Mobile, the first Catholic parish in Colonial French Louisiana

Photo Charles W

In January 1702 D’Iberville and his men returned to Mobile Bay. In the estuary of the Mobile River, they reached a pleasant site where Native Mobilians resided, near the present village of Creola. Fort Louis was erected there to be the political, military and religious center of Colonial Louisiana.

In 1703, the second Bishop of Quebec, Bishop Saint-Vallier, made Mobile the first Catholic parish in Colonial Louisiana. Father Henri Roulleaux de La Vente, who came directly from the diocese of Bayeux, France, became the first priest. Father Antoine Davion of the Foreign Missions Seminary (Quebec) acted as associate. Masses and other ecclesiastical duties were held in the chapel of Fort Louis until the construction of a parish church outside the fortifications in 1708.

The girls of The Pelican

Local legends tell us that Nicolas Langlois, a soldier of the Marine Troops, organized the first Mardi Gras of Mobile in 1703, fifteen years before the founding of New Orleans by governor of Bienville. The Mobilians continue saying with pride that the Mardi Gras celebrations along the Gulf Coast denote, in their own way, the joy of living of the original French-speaking communities. “This way of life is in the soul, not in the spoken language,” they say with conviction.

The first census of the new colony then took place in the spring of 1704. A guardhouse, a forge, a gunsmith shop, an outdoor brick oven, and eighty one-story wooden houses floors have been inventoried. The settlers numbered 200 men capable of bearing arms, two families comprising about ten children, eleven indigenous workers and a large number of farm animals. It was obvious that the colony was facing a major survival issue.

The arrival of the “Pelican Girls” (Dauphin Island)

At the request of the inhabitants of Mobile, King Louis XIV, also called the Sun King, sent 23 girls to marry from orphanages and convents in France. For the duration of the voyage on board the ship The Pelican, the girls were accompanied by Father La Vente and four nuns from the Sisters of Charity. In addition, some new settlers and soldiers also made the ocean crossing. During a stopover in Havana, the yellow fever did creep into the ship. The girls of The Pelican arrived with their cloth bags on Friday, August 1, 1704, a day of celebration that has not been forgotten. Most marriages were performed in the few weeks that followed. Marguerite Burel married Gilbert Dardenne from Ville-Marie (now Montreal). It is worthy of note that these French girls are rightly considered today, and forever, to be the first generation of Alabama mothers.

In 1711, after a devastating flood, the entire colony moved closer to the bottom of Mobile Bay where modern-day Mobile is located. Charles Levasseur, born in Beauport (Quebec City) on April 7, 1665, drew the plans of Colonial French Louisiana’s first capital. He was the son of Jean Levasseur said Lavigne – from the parish of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs in Paris (France) – and Marguerite Richard.

On a 1704 French map of Mobile, kept in the Archeology Department of the University of South Alabama, we can see rue du Séminaire (Seminary Street) running from Le Marché (The Market) to Le Séminaire (The Seminary), the streets named Saint-Joseph (St. Joseph), Saint-François (St. Francis), du Roi (King’s) and La Salle, and also Place Royale directly facing the Mobile River at Fort Louis.