1755 and 1764, approximately 11,500 Acadians were removed from the maritime region.  Many were relocated to the American colonies where they were forced into servitude.  Some were deported to England.  Others were sent to the Caribbean or deported to France.  Those who were deported to France were recruited by the Spanish government and encouraged to re-settle in colonial Louisiana. During Aubry's tenure as Governor 383 destitute Acadian refugees arrived in Louisiana.  It fell to Aubry to settle them.  He did so with remarkable fairness and humanity.  The Acadian people and their culture took root in southern Louisiana - giving rise to today's Cajun people and culture.  
Aubry and the Spanish
In spite of the careful preparations, when it came time to cede colonial Louisiana to Spain, the transition was not smooth.  Antonio de Ulloa arrived in New Orleans as Spain's first representative.  Ulloa was inept and unprepared.  He was not equipped to handle the intransigence of the local populous.  Aubry - a more adept politician - sensed not only his replacement's weaknesses but more importantly, the rising anger of the locals.  Aubry refused to cede governance to Ulloa.  His action created a governing vacuum.  Without clear and forceful leadership, civil unrest ensued.  Matters came to a head in the Rebellion of 1768.  Ulloa fled.  He was replaced by the Spaniard, Alejandro O’Reilly.  O'Reilly was everything Ulloa was not.  Aubry - ever the politician - quickly sided with O'Reilly and turned against the colonial New Orleanians.  He helped the Spanish strongman put down the rebellion and assisted in the prosecution of the rebellion’s leaders
Image Credit:  Military Discharge Issued To Sublieutenant Devergés By [Charles Philippe] Aubry, Commandant Of The Province Of Louisiana, New Orleans Rosemonde E. & Emile Kuntz Collection, French Colonial Period, 1655-1768, Manuscripts Collection 600, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.

Rough Start to Spanish Rule

Section title image with the coat of Arms of Spain represented to the side

In 1762, France ceded Louisiana to her ally Spain by a secret treaty, the Treaty of Fontainebleau, on November 3. The unsuccessful colony was costing the crown too much. Spain did not immediately take possession. Until the first Spanish governor arrived, France continued to manage the colony, and French law remained in force. By the time the first Spanish governor, Don Antonio de Ulloa, arrived in 1766, the colonists had harbored four years of growing resentment against the coming change in government. King Charles III had instructed Ulloa to leave the administration and laws of the colony as they were. A group of local leaders revolted against economic changes Governor Ulloa proposed and in 1768 expelled him from the colony.
In 1769, Lt. General Alejandro O’Reilly arrived in New Orleans with a large Spanish fleet and nearly 2,000 soldiers. O’Reilly swiftly had the leaders of the rebellion against Spanish authority arrested and tried for their crimes. Five were put to death and six others given lengthy prison sentences. The Spanish flag now flew over Louisiana.

Although O’Reilly stayed only until the spring of 1770, he quickly completed a reorganization of the Louisiana colony while he was governor. O’Reilly issued an ordinance in November 1769 ending French rule and marking the beginning of Spanish governmental systems. His proclamation was issued in French and in Spanish. This ordinance became known as O’Reilly’s Code, which provided an organization for efficient government and administration of justice in accordance with Spanish laws such as the Recopilación de Castilla (also known as the Nueva Recopilación) and the Recopilación de las Indias. The ordinance was like a code of practice. Louisiana was to be governed by the same laws and system of judicial administration as the other Spanish possessions in America.

Portrait of Governor Don Antonio de Ulloa.


Governor Don Antonio de Ulloa



Although France ceded Louisiana to Spain in 1762, Ulloa, the first Spanish governor of the colony, did not arrive in New Orleans until 1766. Upon arrival, he did not take his rightful seat as governor, but began exploring the Mississippi River for possible fort locations, then made his headquarters at La Balize, downriver from New Orleans, until 1767. As a renowned scientist and naturalist, Ulloa had a great interest in the land and creatures around the river, but by leaving the French in charge, he weakened his hand. He even went so far as to sign a tentative agreement of shared governorship with the French Governor Aubry that would last until the Spanish troops would arrive.

The colonists had had four years of growing resentment against the coming change in government, and when Ulloa began restricting trade, a group of local leaders revolted against economic changes Governor Ulloa proposed and in 1768 expelled him from the colony.

