Old Man River:  History Along the MississippiApril 19-November 2, 2003


Early Exploration and Development

Bald eagle and alligator crossing sign
The Upper vs. The Lower Mississippi
Exploration and Development exhibit section
"Let the land rejoice, for you have
bought Louisiana for a Song."
- General Horatio Gates to
President Thomas Jefferson, July 18, 1803

As glaciers receded toward Canada around 6000 B.C., moundbuilding cultures moved into the Mississippi River basin. By the 1500s, the region's estimated population totaled 1.3 million residents before the arrival of European explorers who introduced superior weaponry and deadly diseases, severely reducing the native population.

The Spanish and French were the first Europeans to explore and lightly colonize the river basin in the 1500s and 1600s. The British soon joined them, and as the fur trade became highly profitable, Americans vied for their share of the rich resources. New Orleans was the key to river commerce, however, so whoever controlled this port city controlled the flow of trade. After whirlwind negotiations with France to acquire the city in 1803, the United States found itself the new owner of the entire Mississippi River valley.

The Louisiana Purchase led to further expeditions and war in the 1800s, changing the course of history for several nations. It cleared the way for Americans to expand westward. It spelled the beginning of the end of traditional life for Native Americans. It released France to concentrate its war campaign in Europe. It sowed the seeds of another war between Britain and the United States, and it severely cramped the expansion of the Spanish Empire in North America.

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Did you know …?
After the French and Indian War ended in 1763, victorious England claimed all territory east of the Mississippi River. They were not interested in the land west of the river since it was considered uninhabitable and worthless.

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This section "Early Exploration and Development" has the following related pages:

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2 men in a canoe
Early Exploration and Development
steamboat
River Days
view of Bellview, Iowa
Riverfront Property
Civil War enenactors
Man vs. Man
Bald eagle and conservation officer
Man vs. Nature
jazz musician
The Arts Along the River
New Orleans graveyard
Legends and Spirits
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