Ship That Doomed France's Colonial Land Grab Is Reborn

La Belle sunk in 1686 as La Salle failed to settle Texas, Southwest
By Shelley Hazen,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 27, 2014 12:54 PM CDT
Ship That Doomed France's Colonial Land Grab Is Reborn
Ornate lifting handles decorate a bronze canon rescued from the French frigate La Belle on display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, Texas.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

A 17th-century shipwreck rebuilt inside a Texas museum will let visitors walk the deck of a frigate whose sinking some 330 years ago explains why no one speaks French in Texas, the AP reports. The doomed La Belle was France's last hope to settle Texas and the American southwest, and explorer Robert La Salle the man hired for the job. In 1685, he arrived with four ships and 300 colonists to settle the mouth of the Mississippi—which he overshot by about 400 miles. One ship was lost to pirates, another sank, and a third went home, the Bullock Museum's curator Jim Bruseth tells the Battalion. The La Belle remained, docked with a new colony at Fort St. Louis on the Texas coast while La Salle searched for the elusive river. The frigate sunk in a storm, the colony crumbled, and La Salle was killed.

Though it failed, Fort St. Louis lured the Spanish, who swiped the region from the French. "History oftentimes turns on seemingly small events," Bruseth tells the AP. La Belle was found in 1995, shipped in pieces to Texas A&M, stored in a freezer, and taken piece by piece to the Austin museum. Archaeologists will now reassemble the frigate inside the museum for visitors, then encase it in glass. "Once we get the framing up it's going to look like a big beached whale, a bone carcass," says one archaeologist. The exhibit also includes the cannons, rifles, building materials, and stored aboard La Belle. (Meanwhile, Canada just found its most wanted shipwreck.)

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