Also on this day
Adolf Hitler commits suicide
On this day in 1945, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler commits suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. Soon after, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending Hitler’s dreams of a “1,000-year” Reich. Since at least 1943, it...
Samuel Adams writes of hope for more battles
In a letter to Reverend Samuel Cooper dated April 30, 1776, Samuel Adams writes of his hopes for another battle between British and American troops, stating his belief that, ” One battle would do more towards a Declaration of Independence than a long chain of conclusive arguments in a provincial...
Original Land Rover debuts at auto show
The Land Rover, a British-made all-terrain vehicle that will earn a reputation for its use in exotic locales, debuts at an auto show in Amsterdam on April 30, 1948. The first Land Rover, known as the Series 1, was the brainchild of Maurice Wilks, the head designer for the British car...
Confederates attack Union troops at Jenkins’ Ferry
At the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry in Arkansas, Union troops under General Frederick Steele fight off a Confederate army under General Edmund Kirby Smith as the Yankees retreat towards Little Rock, Arkansas. Jenkins’ Ferry came at the end of a major Union offensive in Arkansas. While a Federal force under General...
Organization of American States established
The United States and 20 Latin American nations sign the charter establishing the Organization of American States (OAS). The new institution was designed to facilitate better political relations between the member states and, at least for the United States, to serve as a bulwark against communist penetration of the Western...
The first federal prison for women opens
The Federal Industrial Institution for Women, the first women’s federal prison, opens in Alderson, West Virginia. All women serving federal sentences of more than a year were to be brought here. Run by Dr. Mary B. Harris, the prison’s buildings, each named after social reformers, sat atop 500 acres. One judge...
Orange-sized hail reported in India
A hail storm devastates the farming town of Moradabad, India, killing 230 people and many more farm animals on this day in 1888. Sixteen others died in nearby Bareilly. In the Central Plains region of Uttar Pradesh, March and April are the prime seasons for hail. However, the...
The first presidential inauguration
In New York City, George Washington, the great military leader of the American Revolution, is inaugurated as the first president of the United States.In February 1789, all 69 presidential electors unanimously chose Washington to be the first U.S. president. In March, the new U.S. constitution officially took effect, and in...
New York World’s Fair opens
On April 30, 1939, the New York World’s Fair opens in New York City. The opening ceremony, which featured speeches by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and New York Governor Herbert Lehman, ushered in the first day of television broadcasting in New York.Spanning 1,200 acres at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens,...
“Coming out” episode of Ellen
On this day in 1997, in a widely publicized episode of the ABC sitcom Ellen, TV character Ellen Morgan (played by Ellen DeGeneres) announces that she is gay. DeGeneres, a former stand-up comedian who was born on January 26, 1958, became part of the ensemble cast of the ABC series These...
Annie Dillard is born
Poet, essayist, and novelist Annie Dillard is born on this day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1945. At age 28, Dillard became the youngest American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, which she was awarded for her collection of essays Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974). The book, often compared with Henry David...
Willie Nelson is born
Willie Nelson’s sound and his look revolutionized country music, making him one of that genre’s most recognizable faces, and if his winning personality weren’t enough reason to like him, then his good-natured struggles with the IRS would be. But before Willie Nelson became a legend or an icon, he was...
Arizona Ranger Burton Mossman is born
Burton C. Mossman, a rancher turned lawman, is born in Aurora, Illinois. Little is known about Mossman’s childhood in Illinois, though he apparently learned to be self-reliant and resourceful at a young age. When he was 21, Mossman left home and moved to Mexico, where he quickly began proving himself...
George Washington gives first presidential inaugural address
On this day in 1789, George Washington is sworn in as the first American president and delivers the first inaugural speech at Federal Hall in New York City. Elements of the ceremony set tradition; presidential inaugurations have deviated little in the two centuries since Washington’s inauguration. In front of 10,000 spectators,...
Tennis star Monica Seles stabbed
Top women’s tennis player Monica Seles is stabbed by a deranged German man during a match in Hamburg. The assailant, a fan of German tennis star Steffi Graf, apparently hoped that by injuring Seles his idol Graf would be able to regain her No. 1 ranking. Seles became the youngest woman...
South Vietnam surrenders
By dawn, communist forces move into Saigon, where they meet only sporadic resistance. The South Vietnamese forces had collapsed under the rapid advancement of the North Vietnamese. The most recent fighting had begun in December 1974, when the North Vietnamese had launched a major attack against the lightly defended province...
World War I1917
Battle of the Boot
On this day in 1917, the so-called Battle of the Boot marks the end of the British army’s Samarra Offensive, launched the previous month by Anglo-Indian forces under the regional commander in chief, Sir Frederick Stanley Maude, against the important Turkish railroad at Samarra, some 130 kilometers north of Baghdad,...
