The Port of Morgan City sits on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana. Part of the Mississippi River Delta waterway, the Port of Morgan City is about 83 kilometers (52 miles) south of Baton Rouge and about 108 kilometers (67 miles) west-southwest of New Orleans. During the American Civil War, the Port of Morgan City was an important location for gunboats and forts.
In the latter half of the 20th Century, the offshore oil industry created an economic boom in the Port of Morgan City, although it supports other industries like shrimping, seafood, chemicals, and machinery. The 2010 Census reported that over 12.4 thousand people called the Port of Morgan City home.
The area that would become the Port of Morgan City was home to the Ishak people before Europeans arrived. The Choctaw called the Ishak the Atakapa, a derogatory term, but that name was adopted by French and Spanish explorers. Today, the people call themselves the Atakapa-Ishak Nation. While they were a meek people, many Atakapa-Ishak served the United States during wars.
The Atakapa-Ishak called the river Atchafalaya, meaning long river. This 217-kilometer (135-mile) river has been vital for the development of the Port of Morgan City. The river brought people from all over the world to make the Port of Morgan City a "gumbo" of Spanish, French, German, Italian, Dutch, African, and Native American cultures.
A planter and surgeon from Kentucky, Walter Brashear, settled in the area in the early 1800s. As he subdivided his sugar cane plantation, the town of Brashear grew. The marine location of the future Port of Morgan City made it important in the American Civil War.
Union troops occupied the Port of Morgan City, using it as a base for cutting off Texas from the Confederacy and for eliminating Confederate resistance in southwest Louisiana. The remains of the Union's Fort Starr are still visible in the Port of Morgan City.
After the Civil War, railroad and steamship entrepreneur Charles Morgan dredged the Atchafalaya Bay Channel, making Brasher his headquarters. The new channel brought commerce to the Port of Morgan City, and trade in cypress timber, seafood, and animal furs flourished. In 1876, the town took Morgan's name to honor him.
The Port of Morgan City experienced an era of growth during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The local economy gained new industries of shell crushing, moss picking, and boat building. Hollywood found the environs attractive as well, filming the first Tarzan movie at the Port of Morgan City.
By 1937, the Port of Morgan City was the world center for "jumbo" shrimp. A largely Catholic community, the Port of Morgan City held a "blessing of the fleet" that year to ensure a bountiful harvest. The following celebration, the Louisiana Shrimp Festival, has since become the State's oldest harvest festival.
In the late 1940s, Kerr-McGee Industries (now owned by Anadarko) drilled the first profitable offshore oil well near the Port of Morgan City. The discovery created a "black gold rush" and new prosperity for the Port of Morgan City. It was so important, in fact, that the shrimp festival included oil, becoming the annual Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival.
In the late 20th Century, the Port of Morgan City's Main Street Program was recognized. Today, the city's historic district covers a 19-block area.