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Monday, May 27, 2019

Maritime Logistics Professional

La Belle

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on September 14, 2012

Part of a failed seventeenth-century French expedition to the Gulf of Mexico

The La Belle was a one of four vessels dispatched from France in 1684 by King Louis XIV and under the command of Robert de La Salle to discover the mouth of the Mississippi River, claim the region for France, and establish a small settlement.  Ultimately, the expedition ended in failure, with tragic consequences for all involved.  The La Belle was a barque longue, a small two-masted square rigged vessel.  It displaced about 45 tons, was 54 feet in length, with a beam of 14 feet and a draft of eight feet.  Original plans for the expedition were for it to start in Canada and journey down the Mississippi to the mouth.  Thus, La Belle was constructed to be disassembled until reaching the river.  Plans changed and the expedition sailed from France in an attempt to reach the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico.  One of the four ships was captured by pirates in the Caribbean.  The remaining three continued on.  Unfortunately, none on board had been to the Gulf of Mexico previously and they had no real charts.  After floundering around without locating the mouth of the Mississippi River, the three vessels ended up off the coast of modern-day Texas.  They landed off Matagorda Bay in March 1685.  One of the vessels grounded while crossing the bar and was lost.  There were no deaths, though, and much of the provisions on board were recovered.  La Salle directed the construction of the fortified settlement, called Fort Saint Louis, about 45 miles inland on a bluff overlooking Garcitas Creek, near what is now Victoria, Texas.  Over strong objection, the largest vessel in the flotilla, the 36-gun Le Joly, headed back to France, considering its mission accomplished.  In October, La Salle decided to continue the search for the mouth of the Mississippi.  He boarded the La Belle with plans to head northwest along the coast.  After the vessel’s captain died of food poisoning, La Salle and his soldiers went ashore and continued their journey on foot.  Ultimately, La Salle was killed when some of his soldiers mutinied.  With an inexperienced mate left in charge, the La Belle soon grounded in the mudflats at the southern end of Matagorda Bay.  Of the 27 persons on board, only three made it back to the settlement.  Ultimately, the local Indians turned hostile and attacked.  All except five children were killed.  Three of the children were rescued by Spanish forces and eventually made their way back to France.  The wreck of La Belle was found in 1995.  Many artifacts have been recovered and efforts are underway to restore and preserve the remains of the vessel itself.