This video is part of a series of 7 animated maps.

View series: European Colonies in North America

An example of an animated map

Exploration of the Mississippi and the establishment of Louisiana

This map is part of a series of 7 animated maps showing the history of European Colonies in North America.

In 1673, European exploration of the Mississippi was launched by Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet. Missionaries and French trappers had already heard about the river which the Indians called the “Great River”, but were unsure as to whether it flowed southwards into the Gulf of Mexico or westwards into the Pacific Ocean.  If it ran into the Pacific Ocean, it could perhaps provide access to China.

The two explorers and 5 other men set out from Lake Michigan in May 1673. Using porters, they made their way to the River Wisconsin and finally reached the Mississippi on 17 June.

They then travelled along the Mississippi, identifying several of its main tributaries, including the Missouri River, /the Ohio River / and the Arkansas River.

When they reached this point, Marquette and Jolliet were convinced that the Mississippi flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. They then decided to turn back, in order to avoid meeting up with the Spanish in Florida and along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

During their return journey, the expedition party travelled through the Illinois Valley to Lake Michigan.

A few years later, René-Robert Cavelier de la Salle decided to go from the Illinois River to the Mississippi with a group of 40 men, half of whom were French and the others were Indian.

This expedition established a fort, Fort Prudhomme, in the area where the city of Memphis is now, before continuing on to the river’s delta which they reached in April 1682.

Cavelier de la Salle named these territories he had travelled through ‘Louisiana’ in homage for the French King Louis XIV, planting a cross to mark them as French possessions.

On his return to France, Cavelier de la Salle was given a new commission to establish a colony in Louisiana. He left La Rochelle with 4 ships and nearly 300 people, but was unable to find the Mississippi Delta from the sea. He had to sail much further west towards what is now Texas. The expedition was a disaster and Cavelier was killed by the other members of his expedition.

In 1699, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville discovered the Mississippi estuary in the midst of sandbanks and built Fort Maurepas in the Bay of Biloxi.Twenty years later, New Orleans, the future capital of Louisiana, was founded.  However, the number of settlers in the area remained very low and never rose above a few hundred persons.