History of Louisiana: Early colonization by the Europeans





After the death of De Soto on the Mississippi, in 1542, that great river was not visited by the whites until more than a century had elapsed. It was next reached, in its upper courses, by Jesuit missionaries from Canada, whose efforts to convert the heathen made them among the most daring and persistent explorers of the interior of America. As early as 1634 they penetrated the wilderness to Lake Huron, and established missions among the savages of that region. Failing in similar efforts to convert the Iroquois, they pushed farther west, and in 1665 Father Allouez reached Lake Superior, and landed at the great village of the Chippewas. Learning from the Indians of the existence of a great river to the westward, called by them the Mes-cha-ce-be, or "Father of Waters," two missionaries, Marquette and Joliet, set out from Green Bay to make its discovery, under the illusory hope that it might furnish the long-sought water-way to China. They reached the stream on June 17, 1673, and floated down it as far as the mouth of the Arkansas, where they found the natives in possession of European articles, and became convinced that the river must flow into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi was again reached, in 1680, by Father Hennepin, the advance pioneer of the exploring party under La Salle, who had set out to investigate thoroughly the great river. Hennepin ascended the stream to beyond the Falls of St. Anthony, where he was held captive for a while by the Sioux Indians. La Salle did not reach the Mississippi until two years afterwards, when he embarked on its mighty flood, and floated down it until its mouth was reached and the adventurers found themselves on the broad surface of the Gulf of Mexico. To the territories through which he passed he gave the name of Louisiana, in honor of Louis XIV. of France. In 1684 he sailed from France, with a party of settlers, for the mouth of the Mississippi, which, however, he failed to find, landing his colonists at the head of Matagorda Bay, in Texas. La Salle was afterwards murdered while journeying overland to the Illinois, and the Matagorda Bay settlement was broken up by Indian hostility.

In Upper Louisiana a Jesuit mission was established in 1685 at Kaskaskia, the first permanent colony in the Mississippi region. In 1698, Lemoine d'Iberville, a French officer, obtained a patent for planting a colony in the southern part of the territory. He succeeded in finding the mouth of the Mississippi, and was the first to enter that stream from the sea. He sailed up it as far as the mouth of the Red River, and, returning, erected a fort at the head of the Bay of Biloxi. It proved an unhealthy station, and in 1701 he removed the colonists to the western bank of the Mobile River, thus founding the first European settlement in Alabama.

The colonizing of southern Louisiana proved a slow process. At successive periods colonists arrived there, but no permanency was attained until 1718, when John Law, the promoter of the notorious "Mississippi Company," sent out eight hundred emigrants. Some of these settled on the Bay of Biloxi, some on the site of New Orleans. With this party was Du Pratz, the historian of the colony. The subsequent disastrous failure of the Mississippi Company did not break up the colony, though the scattered settlements found themselves environed with many difficulties, chief among which were troubles with hostile Indians. These difficulties were principally with the Natchez, who massacred a French settlement and were in turn totally destroyed, and with the Chickasaws, who held their own valiantly against the French, after a war of several years' duration.





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