Mobile was the second town founded by France in the Province of Louisiana, but predates New Orleans. It was intended to be the capital of the new colony and a base for intrigues among the Native tribes of the Southeast. Things did not go as planned.
MOBILE, ALABAMA - (Examiner.com) - Throughout the late 17th century and first 2/3 of the 18th century, Spain England and France competed for control of North America. Some historians have called this period, the Second Hundred Years War. Although the European troops were not always fighting each other, their Indian allies were.
French Huguenots established colonies in what are now, South Carolina and Florida in 1562-64, but they were brutally destroyed by the Spanish in 1565. Spain had just established the first permanent settlement in North America at St. Augustine. During the brief occupation of the French colony on present day Parris Island, SC, an expedition traveled northwestward to the mountains of present day Georgia in 1562 and explored the gold fields. They claimed all of the Southern Highland for the king of France and named the mountains, Apalachien, after a friendly tribe living there.
France continued to claim what is now South Carolina and Georgia until around 1720. Their claim was supported by all European maps, except those printed in Great Britain. The French also established a little known colony on the St, Mary’s River in southeast Georgia, which seems to have held its own with the Spanish, but eventually was abandoned.
The French attempted to establish their first colony in what was to become Canada in 1534, 50 years before the first English attempt to colonize North America. First attempts by both nations were failures.
The first French settlement to succeed was at Port Royal at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in 1604, followed a short time later by the founding of Quebec, on an island in the St. Lawrence. The colony of New France grew very slowly. For much of the 17th century it was primarily occupied by Indian traders, soldiers, priests and government officials. During the 1670s and 1680s, the French concentrated their exploration efforts on the Great Lakes, Ohio River and Mississippi River. While under French dominion, the Mississippi was called the Saint Louis River.
After the Charlestowne Colony (South Carolina) was settled in 1674, the French become alarmed and accelerated their exploration of the interior of the Southeast. They sent expeditions of marines, civil engineers and surveyors up all the tributaries of the Mississippi River to claim these territories for the king of France. Skilled French cartographers provided historians with the earliest, reasonably accurate maps of Tennessee, Alabama, western North Carolina and northwestern Georgia.
French strategy for strangling and capturing British colonies
La Salle attempted to establish a French colony at the mouth of the Mississippi in 1684, but pirates, storms and bad luck caused the expeditions survivors to establish a short-lived colony on the coast of Texas. In the decades that followed the French Crown decided that it needed a military base, closer to the British colonies than the Texas coast, but not so near that British raiders could easily attack it.
In 1699 a fleet commanded by Pierre Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur d’Iberville established a colony near what is now Biloxi, MS. The fort he built was designated the first capital of the French Province of Louisiana and his brother, Jean-Baptiste de Bienville was named its first governor. Pierre Le Moynewas one of the most successful and brilliant military leaders in French history.
D’Iberville devised the “Project Sur de Carolina.” Its text and maps described a long range plan to drive the colonists of South Carolina into the ocean. It was one of the first, or one of the first, examples of long term military strategy being organized into a printed document. Iberville proposed to use the Indian allies of France and Spain first to eliminate all English trading posts, then with lightning attacks on the frontier settlement wipe out the militia and drive thousands of women and children into the walls of Charleston. Here they would be starved into surrender with a conventional blockade by the French Navy and Marines.
In 1700 Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville met with Spanish officials in Pensacola. He convinced the Spanish that the Apalachee Indians should be armed and sent against the English and their allies. Prior to this time, the Spanish had refused to issue arms to the Apalachee for fear that they would revolt against Spanish rule.
In 1701 the War of Spanish Succession began. The war was caused by the attempt of Phillip V of Spain to claim the crown of France. Many European countries were involved, but in North America, it primarily pitted Great Britain against Spain and France. D’Iberville’s troops committed many atrocities against the English villagers living in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. This is the primary reason that the French Acadians living in this region were persecuted by the British in the 1750’s and ultimately deported to Louisiana.
Mobile is founded
In 1702 d’Iberville founded the town of Mobile at the mouth of the Mobile River (Mobile Bay) as a base for French military and political intrigues against the British. The Mobile River is the ultimate name for a river system that drains most of Alabama and reaches up to the Smoky Mountains in what are now Tennessee and the Blue Ridge Mountains in what is now Georgia. France then extended its claim over the entire Mississippi River drainage system to include all lands west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The French planned to economically strangle the English colonies by surrounding them. Mobile was soon designated the new capital of Louisiana.
The new town was named after a once powerful tribe that the French named the Mobile. They occupied the Mobile Bay area when the French arrived. Up until the mid-1500s the Mobile controlled a huge province that included much of the present day State of Alabama. During that era, Its Great Sun or High King was named Taskalusa (Tuskaloosa in English.) The name means “Black Warrior.”
The chroniclers of the Hernando de Soto Expedition described a bloody battle at a town in present day southeastern Alabama that they called Mabila. The town’s name probably was actually the name of the indigenous people in the region, who would have called themselves, the Mapile. This word is possibly a combination of the word, mapi, from the Totonac language of Mexico, which now means “buying or trading, combined with the suffix “le” which means “people” in dialects in the Itsati-Creek Indian dialect of the Southeastern Coastal plain. Totonac and Itza Maya words appear frequently in Itsa.
The Mobile People became Christians and French allies shortly after the founding of the town. After several attacks by Alabama and Choctaw armies they requested to locate their main town, Tohume, next to Fort Louis. Apparently, their numbers continued to decline thereafter, due to disease.
After the War of Spanish Succession ended in 1714, the French had succeeded in surrounding the English colonies in North America with territorial claims, except for the boundary with Florida. France seemed poised to have most of the Southeastern Indians as allies. These native peoples represented the densest indigenous population north of Mexico. However, the English Navy destroyed French coastal forts and shipping almost at will. France might control the land, but the English controlled the seas.
The French were far more skilled in their diplomacy with Southeastern Indians than the English. English trade goods were vastly superior in quality and quantity, but English traders and hooligans repeatedly abused their trade partners. Many traders used false weights. Their most dangerous practice, though, was the repeated abduction of Indian women and youth to be sold as slaves, when Indian men were not able to pay debts. Bands of South Carolina hooligans would also raid Indian villages and take slaves. These unfortunates would then be sold as slaves to live short, brutal lives on Caribbean island sugar plantations.
In 1715 the repeated abuses by English traders caused a general war against South Carolina by almost all tribes in the Southeast. Obviously, the French were involved behind the scenes because the attacks matched perfectly d’Iberville’s “Project Sur de Caroline.” Most of South Carolina was depopulated, and the refugees huddled behind the palisades of Charlestowne, awaiting the final assault by the allied Indian armies.
When all seemed lost for the English colonists, the Cherokees switched sides. This bought time for the colonial militia to become better organized. Militia units defeated several South Carolina tribes. Eventually, the Yamasee Alliance itself was catastrophically defeated.
After the collapse of France’s Native American alliance, French officials thought it prudent to move the capital of Louisiana farther west. Initially, the new site was Biloxi (Mississippi.) Later it was moved to New Orleans. By then disease and war had debilitated the Mobile Indians into a small remnant tribe. By 1741 French parish records only list about 350 families. After the French left Mobile in 1763, there is no further record of the Mobile as a distinct tribe.