aubourg Treme was settled in the late 18th century, although the neighborhood officially dates its founding to 1812 (‘Faubourg’ is an old French term for suburb). The area was always home to a demographic mix that included Haitains, Creoles and free people of color. The latter were either African Americans who were born free, or former slaves who purchased or received freedom from their masters, a not uncommon occurrence in French-controlled New Orleans. Another regular occurrence was the institution of placage, wherein a white man who impregnated a black woman would then house the mistress and provide an education (including, often, a grounding in classical music) for the (free) mixed child or children. Many of these placage families were housed in the Treme.
The French also permitted slaves to gather in Congo Square, located in what is now Louis Armstrong Park, once a week on Sundays. Congo Square was once known as Place des Negres, and on Sundays the slaves would be permitted to drum, sing and chant traditional African rhythms. While this practice was banned by Americans following the Louisiana Purchase, the musical heritage of Congo Square was passed down by Treme families. Those African rhythms eventually blended with the classical traditions engendered by placage and brass band music, which came to New Orleans with the military marching bands of the Civil War.
These three elements then blended into entertainment music for customers patronizing the brothels of Storyville, the city’s old Red Light District, in the early 20th century. That music would become jazz, the great grandfather of all American popular music, and the Treme remains the birthplace of jazz and its offshoots, including the brass band music that is an essential component of the New Orleans auditory experiences.
The Treme received minor damage during Hurricane Katrina and major attention in the storms aftermath, when David Simon, the creator of The Wire, set his New Orleans drama show, Treme, in this iconic neighborhood.