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Document Number: AJ-114
Author: Talon, Pierre; Talon, Jean-Baptiste
Title: Voyage to the Mississippi through the Gulf of Mexico, 1687
Source: Weddle, Robert S. La Salle (editor). The Mississippi, and the Gulf: Three Primary Documents (College Station, Texas: Texas A&M University Press, 1987). Pages 225-258.
Pages/Illustrations: 35 / 2 (tables)
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-114/

Author Note

Details of the lives of the Talon brothers up to the time of this expedition are given below. When a new French colony was later founded in 1699, the Talon brothers were recruited to assist. They arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi, on the second boatload of settlers in January 1700. Little is known of their later life except that they returned to France for a time and were imprisoned for unknown reasons in Portugal for two years. In 1714 Pierre and Robert helped lead a French expedition through the Rio Grande valley to New Mexico, retracing their steps from twenty-four years earlier. Pierre and Jean-Baptiste are thought to have died in France but Robert, who was born on the 1684 voyage, remained in Louisiana, where he appears in vital records about 1720.

LaSalle’s Expedition of 1684-1687

In 1682, after the French explorer La Salle, René Robert Cavelier, sieur de LaSalle (1643-1687) had traveled the length of the Mississippi Valley from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico (see AJ-053), he proposed to return to its mouth and establish a French colony. He received the support of the French government because, with the English planting colonies in the east and the Spanish in the west, they were eager to firmly control the interior. In 1684 LaSalle began organizing an expedition that would create a permanent French settlement at the southern end of a great arc running from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, west through the Great Lakes, and south through the Illinois country to the mouth of the Mississippi.

He was joined in this effort not only by his lieutenant Henri Joutel (see AJ-121) but also by more than one hundred soldiers, priests, and settlers. Among these last were the Talon family of Quebec, the only large family to participate in the venture. The parents, Lucien and Isabelle Talon, landed in the wilderness with two teenage daughters, three little boys and an infant son born during the voyage.

LaSalle’s colony was doomed from the start. They lost a supply ship to Spanish pirates before sighting land and then overshot the mouth of the Mississippi altogether, coming ashore near Matagorda Bay, Texas, in mid-February 1685. Here they built a fort as a base of operations while LaSalle formed parties that made a series of fruitless searches for the river. On one such trip in 1685, Lucien Talon died in the woods. On another, in January 1687, resentful settlers ambushed LaSalle as he passed through the underbrush, shooting him in the back of the head in front of eleven-year-old Pierre Talon.

Without a leader, the little settlement quickly broke apart. The murderers fell to quarreling and killed one another. Seven survivors made it to the Illinois forts with Joutel; a handful of others headed for the Spanish settlements in Mexico but never reached it. Seven others, including the elder Talon brothers, were adopted by the Cenis Indians. Those who stayed behind at the fort were wiped out in December 1688 by the Karankawa Indians: the adults were all killed and the children, including the remaining Talon girls and boys, were carried away as slaves.

For several years the Talon brothers and their sister moved through Texas, dressing and being permanently tatooed like their Indian captors and forgetting their native French language. The Spanish, meanwhile, heard rumors of the French colony in Texas and guided by a French deserter came upon the remains of the massacre in the spring of 1689 (see AJ-18). In 1690 a Spanish priest named Massanet who intended to start a mission in Texas learned of the French children held captive. He and the expedition leader, Alonso de Leon, ransomed Pierre from the Hasinai and Marie-Madeleine, Lucien and Robert from the Karankawas; Jean-Baptiste was ransomed from the Karakawas the following year (see AJ-019). All the Talon children were sent to Mexico, where they became servants in the household of the viceroy. When he returned to Spain in 1696, the older brothers were conscripted into the Spanish navy and the girls and younger boys shipped for Spain. In 1697 the teenage Talon brothers were captured in the Caribbean by a French warship and returned to France.

Document Note

When in 1698 the French were planning another colony at the mouth of the Mississippi, leaders of the venture tracked down and interrogated the Talon brothers to learn what they knew about the region. The text of that interview, held on September 14, 1698, is given here in English translation. The original manuscript is in the French national archives; it was first printed in volume three of Pierre Margry’s Découvertes et établissements des Français dans l'ouest et dans le sud de l'Amérique Septentrionale, 1614-1698. Mémoires et documents inédits (Paris : D. Jouaust, 1876-1886).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

More details on the Talon children can be found in the "Handbook of Texas Online" at http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fta60

Biographical information as well as maps can also be found at the “Virtual Museum of New France” at http://www.civilization.ca/vmnf/vmnfe.asp

Many other contemporary primary sources are available at Early Canadiana Online http://www.canadiana.org/eco/english/

The standard printed discussion is the book cited above, by Robert Weddle.

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