Manuscript image of the memorial letter.


October 29, 1768 memorial letter of the inhabitants and merchants of New Orleans demanding that Ulloa and Spanish law be overthrown in the colony.

Opposition to the first Spanish governor, don Antonio de Ulloa, culminated on October 29, 1768 with the passage of a decree by the Superior Council of the colony ordering the expulsion of Ulloa within three days. Later, French Intendant Nicolas Denis Foucault authorized the publication of this memorial by the royal printer in New Orleans, Denis Braud. It is said that the French Governor Charles Aubry sought to suppress the publication, and subsequently Governor Alejandro O’Reilly ordered all copies burned. Ulloa attributed authorship of the memorial to Nicolas Chauvin de Lafréniére, the leading investigator of the movement against him, but Julien Jérôme Doucet also admitted to having assisted in its writing. The present document is a Spanish translation of the memorial and is in handwriting of Francisco Bouligny, a high-ranking officer in the Spanish army, who came to Louisiana with O’Reilly in 1769. The memorial, written in hyperbolic style, amounted to a catalogue of injustices and oppressions inflicted on the colonists by the Spanish.

"Memorial of the Inhabitants and Merchants of Louisiana regarding the events of the 29th of October 1768," Rosemonde E. & Emile Kuntz Collection, French colonial period, 1655-1768, Manuscripts Collection 600, La Research Collection, Tulane University.

Portrait of Governor Alejandro O’Reilly.


Governor Alejandro O’Reilly

Alejandro O’Reilly was the second Spanish governor of Louisiana from 1769 to 1770, consolidating control of the colony and reforming its government, laws, and economy. He was a military leader dispatched to deal with the rebellious French colonists. His first gubernatorial act was the prompt execution of the leaders of the Insurrection of 1768, who resisted the colony’s transfer from France to Spain. As a result of these infamous executions, he is most famously known in Louisiana as “Bloody O’Reilly.”

O’Reilly instituted other reforms in Louisiana during his six-month governorship, including the establishment of a cabildo, the Spanish model for colonial governments. O’Reilly worked to improve relations with Native American tribes and reorganized the colony’s defenses. He is also credited with stabilizing finances, establishing price controls on food staples, raising standards for medical care, and restricting trade to Spanish ships and Spanish ports.


Image courtesy Louisiana State Museum

Printed ephemera of a proclamation, in French.



Proclamation of Clemency

Although O’Reilly executed five men believed to be the instigators of the resistance, he was also considered a fair leader, which he demonstrated by declaring the remaining citizenry free from blame for the October 29, 1768 revolt against the Spanish government.


Image courtesy Louisiana State Museum

Page from an old book of the O'Reilly code in Spanish.

Page from an old book of the O'Reilly code in Spanish.


The Code O’Reilly

O’Reilly’s ordinances of instructions on civil procedure also had a huge impact on the new Spanish colony. He not only replaced all existing French law with Spanish law, but, in so doing, also transformed Louisiana into a colony governed by the same justice system as all other Spanish colonies in the Americas. Though these ordinances are referred to as the “Code O’Reilly,” they were not actually a code. Instead, they were O’Reilly’s distillation of Spanish law as he understood it, based largely on the Nueva Recopilacion de las Leyes de Espana (1567) and Autos Acordados o resoluciones del Consejo (1745).

O’Reilly’s implementation of Spanish law and rejection of French law was not without controversy, however. He had not taken into consideration the character of the people on whom these changes of law and practice were imposed. The high strung white population was accustomed to a certain freedom of life, born of contact with the wilderness that was Louisiana. These people had lived for two generations in harmonious understanding with the Superior Council under the simplified form of legal procedure under the Great Court where the Custom of Paris was safeguarded and construed. Hard and fast principles of law and practice had gone through an alembic in Louisiana and it was not possible to alter the result by any mere order of the new rulers. The Spanish Judges consequently had great difficulty in reversing the forms of practice or in establishing principles essentially different from the rights of property enjoyed under the French regime.

