William C.C. Claiborne accomplished a great deal in his relatively short life. But perhaps his biggest accomplishment was winning over New Orleans’ Creole population after America took over the Louisiana Territory.
Claiborne was born in Virginia and moved west, where was elected to the House of Representatives for Tennessee in 1797 to fill the seat vacated by Andrew Jackson — even though at 24 Claiborne was too young to do so. Following the presidential election of 1800, when the House of Representatives had to determine the outcome of the election between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, Claiborne sided with Jefferson. Jefferson rewarded Claiborne by appointing him governor of the Mississippi Territory. In 1803, Jefferson appointed Claiborne and Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson to take possession of the Louisiana territory from France.
Claiborne was then appointed governor of the Territory of Orleans and then was the elected the first governor of Louisiana when it became a state. At first, there was mutual disdain between the French-speaking Creoles and Claiborne. He found them “uninformed, indolent, luxurious.” The Creoles didn’t trust the English-speaking Claiborne. But Claiborne won over the Creoles by conducting state business in both French and English. He also won respect through his quick response to the 1811 River Parish slave revolt. His popularity helped him defeat Creole Jacques Villere in the election of 1812. Claiborne was elected to the U.S. Senate but served just a few months before dying in 1817.