Listed below are snippets of French colonial history on the Gulf of Mexico and also names of some Colonials I have found in some books. Some are well-known, some everyday folks that peopled history. Please glance through them to see who lived in colonial Alabama. This is by no means a complete history but may give you some background.
Coming south from Canada in 1699, to explore the area around Mobile Bay were the French-Canadians, coureurs de bois-- wood rangers-- among them were the 3 LeMoyne brothers -- Serigny LeMoyne, Bienville LeMoyne, and Chateaugue LeMoyne.
It was the desire of Louis XIV, King of France to have a colony on the Gulf of Mexico. To view a picture of the King in full regalia, click here.
In 1699, Pierre LeMoyne, Sieur D'Iberville, elder brother of the 3 LeMoyne brothers mentioned above, and pictured at left, sailed with his men aboard 2 ships, the Le Marin and La Remommée. from the Indies and went to the mouth of the Mississippi River, seeking a suitable site for a colony. One of the men in the party was André Pénicaut, who kept a journal of the exploration. They felt this area appeared too swampy for their purposes, so they headed east. Then they came upon 2 islands near the site of today's Biloxi, MS. One of the islands they named for Count de Surgere, who saw the island first. Isle Surgere; the other they named Isle-aux-Chats because there were "many cats running wild there" --actually the "cats" were really raccoons. Isle Surgere seemed pleasing in that it was near to a large bay. There was plenty of fresh water. Game and fish were in plenty. (If you are interested in what they ate while exploring, click here).
They set about building a fort they called Fort Biloxi. It took about a week. It was really more like an encampment to be used as a base from which to explore the territory. Nearby was another island they named Isle-aux-Chevreniuls as there were many deer there. When several men went to the island to hunt for deer, they encountered Indians for the first time. Pénicaut said that the Natives hung back and watched the Frenchmen in wonder and hid behind trees near the fort site and pointed at the whites' clothes. The French-Canadians, who were accustomed to dealing with Indians in the north, approached the Indians and began to communicate with them. After awhile, the men brought the Indians to Iberville who offered them food and drink. The Natives were of the Biloxi people; they were very cautious with the whites. They stayed 2 days and left with little gifts from Iberville -- "small mirrors, rings, combs, knives, vermillion and such."
THE CALUMET FOR PEACE & FRIENDSHIP
A week later they were back with their chiefs. They were a group of tribes living nearby -- the Pascagoulas, the Capinanas, the Chicachas, the Passcolas and the Biloxi. Iberville was invited to smoke the "calumet of friendship and peace" (the calumet was a long tube -- a pipe-- of hollow cane, beautifully decorated with colorful feathers -- we think of it as a peace pipe). Two chiefs came forward singing; they then rubbed white dirt onto Iberville's face, to honor him. A great feast followed that lasted for 3 days. On the final day, the Indians put a stake in the ground and danced around it. Some played the chichicois -- gourds filled with pebbles (like rattles) and others played little drums made form earthen pots with skins strecthed across the tops. After the dancing, in which Iberville was a part, the French brought out more gifts for the Natives -- more of the same trinkets, plus garments -- shirts and leggings -- and axes and picks.The Indians received the gifts with great pleasure. The French demonstrated their guns to the astonishment of the Indians.
When the fort was complete, Iberville left the group and sailed off to France. The Frenchmen who remained did some exploring of the big river, traveling in longboats; they found a bay upriver and named it the Baye des Pascagoulas for their new friends.
They were moving to the east now, passing more rivers and islands good for hunting. At one river, one of their own was lost; this place was called Aderbane -- now Bayou La Batre. Moving onward, they came into a large body of water and another island covered with sweet-smelling pinetrees and were astonished to see a "mountain of bones"! Penicaut said that they were told the skeletons in the pile were those of a great nation that had been massacred -- the Maubilias -- Tuskaloosa's people. -- killed by the cruel Hernando DeSoto. The French named this sad but beautuful place Isle Massacre.
Read a story of the encounter between
Chief Tuskaloosa and Hernando DeSoto, as perceived by me, and bring the youngsters. Bookmark here first.
The French then returned to Fort Biloxi for a rest. After a few days, they resumed explorations. This time they went to the west and found Lake Pontchatrain. They left their boats and went ashore. They slept on the banks of the lake at night. They explored the lake some more and visited a Native village before returning to their fort to await Iberville's return from France.
Iberville returned to their company soon after, though he stayed but4 days before gathering a group of men to accompany him on explorations -- including his brothers Bienville and Chateaugue and the diarist Pénicaut. They traveled west as before crossing Pontchartrain. They came upon a land called the baton rouge, so named for the red poles sunk there to mark the dividing line of the neighboring nations. The Bayogoulas and the Hummas had sunk because each nation guarded their hunting grounds jealously; those who trespassed were shot.
I will add to this as I can. Their adventures were many.
Suffice it to say that the grass is always greener... The French, in their exploring, became aware there were more desirable sites than Biloxi. Iberville sent out some men to look at Mobile Bay as a possibilty. They went to Isle Massacre first, then they went to the mainland and searched for the best location for a new fort.
FORT LOUIS DE LA MOBILE
Iberville, pleased with what he heard, of the large bay, the fresh water resources, the island barrier which could also be a port, sailed to France to get permission to have a colony; he made his young brother Bienville the governor of the colony. A site was found at Twenty-seven Mile Bluff and a fort was built and named Fort Louis de la Mobile. This was upriver from where the city is today. The site of this original fort has been located and some digging has been done.
Eight Alibamo chiefs came to the fort and conferred with Governor Bienville LeMoyne. 1702.