Images courtesy of Tulane University Rare Books

O’Reilly’s Drinking Regulation

O’Reilly is also well-known for limiting the number of drinking establishments in New Orleans, which had gained a reputation for its high number of rowdy taverns. He also issued a decree to establish a tax to be collected by the city on liquors imported into the colony and on vessels entering the port, in order to limit the amount of alcohol in New Orleans:


4 October 8, 1769.
Public order having been one of the principal objects of our attention since the moment of our arrival in this colony, we have perceived in the examination which we have made, that the section which concerns the inns, taverns, and billiard parlors, necessarily demands an abridgement; it is this which we have done in fixing the number as determined in our Ordinance of September 21 of the present year. But, in order that the public and the members of those four professions may feel the effects of our attention to this matter, We are establishing hereafter in Articles, not only the instructions relative to their professions, so that they may know exactly their duties; but the objects that each of the said professions shall comprise, in determining the nature of the articles, the sale of which is exclusively theirs, beginning with the Innkeepers.
“O’Reilly’s Regulations on Booze, Boarding Houses, and Billiards,” LH, VI (1965), 295. 

Spanish Rule Improves 1770 - 1791

Section title image with the coat of Arms of Spain represented to the side

The Spanish legal system in New Orleans differed in several respects from the French system. The Spaniards introduced more courts and judges than the single court of the French Superior Council. Spanish legal codes were based on Roman law while French law was founded on the Coutume de Paris, which in turn was based on Roman law.
O’Reilly’s proclamation abolished all French laws except the Code Noir, which regulated the treatment of slaves. Although the harshness of Spanish criminal law is exemplified in capital cases, which allowed death by burning, decapitation, hanging or wild beasts, the Black Code, which regulated the treatment of slaves, was more permissive than the rest of the Southern states. The ability for slaves to buy their freedom and for owners to free their slaves were rights only found in the Louisiana colony. This led to Louisiana’s large free people of color population, which was more than nearly all the other Southern states combined.
O’Reilly’s Code replaced the French Superior Council with a Cabildo composed of six perpetual Regidors, two Ordinary Alcaldes, an Attorney-General-Syndic and a Clerk. Each of the Alcaldes acted as a judge within New Orleans in all civil cases, and in some criminal cases when the defendant was not under the privilege of trial by a military judge or an ecclesiastical judge. In minor cases, the judgment of the Alcalde was final. Appeals were heard by a three-judge court composed of two Regidors and the trial Alcalde. In areas outside the city military judges, with the assistance of syndics, served as inferior courts with jurisdiction similar to that of the Ordinary Alcaldes in the city. These judges also served as notaries. In all cases, the Governor-Intendant held final authority. However, the French colonists or the ancien population in Louisiana still held firm to French law and custom as much as possible by settling matters extrajudicially according to prior law.

Portrait of Governor Luis de Unzaga y Amezaga.

Governor Luis de Unzaga y Amezaga


Unzaga was appointed by O'Reilly who left in 1770, and served under King Charles III. He continued policies to strengthen ties between French colonists and Spanish administrators by marrying into a wealthy French slaveholding family of New Orleans.

When Unzaga inherited the colony, the inhabitants had come to accept Spanish law, but still tried to find ways around it. The wealthy French slaveholders manipulated Unzaga by cutting him in on the action, thus creating a more comfortable relationship with the Spanish government.

The slavery of Indians became a problem during Unzaga’s tenure. He allowed the practice to continue because he felt that the colony’s labor needs outweighed the rights of the Indians.

At the beginning of his administration, the colony’s economic outlook was bleak, but King Charles only cared about the colony’s profitability to Spain. Yet Unzaga knew that he would have to fix the economy in order to gain loyalty from his constituents. Unzaga’s “conciliatory diplomacy” included the moderation of the Crown’s laws, allowing trade with non-Spanish ships and permitting Louisiana vessels to sell to French ports.

Unzaga’s accomplishments included streamlining the land grant system, establishing ecclesiastical order among the French and Spanish clergy and the sale of 9,000 pounds of gunpowder to the colony of Virginia to fire at the British, which was paid to Unzaga in Spanish pesos.

Image courtesy University of Louisiana at Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies

The Cabildo form of Government

The Spanish legal system in New Orleans differed in several respects from the French system. The Spaniards introduced more courts and judges than the single court of the French Superior Council. Spanish legal codes were based on Roman law while French law was founded on the Coutume de Paris, which in turn was based on Roman law. Roman law, however, was the common source for both the French and Spanish criminal codes. Moreover, the alcaldes ordinarios, the alcaldes de barrio, and the district syndics were usually French.

