Pierre LeMoyne Sieur d'Iberville and the Establishment of Biloxi
A history of d'Iberville's discovery of the area now known as Biloxi, Mississippi and the
surrounding Gulf Coast, including the history of the quest to discover the entrance to the
mouth of the Mississippi River.
The quest for domains in the New World brought many European adventurers and explorers to this
country. There was a need to locate and fortify key areas so that these vast domains could be
controlled. In the 17th century, one of the greatest of these aims was the control of the
Mississippi River and thus the control of the great fur trade that could come down from Canada
and the Great Lakes. Therefore, finding the entrance to the mouth of the Mississippi River
became paramount. The Spanish explorer Alvarez de Pineda had mentioned the tidal flows of
the Mississippi River into the Gulf in 1519. The Spanish had encountered the river unaware
that it was the "Mighty Mississippi" and were thwarted from penetrating it due to a "palisade"
of rocks and mud at it's mouth. The river was therefore named
Rio de la Palizada. The first documentation of a European to
actually see the Mississippi River by penetration from the south was Hernando de Soto, who
had at one time served under Francisco Pizarro - the conqueror of the Incas. Landing in Florida
in May of 1539, de Soto and his men moved overland through the Deep South, plundering as they
went and additionally spreading European diseases (e.g. smallpox) that decimated the Indians
tribes here in the South. De Soto and his men emerged onto the Mississippi River near present-day
Memphis in 1541. However, De Soto died somewhere there in 1542 without finding the gold he had
so diligently and according to some of his men, insanely sought. No colonies, forts or
It was not until 1682 that the French explorer , Rene'-Robert Cavelier (seignorial name: Sieur
de La Salle) sailed down the Mississippi River from Canada into the Gulf of Mexico and claimed
all of the land affected by the river for France. In this manner the Louisiana Territory was
established. La Salle victoriously sailed to France with the claim that the way to Canada could
be accomplished by ship through this great river which emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. La Salle
then led an expedition back to establish a colony at the mouth of the river and thus enable
France to control this immense territory. Unfortunately, this expedition ended in tragic failure.
Due to navigational errors (La Salle only had one of the two coordinates necessary), his ships
missed the mouth of the river and landed (& also shipwrecked) somewhere near present-day
Galveston, Texas. Roaming eastward by land, trying to find the elusive river, La Salle's men
eventually mutinied and murdered him. Only a handful of the original expedition made it's way
back to Canada.
Meanwhile, Henri de Tonty heard of LaSalle's failed expedition. Tonty, a lieutenant and friend
of LaSalle had been with him on his first voyage to the Gulf via the Mississippi River. A
popular fellow, Tonty was
called Le Bras Coupe' and had only one hand, having lost it while
fighting the Spanish. Tonty led an expedition down the river from the north to search for La Salle
He was unable to locate La Salle even though he
searched the coast both east and west of the river's mouth. Tonty made his way back up the
river, but not before leaving a now-famous letter to La Salle with an Indian tribe living along
the river just above present-day New Orleans - the tribe called themselves the Quynypyssa. La
Salle would never live to read this letter, but someone else did:
The problem of
finding the Mississippi River's mouth from the Gulf of Mexico remained. In 1697, one of Canada's
favorite sons, Pierre LeMoyne (seignorial name: Sieur d'Iberville) at the age of 38, was chosen to pick up where La
Salle left off. D'Iberville was one of 13 children born in Canada to a self-made wealthy family
in Montreal (Pierre's father, Charles had arrived in America as an indentured servant). Pierre LeMoyne
established himself as a soldier and had fought to keep the English out of the Hudson Bay area
(and also Newfoundland) and made a name
for himself as a naval commander during King Williams' War (1697) in Canada.
Although infamous in English
annals for his ruthless fighting tactics, d'Iberville's popularity was solid in France
and he was offered by the French monarchy an assignment to find the mouth of the Mississippi
River by way of the Gulf of Mexico and then establish a fort. D'Iberville knew an important
key to proving out the Mississippi River would be locating the Indian tribe that had Tonty's
letter. With this aim, d'Iberville sailed from France in 1698 with the blessing of the French
Minister of Marine, Louis Phelypeaux who's seignorial name was Compte de Pontchartrain. The
mission composed of 3 ships, the Badine, the Marin and the warship Francios
(to provide protection). On board and accompanying the Badin and Marin were men
to build and inhabit a fort (many of them French Canadians), supplies for the fort and also
livestock (cattle, hogs, etc.). Also, the small fleet composed itself of a few traversiers,
smacks, biscayans & fellucas. On board the three ships were several longboats and canoes.
