A somewhat mysterious figure in the early history of the northern Gulf Coast, the Jean de Sauvole played a vital role in the founding settlement of what is now Mississippi.
Born in France in the 1670s in the Province of Guyenne, Sauvole (noted in various documents as Sauvol, Sauvolle, Sauvolles, and Souvole, and whose full name is unknown) was serving as an enseigne de vaisseau in the French Navy in 1698 when he was selected by Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, for a strategic mission to protect the Mississippi Valley claims made by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, in 1682.
The mission, composed mostly of French Canadians and headed by the Le Moyne brothers, Iberville and Bienville, sought to fortify the mouth of the Mississippi. Following the crew’s departure from Brest, France, Iberville became impressed with Sauvole’s leadership abilities. Sauvole accompanied Iberville on his journeys up the Mississippi River and to Pascagoula Bay in an attempt to plant an establishment at what is now Gautier. When that attempt failed, Sauvole sailed with Iberville to Biloxi Bay, where Sauvole assumed an active role in constructing Fort Maurepas at what is now Ocean Springs.
In May 1699 Iberville commissioned Sauvole as commandant of the new fort, describing him as “a well-behaved young man of ability.” When Iberville returned to France, Sauvole took the lead in completing Fort Maurepas’s construction. He also concentrated on developing good relations with the native people, in particular the Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Mobile chieftains. In general, Sauvole was very friendly and generous toward the native people, who provided the French forces with much-needed food.
In 1700 Sauvole was heavily engaged in constructing Fort La Boulaye on the Mississippi just below present-day New Orleans, after English traders invaded the lower Mississippi. Bienville was appointed commandant of the new garrison.
Although Sauvole had success with the native people, he had difficulties with his own men. He had no close connections to the French Canadians, although he admired their ability to cope with the wilderness. One point of conflict concerned the addiction many frontiersman had for the “water of life,” the hard liquor Sauvole saw as greatly harmful to his forces. He pressed for authority to ban rum and whiskey and replace them with wine and beer, but the effort failed because wine and beer were not easily preserved in the wilderness.
Another problem erupted when Jesuit Paul Du Ru was appointed chaplain of the Fort Maurepas garrison and almost immediately crossed swords with Sauvole. After losing his temper on several occasions, Du Ru was denounced by Sauvole as a malcontent and was reported to the minister of marine.
In December 1701, on his last voyage to Biloxi Bay, Iberville stopped at Pensacola and was informed that Sauvole had died on 22 August of a fever and was buried in the graveyard just outside Fort Maurepas.
- Marcel Giraud, Histoire de la Louisiane Française, vol. 1, Le Regne de Louis XIV (1953)
- Jay Higginbotham, Fort Maurepas: The Birth of Louisiana, 1699–1702 (1998)
- Jay Higginbotham, Louisiana Studies (Summer 1968)
- Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, Iberville’s Gulf Journals, ed. Richebourg Gaillard McWilliams (1981)
- Richebourg Gaillard McWilliams, Fleur de Lys and Calumet (1953)
- Charles Edwards O’Neil, Church and State in French Colonial Louisiana: Policy and Politics to 1732 (1968 )
- P. G. Roy, Bulletin des Recherches Historique (1908)
- Jean de Sauvole, The Journal of Sauvole: Historical Journal of the Establishment of the French in Louisiana, ed. Jay Higginbotham (1969)