The Cabildo structure is laid out in The New Orleans’ Cabildo book by Gilbert Din. Each of the alcaldes acted as a judge within New Orleans in all civil cases, and in some criminal cases when the defendant was not under the privilege of trial by a military judge or an ecclesiastical judge. In minor cases, the judgment of the alcalde was final.  Appeals were heard by a three-judge court composed of two regidors and the trial alcalde.   In areas outside the city military judges, with the assistance of syndics, served as inferior courts with jurisdiction similar to that of the ordinary alcaldes in the city.  These judges also served as notaries.  In all cases, the Governor-Intendant held final authority. However, the French colonists or the ancien population in Louisiana still held firm to French law and custom as much as possible by settling matters extrajudicially according to prior law.

Besides involvement in the legal system, the Cabildo's other principal responsibility was municipal administration, which it generally sought to discharge efficiently. A major area where the Cabildo had no responsibilities in Spanish law was public works. It nevertheless became involved in the construction and care of levees, streets, gutters, roads, and bridges. When it learned that it could not force owners to keep up levees, streets, and gutters that fronted on their property, the Cabildo assumed responsibility.

In 1772 the Cabildo became involved in helping to license physicians, surgeons, and druggists in the city. Shortly after the Cabildo was established, it approved a pharmaceutical code and began licensing pharmacists. The Cabildo was also involved with administration of several New Orleans hospitals. Charity Hospital consumed the most attention and energy. Following the destructive fires of 1788 and 1794, the Cabildo decreed new building regulations to prevent more conflagrations.

A greater potential hazard to the Cabildo was the governor who could-and sometimes did-veto any council action. On the whole, however, from 1769 to 1799 Louisiana's governors cooperated with the Cabildo in providing sound administration for the city.

Entire content of the tab is depicted in a single image with text and photos. Images include a portrait of Governor Bernardo de Galvez and an editorial cartoon of man who represents governor Unzaga, turning a blind eye to another man, which is Governor Galvez, setting a fire to plantation crops.

Portrait of Esteban Rodriguez Miro y Sabater.


Esteban Rodriguez Miro y Sabater


Miro served under Kings Charles III and Charles IV of Spain. He was an interim governor while Galvez was in Cuba from 1782 to 1785 and was appointed governor in 1785. During his term, Spain allowed trade with France and the French West Indies and removed the duty on ships for two years which contributed to the development of New Orleans as an international port.


Image courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum.


Ecclesiastical Order

Plan of the St. Louis Church in 1724; with an open side view of the inside in the building plan phase.

1724 plan for old St. Louis Church, which burned down in the great conflagration of 1788.              

Image courtesy of University of Louisiana at Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies


When the Spanish clergy arrived in New Orleans, they were appalled by the luxuries of the French Capuchins, including silver spoons, servants, fancy clothes and multiple clocks. They also objected to the French clergy’s habits of card playing, and feasting at dinner parties with their parishioners.

Unzaga settled the unrest among the priests with the reasoning that the people of the colony were not like the Spanish, and could not be treated the same way or be expected to follow all of the same rules. Most importantly, he reminded King Charles that he could lose the loyalty of his subjects if he were to act too harshly:


“This is what I call acting in accordance with the spirit of the apostolic mission working for the service of God by assuming the garb of the Jew among the Jews, of the pagan among the pagans... your Grace will no doubt infer that many of the synodical regulations cannot be applied to this province without injury to the interests of the king, the number of whose vassals might be diminished considerably, if those regulations were attempted to be carried into execution, and your Grace will easily understand that it is not always that the laws made for one region can be safely adapted to another.”

Letter from Governor Unzaga to King Charles III of Spain in Gayarré’s History of Louisiana



Plan showing the boundaries of the great conflagration of New Orleans. Mississippi River is depicted at the bottom of the plan and the fire is also depicted.


The Great Conflagration of 1788

The first Great Fire of New Orleans destroyed 856 buildings out of 1,100. The Good Friday fire of 1788 originated in the house of the army treasurer at 619 Chartres Street, less than a block from the Plaza de Armas (Jackson Square) and the Cabildo.

The first casa capitular is destroyed in the fire so the Cabildo met in the Casa del Gobierno (Government House) which is located on the Plaza de Armas near the river, until the Cabildo building was constructed by Almonester in 1796.

