Pipe Dreams: Louisiana under the French Company of the Indies, 1717–1731

Between 1717 and 1731 the French Company of the Indies possessed a total monopoly in Louisiana.

The company controlled the slave and Indian trades, oversaw the immigration of free and indentured whites, and managed the purchase and exportation of Louisiana-grown tobacco. Although company directors dreamed of creating a French version of the Chesapeake in Louisiana—that is to say, a colony capable of producing enough tobacco to supply France and her colonies (as the English had done in Virginia), they failed to maintain the diplomatic relationships with local Indian groups necessary to the establishment of plantation agriculture. The Indian population, which outnumbered the European by 14:1, occupied much of the land suitable for tobacco cultivation, but rather than focusing on French-Indian diplomacy, company administrators on both sides of the Atlantic underestimated the weakness of their position. In 1729 the Natchez Indians set fire to company dreams of establishing a tobacco empire upriver from New Orleans, when warriors killed more than 230 Frenchmen and burned field upon field of tobacco, destroying the French establishment at Fort Rosalie, as well as company drying sheds and warehouses. Less than two months later the company relinquished all control of Louisiana through its retrocession of the colony to the king on January 23, 1731.

The exhibition, Pipe Dreams: Louisiana under the French Company of the Indies, 1717–1731, examined the company’s role in Louisiana during the years of its monopoly; Louisiana’s role in relation to the company’s other trade outposts—especially those in the Indian Ocean; the establishment of New Orleans as the colony’s capital; the development of tobacco culture in America; the popularity of tobacco in France during the first half of the 18th century; Louisiana’s population—Indian, European, and African during the company years; and the war between the Natchez and the French and their Indian allies between 1729 and 1731. Over 100 items were on display, including manuscript and engraved maps and plans; contemporary artworks and drawings; archaeological artifacts from Port Dauphin, Old Mobile, Natchez, and New Orleans; manuscript and three-dimensional items related to John Law, the Company of the West, the collapse of Law’s Système, and the Company of the Indies; and finally, trade items circulated throughout the company’s global networks.

Pipe Dreams: Louisiana under the French Company of the Indies, 1717–1731
June 18–September 15, 2013

533 Royal St.
Admission is free.


Related programming
All events took place at 533 Royal Street.

Dropping Anchor: Company-Owned Slaves in the Louisiana Colony
Tuesday, August 13 • 6:30 p.m.
Presented by curator Erin M. Greenwald, editor of A Company Man: The Remarkable French-Atlantic Voyage of a Clerk for the Company of the Indies

The Company of the Indies and the Natchez Indians
Wednesday, September 4 • 6:30 p.m.
Presented by Jim Barnett, director of the division of historic properties, Mississippi Department of Archives and History


Above: In this copperplate engraving accompanying a 1697 book by Louis Hennepin Utrecht, Louisiana is depicted as an earthly paradise inhabited by peace pipe-wielding Indians. (THNOC, 77-532-RL)

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