Today marks the bicentennial of Louisiana statehood, and we’re celebrating with a new stamp! The stamp features a photograph by renowned environmental photographer and writer C. C. Lockwood of Baton Rouge.
The photograph shows a sunset at Flat Lake in the Atchafalaya Basin, the largest contiguous river swamp in the United States. The bald cypress trees hung with Spanish moss suggest the unique ecosystem of the Basin and the opportunities the area provides for hunting, bird watching, fishing, boating, and camping.
The image also brings to mind the contributions that crawfish, finfish, blue crabs, alligators, oil, gas, and timber make to the economy of the state, as well as the rich Cajun heritage of the region and the music, food, and folk traditions that so many of us associate with southern Louisiana.
When the first European explorers reached present-day Louisiana during the 16th century, Native Americans were farming the land and hunting its abundant wildlife. European settlement began after René-Robert Cavalier de La Salle sailed down the Mississippi River in 1682 and claimed the area for France, naming it Louisiana after King Louis XIV. Settlers founded New Orleans in 1718, fighting alligators and swarms of mosquitoes to establish the town. French ships carrying enslaved Africans began to arrive soon afterward. The Africans brought valuable skills to the struggling colony, including experience growing rice and indigo, plants that flourished in Louisiana’s semi-tropical climate and became vital crops in plantations along the Mississippi.
An important group of new settlers boosted the colony in the 1760s: French-speaking families from present-day Nova Scotia, then called Acadia. After being expelled from their homes by the British, many Acadians settled in Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns.
As its military power in the New World waned, France ceded all of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River and New Orleans to its ally, Spain, via a secret treaty in 1762. The following year, Britain took control of Louisiana east of the Mississippi. Spain returned Louisiana to France in 1800. In 1803, the land traded hands yet again. President Thomas Jefferson bought much of the present-day state from Napoleon Bonaparte as part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1804, Congress made most of present-day Louisiana the Territory of Orleans. Statehood followed eight years later.
Much of Louisiana’s complex history is rooted in its unique geography. The great Mississippi River flows through the state and into the Gulf of Mexico, filling portions of Louisiana with fertile alluvial soil. The climate is subtropical, with New Orleans lying on about the same latitude as Cairo, Egypt. As a result, the state is a tapestry of rich agricultural land, piney woods, swampy bottomland forests, and marshes. In fact, about 40 percent of the marshland in the U.S. is found in Louisiana. Nearly 400 miles of coastline borders the Gulf of Mexico.
Louisiana’s culture and people are a rich mixture of different ingredients. About a third of the state’s people are African American, some of whom can trace their ancestors back to the West Africans who brought the crops and culture of their native land to Louisiana. Another large group is descended from the French, including the Cajuns of southern Louisiana. The descendants of Africans, Native Americans, and white settlers who intermarried call themselves Louisiana Creoles. The Creole language blends French and African words to arrive at new terms such as “gumbo”–a flavorful stew. Nowhere are these diverse groups better represented than in Louisiana’s music. From a brass band leading a New Orleans jazz funeral, to Cajun fiddlers keeping time for dancers at a fais do-do, or an accordion player launching into a joyful Zydeco riff in the Creole tradition, Louisiana’s music is the hallmark of the state’s cultural heritage.
With its vibrant music, authentic cuisine, and abundant natural areas, tourism is one of Louisiana’s leading industries. More than 20 million people visit the Pelican State each year, some to attend festivals such as Mardi Gras, a celebration brought to Louisiana by French Catholics. New Orleans has been attracting Mardi Gras revelers since its first parade took to the streets in 1837. Other major industries include petroleum, natural gas, tree farming, and soybeans.
The Louisiana Statehood stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate. The stamp is available as sheets of 20 stamps and as blocks of four or ten stamps.