Culture and History of the Mississippi River
Much of American history and culture has bloomed on and near the river. Playing a major role in the Civil War
, and WWI
, as well as American cultural classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
written by the sorts of Mark Twain
, who could be easily considered in the top 3 most influential American writers of all time.
Over fifty thousand years ago the Central United States was covered in water by an inland sea that drained south through what is known nowadays as the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi runs through 10 different states and is also used as a marking point for many of the state’s borders. The borders were defined such a long time ago that the river bed has shifted and small land on the border of the river is still part of the state on the other side. The Mississippi now plays a key role in the transportation of goods as it neighbors some of the richest farmland in the United States.Native Americans
The Mississippi played a key role in the aboriginal people that originally settled the land now known as the United States. It was used as a main source of transportation with canoes and many of the tribes settling on the shores. In the pre-1500s there were already millions of aboriginal inhabitants speaking over 500 different languages amongst their communities.
Their diet consisted of a lot of fish that was acquired from the river itself. As they were still migrating then, they had not developed crops for vegetables yet and were just gathering along the way.
Some of the still-on-going communities from back then include Choctaw
, and Natchez
. All of which had developed their own language, but had the same origins known as the Muskogean
languages. Early European Settlers
In 1541 Spanish explorers reached what they call the “Rio Grande” with hopes of conquering many of the tribes but were caught by surprise by Indigenous attacks and Mississippi floods that eventually led them back out to sea.
Over a century later in 1673 French explorers sailed downriver from what is now known as Canada settling their communities along the river all the way south and founded many of the cities that are still standing today and play a major role in modern life such as:St. Louis
was first claimed by La Salle, a French explorer, and trader of fur. In 1764 the
French lost the land to the English and the city of St Louis was founded that year. Although it was not recognized by the United States government as a city for the first years, this is widely considered to be when it was founded.Cape Girardeau
was originally a temporary trading post that was settled by Jean Baptiste de Girardot, who the city would later be named after. After the Spaniards had defeated the French, they settled in 1793 and were officially named as a city in 1808.Vicksburg
the original settlers of the land were the French in 1719 as they built Fort Saint Pierre. They would remain peaceful with the surrounding Natchez communities trading goods until 1729 when the Natchez attacked, but the war was a disaster for the indigenous community as they would never recover from this loss. The Choctaw Nation would take over and inhabit the area for decades to come. After the pressure of the US government, they signed the Treaty of Fort Adams in 1801 and the city would be named after Newitt Vick a methodist minister who was the leader of protests around the land.Baton Rouge
was found by French explorer Pierre Le Moyne D’lberville in 1698, who was leading an expedition and a large red pole caught their eye. This red pole that the French called “le baton rouge” was marking the boundary between the two tribes of the Houma and Bayagoula. Later around 1721 a military post was set up, and this was the
first settlement by the French in Baton Rouge, but were later were taken over by The British army in 1755. Since the founding of the United States, this city has shown steady
growth as it is a major port town, involved in the trade of goodsNew Orleans
was previously the land of the Chitimacha but it was taken over and founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company. It was named after a regent of the Kingdom of France, Philippe II, Duke of Orleans, who was named after a small French community. From 1779 to 1803 New Orleans or Nueva Orleans (the name in Spanish) was under the control of the Spanish. During this period much of the famous downtown architecture was built such as the Old Ursuline Convent.
However, the French European dominance on the Mississippi River did not last long as Spaniards conquered the Southern region of the Mississippi. The British conquerors would end up expelling around 75% of the French descendants from 1754-1763 to take control of the land. Later as the Spanish would settle in, in the 1780s, they would offer the French Acadians land in Louisiana to settle and most be farmers. This is when times of peace were showing, as all of the American, Spanish, Indian, and African-American communities were gathering and trading together.
Up until then they still only had the technology of wooden canoes and to go upriver, it would require brute human strength to paddle, use a pole, or a system called “cordelle” where the crew would go to shore and pull the vessel up with a rope. This would be known as the “Delta Economy”. In 1811, New Orleans the first-ever steamboat sailed the Mississippi River, beginning a new era of technological advancements that would allow for society to further develop. As transportation was becoming readily available in the decades to come, towns all over the river started to develop.Memphis
was originally land that was occupied by the Chickasaw nation, it was taken over by the Spanish but they would not stay there for long and the Chickasaw would take over again. Around 1979 Captain Isaac Guion would lead his team of explorers down the Ohio River to claim the land. It was founded as an official city in 1819 by Andrew Jackson and it was named after the original capital of Egypt. The Chickasaw’s would finally receive payment for the land that was forcefully taken over in 1836.The Civil War and 1800’s
Shortly after times of prosperity, the struggle became apparent in 1861 as the Civil War was under its way. The Mississippi River played a major role as both sides were trying to get control of this vital waterway. This led to the infamous Battle of Vicksburg
, which had an important impact on the war when the Union took over since it was a Confederacy strategic port for commerce.
After the Civil War, transportation on the Mississippi River became rampant as steamboats were readily available for most people and there were newer and faster models. Around the end of the 19th-century motorboats were invented and were set to change how the trade worked around the world. Mark Twain
was born in 1835 and moved to Hannibal, Missouri
when he was four years old. This town would be the setting and inspiration for many of his famous novels. When Twain was only 11 he became a printer’s apprentice and only four years later was writing articles and sketches for the Hannibal Journal. He would leave Hannibal at the age of 18 to pursue his dream of writing in many cities including St Louis. He would publish the first edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
in 1876 and wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
from 1876-1883 and released his first edition in 1884.World War I
As World War One came around, the river trade became rampant once again as other forms of transportation became less available due to the war. By 1931 the annual barge traffic on the Mississippi River had doubled compared to any other year due to many factors including motorboats being readily available now.
Nowadays, the Mississippi River is used for transporting many goods by bulk which has been a key factor in the growth of these port cities. The river is also used for local and foreign tourism of course.