At the Edge of an Empire
The Spanish Frontier
French Louisiana
The Caddo
From Mission to Capital
French Louisiana
In 1699, Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville started the first French settlements along the Gulf. They built a fort on Mobile Bay that was the capital of the French Louisiana colony when Los Adaes was established. This was years before New Orleans was settled. By 1710, the French Bourbons ruled Spain. As a result, French colonists were less concerned with conquering New Spain than they were with trading with their Spanish colonial “cousins.” Crozat, a French businessman, wanted to trade with New Spain. France hoped to control trade in the Mississippi River Valley and to access the rich mines in what is now Mexico. The French governor of the Louisiana colony sent a ship with goods to Vera Cruz, but the effort to start a trade relationship failed. The Spanish seized the ship, took the merchandise, and then sent the ship back to Louisiana. Spain did not allow any foreign trade in the colonies.
New Orleans in the 1720sFrench trade kettle from the mid-1700s
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St. Denis and Fort St. Jean Baptiste
In 1711, and again in 1712, a Spanish priest wrote letters to the Louisiana governor. The priest offered to help the French trade with the Spanish, if the French would support his mission efforts in the Province of Texas. Only one letter reached the French governor, and in 1713, he sent Louis Juchereau de St. Denis to set up a trading post among the Natchitoches Indians on the Red River. The post came to be called Fort St. Jean Baptiste aux Natchitoches, and that settlement grew into the town of Natchitoches. St. Denis went to find the Spanish priest, first among the Hasinai Indians in East Texas, and finally, in 1715, at Presidio San Juan Bautista on the Rio Grande. Although he was arrested there, he negotiated with the commander of the presidio. They worked out a trading relationship that altered the official Spanish policy that prevented the Spanish colonies from dealing directly with the French. St. Denis strengthened this agreement by marrying the step-granddaughter of the commander of Presidio San Juan Bautista.
Suggested Reading

Lemée, Patricia R. 1998 "Tios and Tantes: Familial and Political Relationships of Natchitoches and the Spanish Colonial Frontier" Southwestern Historical Quarterly 101(3):341-350.

Lemmon, Alfred E., Mahn T. Magill and Jason R. Wiese, editors. 2003 Charting Louisiana: Five Hundred Years of Maps. The Historic New Orleans Collection: New Orleans.

Usner, Daniel H. 1992 Indians, Settlers, & Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley Before 1783. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site