Governor Miro quickly set up tents and provided food and other supplies. Much of the city was rebuilt by 1791. The fires destroyed most of the primitive structures of the French colony and the Spanish replaced them with courtyards, thick walls and arcades to protect from the heat.





Image courtesy Library of Congress

Map showing the great conflagration of New Orleans, 1788. The area in flames begins behind Plaza de Armas (Jackson Square) to Burgundy Street.

Later Spanish Rule 1791 - 1803

Section title image with the coat of Arms of Spain represented to the side



Portrait of Carondelet



Colonial Governor 1791 – 1797

An adept and pragmatic administrator of local matters, Carondelet did not bring the same talents to larger matters of state.   He harbored an entrenched fear of sedition among the local citizenry, revolt among the enslaved, American encroachment, and the spread of French republican ideals. As a result, his policies and administration of law and justice were inconsistent.  These vacillations and shortcomings overshadow his accomplishments.


  • Built public theaters and established newspapers. 
  • Addressed street crime with the introduction of oil burning street lamps. 
  • Conceived and oversaw the construction of the Carondelet Canal, a connecting artery between New Orleans to Bayou St. John. 
  • Established the diocese of New Orleans.



Carondelet, enslaved people, and the colonial planter class

Carondelet feared a Haitian-type slave uprising would spread to the Louisiana colony.  He thought the revolt in Haiti was an outcome of the harsh and inhumane French policy and laws.  In Louisiana, he attempted to implement more humane and rational policies grounded in Spanish law.  The reaction of the planter class was immediate.  It withdrew its political support from Carondelet and clamped down on the enslaved.  There was equivalent reaction and resistance among the enslaved.  The situation came to a head with the Pointe Coupee Slave Revolt of 1795.  To quell the Revolt, Carondelet reversed his slave policies; aligned his government with the Planters; and promulgated a set of highly regressive and draconian policing actions relative to the enslaved of Louisiana.

American encroachment and republican ideals

During Carondelet’s tenure, energetic and acquisitive Americans were a constant threat to Spanish colonial rule.  The republican ideals of the French Revolutions and interest of the French animated many in New Orleans.  To combat the Americans, Carondelet fortified military outposts, increased his militia, and tried to prevent encroachment by using Native American tribes as a buffer on the frontier and the Upper Mississippi Valley.  Edmund Genet was the Ambassador of France to the United States.  He promoted American support for France’s wars with Spain and England.  His activities were a threat to Spanish rule in colonial Louisiana as the Creole merchant class in New Orleans remained largely sympathetic to France.  Carondelet responded by banning Genet’s writings lest they inflame the locals who chafed under Spanish rule.


Sketch of New Orleans taken from fort St. Charles. The bottom of the photo, is a sketch of Plaquemine fort.

Carondelet's fears of external attacks were well-founded.  

This map was prepared by Victor Collot, a French spy collecting information for a proposed attack on New Orleans. Upper map shows lines of fire from the various guns in Carondelet's fortifications around New Orleans.




Image Credit:  Sketch of New Orleans taken from Fort St. Charles / Sketch of Plaquemines Fort. Louisiana State Museum.  Accession No. 1976.012.4 a-b.  Gift of the Friends of the Cabildo.



Carondelet’s order to the City Steward, Juan de Castanedo.  Castanedo is to pay Antonio Sousa, the City Hangman, 430 pesos for executing the Pointe Coupee slaves who were prosecuted for plots to overthrow their owners, 1795. 

Image Credit:   Order issued by the Baron de Carondelet, New Orleans, to the City Steward Juan de Castanedo, New Orleans,  Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.  

This circular by Carondelet was addressed to all inhabitants of Louisiana.  It warned the citizenry against involvement in any of the activities of Citizen Genet, who was trying to organize an expedition against the Spanish provinces.

Circular image in French.

Image CreditCircular Addressed By The Government [The Baron De Carondelet, New Orleans], To All The Inhabitants Of Louisiana, Rosemonde E. & Emile Kuntz Collection: Spanish Colonial Period, 1769-1803, Manuscripts Collection 600, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University

A commission by Carondelet to establish the Squadron of the Mississippi which was to guard the river and Louisiana against American encroachment from the east and against naval attacks from the Gulf of Mexico.

Manuscript image of a military commission issued by The Baron De Carondelet, in Spanish.

