The distance between the Mississippi and Biloxi was not so easily overcome in those days as in ours, and the means which the two brothers had of communing together were very scanty and uncertain.
Continuing First French Colony in the Louisiana Area,
our selection from A History of Louisiana by Charles E.A. Gayarré published in 1866. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in First French Colony in the Louisiana Area.
Place: Ocean Springs, Mississippi
After having rested three days at the fort, the indefatigable Tonty re-ascended the Mississippi, with Iberville and Bienville, and finally parted with them at Natchez. Iberville was so much pleased with that part of the bank of the river where now exists the city of Natchez that he marked it down as a most eligible spot for a town, of which he drew the plan, and which he called Rosalie, after the maiden name of the Countess Pontchartrain, the wife of the chancellor. He then returned to the new fort he was erecting on the Mississippi, and Bienville went to explore the country of the Yatasses, of the Natchitoches, and of the Ouachitas. What romance can be more agreeable to the imagination than to accompany Iberville and Bienville in their wild explorations, and to compare the state of the country in their time with what it is in our days?
When the French were at Natchez they were struck with horror at an occurrence, too clearly demonstrating the fierceness of disposition of that tribe which was destined in after years to become celebrated in the history of Louisiana. One of their temples having been set on fire by lightning, a hideous spectacle presented itself to the Europeans. The tumultuous rush of the Indians; the infernal howlings and lamentations of the men, women, and children; the unearthly vociferations of the priests, their fantastic dances and ceremonies around the burning edifice; the demoniac fury with which mothers rushed to the fatal spot, and, with the piercing cries and gesticulations of maniacs, flung their new-born babes into the flames to pacify their irritated deity–the increasing anger of the heavens–blackening with the impending storm, the lurid flashes of lightning darting as it were in mutual enmity from the clashing clouds–the low, distant growling of the coming tempest — the long column of smoke and fire shooting upward from the funeral pyre, and looking like one of the gigantic torches of Pandemonium — the war of the elements combined with the worst effects of frenzied superstition of man–the suddenness and strangeness of the awful scene — all the circumstances produced such an impression upon the French as to deprive them for a moment of the powers of volition and action. Rooted to the ground, they stood aghast with astonishment and indignation at the appalling scene. Was it a dream — a wild delirium of the mind? But no — the monstrous reality of the vision was but too apparent; and they threw themselves among the Indians, supplicating them to cease their horrible sacrifice to their gods, and joining threats to their supplications. Owing to this intervention, and perhaps because a sufficient number of victims had been offered, the priests gave the signal of retreat, and the Indians slowly withdrew from the accursed spot. Such was the aspect under which the Natchez showed themselves, for the first time, to their visitors: it was ominous presage for the future.
After these explorations Iberville departed again for France, to solicit additional assistance from the government, and left Bienville in command of the new fort on the Mississippi. It was very hard for the two brothers, Sauvolle and Bienville, to be thus separated, when they stood so much in need of each other’s countenance, to breast the difficulties that sprung up around them with a luxuriance which they seemed to borrow from the vegetation of the country. The distance between the Mississippi and Biloxi was not so easily overcome in those days as in ours, and the means which the two brothers had of communing together were very scanty and uncertain.
Sauvolle died August 22,1701, and Louisiana remained under the sole charge of Bienville, who, though very young, was fully equal to meet that emergency, by the maturity of his mind and by his other qualifications. He had hardly consigned his brother to the tomb when Iberville returned with two ships of the line and a brig laden with troops and provisions.
According to Iberville’s orders, and in conformity with the King’s instructions, Bienville left Boisbriant, his cousin, with twenty men, at the old fort of Biloxi, and transported the principal seat of the colony to the western side of the river Mobile, not far from the spot where now stands the city of Mobile. Near the mouth of that river there is an island, which the French had called Massacre Island from the great quantity of human bones which they found bleaching on its shores. It was evident that there some awful tragedy had been acted; but Tradition, when interrogated, laid her choppy finger upon her skinny lips, and answered not.
This uncertainty, giving a free scope to the imagination, shrouded the place with a higher degree of horror and with a deeper hue of fantastical gloom. It looked like the favorite ballroom of the witches of hell. The wind sighed so mournfully through the shrivelled-up pines, those vampire heads seemed incessantly to bow to some invisible and grisly visitors: the footsteps of the stranger emitted such an awful and supernatural sound, when trampling on the skulls which strewed his path, that it was impossible for the coldest imagination not to labor under some crude and ill-defined apprehension. Verily, the weird sisters could not have chosen a fitter abode. Nevertheless, the French, supported by their mercurial temperament, were not deterred from forming an establishment on that sepulchral island, which, they thought, afforded some facilities for their transatlantic communications.
In 1703 war had broken out between Great Britain, France, and Spain; and Iberville, a distinguished officer of the French navy, was engaged in expeditions that kept him away from the colony. It did not cease, however, to occupy his thoughts, and had become clothed, in his eye, with a sort of family interest. Louisiana was thus left, for some time, to her scanty resources; but, weak as she was, she gave early proofs of that generous spirit which has ever since animated her; and on the towns of Pensacola and St. Augustine, then in possession of the Spaniards, being threatened with an invasion by the English of South Carolina, she sent to her neighbors what help she could in men, ammunition, and supplies of all sorts. It was the more meritorious as it was the obolus of the poor!
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history