En Français, s’il vous plaît: French Mississippi

When Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville began exploring the French colony of Louisiana in early January 1699, the exact location was not in what is now Louisiana, but in Mississippi. Fort Maurepas, in Ocean Springs near Biloxi, was the first permanent outpost in the colony. It was established to prevent the advancement of the Spaniards who had returned to Pensacola the previous year. Iberville had also dropped anchor at Dauphin Island, today in Alabama, named for the great grandson and successor (le dauphin) of Louis XIV, and not for the sea mammal of the same name in French. He also called it Massacre Island because of the large number of bones scattered everywhere, which was probably the remains of an Indian burial mound destroyed by a hurricane. From this base, he was finally able to find in early March what he and his men had gone to look for: the mouth of a river which he called the Saint-Louis. Fort Louis of Louisiana was established by Iberville soon thereafter. Today Old Mobile, it was a major warehouse for trade between Saint-Domingue, Mexico, Cuba and France. In 1720, Biloxi was declared the capital of French Louisiana. On these facts, one can base the argument that the Gulf Coast, from Mobile to New Orleans, is the cradle of Louisiana.

In 1763, with the Treaty of Paris which ended the Seven Years’ War, the territory of Louisiana was divided between Spain and Great Britain. West Florida was ceded to the British, until it returned to Spanish control during the American Revolutionary War. This area was disputed between the major world powers until the Republic of West Florida was declared in 1810. It only lasted a few months before the Americans seized it and integrated it into the new state of Louisiana in 1812. However, this part, which today is called the Florida parishes, was not officially transferred from Spain to the United States until 1821.

With more than twenty parades on the Mississippi coast and almost 70 in Alabama, the carnival celebrations have a legacy steeped in ancient traditions. Mobile never misses an opportunity to remind people that its Mardi Gras is older than New Orleans’ with the first fête going back to 1703. When you look closely, the similarities between our regions are striking. Each summer, the coast attracts hundreds of Louisianans on vacation who sunbath on the white sandy beaches between Biloxi and Pensacola. You can even find creolophones and francophones still to this day. The best gumbo I’ve ever eaten outside of Louisiana was in a little restaurant literally on the gulf in Biloxi. Unfortunately, Katrina blew it away. To tell the truth, it was the only gumbo I ever dared to eat outside of Louisiana, but it tasted like home. But given all these connections, had I really left?


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