French Contact


In the 1600s, the Coastal Bend had thriving communities of Native peoples, but Europeans had not made any permanent settlements in the area. Spurred by dreams of silver, ports, and land, King Louis XIV of France hired Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle to explore the lands at the mouth of the Mississippi River and settle them for France. The ensuing expedition changed Texas history forever.

Why did France want to build a colony on the Gulf of Mexico? A colony on the Mississippi River would allow France to control the entire middle section of North America, and ship the resources from most of the continent back home. It would also connect the French settlements in Canada to a port that never froze over. But there was another reason, one that the King and La Salle were not eager to discuss. Much of Spain’s money from North America came from silver mines in northern Mexico.

A colony near those mines could allow France to steal those mines and all their valuable silver. We know from historical documents that the King was interested in those silver mines, and we know from the La Belle shipwreck that La Salle had some tools for attacking forts like the ones at the mines. The shipwreck contained petards, cup-like siege weapons that would have blasted open fort doors.