The Chevalier Grenier was captain of the French ship Superbe, which was wrecked at the mouth of Matagorda Bay in 1745. The crew's walk toward Tampico, tragic in its consequences, in some ways parallels that of the castaways from the Padre Island Spanish shipwrecks of 1554. An armed merchant vessel from Martinique, Superbe sailed from Veracruz on April 19, 1745, with a cargo of flour for New Orleans. Approaching the Louisiana coast, she grounded on Trinity Shoal but hauled off. By faulty latitude computed from a noonday sighting of the sun, Grenier concluded that he stood east of the Mississippi and therefore turned west, away from his destination.
West of Galveston Bay, he heard from a Spanish-speaking Indian that a Spanish post was within five days' travel by land. The Indian referred to Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio; Grenier, thinking he meant Pensacola, continued to sail west. At night on May 12, his order for half-hourly soundings was disregarded. At nine-thirty in the evening the ship struck bottom, breaking a hole in her hull. Morning light revealed that she lay near a small island between two larger ones, in the mouth of a large bay-Matagorda Bay. Again, contact was made with Spanish-speaking Indians who referred to a nearby settlement of Christians; again, Grenier presumed Pensacola when La Bahía was meant.
After twelve days, ninety-five men began walking along the treeless island to the west (Matagorda Island), expecting to arrive at Pensacola Bay. Fourteen others boarded a canoe and a dory to follow along the shore but, unable to withstand the heavy swells, soon turned back. Discipline soon broke down among the marchers, a motley band of different classes, races, and nationalities. Five turned back to take their chances among the Indians while the others struggled on, soon beset by thirst and hunger. They were helped by natives in crossing Aransas Pass, but Grenier realized from the bend in the coast that they were west, not east, of the Mississippi. Crossing Brazos Santiago in a broken canoe, the men walked on toward Tampico, cleaving to the barrier island. Various groups split off from the main body, leaving only twenty-five with Grenier-a matter of grave consequences after crossing the Soto la Marina River, when ferocious natives began taking their toll. Five men, among the first to cross, were slain by arrows. Then natives under friendly guise promised Grenier's group food at their village-leading them away from the scene of an ambush that had claimed forty-six of their comrades-and stripped them of their clothing. Deserted and betrayed by the Indians, they came upon more dead bodies at almost every turn.
On July 5, forty-three days and 500 miles from the wreck of their ship, one-third of those who had begun the tragic march came to the Río Pánuco and were conducted to Tampico by the guard at the river mouth. Grenier, after a few others straggled in, purchased a ship to return to New Orleans. In the final muster, no more than thirty of the ninety-five men who had begun the march survived to complete the voyage. Upon reaching the Mississippi on September 22, Grenier learned that the dory he had left at Matagorda Bay had returned more than a month previously, but with eight men instead of fourteen; six had chosen to remain among the Texas coastal Indians.
He found his business affairs a shambles and spent the next several years in an unsuccessful effort to recoup his fortunes. Before Grenier's return, his partner, besieged by their creditors, had engaged Joseph Blancpain to search the Gulf Coast for the lost ship. Blancpain reached the Akokisas of southeastern Texas, but their reports of the hostile Cuján (Karankawan) Indians farther west caused him to turn back short of Matagorda Bay. The episode helped to crystallize the exploration and settlement of the coastal region that became the province of Nuevo Santander, begun by José de Escandón in 1747.
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Heloise Cruzat, trans., "The Wreck of La Superbe in the Gulf of Mexico en Route from Vera Cruz to New Orleans, May 1745," Louisiana Historical Quarterly 11 (April 1928). Robert S. Weddle, The French Thorn: Rival Explorers in the Spanish Sea, 1682–1762 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1991).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Robert S. Weddle,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 06, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
January 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
December 8, 2019
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