D'Iberville's younger brother, Jean-Baptiste LeMoyne (seignorial name: Sieur d'Bienville) was
also on the expedition. Bienville would play an important role in the establishment and administration of Biloxi in the years to come.
As luck would have it, the news of this French endeavor had reached the ears of the Spanish who immediately beefed-up their small post at Pensacola - in the event that the French were to try to enter the natural harbor there. This is exactly what happened. On January 27, 1699, after skirting the coast of Florida for a few days, d'Iberville found an interesting looking anchorage and sighted two ships at anchor there. He had arrived at the Bay of Pensacola. He made contact with the Spanish post. The Spaniards would not allow him into the bay, yet they agreed to oblige the Frenchmens' requests for water and wood. After considering the matter of the refusal of the Spaniards to allow him in, d'Iberville decide to press further west without waiting for any of the supplies. With high hopes of locating an anchorage and base from which to search for the mouth of the Mississippi River, the French expedition hugged the coast towards Mobile Bay (called La Mobilla at the time). The following are summaries (verbatim excerpts are italicized) of the log of the Badine as kept by d'Iberville starting at the time Mobile Bay was sighted:
Jan. 30, 31, 1699 - Coming to Mobile Bay and sighting the mouth of the Mobile River (which he correctly figures is not the Mississippi River) he spots Massacre Island (named thusly because around 60 dead bodies of Indians were found on the west end as if murdered). This island would later be named Dauphine Island.
Feb. 1 thru 10th - Sailing slowly and taking soundings. Spotting islands to the north (present-day Petit Bois and Horn Islands). Spotting islands to the south (Chandeleur Island chain) and two more to the NW (Cat Island and present-day Ship Island). Taking soundings to find an anchorage in protected water.
The establishment of the anchorage at Ship Island:
Feb. 9, 1699 - Wind southeast, misty. I set sail and the other vessels, too, and came on and anchored 1-1/4 leagues (league = 3 mi.) SE to seaward of the island in 33 ft of water. This island is unwooded sand dunes. About 8 pm, my brother came back to the ship in the felucca to inform me that, between the two islands (Ship and Cat)...there was a pass.
Feb. 10 - About 7 am....we set sail and ....came in, under shelter of an island...where we are protected from winds. We have found no less than 23 ft of water and we are anchored a cannon's shot off the island in 26 ft of water. The Francios, being unable to come in, is anchored at the entrance.
Feb. 11 - We warped a little farther east and put our animals ashore and we have men rigging the biscayan ....and I am ready to go and discover the Myssysypy. For a part of the day it was misty.
Feb. 12 - At noon, we see a column of smoke to the NE, about 5.5 leagues from here, on the shore of an island (Deer Island).
The first landing on the shore of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and contact with Indians:
Feb. 13 - I crossed over to the land 4 leagues north of here (probably present-day east Gulfport) in my Biscayan with 11 men and my brother in a bark canoe with 2 men. I went ashore and found 2 trails of Indians made yesterday, which I followed overland with 1 man, my brother coming along in the bark canoe and the Biscayan following half a league behind us to avoid frightening the Indians.
Feb 14 - I continue to follow the tracks of the Indians, having left at the place where I spent the night 2 axes, 4 knives, 2 packages of glass beads, a little vermillion. I noticed a canoe crossing over to an island (Deer Island) and several Indians waiting for it there. They joined 5 other canoes which crossed over to the land to the north (present day Ocean Springs). As the land where I was was separated from them by a bay (present-day Biloxi Bay) 1 league wide and 4 leagues long, I got into my canoe and pursued the canoes and overtook them as they were landing on the shore. All the Indians fled into the woods, leaving their canoes and baggage...I found an old man who was too sick to stand. We talked by means of signs. I gave him food.....I sent my brother and 2 Canadians after the Indians who had fled to try to make them come back or to capture one. Toward evening he brought a woman to me whom he had caught in the woods 3 leagues from here. I led her to the old man and left her after giving her presents...and some tobacco to take to her men.
