Exploration and Discovery (1542-1647)

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Hernando de Soto. (Sketch by Janis Blair)
Hernando de Soto. Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto discovered the Mississippi River about 1542. After de Soto’s death, Luis de Moscoso and the remaining men of his expedition traveled down the Mississippi passing through St. Charles Parish on their way to Mexico. They were perhaps the first Europeans to touch St. Charles Parish soil although others may have been here before them. (Sketch by Janis Blair)
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Robert Cavalier, the Sieur de La Salle. LaSalle and Tonti are the first known Europeans to set foot upon the soil of St. Charles Parish. (Sketch by Janis Blair)

After the discovery of the river, few explorers came to the Lower Mississippi Valley. Because of this, over 140 years would pass before the idea of settlement would arise. The Mississippi River and its tributaries enabled the early explorers to enter what is now called St. Charles Parish.

La Salle in Hahnville
Taking Possession of Louisiana and the River Mississippi, in the name of Louis XIVth, by Cavelier de la Salle by Bocquin, ca.1860, color lithograph, THNOC.1970.1 In 1682, René Robert Cavelier, sieur de la Salle claimed the lands drained by the Mississippi River for France. Passing through St. Charles Parish on his return trip upriver, La Salle presented his blue serge coat to the Quinapissa Indian chief in present-day Hahnville in honor of this special occasion. (Courtesy of The Historic New Orleans Collection)

In 1682, Robert Cavalier, Sieur de LaSalle, a French fur trader and explorer who started his journey in Canada with his lieutenant, Henri de Tonti, traveled the entire length of the Mississippi River. As his expedition passed through present-day Hahnville, it was attacked by indigenous Quinapissa villagers. LaSalle went on to claim for France the Lower Mississippi Valley and called it La Louisiane (Louisiana) in honor of King Louis XIV. The Louisiana Territory, as it would be referred to, spanned more than half of the continent. It was a vast region that extended to the beginning of every river and stream whose waters flowed into the Mississippi River. Upon his return upriver, LaSalle presented the Quinapissa chief with a blue serge coat in honor of the special occasion. Tonti, on his return trip upriver, gave the chief a double glass bottle and left a letter for LaSalle when he returned. Several years later LaSalle returned, but failed in his attempts to colonize Louisiana.

Colonizing the Mississippi River Valley remained a priority for France as a result of LaSalle’s fellow explorers and other French entrepreneurs who believed the colony would enrich the crown in many ways. As a result, King Louis XIV authorized the settlement and establishment of a military outpost near the Mississippi to deter England’s interest in colonizing the Lower Valley and to take advantage of Spain’s concurrent military decline.

This text is copyright © material by Marilyn Richoux, Joan Becnel and Suzanne Friloux, from St. Charles Parish, Louisiana: A Pictorial History, 2010.

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