New Orleans' unique flavor derives from the incredible mix of peoples and cultures assembled on the banks of the Mississippi River; Native American, French, Spanish, African, Anglo-American, Jewish, Italian, German, Irish, and Cajun (Acadian). They have all contributed to the "gumbo" that is New Orleans.
THE NATIVE AMERICANS
Numerous Native American tribes lived in the Delta: Attakpas, Bayougoula, Okelousa, Choctaw, Houma, Tunica, and Chitimacha.
They were either wiped out like the Natchez, who were destroyed in the war of 1730, or removed, like the Choctaw, to Oklahoma. Only scattered traces of these tribes remain, mostly outside the city.
The French came down the Mississippi from Canada and explored and settled the region in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Refugees from the French colony of Saint Domingue added a distinct West Indian flavor to the culture at the beginning of the 19th century. There was a continuous flow of immigration from France throughout the rest of the century. Their influence is most clearly seen in the cuisine as well as in architecture and decorative arts, such as the furniture created by Prudence Mallard.
THE AFRICAN CULTURES
The first slaves arrived in 1720, and by 1724 there were enough to justify establishing the Code Noir for their control. New Orleans became known for its large number of free people of color, many of whom came from Haiti during the 1791-1808 Haitian Revolution.
On the eve of the Civil War, the city had 13,000 blacks, slave and free. From Africa and the West Indies came music that influenced the birth of jazz. During Mardi Gras and on St. Joseph's Day (March 19), the Mardi Gras Indians in lavish costumes pay homage to native Americans who hid runaway slaves.
The Spanish took over from the French as administrators of Louisiana from 1763 to 1800, but few immigrants from Spain actually settled in New Orleans.
Spanish is still spoken by descendants of the "Islenos" - people who came at the request of the Spanish from the Canary Islands in the 1770s.
In the 1950s, Latin American refugees from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Honduras flooded into the city. The most obvious Hispanic influence can be seen throughout the French Quarter in the design of the buildings, as well as in the cuisine.
The first Germans arrived in 1722, lured by John Law's promotion of the colony as an earthly paradise. About 10,000 had left their homes in the Rhineland between 1719 and 1720 after the Thirty Years' War. Nearly 2,000 arrived in the region, settling as small farmers about 25 miles (40 km) upstream from New Orleans. A second wave followed between 1820 and 1850, bringing thousands more, who were fleeing political turmoil in Europe. Another wave followed just before the Civil War, and then another from 1865 to the 1890s. Most German immigrants settled inland, but by 1870 there were more than 15,000 living in New Orleans itself. For a time they were the largest immigrant group in Louisiana.