From the pots of red beans and rice bubbling in French Quarter restaurants to the amulet bags for sale in neighborhood botanicas, Haitian influence is seen, heard and tasted across this city. French colonists from Saint-Domingue — later renamed Haiti — had traveled to New Orleans since the early 1700s. That connection flourished in 1809 and 1810, when 10,000 refugees arrived in New Orleans from Saint-Domingue. Those numbers were later strengthen with another migration wave of 15,000 in the 1820s. The refugees were a combination of French colonists, their slaves and free people of color who had fled the slave uprisings.The refugees doubled the city’s population and infused New Orleans with Franco-Caribbean traditions, including theater companies, elaborate dances and black political activists. Also, as Saint-Domingue’s lucrative sugarcane fields burned during the revolution there, New Orleans’ sugar industry soared. A lot of the things about New Orleans we view as unique came from those Haitian refugees. New Orleans is the most Haitian city in America, much more than Miami or New York. Essentially all of the surviving whites (along with some of the gens de couleur) became refugees. Approximately 10,000 French refugees came to the Gulf Coast larger than the population of New Orleans and Mobile at the time (8,000 and 810 respectively). These Saint-Dominguens made a significant contribution to the Gulf Coasts creole culture. Saint-Dominguens included John James Audubon, Louis Moreau Gottschalks family, and (likely) Marie Laveau and Jean Laffitte. Black refugees to Louisiana brought with them elements of African and Haitian culture in the form of voodoo/hoodoo practices, shotgun house architecture, and the language, oral traditions, and dance steps of Mardi Gras Indian rites.
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