Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville

Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville

(1680-1768)

Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville was born in Ville-Marie, the present-day Montreal, the youngest of the 12 sons of Charles Le Moyne, a wealthymerchant. All of the sons eventually served the colony of New France, some as soldiers or sailors, others as merchants or adventurers.

Both of Jean Baptiste’s parents died when he was young, and his older brother Charles acted as his caretaker. However, Jean Baptiste yearned to imitate the successful military exploits of his older brother Pierre; therefore, he joined the French navy in 1692 as a midshipman.

Jean Baptiste served under Pierre’s commandin some spectacular naval victories over the English off the coast of Maine and then in Newfoundland. In 1698, they turned their attention to exploration and discovery.

That year, they sailed from France, and in March, 1 699 they became the first Frenchmen to locate the mouth of the Mississippi River from the sea. (La Salle had located it by floating down the river in 1682.) Together the brothers founded the colony of Louisiana.

When Pierre returned to France, Jean Baptiste remained in Louisiana. In 1701, he served as acting commandant of the colony and then became its commander in 1706. Jean Baptiste built Fort Louis on Mobile Bay, and planned further extensions of the colony. Knowing that the colony needed to establish a more secure central town,

Bienville also chose the site that became New Orleans in 1718. He laid out the early plans for the town, and remained committed to its growth. Eventually, Pierre and Jean Baptiste were honored by street names and the names of squares in the Crescent City.

In 1717, Bienville was appointed to the newly created position of commandant general. Under his rule, the colony imported black slaves and Bienville promoted the Code Noir (Black Code). Although the law was strict, it was humane for its time, given the standards that existed in the Caribbean.

Jean Baptiste was not as successful in his dealings with the Native Americans. After his defeat by the Natchez Indians, the French court recalled him to Paris. In 1726, He was dismissed as commandant general and stripped of all his titles.

Jean Baptiste lived quietly in Paris until 1733, when he returned to Louisiana as governor. While he fought indecisive campaigns against the Natchez and Chickasaw Indians, his knowledge of Indian languages and customs helped build bridges of understanding between the Indian and European cultures and secured the survival of the colony. Jean Baptiste resigned as governor in 1743 and retired to live in Paris.