La Salle Expedition, Louisiana Territory, 1682

La Salle expedition Mississippi Louisiana FranceLa Salle Expedition, Louisiana Territory, 1682

Jacques de La Metairie was a royal notary at Fort Frontenac, New France, (now Kingston, Ontario) acting under a royal commission, granted in 1678.  Notary Metairie was chosen to accompany the famous La Salle expedition, down the Colbert (Mississippi)  River, to the Gulf of Mexico.  Fort Frontenac was built by La Salle in 1673 and named after the governor.

Notaries accompanied explorers and conquistadors in the early exploration of North and South America.  The first notary in North America, Rodrigo Escobedo, accompanied Christopher Columbus in 1492 and was Secretary of the fleet.

In the 1500s, notaries accompanied Spanish conquistadors.  They kept records and notarized declarations of claims on new territories.  In addition to seeking land and treasure, the explorers were engaged in spreading the Catholic religion among the native Indians.

René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, (1643-1687 AD) was born in Rouen, France.  An estate nearby, known as La Salle, was owned by the Cavelier family.  La Salle immigrated to Montreal in 1667 and engaged in several expeditions in the region.

La Salle was given a mission to explore the Colbert (Mississippi) River and take possession of Louisiana, under the orders and letters patent of King Louis XIV of France.

Notary Metairie recorded the details of the expedition.  The official account of this expedition is known as the Procès Verbal.  The original manuscript is deposited in the archives of the Ministere de la Marine et des Colonies in Paris.

Claiming Louisiana for France

The journey began in December 1681, with 23 French Canadians and 18 Indians, when there was ice on the rivers.  Twelve canoes were used, and at times the canoes were dragged across the ice.  Distances were measured in leagues.  Along the way, the expedition met with many Indian tribes and made peace by offering gifts.

On April 9, 1682, at the western mouth of the Mississippi River (now Venice, LA), La Salle solemnly took possession of the entire Mississippi Valley for France, naming the territory Louisiane after King Louis XIV.

On a high point of ground, the expedition prepared a column and a cross. The arms of France were attached to the column with the name of King Louis and the date.  A ceremony was held, with a salute of firearms, and La Salle erected the column, in the name of King Louis XIV.

The territory claimed was all the land along the Mississippi River, and all the rivers that flow into the Mississippi, including all the nations, people, towns, villages, mines, minerals, fisheries, streams and rivers, ports, and harbors.

Louisiana extended from the Gulf of Mexico, north to Canada, and from the Ohio and Mississippi River, west to the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains.  (Eastern Colorado was part of French Louisiana and later Spanish Louisiana.)

A cross was attached to a tree.  A lead plate was buried at the foot of the tree, with an inscription in Latin of the land claim.

Then La Salle said that King Louis would claim no land for his crown without establishing the Christian religion there.  A cross was erected, songs were sung, and the ceremony concluded with Vive le Roi! (Long Live the King!)

La Salle demanded an act by the notary, as required by law.   Notary Metairie wrote an act of possession of the territory.  The key members of the expedition signed and witnessed the document.

French Colonists in Louisiana

La Salle returned to France in 1684 and was granted command of Louisiana.  He sailed with four ships and 320 French colonists back to Louisiana.  In 1685, they missed the mouth of the Mississippi River, and landed 400 miles further west on the Texas coast, building Fort Saint Louis.

La Salle was killed in Texas in 1687 in a mutiny by members of his exploration party.  The colony only lasted for 3 years.  Most colonists were killed by Indians and disease.  Some sailed back to France.  The Spanish destroyed the remains of the fort in 1688.

New Orleans was founded in 1718.  St. Louis, founded 1764, became a growing city and gateway to the West.

In 1803, Napoleon Bonaparte sold French Louisiana, a part of New France, to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase, when Thomas Jefferson was President.  Zebulon Pike then explored Colorado in 1806, on a mission from Thomas Jefferson.

From 1821 until 1880, wagon trains traveled from Independence, Missouri on a 900-mile, 3-month journey along the Santa Fe Trail, to Santa Fe, in New SpainBent’s Fort, in southeast Colorado, on the Arkansas River, was a trading post where travelers stopped for fresh horses and supplies, and Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians traded buffalo skins for goods.

French Law in Louisiana

French law is based on Roman LawFrench notaries are empowered to prepare certain legal documents as well to notarize documents.  Louisiana notaries still follow the French law and are authorized to draft certain legal documents.  In all other states, the laws are based on English common law and notaries have much less legal authority.

While the Spanish influence on Colorado is strong, from 1682 until 1803, eastern Colorado was part of Louisiana.  There are places and streets with French names, including Bijou, Cache la Poudre, Florissant, Fremont County, La Salle, Lafayette, Lamar, Laporte, Louisville, Montrose, Platte River, Purgatoire River, Saint Vrain, and others.  Laporte, near Fort Collins, was first settled by French-Canadian fur trappers in 1828.

Notary Metairie traveled a great distance, during winter, by canoe down the Mississippi River with the La Salle expedition and wrote important documents to record the historic journey and to claim Louisiana for France.

Image credits
1. La Salle portrait from artwork [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2. La Salle claiming mouth of Mississippi for France, by Jean-Adolphe Bocquin (French lithographer, fl. 19th cent.); printed by Lemercier & Cie, Paris. (Bibliothèque nationale de France) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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