Feb 15 - 5 Indians show up to sing the calumet of peace (a calumet is a peace symbol, normally a pipe). The old man died at 10 am. The Indians feast the French on corn sagamite.
Feb 16, 17 - After conferring with the Indians using signs, it is learned that the Indians are of the Bilocchy and Moctoby and Pascagoula tribes whose villages are located on the river they call Pascagoula on which the banks of this river they were together domiciled ( Pascagoula is Choctaw for "bread people"). 3 Indians are persuaded to make the trip out to the ships where they are shown great wonders, including the firing off of the ship's cannons. Hostages are left with the Indians on the mainland as a sign of mutual trust. Upon returning to the mainland, more Indians, including a chief of a great tribe to the west are encountered: the Bayogoulas and the Mugulasha (two tribes domiciled in the same village) and they explain that they had come east on a hunting trip for buffalo (these animals ranged her during that period) and had heard the cannon fire and had come to the sea shore to see what it was. After more information is passed, it is realized that these Indians live along a great river they call the Malbanchya...which it is determined must certainly be the Mississippi River.
Feb 18, 1699 -The decision was made, after conferring with the Indians with maps, to take soundings of the Pascagoula River to determine if it was navigable and could be an eastern branch of the Mississippi River. Bad weather thwarted this trip.
Feb 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 26-Returning to Ship Island where the ships are permanently at anchor for the rest of the time the expedition will be exploring the coast, materials and supplies for the exploration and discovery of the Mississippi River are requisitioned from the ships' stores. Among the items: 16 casks of wine, 10 small barrels of flour, 97 pounds of butter, etc. There is some confusion as to the plans which d'Iberville made with the Indians which wastes a few days. D'Iberville had tried to convince the Bayogoulas not to proceed on their hunting trip but to stay on to help locate and then guide an expedition up the Mississippi River. Bienville returns from the mainland saying the Bayogoulas have left to go back to their village on the great river they call the Malbanchya. D'Iberville knows that if this river they speak of is actually the Mississippi River, he will see them and now realizes that the expedition must go without an Indian guide.
The discovery of the mouth of the Mississippi River and the trip up to present-day Baton Rouge:
Feb. 27, 28 1699 -I set out from the ships with my 2 biscayans and 2 bark canoes with...my brother...and 48 men, with provisions for 20 days, to go to the Myssysypy, which the Indians...call the Malbanchya and the Spaniards calle the Palisade. Wind in the SE with rain and drizzle. I steered south to make some islands that were visible there (the Chandeleur Islands) and running along shore for 6 leagues in 4 & 5 feet of water all along....7 leagues south of the ships I passed between a rocky (later learned to be "muddy" - not rocky) island and a grassy one.....From the islands, to follow the shore and avoid running by any river, I set the course SW by S for 3 leagues along these islands. I spent the night on a very low island covered with grass....
March 1, 1699 - It rained and thundered all day...I stayed at this island, which has been almost covered with water. We find no trees here, no fresh water - no more than on the other islands and shores by which I have passed. On all these islands we are killing raccoons which live here off shellfish. Their fur is reddish brown.
March 2 - ...I steered SSE crossing a bay 2 leagues...wind NNE and heavy and seas so high that I could not keep to seaward, nor could I run for the shore, the water in the area being too shallow. I remained at sea, lying to with my longboats, my canoes being aboard them, and heavy seas often spilling into our longboats. After I had held the SE course for 3 hours in order to double a rocky point (later learned this was mud!), as night was coming on and the foul weather continuing so that we could not endure without going to the shore during the night lest we perish at sea, I stood for those rocks in order to run ashore by day to save my men and my longboats. When drawing near to the rocks to take shelter, I became aware that there was a river (!!!!!). I passed between two of the rocks in 12 feet of water, the seas quite heavy. When I got close to the rocks, I found fresh water with a very strong current. These rocks....made me know that here was the Palisade River, which appears to me to be rightly named....I found the mouth of the river 28 leagues south of the place where the ships are. The water from the river does not blend with the salt water for 3/4 of a league to seaward...where there is 18 to 20 fathoms (fathom is about 6 feet)...Ships can come and anchor at the mouth...and take on fresh water without any risk.
