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BELLISLE, FRANCOIS SIMARS DE

BELLISLE, FRANÇOIS SIMARS DE (1695–1763). François Simars de Bellisle was born in France in 1695. In autumn 1719, like Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca almost two centuries earlier, he was marooned near Galveston Bay. His ensuing struggle for survival in some ways parallels that of the noted Spaniard.

On August 14, 1719, Bellisle sailed as an officer on the French West Indies Company ship Maréchal d'Estrée, bound for Louisiana. When it entered the Gulf of Mexico, the ship became lost, sailed past the Mississippi River, and ran aground near Galveston Bay. Bellisle and four companions asked to be put ashore to ascertain their position and seek help. The ship, having floated free, sailed away without them. Seeking some familiar landmark, the castaways walked east, perhaps as far as the Sabine River, and ascended a river believed to have been the San Jacinto. Having crossed the bay, Bellisle alone reconnoitered westward, possibly as far as the Brazos River. That winter the Frenchmen were unable to kill enough game to sustain themselves. One by one, Bellisle's companions died of starvation or exposure. Out of ammunition, Bellisle ate oysters, boiled grass, and huge yellow worms pried from driftwood. When he at last encountered Indians on an island in the bay, they stripped him of his clothing and robbed him of his possessions. But they fed him, and he remained with the wandering Atákapan band throughout the summer of 1720, while it hunted for deer and buffalo and dug "wild potatoes," traversing "the most beautiful country in the world."

Treated as a slave, Bellisle was forced during the following winter constantly to carry burdens. He was kept naked and was often subjected to beatings, without recourse. When a group of Bidai Indians came to the Atákapa camp, he managed to write a letter and give it to the visitors with instructions to deliver it to "the first white man." The letter, passed from tribe to tribe, at last reached the Hasinais, who took it to Louis Juchereau de Saint-Denisqv at Fort Saint-Jean-Baptiste (Natchitoches, Louisiana). Saint-Denis sent the Hasinais to rescue the French castaway.

Bellisle remained among the Hasinais more than two months and was taken into the lodge of a young widow, Angélique (Angelina to the Spaniards), whose name appears several times in French and Spanish records. Guided by her two children, he reached the French post at Natchitoches on February 10, 1721, and arrived at Biloxi in early April.

He then entered the service of Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, and the following summer returned to the Texas coast. He sailed on August 21, 1721, aboard the ship Subtile with Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe, who had orders to occupy "the Baye Saint-Bernard" (Matagorda), site of La Salleqv's landing in 1685. The captain of the ship was Jean Béranger, who the previous year had sought to reconnoiter the same bay but had entered Aransas Pass instead. This time he erred again and landed in Galveston Bay. As La Harpe explored the bay, Bellisle served as interpreter among the natives, "who were quite surprised at seeing their slave again." Finding the Indians hostile to his intent, La Harpe ordered withdrawal. From nine of Bellisle's former captors taken back to Biloxi as prisoners, Béranger compiled an Atákapan vocabulary, which helps to define the bay explored as Galveston Bay rather than Matagorda.

Bellisle, who remained in the Louisiana colony until 1762, served at various outposts and on expeditions to the interior. He acquired a plantation near New Orleans. In 1753 he became a member of the Superior Council of Louisiana and served as town commander of New Orleans. He died in Paris on March 4, 1763.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Henri Folmer, "De Bellisle on the Texas Coast," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 44 (October 1940). Jean-Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe, The Historical Journal of the Establishment of the French in Louisiana, trans. Joan Cain and Virginia Koenig (Lafayette: University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1971). Pierre Margry, ed., Découvertes et établissements des Français dans l'ouest et dans le sud de l'Amérique septentrionale, 1614–1754 (6 vols., Paris: Jouast, 1876–86). Frank Wagner, ed., and William M. Carroll, trans., Béranger's Discovery of Aransas Pass (Friends of the Corpus Christi Museum, 1983). Mildred Mott Wedel, La Harpe's 1719 Post on Red River and Nearby Caddo Settlements (Austin: Texas Memorial Museum, 1978).

Robert S. Weddle

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Robert S. Weddle, "BELLISLE, FRANCOIS SIMARS DE," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbe42), accessed October 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.