The History Behind the Landing of D'Iberville

Commissioned by his royal majesty King Louis XIV of France, explorer Pierre LeMoyne Sieur d’Iberville sailed into Biloxi Bay in April of 1699.  Monsieur d’Iberville and his expedition party reconnoitered the shores of the upper Gulf of Mexico and located Ship Island before identifying a high, defendable bluff located in present-day Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  On that site, D’Iberville’s party founded Fort Maurepas, the first capital of the Louisiana Colony, and named the spot Biloxey. With the French beachhead established, King Louis XIV of France had the physical presence to defend the Louisiana claim of Rene’ Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687).  In 1682, La Salle exploring from eastern Canada had discovered the Gulf outlet of the Mississippi River and claimed it and all the vast territory it drained for France.  He named the land “Louisiana” in honor of his King.  After reconnoitering the northern Gulf Coast from Florida to the deltaic mouth of the Mississippi River, and inland as far as present day New Orleans, Louisiana, d’Iberville built Fort Maurepas on a peninsula on the east shore of the Bay of Biloxi.  The French operations were conducted from the deepwater anchorage at Ship Island. The French adventurers had made contact with the local Amerinds who were established on the Pascagoula River.  These tribes were called Bylocchy, Pascoboula, and Moctoby. The name Bylocchy or Biloxy became synonymous with the French settlement at Fort Maurepas, and in later times became spelled Biloxi. In early 1702, the French made a decision to relocate their small colony from Ocean Springs to the Mobile Bay area. The first city of Mobile was established by d’Iberville in 1702, at Twenty-Seven-Mile Bluff on the Mobile River near the confluence of the Tensaw and Middle Rivers. After the harbor at Dauphin Island was obliterated by a hurricane in 1717, the French moved the capital of Louisiana back to the site of Fort Maurepas on Biloxi Bay in 1719. This settlement was removed to present day Biloxi in 1720, as this site, which was near the present day Biloxi Lighthouse, afforded easier access from Ship Island. It was called Nouveau Biloxy (New Biloxi), and the original settlement at Ocean Springs became known as Vieux Biloxy or Old Biloxi. Colonists of John Law’s Mississippi Company were landed at Ship Island and brought to New Biloxi where they were transported to various concessions in French Louisiana. New Biloxi was essentially abandoned after the capital of Louisiana was moved to New Orleans in 1722.

History from Pierre LeMoyne Sieur d'Iberville and the Establishment of Biloxi Translated Journals 1699

 

FEBRUARY 14: I continue to follow the tracks of the Indians, having left at the place where I spent the night 2 axes, 4 knives, 2 packages of glass beads, a little vermillion.  I noticed a canoe crossing over to an island (Deer Island) and several Indians waiting for it there.  They joined 5 other canoes which crossed over to the land to the north (present day Ocean Springs).  As the land where I was was separated from them by a bay (present-day Biloxi Bay) 1 league wide and 4 leagues long, I got into my canoe and pursued the canoes and overtook them as they were landing on the shore.  All the Indians fled into the woods, leaving their canoes and baggage...I found an old man who was too sick to stand.  We talked by means of signs.  I gave him food.....I sent my brother and 2 Canadians after the Indians who had fled to try to make them come back or to capture one. Toward evening he brought a woman to me whom he had caught in the woods 3 leagues from here. I led her to the old man and left her after giving her presents...and some tobacco to take to her men.

MARCH 31 THROUGH APRIL 6, 1699:  D'Iberville knows he needs to find a spot of high ground that was near a natural channel.  He decides that this spot should be somewhere between the Mississippi River and Mobile Bay.   He sends a party to sound the waters off the Biloxi Bay.  The party returns with information that there is no channel and that it is too shallow. D'Iberville himself then heads towards present-day Bay St. Louis and Waveland to reconnoiter the area for a possible fort and take soundings. The soundings prove unsatisfactory and a squall nearly blows the small group out to sea.  The only thing that saves them from being blown out to the Chandeleur Islands or even out to sea is the fact that Cat Island suddenly shields them from the NE wind and they are able to row back towards the ships's anchorage at Ship Island.  They reach the ships at 10 pm, exhausted. The next morning (April 5), d'Iberville decides to sound the Pascagoula River in order to possibly build his fort there.  He finds the water too shallow and oyster reefs make the area hazardous for vessels.  He thinks, while journeying west along the shore, that his only alternative is to relocate to Lake Pontchartrain.  It was at this time that as he passed Biloxi Bay, he could not help but to resound the bottom there himself. To his joy, he discovered a small channel of 7 feet of water that enables him to bring his supply barges close to what is now the SW point of Ocean Springs on the east side of Biloxi Bay.

APRIL 7 THROUGH MAY 4, 1699:  The post, named Fort Maurapas (often referred to in his journal as Fort Bilocchy) , is established. The area is cleared, dwellings are constructed and the crews and those assigned to garrison the fort are all made busy.  Trenches are dug, palisades and bastions are constructed.  Six cannon from the Marin are brought in.  Small patches of vegetables are sown, the livestock brought in. On April 22, 5 Spanish deserters arrive from Pensacola on their way to New Spain on foot. The French interrogate them about the Spanish designs on the area. The Spaniards cooperate and d'Iberville becomes satisfied that the post can operate long enough for him to return to France aboard the Badine to give his report of success to Minister Pontchartrain and the King himself. Before he leaves, he appoints Sieur de Sauvole, one of his lieutenants as commandant and his brother Bienville as deputy commandant....the verbatim passage reads: I am leaving in all 70 men and six cabin boys which includes the crews of the smacks.