After claiming the vast Mississippi River area for France in 1682, La Salle worked hard to establish settlements in the colony he called Louisiana. Although most of La Salle’s efforts failed, the French still managed to hold on to the area through fur traders and Catholic missionaries. The French authorities knew that it was possible for the English and the Spaniards to acquire the territory, so they commissioned the ruthless soldier, explorer, and privateer Pierre Le Moyne Iberville to establish a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi River. In 1699, Iberville finally led Canadian colonists to permanently settle in the southern region of Louisiana. This event is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.
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Earliest Settlers and the Arrival of the French
Various Native American tribes were the earliest settlers of the vast interior plains of North America and parts of the South. The tribes usually lived along or near the banks of the Mississippi and other great rivers that cut through the plains. The arrival of the Europeans in the early 16th century, however, slowly changed the American landscape and the lives of the natives.
In 1541, the explorer Hernando de Soto ventured into the lower parts of the Mississippi River area to look for gold. The gold failed to materialize, and the luckless de Soto remained a wanderer until he died there in 1542. With no gold in sight, the Spaniards were forced to abandon the southern Mississippi River area for the greater part of the 16th and 17th century.
It was not until the late 1600s that Europeans once again ventured into the area. In 1673, the French explorer Louis Jolliet and the Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette explored the Mississippi River. They were able to reach the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers until they were forced to turn back for New France.
In 1682, Rene Robert de Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle was able to accomplish what de Soto, Marquette, and Jolliet were unable to do: traverse the Mississippi River Delta. He then claimed the region for France and christened it Louisiana after King Louis XIV.
La Salle, unfortunately, had a knack for making enemies, so his efforts to establish settlements in Louisiana were often thwarted. He established Fort Saint Louis in Illinois, but it lacked the support he needed because of the hostility of the new governor of New France. He tried to establish another fort near present-day Victoria, Texas, but it too, failed. La Salle’s adventures in the New World ended in 1687 when he was murdered by the Frenchman Pierre Duhaut in Texas.
Louis XIV felt that these Louisiana ventures were too expensive and troublesome. He ordered that any activities in French Louisiana must stop immediately. However, the French authorities knew that the English would soon take over if they neglected the area and that Spain might also reassert its claim to the region. As an answer to this threat, the French authorities allowed the Jesuit missionaries and French fur traders to continue plying their trade in the area.
From Maine to the upper Mississippi River, Jesuit missionaries were able to extend Roman Catholic and French influence over the natives. Despite the presence of the fur traders, it was the missionaries who made a lasting impact in the area during the early years of colonization.
In early 1699, Iberville did exactly as he was told and transported 120 (mostly Canadian) settlers into the southern reaches of French Louisiana. He and the settlers finished Fort Maurepas near modern Biloxi, Mississippi on May 1, 1699, but its population remained small for many years.
Bromley, J. S., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 6. The New Cambridge Modern History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521075244.
Gayarre, Charles. History of Louisiana. Vol. 1. A. Hawkins, 1885.
Giraud, Marcel. A History of French Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974.
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