A City of Chameleons: Spanish New Orleans And The Transition Of Empires, 1767-1803

John Rodriguez

Advisor: Joan C. Bristol, PhD, Department of History and Art History

Committee Members: Matthew Karush, Rosemarie Zagarri

November 13, 2018, 01:00 PM to 03:00 PM


The Spanish city of New Orleans reveals much about the challenges and opportunities facing the Bourbon empire in the late 18th century. This dissertation focuses upon three issues in Bourbon New Orleans - demography, trade, and political discourse – using a full spectrum of archival sources and innovative methodologies, including the use of a large data base to determine historical demographic and economic patterns.  These three issues represented layered stages, near-simultaneous steps in the evolution of Spanish New Orleans.  This dissertation argues that each of these evolutionary steps provided the Spanish Bourbons with both challenges of governance and genuine opportunities to effectively expand imperial citizenship and actual imperial territory, profit from trans-imperial trade, and broaden political discourse, if the Bourbon ruler truly wished to expand his geographic, commercial, and political power. However, this dissertation argues that the Spanish empire began to disintegrate much earlier than the 1808 Bourbon abdication.  Instead, that disintegration officially began in early 1803 with the cession of New Orleans and Louisiana, and arguably began even earlier, based upon the governance choices of Charles III.  Those choices permitted demography, then trade, and finally a mature political practice and discourse to erode Bourbon control of their largest and newest colony.  However, those choices also permitted a relatively seamless transition of New Orleans and the entire colony into a new empire, that of the United States of America.