March 3 - 6 -7 - 8 Penetrating the river northward, soundings of the river are taken. The branching of 3 "passes" is noted 2 leagues above the mouth. The bends in the river are noted as are the appearance of trees and other notes are made about the area being prone to flooding. The current makes the expedition slow but the average distance made is about 6 leagues per day. At about 20 to 30 leagues above the mouth, 6 Indian canoes are sighted. The Indians all flee except one. The Indian who stayed was of the Biloxi Tribe who knew about d'Iberville's landing on the Gulf Coast. The Biloxis and Bayogoulas were peaceful with each other. The Indian indicated that the Bayogoula hunting party d'Iberville had met on the coast had made it back to the village. The village, according to the Indian, was still 24 leagues north (3-1/2 days travel). The Indian serving as a guide led the expedition upriver. D'Iberville loses two men who apparently get lost while duck hunting (they are found by Indians and finally make it back to the ships weeks later). Finally, on March 13, they arrive at the Indian village inhabited by two tribes, the Bayogoula and the Mogoulacha.
March 13, 14, 15, 16 - Celebrations with the Indians, who had welcomed the expedition warmly carried on day and night. Gifts were exchanged and the calumet of peace given by d'Iberville to the Chief of the Bayogoulas weeks earlier was seen displayed in the middle of the village. One Indian was assigned to stand watch over it with his eyes fixed upon it without moving. Of note is d'Iberville's brother, Bienville's aptitude at learning the Indians' languages as all of the Indians in the area seemed to share a common language (these tribes were of Siouan linguistic stock). D'Iberville begins trying to get information about the river, it's forks and tributaries from the Indians. He is amazed to hear that there is no fork to the east. The Indians tell him about a small route they use to reach the Gulf Coast but they tell him it is not truly a river and there are many log jams and portages that are to be encountered. The Chief of the Bayogoula leaves with the expedition and they journey furthur up the river to find the alternate route back to the coast as described by the Indians. D'Iberville is also wanting to locate the Quynypyssa tribe that Tonty had written to La Salle. The Indians say there is a remnant of the Quynypyssa living with the Ouma tribe.
March 17, 18, 19. 20, 21,22, 23, 24, 25 -D'Iberville's expedition arrives at the boundary between the Ouma (now called the Houma tribe) and the Bayogoula and see a spectacular red pole adorned with skulls of animals (the pole was used as a boundary marker and this is now the site of present day Baton Rouge which literally means "red stick"). Much celebrating is done with the Indians and the Houma and Bayogoula Indians use the opportunity to redefine their peace with each other. The chiefs render many speeches and celebrations are constant. D'Iberville spends some time documenting the names of the many Indian tribes in the area and seems to show a keen interest in them. This verbatim passage is his notes on their lodgings, appearance and ways:
Huts...some big others small, roofed with split canes joined together quite neatly, there are no windows. These huts get their light from above through a hole 2 feet in diam. and are without paving or flooring except sand and dry dirt. Their beds are on 4 posts, raised 2 feet above the ground with crosspieces of red wood nearly as thick as one's arm, on which a mat is spread, made of small canes bound together in such a fashion that they are quite straight but not very soft. For furnishings they have only a few earthen pots, which they make nicely enough, fine and well wrought. All the men go around naked without being self-conscious about their nakedness. The women wear just a braguet (cover over their loins) made from bark, most braguets being red and white. The braguet is made of a number of strands of bark spun and woven together, 8 inches wide for the top part which covers their loins, the lower part is in foot-long tassels reaching down above the knees. With the braguet, the women are sufficiently concealed, as the tassels are in constant agitation. Many girls 6 to 7 yrs old wear no braguet whatsoever, they conceal themselves with a small wad of moss held by a string passing between their thighs and tied to a belt they wear. They wear their hair in a twist around the head. In this village, there were 107 huts and 2 temples, and were ...about 200 to 250 men and few women and children. The smallpox, which they still had in the village had killed about 1/4 of the people. They place the bodies of the dead on platforms around their village, quite close...raised 7 feet above...This stinks badly and attracts many buzzards to the neighborhood. These Indians are the most beggardly I have yet seen, having no conveniences in their huts and engaging in no work. Some wear a kind of cloak made from bark woven tolerably well, such as a coarse linen made of bleached hemp would be in France. All the men have nimble, well-made bodies, agile figures but are not much inured to war, I think. They wear their hair short and tattoo their faces and bodies. Blackening the teeth is a charm in the women....the bodies of some are tattooed and their faces and breasts marked with black....
