Biography of Pierre le Moyne de Iberville

AKA: Pierre le Moyne D’Iberville

Iberville, Pierre le Moyne de, first Royal Governor of Louisiana, was the third of eleven sons of the brave Charles le Moyne, Seigneur of Longueil, Lower Canada, all of whom were distinguished soldiers of France. He was born at Montreal, July 20, 1662, and entered the service of France at an early age. After a brilliant career in the wars with England and Holland, he returned to France in 1697 and was created a Knight of St. Louis in recognition of his eminent services. He took this occasion to urge upon the Court the necessity of prompt action in sending a fleet to the Gulf of Mexico to take possession and plant a colony in Louisiana, which had been neglected since the death of La Salle in 1687. Accordingly, orders were issued in 1698 by Louis XIV for the dispatch of an expedition of colonists to the Mississippi, of which D’Iberville was given the command with the title of Governor-General. France was now to play her part in the great game of strategy with Spain and England for the control of the Mississippi basin. Forts and settlements on the lower Mississippi and the Gulf would provide Canada with a double outlet to the sea, and secure to France the free navigation of these waters, and the English colonies on the Atlantic would be hemmed in between the great French possessions of Canada and Louisiana. Spain, after two centuries of opportunity, had failed to seize the control of the lower Mississippi and had fastened her grasp on the islands and mainland farther to the south. France in actual possession could ignore her title based on early discoveries. The need of haste, however, was apparent; Spain was already in possession of the bay of Pensacola and engaged in establishing a colony there.

The squadron under D’Iberville set sail from Brest on the 24th of October, 1698. It was composed of two frigates, the Marin and Badine. each carrying 30 guns, the former commanded by Compte de Surgeres and the latter by D’Iberville himself, and two smaller vessels, bearing nearly 200 colonists and a company of marines. Among the colonists were many women and children, the families of soldiers, who had been offered liberal inducements to join the expedition. There were also agriculturists and mechanics, and a full supply of clothing and provisions and necessary implements had been provided. When they arrived in the bay called by the Spaniards Santa Maria de Galvez de Pensacola on January 28, 1696, they did not deem it prudent to remain in the harbor, as two Spanish frigates were already there, and the Spaniards had been engaged for the space of four months in planting their colony. D’Iberville writes “This is certainly a most beautiful port equal at least to that of Brest. and has been lost to us by delay.” After exploring the Bay of Mobile, and Dauphin, Horn and Dog islands, they finally anchored on Tuesday, February 10, in the harbor north of Ship island, first called Surgeres, in honor of its discovery by that commander. Here D’Iberville learned from the Biloxi Indians of a large river to the westward, which they called the Malabouchia, and inferring that it was the Mississippi, he resolved to leave his vessels where they were safe and go in search of it. Meanwhile, on February 26, he had dispatched two feluccas in command of D’Sauvol to explore the Pascagoula ten leagues to the northeast. On Friday, the 27th, D’Iberville and his brother Bienville and a force of 51 men, part of whom were French Canadians embarked in two long boats for the purpose of exploring the coast to the west, and also to search out the entrance to the Mississippi with a view of ascending that stream and finding a favorable location for a settlement. He thus describes his discovery of the mouth of the Mississippi March 2: “At this moment we perceived a pass between two banks, which appeared like islands. We saw that the water had changed; tasted and found it fresh, a circumstance that gave us great consolation in that moment of consternation. Soon after we beheld the thick, muddy water. As we advanced, we saw the passes of the river, three in number, and the current of the stream was such that we could not ascend it without difficulty, although the wind was fair and favorable. . . . The coast consists of nothing more than two narrow strips of land, about a musket shot in width, having the sea on both sides of the river, which flows between these two strips of land, and frequently overflows them. . . . On Tuesday the 3rd, mass was performed, and a Te Deum sung in gratitude for our discovery of the entrance of the Mississippi river.” Of this first voyage up the river D’Iberville ascended more than 100 leagues to the village of the Houmas. Strange to say he was constantly assailed with doubts as to whether he was really on the Mississippi, and writes that “he is very much vexed at the Recollet (Narrative of Father Hennepin), whose false narratives (q. v.) had deceived every one and caused our sufferings and total failure of our enterprise by the time consumed in search of things which alone existed in his imagination.” All doubts, however, were finally settled when he found among the Bayagoulas Indians (the Quinipissas of La Salle and Tonty) a letter left by Tonty for La Salle, dated at the village of the Quinipissas April 20, 1686. An old suit of Spanish armour, a relic of De Soto’s army, still further identified the river. On the return trip, Bienville, sent his brother down to the mouth to sound the passes, while he himself with a few companions returned to Ship Island by way of pass Manchac and lakes Maurepas and Ponchartrain. It had been the intention of D’Iberville to find a suitable place on the Mississippi to establish his colony, but, having failed to find one he proceeded to thoroughly explore the shores in the vicinity of Ship island in search of a location. He selected an elevated site on the northeast shore of the Bay of Biloxi and there erected a fort, with log cabins for the colonies, which were finished by May 1st. D’Iberville having now built a fort and founded a colony at the Bay of Biloxi, as the most convenient place to establish commercial relations with the Indian tribes, the West India Islands, Mexico and Europe, returned to France. He returned the following year and built another fort on the banks of the Mississippi, on learning from Sauvolle that two English armed ships had entered the Mississippi to establish a colony on its banks. These ships sailed back to the Gulf on being informed that they were on the Mississippi, on which the French had established themselves, and therefore they were trespassers. On his return in January, 1700, D’Iberville brought with him sixty Canadian immigrants and a large supply of provisions and stores. He only remained a few days at the fort, and then proceeded to the Mississippi on another voyage of exploration. On his way up the river he selected the site for the new fort twenty-eight leagues from the mouth, and a short distance below the English Turn. After passing the Ellis cliffs he landed at the village of the Natchez, ” the most civilized of all the nations,” and concluded a treaty of peace with them on the 5th of March. He ascended the river above Grand Gulf and on his return superintended the completion of the fort near the mouth of the river. Bienville was placed in command with a force of 25 men. In May D’Iberville once more returned to France and did not come again to Biloxi until December, 1701, when he once more brought a large amount of supplies, arms, etc., and a number of colonists. During his absence, Governor D’Sauvolle had died of yellow fever, leaving Bienville to succeed him as governor, and the colonists had been reduced by sickness to 150 in numbers. In 1702 war was declared by England against France and Spain, and the King of France ordered the headquarters of the governor to be removed to Mobile. Dauphin Island was used as a convenient station for the fleet and for many years it was an important point. In June, 1702, D’Iberville again returned to France, and when about to sail a fourth time for the Mississippi at the close of the year 1704, he was taken seriously ill at Rochelle, and was unable to leave France until the spring of 1706. On reaching the West Indies, he attacked and captured the island of Nevis, and on arriving before Havana, the same year, he died of yellow fever after a short illness. The death of M. D’Iberville was severely felt by the colonists, and the more so, as during his long absence from the colony until his death, dissensions had arisen among the several colonial authorities which retarded its growth.

See: Historical Jour, of d’Iberville’s expedition

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