During the month of April 1699, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville and his team erected Fort Maurepas on the site of the actual city of Ocean Springs in Biloxi Bay to support the claim of France to Louisiana.
Sauvolle de la Villantry was appointed commander of the fort and became the first Governor of Colonial Louisiana, the new French colony in America. In keeping with Samuel de Champlain’s policies, d’Iberville devoted most of his time to establishing and maintaining friendly relations with neighboring Native Americans.
He organized several short expeditions to explore the surrounding areas before dying suddenly in the summer of 1701 from yellow fever or cardiac arrest. His diary is one of the first records of early American history of the southern United States which will later become known as “Dixie”.
In remembrance of Fort Maurepas and its pioneers
Today on the beachfront near downtown Ocean Springs, a life size bronze statue of Iberville and a concrete outline of Fort Maurepas’ exact dimensions, including its four bastions, remind visitors that the first settlers of Mississippi State were French-speaking. Fort Maurepas was designed by Remy Reno, the team’s architect, who used the military fortification model developed by Marshal Vauban. Here, facing the magnificent Biloxi Bay, a hundred French and Canadian soldiers from France and Canada were garrisoned from 1699 to 1702. Father De Bordenac was the fort’s chaplain and Dr. Caré, its surgeon.
Iberville and his men used the materials available for the construction of the wooden fort which covered an area exceeding 21,500 square feet (2000 square meters). Bastions, palisades, living quarters, warehouses, and other structures were made from local trees, including oak, walnut, and pine, which were abundant in the area. A dozen cannons, taken frigates La Badine and Le Marin, completed the fortifications.
Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, Pierre’s youngest brother, explored the southern parts of the Gulf of Mexico Coast, including Pensacola, Mobile Bay, the Pascagoula River, Lake Pontchartrain and the Lower Mississippi River, where he discovered the future site of New Orleans. During a severe drought, the crops perished. Fortunately, the small colony was supplied from the nearby French base of St. Domingue (now Haiti).