D'Iberville learns that the remnant Quynypyssa have never seen any Frenchmen before and this leads d'Iberville to question the truth of some of the reports upon which he has based his expedition. Highly disappointed, d'Iberville decides to send his brother and the bulk of the party back down the river to the ships and he himself with a couple of men set out in canoes on the "alternate route" to the coast as described by the Indians.
March 26 - 30, 1699 - D'Iberville enters this waterway, which his men name the d'Iberville River (later to be renamed Bayou Manchac). With rough portages and log jams to encountered, the small group eventually reaches a lake which d'Iberville names "Lake Maurapas" and then on to a large lake which d'Iberville names "Lake Pontchartrain". From Lake Pontchartrain, d'Iberville finally makes it back to the present-day Mississippi Gulf Coast and then he returns to his ships anchored at Ship Island. There, he learns that his brother Bienville, while returning back down the Mississippi River, indeed found the famous letter written by Tonty to La Salle. The Mogoulacha had this letter all the entire time - but were scared to say anything fearing that maybe the expedition was not truly the same people as was La Salle. Bienville had convinced the chief that he was indeed a Frenchman. Now...tired but thankful to be back at his ship, d'Iberville gladly realized that he had indeed discovered the entrance to the Mississippi River and that, sailing north on it one could travel all the way to Canada! However, the second part of the mission was now at hand....to establish a fort somewhere close in order to protect the interests of France. This spot had to be close to the river, yet allow ships to come and go so that supplies and men could be easily moved about. This was no easy task , because all of the waters around the mouth of the river were extremely shallow.
Map of the expedition. Green is the path of the 3 ships into the anchorage at Ship Island. Blue is d'Iberville's first landfall with the mainland on Feb. 13, 1699. Red is the exploration and discovery of the mouth of the river and the subsequent journey north. Yellow is d'Iberville arduous journey back to the ships via Bayou Manchac and through Lake Pontchartrain.
March 31 thru April 6, 1699 - D'Iberville knows he needs to find a spot of high ground that was near a natural channel. He decides that this spot should be somewhere between the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay. He sends a party to sound the waters off the Biloxi Bay. The party returns with information that there is no channel and that it is too shallow. D'Iberville himself then heads towards present-day Bay St. Louis and Waveland to reconnoiter the area for a possible fort and take soundings. The soundings prove unsatisfactory and a squall nearly blows the small group out to sea. The only thing that saves them from being blown out to the Chandeleur Islands or even out to sea is the fact that Cat Island suddenly shields them from the NE wind and they are able to row back towards the ships's anchorage at Ship Island. They reach the ships at 10 pm, exhausted. The next morning (April 5), d'Iberville decides to sound the Pascagoula River in order to possibly build his fort there. He finds the water too shallow and oyster reefs make the area hazardous for vessels. He thinks, while journeying west along the shore, that his only alternative is to relocate to Lake Pontchartrain. It was at this time that as he passed Biloxi Bay, he could not help but to resound the bottom there himself. To his joy, he discovered a small channel of 7 feet of water that enables him to bring his supply barges close to what is now the SW point of Ocean Springs on the east side of Biloxi Bay.
April 7 through May 4, 1699 - The post, named Fort Maurapas (often referred to in his journal as Fort Bilocchy) , is established. The area is cleared, dwellings are constructed and the crews and those assigned to garrison the fort are all made busy. Trenches are dug, palisades and bastions are constructed. 6 cannon from the Marin are brought in. Small patches of vegetables are sown, the livestock brought in. On April 22, 5 Spanish deserters arrive from Pensacola on their way to New Spain on foot. The French interrogate them about the Spanish designs on the area. The Spaniards cooperate and d'Iberville becomes satisfied that the post can operate long enough for him to return to France aboard the Badine to give his report of success to Minister Pontchartrain and the King himself. Before he leaves, he appoints Sieur de Sauvole, one of his lieutenants as commandant and his brother Bienville as deputy commandant....the verbatim passage reads: I am leaving in all 70 men and six cabin boys which includes the crews of the smacks.
May 4, 1699 - At 5 am we raised anchor, the wind being in the SSE which is a trade wind that has been blowing for a week. We tacked at noon, to the west end of the island where the roadstead is.....
