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Picture above: Photo of San Miguel Church, the oldest church in America, circa 1829-1865, Riddle. Courtesy Library of Congress. Right: Painting of Frontenac and Sir William Phips at surrender of Quebec in 1690 during King William's War, circa 1915, Charles William Jefferys. Courtesy Library and Archives Canada via Wikipedica Commons.

King William's War

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1600s

1680-1689



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  • Timeline

  • 1698 Detail

    October 24, 1698 - French soldier Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville leads expedition to Gulf of Mexico to defend border of New France and establish the three capitals of Biloxi, Mobile, and New Orleans with additional New France settlements established in Mississippi and Louisiana.

    d'Iberville and Fort Maurepas, Old Biloxi


    Let's set the stage before we begin the story. The French had been colonizing the Americas in at best, an odd way. Concentrating on the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, and later down the center, i.e. Mississippi River, and led by men like Samuel de Champlain, Jolliet, Marquette, and LaSalle, they found the headwaters of the Mississippi River and explored south. So while the Spanish were concentrating on the Caribbean, Florida, Mexico, and southwest USA, with the British spreading west from the Atlantic Coast, the leaders of New France wanted to protect what they saw as their territory near the mouth of the Mississippi River and along the Gulf Coast to the east. That may be a quick and incomplete summation, we admit, but it provides a bit of context.

    The second setting of the stage does have to do with the expedition itself and two men that would be important with not only that, but in the governing of the towns they would establish, and due to the similarity in their names, i.e. because they were related, they sometimes get confused with each other and who did what. So first, let us introduce you to Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, leader of this expedition, and his seventeen year old younger brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, who made the trip with him. And if you think it was confusing for us, think about this; I'berville, born in Montreal, was the third of eleven sons of Charles le Moyne, Seigneur of Longueil, Lower Canada; Bienville, we're not sure his number. They were all French soldiers.

    Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville had been a brilliant soldier in the wars against England and Holland, and had returned to France in 1697 to be created a Knight of St. Louis. Once there, he urged the court to send an expedition to Louisiana to establish a colony there; one that had been neglected since LaSalle's death in 1687. King Louis XIV dispatched an order in 1698 that d'Iberville should lead an expedition to colonize the Mississippi, thus hemming the English from expanding into the Mississippi basin and the Spanish, who made claims to the Mississippi, but never occupied it, to their just begun colony in the bay of Pensacola, the remainder of Florida, the Caribbean islands, and the southwest.


    The Expedition Begins


    On October 24, 1698, the expedition left Brest with two frigates, Marin and Badine, two smaller vessels, and two hundred colonists and marines. The composition of the expedition was well planned. It included families, agriculturalists, and a bevy of supplies. The warship Francois joined the expedition at Santo Domingo. The five ships arrived in the Bay of Pensacola on January 28, 1699, but left the Spanish port quickly. d'Iberville regretted that New France had not delayed and allowed Spain to get the Pensacola port, regarding it, "... This (Pensacola) is certainly a most beautiful port equal at least to that of Brest, and has been lost to us by delay." The expedition explored Mobile Bay, then anchored at Ship Island on February 10, 1699. The Biloxi Indians told d'Iberville of a large river they called Malabouchia, which he assumed was the river LaSalle had deemed the Mississippi. On February 26, he sent two feluccas under D'Souval to explore the Pascagoula. The next day, he dispatched two long boats with fifty-one men under the command of brother de Bienville to search west for the mouth of the Mississippi River and head north up its waters to find a suitable location for a settlement.

    On Monday, March 2, 1699, de Bienville found the mouth of the Mississipi River. "At this moment we perceived a pass between two banks, which appeared like islands. We saw that the water had changed; tasted and found it fresh, a circumstance that gave us great consolation in that moment of consternation," de Bienville, March 2, 1699.

    They performed a mass the next day prior to de Bienville making his first trek one hundred leagues up the river. He arrived at the Indian town of Houmas, but still doubted that the river he was navigating was the Mississippi described by La Salle. His doubts were allayed when the Bayagoulas tribe, known as the Quinipissas of La Salle and Tonty, showed him a letter left by Tonty for LaSalle at the town of Quinipissas dated April 20, 1686, as well as a suit of a de Soto soldier's Spanish armor.



    Establishing the Settlements


    Bienville told his brother of his findings and both continued to explore the area from Ship Island to the Mississippi for a suitable location for the settlement. Not finding one first on the Mississippi, d'Iberville chose an elevated site on the northeast shore of the Bay of Biloxi to build a fort on April 8, 1699 in the area now known as Ocean Springs. It would have four bastions and include one hundred of the colonists amongst its citizens. They named it Fort Maurepas or Fort Old Biloxi.

    d'Iberville left for France in May, and returned in January 1700 with sixty Canadian immigrants and stores to build a fort on the Mississippi. After some disagreement with two English ships that were also looking to colonize the same area, the English left upon being made aware of the French claim. d'Iberville explored further north to the village of Natchez, past to a site he had chosen for a fort twenty-eight leagues, fifty-four miles, from the mouth of the river. That fort, also named Fort Maurepas (confusing) would be abandoned in 1705.

    At the fort near the mouth, d'Iberville put brother Bienville in command of its completion with twenty-five men and returned to France in May. He returned to Biloxi on December 18, 1701 with additional supplies and colonists, where D'Sauville (Sauvole) had been left as Governor. However, he had died of yellow fever, elevating Bienville to governor of a colony that was now reduced to one hundred and fifty in number.

    Bienville left twenty men to defend Biloxi when he left the fort on January 5, 1701 to supervise the building of the Fort of St. Louis de la Mobile, which was twelve leagues north of today's city. The port of Mobile was deemed safer for the governor when war broke out in 1702 between England against France and Spain, and would remain the official center of the colony for nine years. D'Iberville returned to France in June 1702, and made passage to return in 1706, but died of yellow fever on the voyage.

    So, what about New Orleans? It would take until 1718 for Jean-Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, the governor of French Louisiana since 1701, to establish the city, with assistance from the French Mississippi Company.

    Image above: Montage (left) Painting of Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, unknown date or author. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons; (right) Replica of Fort Maurepas, Old Biloxi, 2012, Iberville. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons C.C. 3.0. Image below: Montage (left) Painting of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, unknown date or author. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons; (right) Sculpture known as the Cross in Bienville Square, Mobile, Alabama, 1905/1915, Detroit Publishing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Info source: mississippigeneology.com; hmdb.org; newadvent.org; Encyclopedia of Alabama; Wikipedia.


    Bienville and Bienville Square





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