French Found the Louisiana Colony Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

France’s successful establishment of a Louisiana colony negated Spain’s claims to the lower Mississippi Valley and blocked England’s plans to expand into the region.

Summary of Event

By founding the Louisiana Colony in 1699, France supported its previous claim to the Mississippi Valley, which was also coveted by Spain and by England. [kw]French Found the Louisiana Colony (May 1, 1699) [kw]Colony, French Found the Louisiana (May 1, 1699) [kw]Louisiana Colony, French Found the (May 1, 1699) Expansion and land acquisition;May 1, 1699: French Found the Louisiana Colony[3130] Colonization;May 1, 1699: French Found the Louisiana Colony[3130] Exploration and discovery;May 1, 1699: French Found the Louisiana Colony[3130] Government and politics;May 1, 1699: French Found the Louisiana Colony[3130] American Colonies;May 1, 1699: French Found the Louisiana Colony[3130] Louisiana colony Colonization;France of Louisiana d’Iberville, Pierre Le Moyne Le Moyne, Jean-Baptiste La Salle, Sieur de Tonty, Henri de Louis XIV

In the sixteenth century, Spanish explorers based in Florida discovered the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River, but they did not found a colony there. More than a century later, after the French had established a colony in Quebec, Canada, explorers and fur traders venturing south and west began exploring the upper reaches of the Mississippi River. Early in 1682, René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle La Salle, sieur de[LaSalle, sieur de] , a prominent French Canadian explorer, and his longtime lieutenant, Henri de Tonty, Tonty, Henri de organized an expedition whose goal was to reach the mouth of the Mississippi Mississippi River, exploration of at the Gulf of Mexico. They were successful, and on April 9, 1682, La Salle claimed the Mississippi Valley for France, naming the territory Louisiane, in honor of Louis XIV Louis XIV[Louis 14];Louisiana and , the French king.

However, when La Salle attempted to return two years later with a boatload of colonists, he mistakenly ended up in Texas. His colony there failed, and La Salle was murdered by his own men. Nevertheless, his project was not forgotten. Tonty’s book about La Salle’s final expedition, published in 1697, drew the attention of French readers to Louisiana, and about the same time, Louis XIV was informed that the English were making plans to seize the Mississippi Valley. It was decided that a French expedition to establish a colony in Louisiana should be organized immediately and that the best person to lead it was Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville Iberville, Pierre Le Moyne d’ , a native Canadian, who as a French naval officer had gained fame for his victories against the British.

On October 24, 1698, Iberville sailed from Brest, France, with four ships, carrying a crew of three hundred. His second-in-command was his brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Le Moyne, Jean-Baptiste[LeMoyne, Jean-Baptiste] . At Santo Domingo, Iberville took the precautionary measure of adding the warship François to his little fleet, but when they reached Mobile Bay without sighting any English ships, he sent the François back to Santo Domingo. After exploring the Mobile Bay area, Iberville sailed west, anchoring beside Ship Island, near what is now Biloxi, Mississippi.

Iberville’s next project was to select a site for his colony. Loading some fifty crew members into two longboats, Iberville and his brother set off through the marshy islands, searching for the mouth of the Mississippi. They reached their goal on March 2, 1699, and then spent two and a half weeks moving up the river, visiting several Indian tribes, until they separated into two parties for further explorations before returning to their ships. Iberville was now convinced that it would be most wise to place the first French settlement in Louisiana on the Gulf Coast, where large ships could anchor, rather than in a less accessible place upriver. He settled on a site on the eastern side of Biloxi Bay. There he directed his men to build a small square fort, which he named Fort Maurepas (now Ocean Springs, Mississippi), in honor of the French prime minister. On May 9, Iberville set off for France, leaving the fort and the seventy men who remained behind in charge of the sieur de Sauvole, with Bienville as second-in-command.





