Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville, founded the French colony of Louisiana and the first European settlement in what is now Mississippi at Biloxi in 1699. The third son of noted New France emigrant Charles Le Moyne de Longueuil et de Châteauguay, Iberville was born in Montreal, in the French colony of Canada, in 1661. From 1686 to 1697 he took part in several expeditions to drive the English from the Hudson Bay region and claim Canada for France. His successes earned him a reputation as a bold and ruthless warrior, while plunder and trade licenses granted by the French government made him very wealthy.
In 1697 the French government selected him to lead an expedition to fortify the mouth of the Mississippi River and establish a colony in the Gulf Coast region. The French hoped to secure the area for themselves and prevent English colonial expansion in the region. René-Robert, Cavalier de La Salle, had claimed the area in 1682 and named it Louisiana in honor of the French king but had failed to solidify the claim by establishing a settlement.
Iberville departed France in October 1698 with two ships, the Badine and the Marin, and arrived on the Gulf Coast in January 1699. Finding the Spanish already in possession of the excellent harbor at Pensacola, he continued westward, exploring Mobile Bay and portions of the Mississippi Sound. Anchoring off of Ship Island on 10 February, he took a canoe over to the mainland three days later. He moved quickly to obtain the friendship of local tribes by providing them with food and gifts. From them he learned of a river to the west that he believed was the Mississippi and set out to explore it. Only after returning from his expedition up the river did he obtain conclusive proof that he had indeed found the Mississippi: a local tribe presented members of his expedition with a letter written more than a decade earlier to La Salle.
Iberville did not find a suitable site for a fort along the Mississippi and authorized the construction of a fort on Biloxi Bay. The settlement, Fort Maurepas, served as the first capital of French Louisiana. When the post was completed, Iberville returned to France, returning in January 1700 to further explore the Mississippi. He authorized construction of Fort Boulaye, located in present-day Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, to deter English intrusion before leaving for France once again. He returned in December 1701 with instructions to move the colony to Mobile Bay to be closer to France’s ally, Spain, at Pensacola, in case of war with England. Iberville left the area for the final time after the construction of Fort Louis at Mobile in 1702.
In 1706 Iberville took part in an expedition charged with attacking British colonies in the West Indies. He captured the island of Nevis from the English but caught yellow fever in Havana soon thereafter and died on 9 July 1706.
- Nellis M. Crouse, Le Moyne d’Iberville, Soldier of New France (2001)
- Richard A. McLemore, A History of Mississippi (1973)
- Richebourg G. McWilliams, ed., Iberville’s Gulf Journals (1991)
- Charles L. Sullivan and Murella H. Powell, The Mississippi Gulf Coast: Portrait of a People (1999)