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La Belle, the Ship That Changed History

James E. Bruseth

Publication Year: 2014

After two decades of searching for La Salle’s lost ship La Belle, Texas Historical Commission (THC) divers in 1995 located a shipwreck containing historic artifacts of European origin in the silty bottom of Matagorda Bay, off the coast of Texas. The first cannon lifted from the waters bore late seventeenth-century French insignias. The ill-fated La Belle had been found.
Under the direction of then-THC Archeology Division Director James Bruseth, the THC conducted a full excavation of the water-logged La Belle. The conservation was subsequently completed at Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory, resulting in preservation of more than one million artifacts from the wreck.
An official naval vessel granted to La Salle by the king of France in 1684, La Belle is still considered a sovereign naval vessel belonging to the French government under international maritime law. A formal agreement negotiated by the French Republic, the Musée national de la Marine, the US Department of State, and the THC allows the ship and artifacts to remain in Texas permanently and to be housed in an exhibit at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, opening October 2014. This richly illustrated catalog will accompany the exhibit.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright Page

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pp. 5-6

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Mark Wolfe

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pp. 7

For more than twenty years, Texas Historical Commission (THC) archaeologists searched for La Salle’s lost ship, La Belle, in the shallow murky waters of Matagorda Bay. On a warm June day in 1995...

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Jan Felts Bullock

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pp. 8

The Bullock Texas State History Museum was in the planning phase as the initial recovery of La Belle began. Within a year of the ship’s excavation in 1995 and 1996, Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock began to...

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Victoria Ramirez and David Denney

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pp. 9

When the French arrived on the Texas coast in 1685, a series of events played out that would change the course of history. Today La Belle is an important touchstone to that story, helping us understand...

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European Competition for the New World

Jesús F. de la Teja

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pp. 11-16

On classroom maps, the seventeenth-century contest for empire seems straightforward. Different colors represent the colonial boundaries of Spain, France, Portugal, and England at any given point in history...

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La Salle's 1684 Expedition

William C. Foster

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pp. 17-36

In the summer of 1684, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was ready to sail from France to the New World. French King Louis XIV gave him authorization to establish a colony on the Mississippi, but La Salle...

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Native Americans

Juliana Barr

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pp. 37-48

At the time of European arrival in the seventeenth century, the landscape of Texas was criss- crossed with lines drawn between Indian groups that had long occupied the land that Frenchmen, Spaniards, and...

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Life and Death at Matagorda Bay

Jeffrey Durst and James E. Bruseth

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pp. 49-66

Prior to his departure from France in 1684, La Salle had encountered problems in securing able- bodied recruits for his expedition to the New World. Skilled workmen of virtually every trade were needed for...

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The Colony Kit

James E. Bruseth

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pp. 67-92

La Belle was not a treasure ship carrying gold, silver, or precious gems—it was a ship of colonization loaded with supplies to support a New World settlement. Before leaving France, four ships were loaded with...

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Discovery, Excavation, and Preservation

James E. Bruseth and Toni S. Turner

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pp. 93-108

For three centuries, the ship—and La Salle’s dreams of conquest and colonization—lay entombed in a watery grave at the bottom of Matagorda Bay, Texas. Guided by seventeenth-century Spanish maps and the expedition...

Essay Endnotes

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pp. 109-111

Illustration Credits

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pp. 112

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James E. Bruseth

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pp. 113

Many individuals have helped in the preparation of this catalog. David Denney and Joan Marshall offered me the opportunity to compile the exhibit catalog and have been a constant source of encouragement...

About the Guest Authors

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pp. 113


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pp. 114-116

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781623490843
E-ISBN-10: 1623490847
Print-ISBN-13: 9781623490331

Page Count: 104
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: Published for the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum by Texas A&M University Press

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Subject Headings

  • La Salle, Robert Cavelier, sieur de, 1643-1687 -- Exhibitions.
  • La Belle (Frigate) -- Exhibitions.
  • Shipwrecks -- Texas -- Matagorda Bay -- Exhibitions.
  • Underwater archaeology -- Texas -- Matagorda Bay -- Exhibitions.
  • Matagorda Bay (Tex.) -- Antiquities -- Exhibitions.
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