Image CreditMilitary Commission Issued By The Baron De Carondelet, Governor Of Louisiana, New Orleans, To Pedro Rousseau, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University


Portrait of Manuel Gayoso de LemosMANUEL GAYOSO de LEMOS 

Colonial Governor

1797 – 1797

Gayoso de Lemos was Governor of the Natchez region and later, colonial Louisiana.  In both offices, he served as a talented diplomat and deft military commander.  In Natchez and Louisiana, his attempted to enact law and policy to improve conditions for the citizenry and reinforce the remaining colonial outposts as effective buffers against the aggressive, acquisitive and encroaching Americans.   In Louisiana, his first duty was to implement the provisions of the Treaty of San Lorenzo wherein Spain - under Gayoso's direction would,

♦Relinquish control of the Mississippi River

♦Agree to the reorganization of the boundary between the Spanish territory and the United States

♦Evacuate Spanish fortifications in Natchez, Fort Nogales, and Fort San Esteban.



To shore up the remaining Spanish defenses and protect the population, Gayoso de Lemos

♦Refortified the remaining defenses around Baton Rouge

♦Repaired Spanish galleys along the Mississippi River

♦Established frontier settlements in the Feliciana parishes and in Concordia Parish

♦Improved municipal safety in New Orleans by increasing the number of night watchmen, organizing a volunteer fire-fighting brigade, promulgating regulations on cart traffic, putting weights and measures under governmental control, and increasing regulation of taverns, inns and billiard parlors.

Later, Gayoso de Lemos reinstated the slave trade – suspended in New Orleans following Pointe Coupee Slave Revolt.  Gayoso de Lemos succumbed to Yellow Fever in 1799.  He is buried at the St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans.


Image Credit:  Courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.  acc. no. 1981.134. 

This minature painting of Señora Gayoso de Lemos, wife of Manuel Luis Gayoso de Lemos, Governor of Louisiana from 1797 to 1799 shows Mrs. Gayoso de Lemos is in period dress wearing an off-white dress with a lace shawl. Her hair is styled in the fashion of the day. 

Portrait of Señora Gayoso de Lemos

Mrs. Gayosos de Lemos, The Historic New Orleans Collection.

Image Credit:     Mrs. Gayosos de Lemos, The Historic New Orleans Collection.Courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection.  acc. no. 1981. 134.



Colonial Governors 1799 – 1801

From 1799 – 1801, colonial Louisiana languished due to Spanish disinterest and neglect.  As the Spanish military presence diminished, the region experienced increased encroachment on all perimeters.  Colonial governance - always unsteady – suffered through a series of interim executive appointments.  Often corrupt, these administrations were debilitated by executive incompetence, disinterest, and internal disputes.

Francisco Bouligny, a military man with minimal interest in civil affairs or public service became the interim and acting governor following the sudden death of Gayoso de Lemos. Bouligny did little and departed the colony without leaving behind any policy or laws of note.

Spanish manuscript.


Memoir of Francisco Bouligny.

Image Credit:  Rosemonde E. & Emile Kuntz Collection: Spanish Colonial Period, 1769-1803, Manuscripts Collection 600, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University


















Marques de Casa-Calvo – another military man – followed Bouligny as governor.Unlike his other Spanish predecessors, Casa-Calvo enjoyed good relations with the French Creoles in New Orleans.He remained in Louisiana following its transfer to the United States.The new power elite did not embrace him.William C. C. Claiborne, the first American governor of LA, expelled Casa-Calvo.Casa-Calvo returned to Spain but died in exile in Paris in 1820.

Spanish manuscript.


Order of Spanish to turn over Louisiana to the French.  December 12, 1803.  With signatures by Sebastian de la Puerta y O'Farril, Marquest de Casa Calvo, and Juan Manuel de Salcedo, New Orleans, to Pierre-Joseph Favrot, Plaquemines. 

Image Credit: Louisiana Research Collection, Howard -Titlton Memorial Librry, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana











Manuel Juan de Salcedo became governor of Louisiana in 1799.  He assumed office in 1801.  He had  no interest in public service.  He disliked colonial life - especially Louisiana.  As Governor, he engaged in numerous internal disputes with his political peers.  He purposely boycotted the Cabildo in an effort to undermine its authority and public policies.Salcedo was corrupt and unfit to govern.Following repeated his own petitions to the Spanish Crown to remove him from office, he was allowed to retire with a generous pension.



