The oldest French settlement on the US Gulf Coast.
While the Spanish established a short-lived settlement in Pensacola in 1559 and claimed all lands bordering the Gulf of Mexico, it made no other attempts to occupy those portions of the coast now located in the United States. In 1682, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, led a small party of French adventurers down the Mississippi River, coming close, but not reaching the mouth of the river and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1698, the French-Canadian soldier-sailor Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville was commissioned by the King of France to command a fleet of four ships to locate from the sea the mouth of the Mississippi River and establish a French claim to the region. In March 1699, the fleet entered the mouth of the Mississippi, but could locate no suitable site for settlement. They re-entered the Gulf of Mexico and sailed east where, in what is now the vicinity of Biloxi, Mississippi, d’Iberville erected Fort Maurepas. Prior to his return to France in May 1699, d’Iberville appointed Sauvolle de la Villantry as commandant and d’Iberville’s teenage brother Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville as deputy commandant. The fort and its general vicinity were also known as Bilocci or Biloxi. Biloxi was designated as the capital of the new territory of French Louisiana in 1719. In 1722, Bienville, by now the colonial governor, moved the capital to the newly-established La Nouvelle-Orleans (New Orleans), the first piece of solid ground that the French could find when sailing up the Mississippi River. By this time, the original settlement, in what became known as Old Biloxi, was relocated across Biloxi Bay to New Biloxi, where it remains today.