Saint Malo in Louisiana

The first Asian American settlement was established in which US state?

And the answer: Louisiana.    

Photo credit: Drawing by Charles Graham based off sketches by J. O. Davidson - Hearn, Lafcadio (1883).

Saint Malo, a fishing village along the shores of Lake Borgne in Louisiana, was established in the 18th century. The Asian pioneers of Saint Malo were the Filipino sailors and indentured servants who escaped the Spanish Galleons in the 1700s.

The history of the first permanent Asian-American settlement in the United States may be murky, but its legacy remains integral to the formation of the nation. At the end of the 18th century, Filipino pioneers took refuge in the marshlands of Louisiana, unknowingly laying the groundwork for a community that would last decades. The men, later called Manilamen, were a group of runaway enslaved people looking to remove themselves from the oppressive Manila Galleon trade network. This trade route, led by the Spanish, connected the economies of Asia, the Americas and Europe for over two centuries.

The residents of Saint Malo, however new to the country they might be, proceeded to put their lives on the line in the War of 1812. Fighting under the command of future President Andrew Jackson, the Filipino soldiers helped lead to a decisive battle that secured US victory against the British in the War of 1812, as well as in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

Aside from wartime contributions, however, the Filipino population of Louisiana made advances in fishing technology as well. By producing a method of shrimping called the "Shrimp Dance," in which fisherman would stomp and separate the shells of shrimp from the meat in a circular motion, the shellfish were able to be kept and preserved for greater lengths of time.

Learn more about the cultural influence and legacy of Saint Malo here.


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