The author, head of the history section of the Mobile Public Library and descendant on both sides of founding settlers of Old Mobile in 1702, has written an amazingly detailed account of the first town in colonial Louisiana. Fort Louis de la Louisiane, founded by Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville on the Mobile River twenty-six miles upstream, was transferred nine years later, after incredible hardships, to the present site of Mobile, Alabama.
In the first paragraph of the preface, the author clearly states the nature and limits of his monograph:
Old Mobile purports to be neither an institutional study of early Louisiana nor an analysis of French colonial strategy; nor does it offer any novel conclusions concerning the various forces at work in the eighteenth century New World. It is rather, for the most part, a local history: an attempt to describe in as detailed and accurate a fashion as is presently possible the personalities and events surrounding the establishment and life of the now extinct town known to history as Old Mobile.
One hundred seventy-nine settlers, inclusive of their 5 servants and slaves, established Fort Louis. When it was transferred in 1711, they numbered 348. Of these, 76 were servants and slaves; 106 were soldiers and sailors; 59 were Canadians and voyageurs; 30 were women; and only 19 were officers and officials.
Although Spain and France were governed by the same dynasty, the French were regarded by the Spaniards as intruders on the gulf. The settlers traded with Veracruz, Mexico, and Pensacola, Florida, but they were never fully accepted as allies, not even against the English in nearby Carolina, their common foe. All three European powers wooed the closest Indian tribes, they regaled and armed the friendly natives, they enslaved or massacred those who were the allies of their enemies. None had an Alonso de la Vera Cruz or a Bartolomé de las Casas to denounce the injustices against the Indians. Although hundreds of documents allude to the natives—trade with the Europeans, alliances to secure their aid, missions to convert them, attacks made against them or by them—nowhere do we find a spokesman for them or among them. What did the natives think about the rival European settlers and their destructive policies? There was no Eusebio Kino among them to record their reaction to Christianity and western civilization as exemplified by the French, Spanish, and English colonists.
Higginbotham consulted numerous sources, mainly unpublished, in the archives of the United States, Canada, Mexico, France, England, Spain, and even Cuba and Italy. These abundant materials are used and cited throughout the work. It is difficult to imagine anyone attempting to compile a more complete and definitive account of Old Mobile.
I find only one important pertinent topic not alluded to by the diligent author: Andrés de Pez’ 1693 exploration of the Gulf Coast which led to the founding of Pensacola. Carlos de Sigüenza y Góngora accompanied the admiral and published a detailed account of the expedition which included stops at the Mississippi delta, Mobile Bay, and Pensacola. Pez not only recorded the exploratory voyage but reviewed in detailed narration all the Spanish efforts at reconnoitering from 1685 to 1693 for the best gulf site.
An abundant bibliography, numerous excellent illustrations, tables of vital statistics, and a detailed index enhance a first-rate account of colonial Louisiana’s first settlement. A modern map would have been most welcome.