After watching a national news reporter consistently use Orleans County for days in a row, I decided to shed some light on why New Orleans has parishes instead of counties. By the way, the only State besides Louisiana not to have counties is Alaska, which has “boroughs”.
The reason why Louisiana does not use the term counties dates back to a bygone era and to the first settlements in this State. Louisiana was officially Roman Catholic under the rule of both France and Spain. The initial boundaries dividing the territories of what is now Louisiana generally coincided with church parishes. In 1803, the Louisiana purchase happened, bringing the entire territory under the auspices of the United States. In 1807, the territorial legislature officially adopted the ecclesiastical term “parish”.
In 1811, a constitutional convention was held to prepare Louisiana’s admission into the Union. At the convention, they organized the state into seven judicial districts, each consisting of groups of parishes. At the same time, counties were also used, creating a dual Parish/County type system.
In 1816, the first official map of the state used the term parish, as did the 1845 constitution. It was in that 1845 Constitution, that the county system was abolished, and instead, established only parishes as the State’s primary civil division. Since then, parishes became the official term.
When Louisiana joined the Union, it had only 25 parishes. The remaining 39 were created during the next century. We have 64 altogether. I have included a map showing them all.
Like the Napoleonic Code, Forced Heirship, Mardi Gras, and coffee with chicory, the use of parishes is another thing that makes our State so unique.
Attorney at Law