In 1702, Serigny LeMoyne established a fort on Dauphin Island. This would serve as an excellent port; this site was named Port Dauphine
That same year, 1702, Andre Pénicaut visited Fort Louis de la Mobile. He was a chronicler of the times and reported to the world of the French endeavor. He had been with the LeMoyne brothers in their explorations in the French territory before they came to Mobile. His writings are still in print and an excellent resource for those seeking first-hand accounts of the Mobile colony.
In Mobile, the French Marines were lonely. They needed the company of women and they desired to have families. Some had taken Indians - Choctaws mostly -- as wives. The French government arranged that 23 young girls be carefully chosen from convents, and brought to the colony as wives. These girls are now known as "The Cassette Girls" or "The Pelican Girls" (for the ship Pelican that brought them or so-named for the small cases "cassettes" they carried their meager belongings in). The young ladies were brought upriver to Fort Louis de la Mobile and soon every single one had found a husband.
You may read The
Cassette Girls meet Governor Bienville, as perceived by me,
and bring the youngsters. Bookmark here first.
The Girls soon were settling into their new homes and making the French colony a much happier place. Not that it was easy. They did not know how to use the local produce and how to prepare the fish and seafood brought into the fort. Kindly Madame Langlois, a close friend of Governor Bienville LeMoyne, invited the Girls into her home and taught them her recipes for game and produce, much of which came from trading with the Choctaws. See what they might have cooked. Within a year, the first white child was born at Fort Louis de la Mobile.
Visit the site of a Pelican Girl descendant
and see the names and some genealogies of the Pelican Girls
(also called the Cassette Girls) at Pelican Passenger List.
In 1711, it was decided that the old Fort Louis de la Mobile should be abandoned. There was fear of disease and it was thought that the air would be fresher downriver. Also pirates were invading the outpost at Port Dauphine. It was thought that more protection could be available if a new fort was put up nearby. And there had been some flooding at the old site which wreaked havoc upon the colonists. So a new fort was built closer to the Mobile Bay. At first, the new fort, named Fort Condé (shown here), was built of cedar timbers, inside the walls were the Governor's home plus a guardhouse and a storehouse. Houses sprang up around the fort, constructed mainly of timber and were raised. In 1717 the wooden fort was taken down and a new grander brick structure was put up. This fort is what you may view today in a partial reconstruction. A grand time may be had as soldiers in period costume fire the cannons! Inside the walls are mockups of the troops quarters so that you may get a nice idea of how they lived. Today Fort Condé is the site of the City of Mobile Visitors' Center and is open to the public year-round (and available for parties). It is a great place to take the family and for all ro get an idea of lifestyles of long ago.
In 1714, Bienville (shown at left) opened "Aux Alibamos". The French had built a new fort upriver from the city of Mobile and they called it Fort Toulouse. The fort was situated near where the Coosa and the Tallapoosa River meet to become the Alabama River. Lt. La Tour was commander there in 1717. To get to the new fort, troops traveled in "long boats" up the beautiful waters. Legend has it that one French commandant of the fort married the lovely Sehoy I of the Wind Clan and they were parenst of Red Shoes, Chief of the Coosadas and Sehoy II (who was mother of the great Chief Alexander McGillivray); see the story and also see their family histories. In 1759 the soldier Bossu visited the fort; Bossu was a journalist and later published his memoirs of his travels in the area. That same year the Emperor of Coweta paid a visit. Today you may visit the site of the original fort where reenactments are periodically held. A partial reconstruction has been erected at the site. See Ft. Toulouse / Ft. Jackson
Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville for
further background on Bienville. Bookmark here first.
The French built a fort on the Cersates River in 1715; that river is now called the Tennessee River.
In 1719, the first black slaves were brought into the French colony. They were crowded into slaver ships and brought into the port for sale to the colonisits.
Legend has it that a Russian Princess came to live in Mobile. She was said to have married a French chevalier and moved to Ft. Toulouse. You may read the tale at The Russian Princess and her Alibamo Friends, as perceived by me, and bring the youngsters. Bookmark here first. I first found the story in a delightful old book of stories written by Alexander Stephens titled "Romance of the Old Southwest".
In 1722 a commander of Ft. Toulouse, Capt. Louis Marchand (many differ on his first name, but his surname is fairly certain) took as his wife a woman of the Wind Clan; her name was Sehoy (we refer to her as Sehoy I, to differentiate from her daughter and granddaughter, also named Sehoy). They were the progenitors of the great lines of Creeks who led their people in times of peace and in times of war and uncertainty. Much has been written of these families and you may read some of it at Among The Creeks and see some of the family histories at Some Creek Families & Friends. Marchand was killed in a mutiny at Ft. Toulouse.
You are invited to visit a descendant's site called Jean Baptiste Marchand de Courtel (a Family Treemaker site). Bookmark here before you go.
Some families of Mobile, the French colony, were Captain Joseph and Marguerite De Lusser who had 2 daughters and who lived in Mobile in the 1720s. Their daughter Constance De Lusser grew up and her husband was Pierre Nicholas Annibal, Chevalier, Sieur DeVille, prospered in the colony in the 1740s.
Another fort was built by the French, this time on a bluff overlooking the Tombigbee River; it was named Fort Tombechbe and it was built in 1735. It was near the place where the first capitol was- St. Stephens. The idea was to pull the Choctaws into an alliance against the British and the Chickasaws.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING!
After the British took over the territory in 1763, Chevalier Lavnone went to Fort Toulouse to close it in 1764.
Note: At the close of the Creek War of 1813-1814, Fort Toulouse was rebuilt and renamed Fort Jackson. It is here that General Andrew Jackson received the surrendering Creek Chiefs.
Much more to come!
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