Mississippi Connection

There exist strong connections between Mississippi and France as a result of French exploration and colonization that began while Louis XIV was king of France. Louis XIVís minister of finance, Colbert, encouraged exploration and colonization as a way to increase the power and wealth of the monarchy. In 1608, the French established a colony at Quebec. Colbert had gathered over 4,000 French peasants to be colonists. The French then sent Marquette and Joliet to explore the lands south of Canada. They sailed down the Mississippi River as far south as Arkansas and claimed the lands on both sides of the river, establishing French territorial claims to the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys. In 1682, La Salle followed the path of Marquette and Joliet down the Mississippi River and traveled to its mouth, claiming all the lands on either side for his king, Louis XIV. He named the lands in honor of the king, calling them "Louisiana." The land that would become the state of Mississippi was included in this land. While traveling down the river, La Salle came into contact with early Mississippians, the Natchez Indians. He noted that they were very hostile. This would not be the last contact between the Natchez and the French.

In 1699, Louis XIV commissioned an expedition under the leadership of Pierre Le Moyne díIberville. He was assisted by his brother Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville. They were to establish a French colony in Louisiana and to defend the kingís claim from the Spanish and British. One of their chief goals in establishing this colony was to protect French trade along the Mississippi River.

On February 10, 1699, Iberville landed on Ship Island off the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He was met by a group of Biloxi Indians. Iberville told them he was looking for the Mississippi River. The Indians helped him find the river, but he decided that the site was not suitable for a fort. Instead of building a fort at the mouth of the Mississippi River, he built one on Biloxi Bay. The first French settlement was established in 1699 at Fort Maurepas. The first fort was built across the bay. The city of Biloxi grew up around the French forts established along the bay. Biloxi proved to be a poor location for the main French fort in Louisiana, so in 1718, the French moved the capital to New Orleans named after the city, Orleans in France.

In 1714, the French established a trading outpost at Natchez which is located on the Mississippi River where St. Catherineís Creek enters the river. The Natchez Indians were angered by the French intrusion into their lands. In 1714 and 1715, the Natchez Indians killed several French traders. They also retaliated by paralyzing French trade along the Mississippi River. Bienville was sent to seek revenge against the Natchez. He forced the Natchez to execute those who killed the French traders, return all stolen merchandise, and to build a fort for the French on the bluff at Natchez. In 1716, Fort Rosalie was completed.

Natchez began to grow dramatically after 1716. By 1723, more that 300 settlers and slaves lived in Natchez. In 1729, the population had risen to over 750. The settlers grew many crops including tobacco, wheat, indigo, and rice. They also cut timber and raised hogs. Natchez grew so quickly that it was declared a separate district in Louisiana.

Many of the French intermarried with the Indians, but this practice was discouraged by the French officers. In 1704, twenty young French girls were brought to the province to marry the French settlers. In 1706, there was a "petticoat insurrection" because the young women were unhappy with this rough, unsettled land and wanted to go back to France. The sea captains refused them passage. Over the next several years as many as 500 young women known as "filles à la cassette" or "casquette girls" were brought to the Louisiana province. Each girl was given a casquette, a small suitcase, containing a wedding dress and other personal articles. Most of these girls came from orphanages, brothels, and prisons. In some cases, girls were sold by their own parents. Ursuline nuns traveled with them and stayed with them until a suitable marriage could be arranged.

The French experience in Natchez was not all good. The Natchez Indians continued to be trouble for the French. The Natchez were proud and objected to the growth of the colony, as well as to the missionariesí attempts to convert them. The French began to demand Natchez land that was sacred to the Indians. They also demanded free provisions monthly. In 1722, the Natchez attacked Fort Rosalie. The French reacted by destroying two Natchez villages. In 1729, the Natchez Indians plotted with the Chickasaw and Yazoo Indians to attack the French fort and run the French off their lands. Fearing their plot had been discovered, the Natchez moved early and infiltrated the fort at Natchez. They slaughtered the soldiers and settlers at Natchez. The Yazoos also attacked and slaughtered French settlers at Fort St. Peter on the Yazoo River. The French responded by sending an army that hunted down and annihilated the Natchez Indian tribe. The Indians who were not killed were sold into slavery in the West Indies or escaped and found refuge with the Chickasaws.

After the war with the Natchez, the trading post at Natchez was ignored by the French as they began to focus on their settlements at Biloxi, Mobile, and New Orleans. French control of Mississippi ended during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). The French found allies among the Choctaw Indians in their fight against the British and Chickasaw Indians over control of Mississippi. In the end, the French lost the war and all French possessions in America, including Mississippi. French rule of Mississippi was over, but the influence would last.

Many of the French settlers remained in Mississippi as it passed through French, British, Spanish, and finally American control. An example was Louis Le Fleur, a French Canadian who came to Mississippi to trade. In 1810, he established a trading post along the Natchez Trace called French Camp. Le Fleur had close relationships with the Choctaw Indians, which is evidenced by the fact that he married the daughter of the Choctaw Chief, Pushmataha. His son, Greenwood Leflore rose in prominence in Mississippi politics and business. Greenwood Leflore was educated by a friend of his fatherís in Nashville, Tennessee. He became the chief of the Choctaw Indians and was responsible for introducing Christianity to the Choctaws and for placing a great importance on education.

The French influence can be seen throughout Mississippi (Le Fleurís Bluff became Jackson, our state capital). French settlements at Biloxi and Natchez became major cities in Mississippi history. Leflore County and the city of Greenwood are named after Greenwood Le Flore. The French introduced Catholicism to Mississippi as well as slavery. The French are also responsible for the annihilation of a whole tribe of Indians, the Natchez.

Mississippi has been greatly influenced by the French. One cannot study Mississippi history thoroughly without studying French colonization and trade in Mississippi, and one cannot look at a map of or travel around our state without coming across places that have been touched by French influence.

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Last modified: Wednesday, 28-Oct-98 12:14:45