Order of Spanish to turn over Louisiana to the French.  December 12, 1803.  With signatures by Sebastian de la Puerta y O'Farril, Marquest de Casa Calvo, and Juan Manuel de Salcedo, New Orleans, to Pierre-Joseph Favrot, Plaquemines. 

Image Credit: Louisiana Research Collection, Howard -Titlton Memorial Librry, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana

Bouligny's plan for governance is reflected in this outline.  It includes a description of the region's topography, climate, agriculture production and commercial potential.  It stressed the colony's importance as protective buffer for Mexico.  It covered the status of white, black, and Indian people.  It addressed education; and finally made an assessment for the deployment of troops for defense.  

Spanish manuscript.


Bouligny Plan for the Population, Agriculture, Commerce and Defense.  1978

Image Credit:  Plan for the Population, Agriculture, Commerce, and Defense of the Province of Louisiana, [Incomplete draft of outline and introduction by Colonel Francisco Bouligny].  Rosemonde E. and Emile Kuntz Collection:  Spanish Colonial Period, 1769-1803, Manuscripts Collection 600, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University.

Like his Plan for the Population, Agriculture, Commerce and Defense, Bouligny prepared an outline for proposed trade policies.  Each vessel entering or leaving the harbor had to present a detailed manifest of cargo on board so that the government might maintain records of all goods imported and exported. Annual figures were to be compiled and submitted to the King for his study. Officials were also to keep extensive data on articles of primary necessity imported into the Province, including prices, shipping costs, place of origin, and quality. The statistics were to serve as guidelines for imports to prevent future shortages and to suggest the establishment of factories in Spain to manufacture the same goods. Steps were to be taken to expand shipbuilding facilities, and foreign construction techniques had to be studied to attain superiority over other nations in that field. Export figures were to be accumulated and analyzed, and the export of timber and tobacco was to be encouraged. The public was to be persuaded to abandon the pernicious practice of contraband

Spanish manuscript.

Bouligny Plan for Trade Policies to Encourage Growth and Commerce.  1978 

Image Credit:  Bouligny Plan for Trade Policies to Encourage Growth and Commerce.  1978  Rosemonde E. & Emile Kuntz Collection: Spanish colonial period, 1769-1803, Manuscripts Collection 600, La Research Collection

Francisco Bouligny, an officer in the Spanish army and envoy for Governor Alejandro O'Reilly, presented a narrative account of the events that took place between July 20 through August 21, 1769.  He quoted certain important documents and conversations. He began with a copy of O'Reilly's letter of July 20 to French Governor Charles Aubry. He described the mission on which O'Reilly sent him. He commented on his reception in the city; his meeting with Aubry; and his return ship with Lafrénière, Marquis, and Milhet.  The later were the citizens of the colony had chosen as their representatives to meet with the new governor. Lafrénière addressed O'Reilly with an oration, recorded by Bouligny as the ''Haranga [i.e., arenga] de señor LaFrenière,'' to assure the Governor of the loyalty of the people. O'Reilly replied in a polite but cryptic manner, which words Bouligny also reproduced. Bouligny describes O'Reilly's arrival in New Orleans and subsequent arrest of the ringleaders of the rebellion against Ulloa. At the end of his writing, he quoted O'Reilly's words of assurance to the merchants of New Orleans and his amnesty proclamation of August 22,1769.

Spanish manuscript.

Memoir of Francisco Bouligny

Image Credit:  Memoir of Francisco Bouligny.  Rosemonde E. & Emile Kuntz collection: Spanish colonial period, 1769-1803, Manuscripts Collection 600, La Research Collection



Return of Brief French Rule 1803

Title containing an image of a woman, standing near a ship. Faded blue image. Represents the return of French rule compared to the previous reg title images.