World War II1945
Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his underground bunker
Der Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, dictator of Germany, burrowed away in a refurbished air-raid shelter, consumes a cyanide capsule, then shoots himself with a pistol, on this day in 1945, as his “1,000-year” Reich collapses above him. Hitler had repaired to his bunker on January 16, after deciding to remain in Berlin...
Louisiana as a French Colony
Difficult Early Years of the Colony
From its inception Louisiana faced an inauspicious existence. Its fate was bound to the French economy during the last years of the reign of Louis XIV. Already a vast empire, the French government and its highly centralized bureaucracy disfavored policies that would have nurtured the economic independence of its colonies. Further, the French treasury, depleted by wars in Europe, was unable to finance adequately the Department of the Marine, which oversaw colonial operations.
Although all French colonies were subject to the same desperate circumstances, the Mississippi colony, as the newest in the French imperial system, fared the worst. This 1701 mapby Nicholas de Fer depicts the colony in its infant stages, a period when Louisiana's settlers were neglected by the government and left entirely to their own resources. Lured by promises of mines and gold, most of the early settlers made little effort to hunt or plant crops. Few farms developed along the banks of the Mississippi or along the sandy coast. Since the earliest settlers were never furnished with adequate food supplies, they frequently resorted to scavenging for crabs, crayfish, and seeds of wild grasses. Whenever possible they traded blankets and utensils for corn and game with the surrounding Native American tribes. Disease, particularly yellow fever, diminished the community. Floods, storms, humidity, mosquitoes, and poisonous snakes added to the misery. Although few settlers escaped the hardships, by far the sturdiest members were those who had accompanied Iberville from Canada.
Having maintained direct control over its Mississippi colony for 13 unprofitable years, the French court held less than sanguine prospects for its future development. In an effort to instill vitality into Louisiana, King Louis XIV granted a proprietary charter on September 14, 1712, to the merchant and nobleman, Antoine Crozat. The royal charter afforded Crozat exclusive control over all trading and commercial privileges within the colony for a 15-year period. Crozat gained a monopoly over all foreign and domestic trade, the right to appoint all local officials, permission to work all mines, title to all unoccupied lands, control over agricultural production and manufacture, and sole authority over the African slave trade. In return he was obligated to send two ships of supplies and settlers annually and to govern the colony in accordance with French laws and customs.
The colony could neither be governed adequately nor profited from. Estimates placed Crozat's losses in Louisiana at just under 1 million French livres (about $1 billion). Unable to sustain the colony any longer, in August 1717 he petitioned the king and his ministers for release from his charter.
Crozat's failure to turn Louisiana to his financial advantage once more made the colony a ward of the crown. In September 1717 the Regent of France, Philippe, duke of Orléans, fearing that the province would again drain his country's already bankrupt treasury, placed its fortunes into the hands of John Law, a Scottish investment banker.
Law cultivated a childhood talent for equations and games of chance into a career as a financier. His Company of the West, more commonly known as the Mississippi Company, was granted a 25-year proprietorship with a commercial monopoly over the colony, along lines similar to those furnished Crozat. A year earlier Law had made his reputation in Paris by founding a private bank with powers to issue paper money. So successful was his venture that the regent had it chartered as the Royal Bank of France.
Seeing an opportunity to simultaneously pay off the public debt and develop Louisiana by using the bank's deposits, Law also offered his company's shares to the public. The Company of the West later merged with the French East India Company and several trading concessions to form the Company of the East, which became responsible for managing the collection of revenues and taxes. The company's stock soared in value, the bank continued to print money, shareholders indulged in their newfound paper wealth, and Law became the toast of France. Law himself fueled the frenzy by having ingots of gold, advertised as being from the mines of Louisiana, displayed in the shop windows of Paris.
Promotional literature, much of it including maps of Louisiana, added to Law's inflated reputation as a financier par excellence and roused interest in his plans for developing and settling New France. A singular example of such propaganda was the map produced in 1718 by the noted French cartographer Guillaume Delisle. A milestone in North American cartography, incorporating the latest topographical information about the region, the map was designed chiefly for mercantile reasons.
The wild speculative orgy that had inflated the company's stock to ethereal levels burst in 1720, when Law's organization was forced into bankruptcy by reports of mismanagement and dire hardships in the colony. The failure of the company took down its chief creditor, the Bank of France, and financial ruin descended upon thousands of investors on the continent, including John Law, who was run out of Paris by a mob. After several reorganizations and years of financial reverses incurred in managing affairs in Louisiana, the directors of the Company of the East returned the colony to Louis XIV in 1731.
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