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Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville

Founder of New Orleans, Louisiana (1680-1767)

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Bienville, JEAN-BAPTISTE LE MOYNE, SIEUR DE, French Governor of Louisiana and founder of New Orleans, b. in Montreal, Canada, February 24, 1680; d. in Paris, March 7, 1767. His father, Charles le Moyne de Bienville, settled in Canada in 1640; his three brothers, Iberville, Serigny, and Chateauguay, likewise distinguished themselves in the early history of Louisiana. In 1698-1699, Bienville accompanied his brother Iberville in an expedition despatched from France to explore the territory near the mouth of the Mississippi. They founded a settlement at old Biloxi, where in 1700 Bienville became commandant, and, after Iberville’s death in 1706, governor of the colony.

It was believed in France that Louisiana presented a rich field for enterprise and speculation and a grant with exclusive privileges was obtained by Antoine Crozat for fifteen years. In 1712 Crozat appointed M. la Mothe Cadillac, governor, and M. de Bienville lieutenant-governor. But Cadillac dying in 1715, Bienville once more assumed the reins of government. In 1716, he conducted an expedition against the Natchez Indians, and having brought them to terms, finished the fort “Rosalie” which had been commenced by his brother, Iberville, sixteen years before. In 1717, Epinay, a new governor, arrived in the colony, bringing with him the decoration of the Cross of St. Louis for Bienville. In the meantime, Crozat, failing to realize the great profits he had expected, abandoned the whole enterprise and surrendered his charter to the king in 1717. Another company was at once formed and Bienville received a new commission as governor of the province. He now resolved to remove the headquarters from Biloxi, Mobile, and St. Louis Bay to the more fertile region of the Mississippi River, and in 1718 he selected the site for a new settlement, which he called New Orleans. He left fifty persons there to clear the land and build some houses, but it was not till 1722 that it became the seat of government.

Experience had shown Bienville that the fertile soil of the lower Mississippi, as well as the climate, was well adapted to the cultivation of sugar, cotton. tobacco, and rice, and that Europeans were not fitted for field-work in the burning suns of Louisiana, for they sickened and died. The first plantation of any extent was therefore commenced with negroes imported from Guinea. In 1719, the province became involved in hostilities with the Spaniards in consequence of the war with France and Spain. The governor twice reduced the town of Pensacola and sent detachments to prevent the Spaniards from making inroads into upper Louisiana, and the country bordering on the Rio Grande.

When peace was restored, immigrants began to arrive in great numbers from France and Germany. In the autumn of 1726, the Government of Louisiana passed out of the hands of Bienville and he retired to France to recruit his health. In 1734, the king reappointed him Governor and Commandant-General of Louisiana, and early in the autumn he arrived at New Orleans and entered upon the duties of his office. An expedition against the Chickasaw Indians in the spring of 1736 resulted in disaster, but another expedition in 1739 met with better success. This campaign closed his military and official career in the colony. He returned to France under a cloud of censure from the Government, after having faithfully served his country for more than forty years. He was buried with military honors in the cemetery of Montmartre.


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