May 6 -At noon I am at latitude 30 degrees and 30 degrees east of my point of departure. The wind has been SE by E, light enough for us to let out the two reefs we had taken in the topsails in order to tack. I anchored yesterday evening ....I am 4 leagues out from the middle of Lescalete Island (present-day Horn Island).
Building a base of operations at Biloxi
D''Iberville sails back to France and reports to the Minister of Marine, Louis Pontchartrain. D'Iberville is welcomed as a hero and becomes the first French Canadian to receive the cross of the Order of St. Louis. He has brought with him a young Indian boy given to him by the Bayogoula Indians and the boy's mission is to learn French.
THE FIRST VOYAGE BACK ON THE RENOMEE:
D'Iberville is given the thumbs-up to continue his efforts and after a brief respite and some planning, is given command of the ship Renommee . In October 1699, he sails back, accompanied by another ship called the Gironde. He anchors at "the Biloxy Bay anchorage" and delivers supplies and provisions to his post. It is reported to him by M. de Sauvolle that during the period, 4 men had died for one reason or another. Sauvole also reports on an exciting event: while exploring the Mississippi River in bark canoes, Bienville encountered an English corvette with 10 guns which had also sailed up the mouth of the river. Bienville announced to the vessel that they were trespassing on French territory and if they did not leave willingly, then force would be used. Bienville knew this English captain from a battle they had fought against each other on the Hudson Bay where this captain had actually been captured by d'Iberville. The captain, with due naval chivalry, complied (the site of this event is today called "English Turn" and is located about 15 or 20 miles south of New Orleans).
Upon being satisfied with the progress at the Biloxi post, D'Iberville begins building a second fort, which was named Fort Mssyssypy. The site chosen was on the east bank of the Mississippi River on a point of land south of present-day New Orleans. He resumes relations with the Indians along the river. An unfortunate event happens with the Indian boy he brought to France. The boy dies from a throat illness near present-day Bay St. Louis and never has the chance to serve as interpreter and to speak with his people.
D'Iberville sets to exploring the regions north on the Mississippi River and goes up the river as far as the area of the Natchez Indian tribe. He assigns his brother the arduous task of exploring the areas to the west. D'Iberville mentions in his journal that he cannot go himself "...because of an aching in the knees, which prevents me from walking." Bienville's journal of this assignment is truly interesting and it is hard to imagine how his group of 26 Canadians, 6 Taensa Indians and 1 Ouachita Indian guide made this difficult trek into the Red River basin which comprises the present-day New Iberia, Lafayette and Morgan City areas. The land is very very wet, swampy and typical "bayou country". Yet, Bienville, true to his Canadian descent, succeeds in exploring this region. However, it was accomlished under great hardship and difficulty, through swamps and the worst imaginable conditions (the Taensa Indians abandoned them after only a few days). Here is an typical excerpt from Bienville's journal:
March 27, 1700 - I set out in the morning, leaving at this camp site 2 sick men and one of their companions to take care of them. Half a league from my camp site, I found a river 35 yds wide. The Indian guide led us to believe that farther up this river there is a Coroas village. We crossed the river on a raft. Two leagues from that river we found another one 25 yds wide, which we also crossed. When we do not find wood that floats easily, we make small cajeux, or rafts, upon which we put our baggage, and we swim across, pushing the cajeu to the other bank after firing many musket shots at the crocodiles to keep them off, lest they attack us in the river, which we find to be very cold. One league from this river, we found a swamp a quarter of a league wide in which we crossed in the same way we crossed the river. The water was very cold....
Bienville explores the area and gathers information on the surrounding Indian tribes and learns of Spanish activity in present-day Texas. He also hears the Indians tell of a settlement of blacks who had revolted and deserted the Spanish in east Texas. On April 12, after much hardship, Bienville makes the decision to break off the journey and return to the ships.
