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The French in Mississippi


John Law
John Law

The French built forts and settlements along the Gulf Coast and in the Mississippi valley. In 1699 they established the first fort and permanent settlement in the Mississippi region. Under the leadership of Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, they built Fort Maurepas and the settlement of Biloxi (later Old Biloxi) in the area of present-day Ocean Springs. Biloxi became the first settlement in Louisiana, which came to include various new settlements in the lower Mississippi valley and along the Gulf Coast. In 1702 Fort Maurepas was practically abandoned in favor of a new settlement on Mobile Bay in present-day Alabama. Mobile remained the capital and principal settlement of Louisiana until 1722, when the center of government was moved to New Orleans. Fort Rosalie, at the site of present-day Natchez, was established 1716.

Louisiana struggled as a royal colony from 1699 to 1712. As a result of fighting between France and Great Britain during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), the colonists were cut off from France for years at a time. In 1712 the financially beleaguered French monarchy awarded a monopoly over Louisiana to wealthy French financier Antoine Crozat. Crozat did not develop the colony, and surrendered his rights to it in 1717. The colonist population remained quite small—only a few hundred—throughout his proprietorship.

In 1717 the right to develop the slow-growing colony was given to the Compagnie d’Occident (Company of the West), headed by Scottish financier John Law.

Law gained great influence at the French court through his establishment of what became the French national bank. Because the bank invested heavily in the Company of the West and because Louisiana was the company’s greatest asset, Law needed to develop the colony rapidly to maintain public confidence in the bank.

He undertook a promotional campaign that brought in several thousand settlers. Several hundred of them settled at or near Fort Rosalie and along the nearby Gulf Coast.

Law’s promotional literature led immigrants to anticipate quick profits from mining and other endeavors that would require little effort and investment. However, the harsh world they found was dramatically different. Many died because the overwhelmed colonial government could not meet their needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Most of the survivors stayed because they lacked the means to return to Europe. In the following decades the economy of the region remained a haphazard mixture of fur trading and small-scale agriculture.

Law’s promotional scheme, known as the Mississippi Bubble, fell apart in 1720 as word of the brutal colonial conditions reached France. The company survived, however, and continued to administer the colony until 1731. In that year, as a result of French warfare with the Natchez, Louisiana was returned to the French monarchy. "Mississippi" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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