French Settlers Found City
The second largest city in Louisiana, Baton Rouge was established as a military post by the French in 1719. The present name of the city, however, dates back to 1699, when French explorers noted a red cypress tree stripped of its bark that marked the boundary between Houma and Bayou Goula tribal hunting grounds. They called the tree “le baton rouge,” or red stick. The native name for the site had been Istrouma. From evidence found along the Mississippi, Comite, and Amite rivers, and in three native mounds remaining in the city, archaeologists have been able to date habitation of the Baton Rouge area to 8000 B.C.
Capital City Grows Steadily
Since European settlement, Baton Rouge has functioned under seven governing bodies: France, England, Spain, Louisiana, the Florida Republic, the Confederate States, and the United States. In the mid-1700s when French-speaking settlers of Acadia, Canada’s maritime regions, were driven into exile by British forces, many took up residence in rural Louisiana. Popularly known as Cajuns, descendants of the Acadians maintained a separate culture that immeasurably enriched the Baton Rouge area. Incorporated in 1817, Baton Rouge became Louisiana’s state capital in 1849. During the first half of the nineteenth century the city grew steadily as the result of steamboat trade and transportation; at the outbreak of the Civil War the population was 5,500 people. The war halted economic progress but did not actually touch the town until it was occupied by Union forces in 1862.
In August of that year, the Third Battle of Baton Rouge was fought at Port Hudson, less than 25 miles north of the city. Six thousand Confederate troops were ultimately defeated by 18,000 Union soldiers in one of the longest sieges in American military history.