D'Iberville, meanwhile, has taken ill and remains at Fort Myssyssypy for a while. When he makes it back to the Gulf Coast, he discovers that the commandant of the Spanish post at Pensacola had sailed to Biloxi with a ship of 24 guns and 140 men, one bilander with 6 guns and 40 men and a longboat with 6 swivel guns and 20 men with the intention of driving the French out and destroying the post. The pretext of this action being that the French operations were possibly the result of a privately-owned company. However, seeing 2 of the (French) King's ships at the Ship Island anchorage, the Spanish realized that these colonial endeavors were those of the Crown. Therefore the Spanish commandant did nothing, as those were his orders. He did however, write an "injuction" demanding that all expansions cease until the King of Spain had been duly informed, adding that the territory belonged to Spain and was within the jurisdiction of the Viceroy of Mexico. Proudly sailing away, a disastor occurs: the main ship of this task force shipwrecks on Chandeleur Island and the ship and all material aboard totally lost. The Spanish make their way to the French ships at Ship Island where the French generously receive them and make arrangements to transport a very embarrassed commandant and his men back to Pensacola. This gave the French a chance to spy on the Spanish post:
April 15, 1700 - ...the (Spanish) commandant left for Pensacola with all his men in the felucca and the Biscayan and his bilander and pinnace. At that fort (were) no more than 250 men, 40 to 50 of them being convicts. Several had deserted after the commandant had left. They lack provisions there and seem quite destitute. As for the way they live, they have no fresh food at all. Their fort is a trifling thing. This shipwreck has not enriched us, for it was necessary to help these Spanish gentlemen with clothes and other things, as they had lost everything.
D'Iberville resumes exploration the area around present-day Pascagoula to determine the possibilities for the area. He journeys up the Pascagoula River and comes to the original village of the Biloxi Indians, and here can be seen the awful example of how the white man's diseases had devastated the Indian tribes of New England and the South. The people of the Indian village for which Biloxi, Mississippi has been named for were no longer:
April 26, 1700 - ....I went up the (Pascagoula) river about 4-1/2 leagues and got to the village of the Biloxys. This village is deserted, this nation having been destroyed...by diseases....The Indians report that this nation was formerly quite numerous. It did not appear to me that there were more than 30 to 40 huts, built oblong and roofed with tree bark, as we make ours. They were all one story, about 8 ft high, made of mud daub. Only 3 were left; the others were burned. The village was enclosed with pales 8 feet hight and about 18 inches thick. There still remain 3 square look-out boxes, each side being 10 feet wide; they are raised 8 ft high, on posts; the sides are made of clay daub mixed with grass, 8 inches thick, well covered. There are several loopholes for them to shoot their arrows through....It was strong enough to defend themselves against enemies that have nothing more that arrows.
THE SECOND VOYAGE OF THE RENOMMEE:
Sailing back to France in September 1700, d'Iberville is again commissioned to return on the Renommee with orders to establish or move the fort in Biloxi to present-day Mobile, Alabama. In December of 1701, he reaches America, bringing with him 4 families as colonists. D'Iberville lands at Pensacola and requests that the Spanish allow his ship and the other French vessel, the Palmier to come into the harbor. There, he learns from the Spanish that Bienville and some men had just been there days before in longboats. It is interesting, that, apparently with improved relations with the Spanish in Pensacola, Bienville had returned the 5 Spanish deserters over to the commandant there. One can only speculate what their fate was.
The Spanish also informs d'Iberville that the commandant of the Biloxi settlement (Sieur de Sauvole) had died and that (deputy commandant) Bienville was now in command.
D'Iberville sails on to the Biloxi post and spends the time during this expedition to strengthen French control. He moves the main post from Biloxi to Mobile, using Dauphine Island as a staging area. During this final expedition, he worked on improving the alliances with the Indians (partly in order to keep them from allying with the English or Spanish). D'Iberville departed Mobile in April of 1702 for France and would never return. He was satisfied that he had accomplished his original mission: to secure the Mississippi River and the area surrounding it's mouth for France.
D'Iberville handed over the leadership to his younger brother, Jean-Baptiste LeMoyne de Bienville, who would for years and years to come, contribute greatly to the establishment of French interests and culture on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
After 3 years in France, d'Iberville returned - this time to the Caribbean, commanding a military operation against the English on the island of Nevis in 1706. At Nevis, he made all 7,000 inhabitants of the island his prisoners. He died unexpectedly shortly thereafter in 1706 in Havana, Cuba of what is thought to have been malaria.
The information on this webpage came from a wonderful book, which is a translation of Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville's journals. The book, "Iberville's Gulf Journals" by Richebourg Gaillard McWilliams was produced through a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies and was printed by the University of Alabama Press in 1981. Unfortunately, this book is no longer in print.
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