Patriots or Martyrs?
Unique NOLA Tours geeks out over history, culture and all things New Orleans. We don’t make things up in our tours because, well, the reality is way weirder than anything the other guides make up. Our Local’s Guide to the French Quarter is a must-do intro to the amazing story of the Crescent City.
In the 1600s France ran New Orleans. Everything was great, we were eating cheese – the whole French thing; and then France does what they always do: they get in a war with England. And they do what they always do: they lose. They lost Canada. The king didn’t want to lose Louisiana, so he gave it to his cousin, the king of Spain.
Spain sent over a new governor and he’s all like Tengo buenas noticias para ustedes!
And the puzzled Frenchmen were like Quoi??!
So they escorted the Governor back to his ship and cut the cable to send him off. And everything was great …
… for about a year and a half.
A whole bunch more ships came up the river this time with a lot more flags, a lot more cannons, and a different governor stepped off. This guy was a Spanish war hero. His name was Mariscal Alejandro O’Reilly. Yep, an Irish guy.
He immediately found the rabble-rousers – it was pretty easy, they were the civic and business leaders of the city. He considered them to be traitors to the Crown. The Marshall ordered them to be shot in front of a firing squad.
Today there is a plaque at the site of the execution at the foot of Esplanade, in two languages, that calls these men “patriots and martyrs.” The street that begins at that site is known as Frenchmen Street, named for the six men that died trying to keep La Louisiane French. Today Frenchmen is a raucous, cleaner alternative to Bourbon Street, with many clubs, an outdoor art market and food.
“Bloody” O’Reilly, as he is still known, would look dourly upon Frenchmen Street today, not only because of the name, but because of the nightly revelry. O’Reilly thought New Orleans was too much of a party town (go figure) and closed a ton of bars and brothels. He only allowed twelve taverns and one lemonade stand. Not sure what was up with the lemonade stand, but he went further by restricting prostitutes, thieves and other undesirables from going to the sanctioned taverns. Oh yeah, he also outlawed bad language. So for a governor who was only here for about six months he certainly left his mark. To this day, there are only twelve bars in all of New Orleans, all of them clean and without immoral behavior, language or people. And a lemonade stand.