French castaway reaches Natchitoches

February 10th, 1721

On this day in 1721, the castaway François Simars de Bellisle reached the French post at Natchitoches after a year and a half of wandering across Texas. Bellisle was an officer on the Maréchal d'Estrée, which ran aground near Galveston Bay in the autumn of 1719. He and four other men were put ashore to ascertain their position and seek help, but were left behind when the ship floated free and sailed away. That winter the Frenchmen were unable to kill enough game to sustain themselves. One by one, Bellisle's companions died of starvation or exposure. When he at last encountered a band of Atakapa Indians on an island in the bay, they stripped him of his clothing, robbed him of his possessions, and made him a slave. But they fed him, and he remained with them throughout the summer of 1720, traversing "the most beautiful country in the world." When a group of Bidai Indians came to the Atakapa camp, Bellisle managed to write a letter and give it to the visitors with instructions to deliver it to "the first white man" they saw. The letter, passed from tribe to tribe, at last reached Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denis at Fort Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Natchitoches). Saint-Denis sent the Hasinais to rescue the French castaway. Bellisle returned to the Texas coast with Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe in the summer of 1721 and served as an interpreter among the natives, "who were quite surprised at seeing their slave again." Bellisle remained in the Louisiana colony until 1762 and died in Paris the following year.

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French castaway reaches Natchitoches

February 10th, 1721

On this day in 1721, the castaway François Simars de Bellisle reached the French post at Natchitoches after a year and a half of wandering across Texas. Bellisle was an officer on the Maréchal d'Estrée, which ran aground near Galveston Bay in the autumn of 1719. He and four other men were put ashore to ascertain their position and seek help, but were left behind when the ship floated free and sailed away. That winter the Frenchmen were unable to kill enough game to sustain themselves. One by one, Bellisle's companions died of starvation or exposure. When he at last encountered a band of Atakapa Indians on an island in the bay, they stripped him of his clothing, robbed him of his possessions, and made him a slave. But they fed him, and he remained with them throughout the summer of 1720, traversing "the most beautiful country in the world." When a group of Bidai Indians came to the Atakapa camp, Bellisle managed to write a letter and give it to the visitors with instructions to deliver it to "the first white man" they saw. The letter, passed from tribe to tribe, at last reached Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denis at Fort Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Natchitoches). Saint-Denis sent the Hasinais to rescue the French castaway. Bellisle returned to the Texas coast with Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe in the summer of 1721 and served as an interpreter among the natives, "who were quite surprised at seeing their slave again." Bellisle remained in the Louisiana colony until 1762 and died in Paris the following year.

«   Previous Next   »

Related Handbook of Texas Articles

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With more than 27,000 articles about Texas history, the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas is the largest online encyclopedia about all things Texas. Now you can celebrate the history of Texas every day by activating your free subscription to Texas Day by Day. Each day's email tells a little bit more of the story of Texas and links to our collection of more than 27,000 articles. It's one of the best ways to learn more about Texas history — in only 15 minutes a day!

Activate your free subscription to Texas Day by Day and you can:

  • Explore Texas history each day in bite-sized pieces conveniently delivered to your inbox each morning
  • Astound your friends with your Texas history prowess
  • Get in-depth looks at some of the overlooked events and landmarks in Texas history
  • Discover new places to explore in the Lone Star State
Get your Texas Day by Day delivered straight to your inbox: