It was the original intention of
d'Iberville to establish the first French
colony on the banks of the Mississippi river. Because of its overflow, he had
been unable to find a suitable location during his first voyage of discovery up
the Mississippi in March, 1699. He returned from his ineffectual search the 1st
of April, and spent another week in searching out the shores adjacent to Ship
Island, where the fleet was anchored. On Tuesday, the 7th, d'Iberville and
Surgeres observed "an elevated place that appeared very suitable." This was on
the northeast shore of the Bay of Biloxi. They had found seven to eight feet of
water, and concluded to construct the fort there, as they "could find no spot
more convenient, and our provisions were failing we could search no longer. On
Wednesday, the 8th, we commenced to cut away the trees preparatory for the
construction of the fort. All our men worked vigorously, and at the end of the
month it was finished. In the meantime, the boats were actively engaged
transporting the powder, guns, and ammunition, as well as the live stock, such
as bulls, cows, hogs, fowls, turkeys, etc. . . . The fort was made with four
bastions, two of them squared logs, from two to three feet thick, placed one
upon the other, with embrasures for port holes, and a ditch all around. The
other two bastions were stockaded with heavy timbers which took four men to lift
one of them. Twelve guns were mounted." (Historical
Jour, of d'Iberville's expedition.) The Journal further states that the very
best men were selected to remain at the fort, including detachments of soldiers
to place with the Canadians and workmen, and sailors to serve on the gunboats.
Altogether about 100 people were left while d'Iberville returned to France early
in May. M. de Sauvolle de la Villantray, lieutenant of a company and naval
ensign of the frigate La Marin, was left in command as governor ; de Bienville,
king's lieutenant of the marine guard of the frigate La Badine was next in
command. Le Vasseur de Boussouelle, a Canadian, was major; de Bordenac,
chaplain; M. Care, surgeon. There were besides two captains, two cannoniers,
four sailors, eighteen filibusters, ten mechanics, six masons, thirteen
Canadians and twenty sub-officers and soldiers who comprised the garrison. This
was the feeble beginning of the first white settlement on Mississippi soil.
Unfortunately, there were few among the colonists who cared for agriculture, and
the colony never became self sustaining. On the return of d'Iberville to Biloxi
in January, 1700, he brought with him sixty Canadian immigrants and a large
supply of provisions and stores. On this second voyage, he was instructed "to
breed the Buffalo at Biloxi ; to seek for pearls ; to examine the wild mulberry
with the view to silk ; the timber for ship-building, and to seek for mines."
Expeditions in search of gold, jewels and valuable furs seem to have chiefly
engaged the time and attention of the colonists. However, they made thorough
explorations of the Mississippi and the surrounding country. In 1700 Le Sueur
was sent to the upper Mississippi with 20 men to establish a fort in the Sioux
country, for the purpose of controlling the copper mines of the Sioux Indians in
the interests of France. Meanwhile the French had established forts and
settlements in the Illinois country, and learning of the French colony at
Biloxi, boat loads of hardy Canadians began to arrive from the upper country.
Fathers Davion and Montigny, accompanied by a few Frenchmen were their first
visitors, having made the long journey in frail canoes. In May 1700, they were
visited by M. Sagan, a traveler from Canada, who brought a request from the
French minister to M. d'Sauvolle that he be furnished with 24 pirogues and 100
Canadians for the purpose of making an exploration of the Missouri river and its
branches. During the absence of d'Iberville, his youthful brother Bienville was
indefatigable in making explorations to secure the prosperity and perpetuity of
the colony. But the health of the colonists suffered severely, and many died
from what is now called congestive and yellow fever, including the governor, M.
d'Sauvolle, who died in the summer of 1700, leaving Bienville in chief command.
September 16, a party of Choctaws arrived at Biloxi to demand of the French some troops to assist them to fight the Chickasaws. The Choctaws at this time had 40 villages, and over 5,000 warriors. Oct. 25, 20 Mobileans arrived at Fort Maurepas. This nation was said to contain about 400 fighting men at this time. December 18, a shallop arrived from Pensacola with the news that MM. d'Iberville and Serigny had arrived there with the king's ships, the Renommee of fifty guns, and the Palmier of forty-four guns. This was joyful news to the garrison, which had been living for more than three months on corn, and had been much reduced by sickness, having lost upwards of sixty men, leaving only 150 persons in the colony. Bienville received orders by the shallop to evacuate Biloxi, and remove to Mobile river. January 5, 1701, Bienville took up his march for Mobile river, leaving but 20 men under the command of M. de Boisbriant to man the fort. At Dauphin island, Bienville had an interview with MM. de Serigny and Chateaugue, his brothers, who had arrived with a detachment of sailors and workmen, to build a magazine for the reception of the goods and provisions which had been brought from France. On the Kith, he commenced to build the Fort of St. Louis de la Mobile, about 12 leagues above the present city of Mobile, on the right bank of the Mobile, which was the official center of the colony for the next nine years, when a new fort was built on the present site of Mobile, afterward known as Fort Conde.
Source: Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, by Dunbar Rowland.