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French castaway reaches Natchitoches

February
10
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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