Ethnic Entrepreneurship in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans

AHA Session 28
German Historical Institute 1
Labor and Working-Class History Association 4
Business History Conference 2
Thursday, January 3, 2013: 3:30 PM-5:30 PM
Napoleon Ballroom D3 (Sheraton New Orleans)
Daniel Hammer, Historic New Orleans Collection
New Orleans and the Wider World
The Audience

Session Abstract

The panel seeks to explore the rich, multifaceted economic history of New Orleans and its entrepreneurial inhabitants from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Civil War. New Orleans, founded in 1718, grew rapidly in size and importance after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Free blacks and European immigrants began pouring into the busy port seeking economic opportunities. They significantly altered the ethnic and cultural makeup of the city. New Orleans had the largest population of free people of color in the United States, and by the mid-nineteenth century, the only other urban center attracting more immigrants than New Orleans was New York. Foreign-born Germans and Irish made up the largest groups.

The proposed papers mirror the overarching conference theme “Lives, Places, Stories” and investigate the lives of individual free black, Irish and German businesspeople; the places where they settled and worked in New Orleans; and the stories that their lives reveal about the larger concepts of capitalism and (social) entrepreneurialism. The first paper presents an overview of race and capitalism in the antebellum period, discussing selected case studies of free blacks who succeeded in accumulating large amounts of wealth in New Orleans’ business community and economic factors that contributed to the businesspeople’s rise and fall. The second paper looks at Irish immigrant Margaret Haughery, also known as “mother of the orphans,” who overcame poverty and hardship to become a highly respected and successful social entrepreneur. The third paper discusses how German immigrant businessmen used the Civil War as an opportunity to both increase profits and showcase their patriotism. Together, the three papers provide fascinating insights into the incredible diversity of actors and business ventures that contributed to New Orleans’ bustling marketplace in the early to mid-nineteenth century.

This session is organized as part of a series exploring different facets of a project at the German Historical Institute Washington DC on Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present. The session is also affiliated with the Business History Conference.

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