The Native Roots of the French Market

Many of the places and locations known to tourists and travelers worldwide, such as the Port of New Orleans, the French Market, and Congo Square, served as thoroughfares for trade and culture long before the arrival of whites.” -Bulbancha is Still a Place

The origins of the French Market date back to 1675, almost one hundred years before most histories tell of the Market. [1] Most historians have focussed primarily on the colonization of New Orleans rather than the Native histories rooted in Bulbancha, the Native name for the region, translating to “the place of many tongues.” [2]

The Native peoples of this area derived the name Bulbancha for its purpose as a thriving trading port for many different people, heritages, and linguistic groups. [3] Indigenous groups such as the Chitimacha, Choctaw, Ishak, Tunica, and Natchez nations traded with one another and with white explorers and colonizers. [3]

The Oumas Natives founded what is known as the French Market today. The Oumas sold goods to travelers exploring lands down the Mississippi River, including Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, the colonial governor of Louisiana and founder of New Orleans. [1] After the founding of New Orleans in 1718, the Oumas and the Tchouchoumas, who had another market along Bayou St. John, combined trading spaces in today’s French Market.

Between 1770 and 1790, General Alexander O’Reilly recorded the French Market as an official site in government documents, noting structures “built entirely of cypress lumber.” [1] Over the next two centuries, other Native people, such as the Choctaws, contributed to the life of the French Market. While indigenous identity became more and more difficult to maintain through the colonization of New Orleans and the forced displacement of indigenous groups, the French Market “still constituted a meaningful form of identity as well as a helpful source of income” to the New Orleans Natives. [3]

The most robust written information historians have on the origins of the French Market comes from the mid to late nineteenth century. As tourism increased throughout New Orleans, so did art and newspaper articles on the French Market. Most of these newspaper articles play into stereotypes and create negative depictions of the Native people. Some sources, however, do describe the wares and foods the Natives sold including Gumbo, fish, fruits and vegetables, and woven baskets. [3]

In more recent years, the “New Orleans French Market Board sought assistance from the Louisiana Office of Indian Affairs to involve American Indians in celebrating the two-hundred-year anniversary of the market’s official beginning.” [3] The New Orleans bi-centennial celebration committee recognized, once again, recognized the Natives’ contributions to the French Market’s history.

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700-1010 Decatur St, New Orleans, LA 70116