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    Cane River

    National Heritage Area Louisiana

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Fancy Ironwork and the Brick street add to the charm of Front Street in Natchitoches, Photo by John Lees
Natchitoches, established by the French in 1714, is the oldest permanent settlement in the 13 state territory that comprises the Louisiana Purchase. The city is centered on a 33-block National Historic Landmark District containing more than 100 historic homes and buildings, several of which date to the 18th century. South of Natchitoches, along the banks of Cane River Lake, lies one of the South’s finest plantation districts. Centuries-old Creole architecture, majestic live oak trees, and numerous outbuildings dot the landscape, helping to tell the complicated story of plantation agriculture in the region. The Cane River National Heritage Area is also home to several military sites, including colonial French and Spanish forts and an early American fort.
Photo by John Lees
 
Interior view of Historic Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Photo by John Lees
The French:  As Natchitoches grew, its strategic location made it an ideal place to farm and trade. Access to the Red River allowed farmers in the area to ship products to New Orleans and other downriver settlements. In the 1780’s, the plantation culture for which the region became know began to grow in earnest. The fertile land, access to a river and military protection made the region an ideal place to live on the frontier.  As a result of the French and Indian War, France was forced to cede Louisiana to Spain in 1763. This radical change could have thrown Natchitoches into unrest. However, Spain understood the volatile situation in Louisiana and appointed St. Denis’s son-in-law, a Frenchman named Christophe Athanase Fortunat de Mezieres to govern Natchitoches generally in accordance with French customs, smoothing the political transition.
Photo by John Lees
 
Staying warm in the Badin-Roque House, Photo by CRNHA
The Cane River Creole:  During the colonial era, it was culturally acceptable for planters to enter into lengthy relationships with enslaved Africans and American Indians, despite French and Spanish legal bans on racial mixing. This practice continued throughout the antebellum period. The children of these relationships often were granted their freedom, forming an influential class of people who blended aspects of French, Spanish, African, and American Indian cultures. Many of the “gens de couleur libre” – “free people of color” – became successful planters in their own right. The decedents of these people in the Cane River region are known today as Cane River Creoles. The Creole community was established in the late 1700’s by the freed slave Marie Thereze Coin-Coin and her descendents. She and her children carved out a successful agricultural venture, owning their own slaves and gradually acquiring more land. This community founded its own churches, schools, businesses, and places of entertainment. Today, St. Augustine Catholic Church is the spiritual center and heart of the community.
Photo by Cane River National Heritage Area
 
Exhibit at Adai Indian Culture Center and Museum
The Native American Indians:  The Adai Indian Nation is indigenous to the original territories of Louisiana and Texas. Prior to the arrival of European settlers, the Cane River region was populated by the Adaes and the Natchitoches, America Indian tribes of the Caddo Nation. The first significant contact between the American Indians of the area and European explorers came in 1700, when French explorer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis paddled up Red River as part of an expedition. This French expedition met with the Natchitoches tribe in peace. The Adai Indian Nation Cultural Center provides visitors with the unique opportunity to experience the American Indian Culture. The cultural center hosts an annual Pow Wow in October. Admission is charged to the cultural center museum.
Photo by NPS
 
Unique brick tenant/share croppers cabins.
The African:  Planter families purchased enslaved Africans to work the land, creating a large slave population in the region. The African population in the Cane River National Heritage Area was documented as settlers followed the military to the region in the early 1700’s. In 1722, enslaved Africans comprised a substantial percentage of the total population of Natchitoches, creating the foundation for the large African American community that has existed throughout the region’s history.
Photo by John Lees
 
Local cotton field ready to harvest, Photo by John Lees
The Spanish:   One disruption during Spanish rule that was unavoidable was the disappearance of the border. Natchitoches had always been a frontier outpost, but now that it was surrounded by Spain it lost its strategic importance. After the Natchez War, the French fort was abandoned and rebuilt on the site now occupied by the American Cemetery. Like its predecessor, the fort quickly deteriorated. When the Spanish took over, they saw little need to repair it and eventually allowed it to disintegrate. The fort had always been the center of town, and area farms and businesses had grown up in its shadow. Under the Spanish, the citizens of Natchitoches built a new town center. In doing so, Natchitoches established itself as a legitimate, self-sufficient town.
Photo by John Lees

Did You Know?

Oaklawn Plantation Site, Photo by John Lees

Oaklawn Plantation, National Register of Historic Places, was constructed in the 1830's and sits at the head of the third longest oak "allee" in Louisiana.