2016 Sunset Report

OLG & DCRT Strategic Plan
2020-21 through 2024-25


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Coffee Trade and Port of New Orleans

Section 1
The Port of New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century
Section 2
Improvements and Consolidation:
The Founding of the Dock Board
Section 3
The Banana Trade
Section 4
J. Aron and Company:
The Role of the Coffee Importer
Section 5
New Orleans and Coffee

Base of Canal Street, Steamboat America - William Henry Jackson / 1900

In the nineteenth century the port of New Orleans grew from a colonial supply depot into the second largest port in the country and the fourth largest in the world during the 1840s. Even before the introduction of steamboats to New Orleans in 1812, the port was destined to become a major shipping center of the young United States. Flatboats from throughout the Mississippi Valley carried the agricultural bounty of the land to be shipped to ports on the East Coast, Europe, and Latin America. Into the port came manufactured items, tropical fruits, and coffee from foreign lands. Cotton, the main export, formed the basis of the port's developments as a major entrepôt into and out of the United States.

Flatboat - c. 1840

View of New Orleans - c. 1840

Steamboats contributed to the tremendous success of the port of New Orleans in the early nineteenth century. During the 1830s and 1840s, increased commercial activity produced an atmosphere of bustle and excitement. Visitors marveled at what they saw along the levees of New Orleans as the small town grew into a major city:

  • With what astonishment did I for the first time, view the magnificent levee, from one point or horn of the beauteous crescent to the other, covered with active human beings of all nations and colors, and boxes, bales, bags, hogsheads, pipes, barrels, kegs of goods, wares and merchandise from all ends of the earth! Thousands of bales of cotton, tierces of sugar, molasses; quantities of flour, pork, lard, grain and other provisions; leads, furs, &c., from the rich and extensive rivers above; and the wharves lined for miles with ships, steamers, flatboats, arks, &c. four deep! The business appearance of this city is not surpassed by any other in the wide world: It might be likened to a huge beehive, where no drones could find a resting place. I stepped on shore, and my first exclamation was, "This is the place for a business man!"

    —James Creecy (1834)

Coffee and the "Logical Port"
European explorers and traders largely disseminated the centuries-old practices of coffee cultivation and consumption from the Middle East to Europe and then to the Americas. Sometime during the eighteenth century, New Orleans received its first shipments of green coffee from Cuba and other Caribbean Islands. As the city grew and commerce expanded, more coffee arrived from the Caribbean and South America until the port had become the second largest importer of coffee in the United States after New York by the 1840s. From the first recorded statistics of 1802 when 1,438 bags of coffee arrived until 1857 when over 530,000 bags arrived, the city earned its nickname of the "Logical Port" for Latin American imports. Because of its position at the bottom of the Mississippi Valley and its proximity to countries and territories to the south, the city was ideally suited to receive goods from all over the Caribbean, as well as Central and South America.

Louisiana Gazette - March 3, 1819

Louisiana Courier - December 11, 1807

Slack-Water Days on the Levee
The Civil War and Reconstruction did more than just slow down the trade into the port. They wiped out the city treasury, leaving few funds to repair the docks and build covered wharves to store incoming goods. As a result, the city leased out sections of the riverfront to private interests whose focus on short-term profits led to shoddy facilities. The city found itself with inadequate wharves and high dockage fees, which drove away business. Commodities were left to rot under the harsh elements of rain and sun along the waterfront. The disorderly wharfage system left many cargoes misplaced, broken up, or stolen. Moreover, New Orleans faced the ever-present threat of yellow fever, which shut down the port for months at a time, forcing importers to take their cargoes elsewhere. The port faced stiff competition from the growing railroads as farmers, merchants, and manufacturers found it easier and faster to send goods by land than by water.

Levee Scene

Levee Scene