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Digital Exhibition

From Red Stick to River Capital

Old State Capital


This electronic exhibition is based upon a physical exhibition in Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University, March 8 - July 2, 1999. Only a portion of the physical exhibition is presented for online viewing. A list of all items displayed in Hill Memorial Library is available as part of this electronic exhibition.

This exhibition was curated by V. Faye Phillips, Associate Dean for Special Collections, LSU Libraries. It features materials from LSU Libraries' Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections.

From Red Stick To River Capital: Three Centuries of Baton Rouge History explores how Baton Rouge's history has shaped the present-day city. Native Americans, French, Spanish, English, African and American cultures and heritages shaped the early history of the region. Descendants of these peoples and many later immigrants have all played a part in the growth, vitality, economy, and culture of Baton Rouge through the past three centuries.

1999 is celebrated as the tricentennial of Baton Rouge's "discovery" because on March 17, 1699, French explorer Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, first viewed the Native Americans' ceremonial "red stick" boundary marker near the present location of Baton Rouge. France ceded its holdings in eastern Louisiana to Great Britain at the close of the French and Indian War in 1763. The Treaty of Fontainebleau (1762) gave Spain New Orleans and western Louisiana. With British territory separated from the Spanish territory only by the Mississippi River and Bayou Manchac, Baton Rouge was strategically important as the southwestern outpost of British North America. The British quickly built and occupied Fort New Richmond near the present site of the Pentagon Barracks next to the state capitol.

Members of Hernando de Soto's expedition in 1542 were the first Europeans to visit the area, but the Spanish did not influence life here until 1779. Spanish territorial governor Don Bernardo de Galvez took Fort New Richmond in September 1779, renaming it Fort San Carlos. When Napoleon sold "Louisiana" to the United States in 1803, the fort remained in the possession of Spain. It became the only post on the Mississippi River that did not belong to the United States.

Americans residents of Fort San Carlos, with the backing of the United States, rose against Spanish rule in September 1810, took over the fort, and raised the flag of the "West Florida Republic." The commandant of the militia, Philemon Thomas, led the assault, and a former American diplomat, Fulwar Skipwith, was named president of the West Florida Republic. In October 1810 President James Madison authorized the governor of the U.S. Territory of Orleans, William C. C. Claiborne, to take over the West Florida Republic. Fort San Carlos' citizens changed the town's name back to Baton Rouge. For the next 51 years Baton Rouge, which became Louisiana's capital in 1847, was a moderately prosperous, growing town in the United States of America.

Before Louisiana seceded from the United States of America in January 1861, Louisiana militia units loyal to the Confederacy took over the U.S. garrison at Baton Rouge. Sixteen months later Federal troops retook Baton Rouge. They occupied the city for the duration of the war and moved the state capital to New Orleans, where it remained until 1882.

The return of the state capital to Baton Rouge brought with it economic revival. Baton Rouge entered the 20th century on a prosperous note. In 1909 the arrival of Standard Oil Company changed the Baton Rouge economy from one based on river commerce and agriculture to one based on the oil industry. Through seven decades, Baton Rouge's business was oil. The industry's economic downturns of the 1980s brought diversification to the city's economy. Today the metropolitan area has grown to 231,000 citizens representing almost every nationality in the world living within 75 square miles, with a diversified economy that includes government, higher education, tourism, services, river commerce, and trade.

The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Mark Thomas Carleton (1935-1995) and Marshall Stone Miller, Jr. (1938-1991). Dr. Carleton was the author of River Capital: An Illustrated History of Baton Rouge; Mr. Miller was responsible for the pictorial research. Both Dr. Carleton and Mr. Miller were associated for many years with the LSU History Department and the LSU Libraries Special Collections. This celebration of three centuries of Baton Rouge history, based on their book, is a tribute to their work and lives.


From Red Stick To River Capital: Three Centuries of Baton Rouge History was made possible in part by a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The exhibition was Curated by V. Faye Phillips, Associate Dean for Special Collections, LSU Libraries.

Several staff of Hill Memorial Library assisted in the selection and evaluation of materials for the exhibition, including: Elaine Smyth, Curator of Rare Books and the E. A. McIlhenny Natural History Collection; Jo Jackson, University Archivist; Frances Huber, Exhibitions Coordinator, LSU Special Collections; Charles Thomas, Interim Curator of the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections; Emily Robison, Political Papers Curator; Renate Zietz, Unit Head, Image Resources; and Merle Suhayda, Electronic Imaging Laboratory Manager.

The physical exhibition was coordinated and arranged by Frances Huber, Exhibitions Coordinator, LSU Special Collections.

The electronic version of this exhibition was authored by Charles Thomas (revised version by M. Mullenix). Image scanning was conducted by Merle R. Suhayda and Mark Martin.

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