Spanish rule lasted until 1803, even though Louisiana was retroceded by Spain to France in 1800, according to the Treaty of San Ildefonso. When Spain acquired Louisiana it was a small, unprofitable colony of less than 7,500 inhabitants. By 1803, there were over 50,000 people living in the prosperous colony. The French in Louisiana never adopted the Spanish language or ways and customs, but they owed a debt to the hardworking Spanish governors under whom the Spanish system of government was administered fairly to all.
Pierre Clément de Laussat was appointed by Napoleon to be Colonial Prefect of Louisiana in 1802, but did not arrive until 1803. During his time in New Orleans, Laussat abolished the Cabildo and its judicial authority. In its place he substituted a municipality consisting of a mayor and other officers, but the municipality wasn’t imbued with judicial power. He also decreed that the Code Noir was in effect. In August, he was notified that France was ceding Louisiana to the United States. On November 30, 1803, he officially received the colony from Spain. Three weeks later, on December 20, he transferred Louisiana to the United States commissioners, Claiborne and Wilkinson.
When it came to meeting the requirements of statehood, the ancien population in the territorial legislature made their voices heard in a manifesto declaring that civil law should remain the law of the land, even when the territory became a state. Thanks to them and the support of Edward Livingston, the civil law tradition has remained the law of Louisiana.


Portrait of Pierre Clement de Laussat.


Pierre Clement de Laussat Nov. 30 to Dec. 20, 1803

Laussat came to Louisiana as Napoleon’s representative before the transfer from Spain to France. He served as interim governor from Nov. 30 to Dec. 20, 1803. Within weeks, Napoleon changed his mind and ordered negotiations to sell the territory to the United States.

Pierre Clement de Laussat, from Law Library of Louisiana’s Rare Book Collection, Alcee Fortier, History of Louisiana, v. 2. 

Laussat Timeline



August 20 – appointed as Colonial Prefect of Louisiana by Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul



January 10 – departs France


March 26 – arrives New Orleans; begins inspections and visits


August 18 – Official confirmation of cession of Louisiana to United States, from Pichon, chargé d’affaire


November 25 – met with Spanish commissioners and agreed on retrocession;

appoints mayor (DeBoré) and municipal council

French decree upholding Code Noir.


Decree of Pierre Clement Laussat upholding the Code Noir 

Laussat decreed that the Code Noir promulgated at Versailles in March 1724 for the administration of justice, police, discipline, and commerce of Negro slaves in the province and colony of Louisiana was in effect except for any provisions that contradicted the Constitution of the United States. Broadside. Signed: Laussat. Countersigned: Daugerot. With the seal of the Colonial Prefecture of Louisiana. Printed in New Orleans by Beleurgey & Renard, printers of the municipality.


Image courtesy The Historic New Orleans Collection, Gift of Sister M. Bernarda Pastwa, acc. no. 75-176-L.

Portrait of the first mayor of New Orleans, Etienne DeBoré.





Portrait of the first mayor of New Orleans, Etienne DeBoré, who was appointed by Laussat.

Manuscript document signed by Thomas Jefferson.


Appointment of William C. C. Claiborne and James Wilkinson as commissioners of the United States
From the Papers of Pierre Clement Laussat. The president of the United States appointed Claiborne and Wilkinson commissioners to receive and occupy the territory ceded by France to the United States under the Treaty of Paris concluded on 30 April 1803. Signed: Th[omas] Jefferson, president of the United States of America, and James Madison, secretary of state. With the seal of the United States.

Image courtesy The Historic New Orleans Collection, acc. no. 75-217-L.9

Opened copy of the book Laussat’s Memoirs of my Life to my Son. Left side is the French seal and text. Right side is the text of the title of the book.

Image from Laussat’s Memoirs of my Life to my Son
Image courtesy The Historic New Orleans Collection, acc. no. 78-482-RL.1




Articles about Louisiana Colonial Law


Campanella, Richard. 2018. "Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, and Neither Was New Orleans:." New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 3.


David, Rene. 1933-1934. "Source Books of Louisiana Law: Part III -- Spanish Laws." Tulane Law Review 396-416.


Franklin, Mitchell. 1941-1942. "The Place of Thomas Jefferson in the Expulsion of Spanish Medieval Law from Louisiana." Tulane Law Review 319-388.


Holmes, JDL. 1965. "O’Reilly’s Regulations on Booze, Boarding Houses, and Billiards." Louisiana History 295-299.


Moore, John Preston. 1967. "Antonio de Ulloa: A Profile of the First Spanish Governor of Louisiana." Louisiana History 189-218.


Parise, Agustin. 2012. "Codification of the Law in Louisiana:." Tulane European & Civil Law Forum 133-164.


Wigmore, John Henry. 1888. "Louisiana: The Story of its Jurisprudence." American Law Review 890-902.