Louisiana was born in 1682, when the explorer LA SALLE reached the Mississippi Delta and claimed for France the whole area drained by the river and its tributaries. Politically, however, Louisiana was French for only 84 years. It was ceded to Spain in 1763 by the Treaty of PARIS. France got it back in 1800 by the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso, and 3 years later Napoleon sold it to the US for $15 million.

Despite its strategic location and immense territory, Louisiana was never a profitable colony for France and was thus badly neglected. In 1766, when Spain occupied the colony, its population may have been as few as 7500 people. The restitution of Louisiana to France in 1800 and Napoleon's intention of occupying it might have changed French attitudes toward the colony, but his plan fell short. Napoleon's fear that Louisiana might fall into British hands prompted him to sell it to the Americans.

In 1803, when Louisiana became American, its population had grown to 50 000, mostly through immigration. For the Spaniards, as for the French, Louisiana was a remote frontier territory. Its only merit was as a buffer zone between Anglo-America and New Spain's northern frontier. Because of Louisiana's marginal location inside the Spanish Empire in North America, few settlers from Spain or Mexico were attracted to the area. Ironically, a large part of the immigration during Louisiana's Spanish period was French. Many of the displaced ACADIANS found their way to Louisiana after the revolution in Saint-Domingue (1791), present-day Haiti.

Today, there may be as many as one million Francophones in Louisiana, and they can be divided into a few subgroups reflecting the diversity of their origins: 1) the white Creoles: the descendants of the colonial French and colonial gallicized Germans; 2) the black Creoles: blacks with a French culture; 3) French-speaking Indians; and 4) "Cajuns," ie, Acadians and other immigrants (Germans, Italians, Scots-Irish, Spanish, etc) who have been acculturated to Acadian ways. The Louisiana French are mainly concentrated in the southern part of the state, which since 1971 has been officially designated by the Louisiana legislature as "Acadiana." They are the fragile remains of the 17th- and 18th-century French Empire in America.