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Document Number: AJ-121
Author: Joutel, Henri, 1640?-1735
Title: A Journal of the Last Voyage Perform'd by Monsr. de la Sale, to the Gulph of Mexico, to Find Out the Mouth of the Missisipi River
Source: Joutel, Henri. A Journal of the Last Voyage Perform'd by Monsr. de la Sale, to the Gulph of Mexico, to Find Out the Mouth of the Missisipi River; Containing An Account of the Settlements He Endeavour'd to Make on the Coast of the Aforesaid Bay, His Unfortunate Death, and the Travels of His Companions for the Space of Eight Hundred Leagues across That Inland Country of America, Now Call'd Louisiana, (and Given by the King of France to M. Crozat,) till They Came into Canada. (London: Printed for A. Bell, B. Lintott, and F. Baker, 1714).
Pages/Illustrations: 121 / 0
Citable URL: www.americanjourneys.org/aj-121/

Author Note

Little is known about the early life of Henri Joutel (1640?-1735). He was probably born about 1640 in Rouen, Normandy, where he was a neighbor of the Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (see also AJ-049, AJ-53, AJ-114, AJ-122, and AJ-124); his father was a gardener for the explorer’s family. He joined the French army as a young man and became La Salle’s friend and confidant on the ill-fated Texas expedition described in this document.

Expedition of 1684-1687

La Salle had long envisioned a chain of French forts and trading posts that would stretch from the Atlantic to the Gulf and channel the lucrative fur trade of the interior to France. To establish the southern point on that semi-circle, he sailed for the Gulf of Mexico with 180 colonists in four ships on July 24, 1684, to plant a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi. They overshot their intended destination, however, and were shipwrecked on Matagordas Bay not far from present-day Houston, Texas. Here the frustrated colonists built Fort St. Louis, from which they reconnoitered much of Texas in a vain search for the Mississippi until, on March 19, 1687, mutinous settlers ambushed and killed La Salle (see AJ-114). Most of the remaining colonists soon died from disease or were massacred by the local Indians.

Joutel, however, escaped both assassination by La Salle’s murderers and the massacre at Fort St. Louis. Instead, he led six other survivors northeast through Texas and Arkansas until they struck the Mississippi, which they then followed upstream to the French settlements. They reached Illinois in September, 1687, where they spent the winter, and arrived at Quebec in July and France in October, 1688, more than eighteen months after leaving the doomed Texas colony. After his return home, Joutel nearly disappears from the historical record. He was interviewed in 1722 by historian Pierre-François-Xavier Charlevoix (1682-1761) and may have died as late as 1735.

Document Note

Joutel’s account was first published in Paris in 1713 without his permission or input; we give here the English translation published the following year. Unfortunately these contemporary versions omit almost half of Joutel’s original manuscript journal. The complete text first appeared in volume three of Pierre Margry’s Découvertes et Etablissements des Français dans l'Ouest et dans le Sud de l'Amérique Septentrionale, 1614-1754 (Paris: D. Jouaust, 1876-1886) and was only translated into English quite recently, as The La Salle Expedition to Texas: the Journal of Henri Joutel, 1684-1687, edited and with an introduction by William C. Foster (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1998).

Other Internet and Reference Sources

This is one of several documents concerning the career of the French explorer Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle (see also AJ-049, AJ-53, AJ-114, AJ-122, and AJ-124). For another eyewitness account of La Salle's murder, see especially AJ-114.

The National Library of Canada has created “Pathfinders and Passageways: The Exploration of Canada” at http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/2/24/h24-220-e.html with a wealth of background information, images, and excerpts from primary sources on the country’s early history that will provide further biographical and historical information. Other contemporary primary documents can be found at the “Early Canadiana Online” project, www.canadiana.org

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