Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was a French explorer who explored the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. La Salle claimed the entire Mississippi River basin for France.
Born in Rouen, France, on November 22, 1643, he came to Canada in 1666 and founded the first settlement near Montreal. He then led several expeditions on the Great Lakes and the Ohio River and explored the Mississippi River in 1682. On July 24, 1684, La Salle sailed from France to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi. He landed at Matagorda Bay, Texas, on February 15, 1685, and established Fort St. Louis there. While on his way to Canada, he was murdered near the Trinity River on March 19, 1687.
La Salle’s colony on Matagorda Bay gave the United States its first claim to Texas as a part of the Louisiana Purchase. A gentleman but not a courtier, a proud independent yet timid nature, and an explorer of bold vision and untiring energy. “America owes him an enduring memory, for, in this masculine figure, she sees the pioneer who guided her to the possession of her richest heritage.”
One of La Salle’s four ships was discovered at the bottom of Matagorda Bay in 1995. “La Belle” is one of the most significant shipwrecks ever discovered in North America. It is currently on display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum.
© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated March 2023.
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