History of New Orleans as an American city begins with its founding early in the eighteenth century by the French, even though explorers and fur traders from France arrived as early as the 1690s. However, Native American Mound Builders occupied the entire Mississippi River Valley as far north as Ohio as far back as 1,000 before the Christian Era. The French city of Nouvelle Orleans was officially established in 1718. In 1722, it became the capital of what was then French Louisiana, replacing Biloxi in what is now the state of Mississippi. French Quarter history begins in 1722 after a hurricane destroyed most of the current structures, and the current grid became the core of the city.
Spain features in New Orleans facts beginning in 1763. England took control of Florida after the Seven Years War, and the Louisiana Territory west of the Mississippi was ceded to Spain as compensation. During Spanish rule, there were two huge fires (1788 and 1794) that destroyed much of the city. Current French Quarter history and architecture was shaped by the rebuilding that occurred after these fires. The city was rebuilt with much Spanish colonial architecture, including the Cabildo and the Presbytere (both now museums) and the St. Louis Cathedral.
The history of New Orleans as part of the United States began in 1803 when Napoleon sold what we know as the Louisiana Purchase to the United States led by Thomas Jefferson. This huge tract of land west of the Mississippi River reached north all the way into Canada, and paved the way for the historic westward expansion of the United States. Trade disputes between the United States and Great Britain soon led to the War of 1812, which included the historic Battle of New Orleans and the Battle of Baltimore (the battle that inspired the composition of the Star Spangled Banner). It was the Battle of New Orleans (fought between December 23, 1814 and January 26, 1815), in which American forces under Andrew Jackson soundly defeated the invading British Army that was the final decisive battle of the conflict. The words to the popular 1959 country song the Battle of New Orleans are known (at least in part) to almost every America, although few really know the fascinating story behind the catchy lyrics. It was originally written by Jimmie Driftwood, and had a couple off-color words like "hell" and "damn," which prevented it from being played on the radio. Country music star Johnny Horton recorded the song without the mild "cusswords," and it gained huge popularity during the 1950s and 1960s.
After the War of 1812, settlers poured into the city, which became a center for commercial trade because of its Gulf of Mexico port and the Mississippi River steamboat route. In 1836, the history of New Orleans saw the city divided into three districts. The first was the French Quarter and Faubourg Treme. These are the two oldest neighborhoods in the city, the latter of which was settled primarily by free people of color and which remains a center for the African-American and Creole cultures. The second district was Uptown, which included the area upriver from Canal Street. The third district was Downtown, which included the rest of the city from the Esplanade and downriver. By 1840, New Orleans was the fourth largest city in the United States and the largest in the South.
French Quarter history and the stately architecture of the rest of the city were largely preserved because the city was occupied by Union forces without resistance early in the Civil War. Therefore, New Orleans did not suffer the kind of destruction seen in other southern cities like Atlanta, Charlotte, and even nearby Mobile, Alabama. Much of the city's history remains shaped by its position below sea level, and the periodic flooding of the levees and Lake Pontchartrain.