Cavelier de la Salle
Long celebrated as the discoverer of the Mississippi and the founder of Louisiana, René-Robert Cavelier de La Salle (1643-1687) was, strictly speaking, neither.
Two facts remain certain: La Salle's desire for glory and his ambition to find a route to China. A native of Rouen, he spent nine years with the Society of Jesus before traveling to New France in 1688. With the support of Governor Frontenac, he made a name for himself in the fur trade, founding Fort Niagara in 1676. Between 1679 and 1682, La Salle and his right-handman Henri de Tonty, a Neapolitan adventurer, traversed the entire Great Lakes region and prepared the famous expedition that led him to the mouth of the Mississippi.
Like Jolliet and Marquette ten years earlier, La Salle traveled down the Mississippi to the Arkansas, leading an expedition of 50 men. Upon arrival at the confluence of the Mississippi’s three branches on April 9, 1682, he ordered his men to set up a cross and a column adorned with France’s coat of arms and organized a solemn ceremony to claim the territory, which he named Louisiana.
The return to Quebec was arduous and the welcome mixed. Resolved to make the most of his journey, La Salle returned to France and may have falsified the geography of the Mississippi, moving its course some 250 leagues to the west, near the valuables mines of Mexico. Convinced by La Salle's findings, the Marquis de Seignelay, Secretary of State for the Navy, granted him a commission over all the territory between the Illinois Country and New Spain (Mexico). In 1684 La Salle commanded a fleet of four ships to seek the mouth of the Mississippi by sea, but dissensions and difficulties got the better of the ill-fated expedition, which culminated in La Salle death in March 1687. He was assassinated by one of his companion.
Published in may 2021