Dalmatian seamen began arriving in the port of New Orleans as crewmen aboard merchantmen in the 1820s. Because of difficult economic conditions in their native country, many were forced to accept work aboard Italian and Austro-Hungarian merchant ships. Some, therefore, were mistakenly identified as Italian or Austrian. Because the term Croatian is a bit too limited to represent accurately the immigrants' geographic background, and because Yugoslavia was not yet a country, the immigrants identified themselves as Slavonians, although no such country existed.
Upon arrival at New Orleans, many Slavonian sailors chose to remain and work as longshoremen. The transplanted Dalmatians had no women of their nationality with whom to marry. They communicated their wishes to Old World family members, who then attempted to help by setting up trans-oceanic communications between potential brides and grooms. Once photographs had been exchanged and a proposed alliance accepted, a groom sent money to his prospective bride, who traveled to Louisiana for an initial meeting and, perhaps, a wedding. Some couples were happy with their choice of a mate and did marry, while others were disappointed with their prospective partner and opted to marry a person more to their liking. Because this long-distance matchmaking was an expensive gamble, Dalmatian men in Louisiana often married established local women of French or Italian background, but there brides were expected to adapt to their husband's culture.
Louisiana's initially small Slavonian/Dalmatian community grew geometrically between 1899 and 1910, when nearly three thousand "Yugoslavian" immigrants made their way to New Orleans. These newcomers were welcomed and assisted by benevolent societies organized by established Slavonian families.
Some immigrant families remained in the Crescent City and opened boarding houses, but many moved south to Plaquemines and St Bernard parishes. In these marshy parishes along the lower Mississippi River, some individuals opened boarding houses and restaurants, but others worked as fishermen, oystermen, and trappers. Louisiana's oyster industry prospered through the industry of the Dalmatian immigrants and their descendants. Some Dalmatians invested money earned as trappers in large parcels of land up which orange groves. Oranges are still grown in Plaquemines Parish where a festival is held each year to celebrate the harvest. The communities of Buras, Empire, Ostrica, and Venice in Plaquemines Parish, and Yscloskey in St. Bernard parish are present-day homes of Dalmatian descendants.
by Diana C. Monteleone