"The original diversity of the population probably helped shape our cultural development. The French were never able to create a New France as the English created a New England. Almost from the beginning, South Louisiana had a diverse population of Frenchmen, Germans, Italians, Indians, Africans, and Spaniards. It contained a mixed population well before Chicago, Boston, New York or Cleveland. Even into the middle of the nineteenth century only New York had drawn more European immigrants to its midst. The diversity of the population amazed early travelers to New Orleans; they could find comparisons only in such crossroads of the world as Venice and Vienna."

[Joseph Logsdon, "The Surprise of the Melting Pot: We Can All Become New Orleanians" in John Cocke, ed. Perspectives on Ethnicity in New Orleans (1979), p. 8]

Detail from the list of passengers aboard the Brig Pedraza from Nassau, New Providence, May 16, 1851. The group of Irish immigrants recorded in this document came to New Orleans from the Bahamas following the wreck of the ship Cato which had carried them from Liverpool to America. The Pedraza was a 140 ton square-sterned vessel with a single deck and two masts. It also sported a "woman bust head." Built at Philadelphia in 1833, it was later "condemned as being unseaworthy at the port of Nassau."
[New Orleans Passenger Lists, 1851]
And, of course, it was the Mississippi that brought most of the immigrants to New Orleans. For sixteen of the years between 1836 and 1855, the Crescent City admitted more foreign-born passengers than any other U.S. city save New York. The original passenger list shown here documents but one group of Irish immigrants who made their way to our shores after a hiatus in the Bahamas. Thousands of such lists in the National Archives testify to the importance of New Orleans as an immigrant port of entry. Our lack of an "Ellis Island", however, has served to obscure that importance to some extent, but there is no denying that the river has contributed greatly to the local culture through the mix of peoples that it has introduced to it.

Of the 119,460 persons counted as New Orleanians in the 1850 census, 51,227--42.8%--were foreign born. New immigrant groups have come, and continue to come, into the city by ship, train, car, bus, and plane. Though the 1990 census reports only 4.2% of the New Orleans Metropolitan Area as foreign born, it is interesting to note that 14% of area residents claim German ancestry, 10% Irish, and 7.5% Italian. Another 34.7% of the area population, of course, is descended in large part from the thousands of involuntary immigrants who came to New Orleans as slaves.

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iw/we 5/1998