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The first Europeans who entered the area now known as Mississippi were from Spain. (See Spanish Exploration) Hernando de Soto is believed to have led his expedition westward across northern Mississippi in late 1540. During the Pontotoc Battle of 1541, many of de Soto's expedition were killed due to an attack from the Chickasaws. As a result of his trek through the wilderness the Native Americans who populated the area were devestated with disease, causing their population to drop drasticaly in the years after the Spainards visit.

In 1564 the King of Spain heard that French colonists in search of freedom of religion had started a settlement
Fort Caroline in that part of Spain's territory in the New World known today as our state of Florida. This was felt as a direct threat to Spain as they claimed all of North America (although at this time they didn't know how huge the continent was) as theirs. The Spanish king lost no time in sending Pedro Menendez and his band of soldiers to wipe out the tiny French colony. The only protection the French had was a small fort which they had built on the St. Johns River in Florida. It took no time for the Spanish warriors to wipe out the small colony and only a few of the French excaped by sea. The small French colony of Fort Caroline only lasted about a year. (It should be noted that this was perhaps the beginning of the fight between Spain, France, and Great Britain over the "ownership" of the area that would form the Mississippi Territory. Shortly after the annilhation of Fort Caroline, Mendez and his Spaniards built the Fort of St. Augustine (1565). However, the French effort to enjoy freedom of belief in the New World made a great impression on both Catholics and Protestants who were being persecuted for their beliefs and immigration to the New World thrived.

A period of approximately 130 years (from De Soto's trek) went by with no further exploration of the inland frontier in what is now the Deep South. In 1673
Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, French explorers traveled down the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Arkansas River. They were followed nine years later by another French explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle, who also traveled down the Mississippi and claimed all the land drained by the river and its tributaries for France. La Salle named that vast region Louisiane (in English translated to Louisiana) in honor of his king, Louis IV. The Mississippi River played an important part in the settlement of this wilderness area.

Soon came French settlers who built forts and communities along the Gulf Coast from what is now Louisiana to Florida, including the island "Surgeres", which later became known as
M. de Sauvolle de la Villantray. As a result Old Biloxi in the area of present-day Ocean Springs was formed. Biloxi became the first settlement in Louisiana.

You may wish to read more detail and learn about
Mississippi as a French Province.

As was before, the new settlers brought disease to the area as shown by the death of Antoine Lemoyne Sauvolle in Fort Maurepas on August 22, 1701. See
Yellow Fever Epidemics in Mississippi

In 1702 Fort Maurepas was abandoned in favor of a new settlement on the Mobile Bay in present-day Alabama. (See also
First Women Colonists.)Mobile remained the capital and principal settlement of Louisiana until 1722 at which time the center of government was moved to New Orleans.

The royal colony of
Louisiana struggled from its inception. The colonists were cut off from their mother land of France for years at a time as a result of the fighting between France and Great Britain during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). France was struggling financially as a result of the war between France and Great Britain. For this reason, they basically gave the right to develop the colony of Louisiana to a wealthy French financier Antoine Crozat.

In 1716
Fort Rosalie (Natchez District) was formed, which was on the present-day site of Natchez.

In 1717 the right to develop the slow-growing colony was given to the Compagnie d'Occident (
Company of the West or "Western Company"), headed by Scottish financier John Law. Law gained great influence at the French court through his establishment of what became the French national bank. Because the bank invested heavily in the Company of the West and because Louisiana was the company's greatest asset, Law needed to develop the colony rapidly to maintain public confidence in the bank. He undertook a promotional campaign that brought in several thousand settlers. Several hundred of them settled at or near Fort Rosalie and along the nearby Gulf Coast.

It was then that John Law pulled off maybe the first of many "land scams" (known as the
Mississippi Bubble) in Mississippi's history. Law led potential immigrants to believe that they would be wealthy and the land awaited them with an abundance of natural resources. The immigrants were told of quick profits to be realized from mining and other endeavors that would require little effort and investment. Upon their arrival they realized a harsh world. Many died because their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter were not met. In fact most of the survivors stayed only because they lacked the funds to return home. Those who remained survived by the sweat of their brow, most having only small garden like farms. Many were hunters who not only provided meat for the family and neighbors, but also traded the fur. After word of the horrible conditions in which the immigrant colonists were living reached France, Law's scheme fell apart. The Company of the West however continued to administer the colony until 1731 when, as a result of the French war with the Natchez Indians, control of Louisiana was turned over again to the King of France.

See also
Timeline of Mississippi Territory

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