The Reason Why Louisiana Has Parishes Instead of Counties
While most states in the country are divided into counties, since the 19th century, Louisiana has been divided into parishes. It's evidence of the state's history and the shifting influences of colonization on the map and its borders. The only other state with differing organizational terms is Alaska, which has regions separated into boroughs rather than counties.
The term "parish" has ecclesiastical origins. Before the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the area we know as Louisiana was colonized by France and Spain. It was under French rule from 1682 to 1769 and was named La Louisiane for King Louis XIV before it was ceded to Spain. From 1762 to 1801, it was known as the Viceroyalty of New Spain. From 1801 to 1803, it was again under French control. These shifts brought a Roman Catholic influence to the area, and parishes were established throughout the territory while it was under alternating French and Spanish rule.
According to the Vermilion Parish Tourist Commission, "The boundaries dividing the territories generally coincided with church parishes. In 1807, the territorial legislature officially adopted the ecclesiastical term. Through each change in her history, Louisiana never deviated, and the primary civil divisions have been officially known as parishes ever since." Some of the names, like St. John the Baptist, St. James, and St. Mary, which were some of the original parishes established in 1807, are evidence of their religious origins.
Louisiana was granted statehood and admitted to the union in 1812, and by 1816, the term "parish" began to appear on U.S. maps. You can find more information on significant dates in Louisiana's history at louisiana.gov.
The term "parish" lives on, and when you look at a map, you'll see that Louisiana is now divided into 64 parishes, which begin alphabetically as follows: Acadia Parish, Allen Parish, Ascension Parish, Assumption Parish, Avoyelles Parish, Beauregard Parish, Bienville Parish, Bossier Parish, Caddo Parish, Calcasieu Parish, Caldwell Parish, Cameron Parish, Catahoula Parish, Claiborne Parish, Concordia Parish, DeSoto Parish, East Baton Rouge Parish, East Carroll Parish, East Feliciana Parish, and Evangeline Parish. You can find a full list at louisiana.gov.
Have you ever visited Louisiana? Which parishes would you like to learn more about?