When Iberville returned in December, 1699, bringing additional colonists, he learned that several months previously Bienville had encountered an English ship on the Mississippi not far from what is now New Orleans. When Bienville convinced the British captain that there was a French fleet just up the river, the captain turned around and sailed away, abandoning his plan to establish a British settlement on the Mississippi River. Realizing that he needed a second fort, one that could command the river itself, Iberville dispatched his brother to find a suitable site and construct a fort there. The result was Fort de la Boulaye, situated on the west bank of the river, 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of its mouth.

Unfortunately, the men Iberville brought over from France were not farmers and had no interest in raising crops, nor did they have any prior experience that would equip them for frontier life. They depended for their very existence on supply ships from France. Many of them became ill and died; some actually starved to death. A contingent of colonists whom Tonty brought down from Canada fared better, for they had the skills that life on the frontier demanded; their presence among the settlers was invaluable.

When Iberville came back from France in December, 1701, he decided to move most of the colonists from Fort Maurepas to a temporary home on Massacre Island, now Dauphin Island, and then to a third settlement on the western side of Mobile Bay. There, he had Bienville build a fort much larger and more substantial than the other two. He intended Fort Saint Louis de la Mobile to be the administrative center of the Louisiana colony.

Iberville left Louisiana for the last time in April, 1702; four years later, he died of yellow fever. Tonty fell victim to the same disease in 1704. After the death of Sauvole in 1701, Bienville became governor of the colony. He is credited with holding it together during the yellow fever epidemics of 1701 and 1704 and also with insisting that the settlers raise the crops that would ensure their survival when supply ships were not forthcoming.


Instead of the easy wealth that they expected to acquire in the New World, the French colonists found only hardship, misery, illness, disease, and, in many cases, an untimely death. The survival of the Louisiana colony was due in large part to the efforts of three indomitable men, Iberville, Bienville, and Tonty. Although Iberville’s dream of a French inland empire or even of a French continent would never be realized, the southern Mississippi Valley and the Gulf Coast still reflect the culture of the nation that first colonized the area.

Had the French not successfully established the Louisiana colony, the history of the United States would have been altogether different. If Spain had followed up that early claim and placed settlements in the area, it might have become another Mexico rather than a part of the United States. If the British had colonized the area and taken control of the southern coast, the outcome of the American Revolution might well have been very different. In any case, it was only because the French had taken possession of Louisiana that the United States was able to buy it from them in 1803, thus acquiring an area that extended from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Without the Louisiana Purchase, it would never have been possible for the United States of America to become a land that stretches “from sea to shining sea.”

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brasseaux, Carl A., trans. and ed. A Comparative View of French Louisiana, 1699 and 1762: The Journals of Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and Jean-Jacques-Blaise d’Abbadie. USL History Series 13. Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1979. Contains Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville’s personal account of his first journey to the Gulf Coast. Maps, illustrations, and notes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crouse, Nellie M. Lemoyne D’Iberville: Soldier of New France. Reprint. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001. A reprint of the 1954 standard biography, with a new introduction by Daniel H. Usner.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Davis, Edwin Adams. Louisiana: The Pelican State. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. A good starting point for the study of Louisiana history. Illustrated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giraud, Marcel. The Reign of Louis XIV, 1698-1715. Vol. 1 in A History of French Louisiana, translated by Joseph C. Lambert, revised and corrected by the author. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974. A major scholarly work. Useful maps and charts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hauck, Philomena. Bienville: Father of Louisiana. Lafayette: Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1998. A biographical study of the governor credited with permanently establishing the Louisiana colony.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">McGinty, Garnie William. A History of Louisiana. 5th ed. New York: Exposition Press, 1951. Almost half of this work is devoted to the exploration and settlement of Louisiana.

Champlain’s Voyages

First European Settlement in North America

Company of New France Is Chartered

Founding of Montreal

Explorations of Radisson and Chouart des Groseilliers

French Explore the Mississippi Valley

La Salle’s Expeditions

Related articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Samuel de Champlain; Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville; Louis Jolliet; Sieur de La Salle; Louis XIV; Jacques Marquette; Pierre Esprit Radisson. Louisiana colony Colonization;France of Louisiana

Categories: History