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A French Teenager Bluffed a British Warship

One man headed south. Another, north.

Luck–and the bluff of the century–would determine what followed. The nervy encounter became known as the English Turn, and it’s how the story of New Orleans unfolded as it did.

Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville, a 19-year-old aristocrat-turned-expeditioner from French Canada, came to the mouth of the Mississippi in 1699 with domination in mind.

Along with his crew, Bienville was the first to reach from the Gulf. It was open land, a blank slate. Those southern stretches of the New World were theirs for the taking. So long as no one else tried to stake their claim.

And, for a while, no one did.

They started small French settlements. Fort Maurepas. Mobile. Bienville had been camped out for months without incident. But in the summer of 1699, heading downriver with his men, Bienville encountered their first threat.

Photo: Paul Broussard

Around the bend of the Mississippi, the masts of an English warship waved. Ten cannons gleamed on its decks. The corvette, named the Carolina Galley, was filled with settlers looking for a place of their own. They were led by Captain Lewis Bond.

Bienville recognized the captain from an earlier encounter during King William’s War. Hudson Bay, 1697. Bienville’s brother, naval hero Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, had defeated and held Bond captive. Now here was the captain was again, only much further south.

With only two bark canoes and five men at his disposal,

Bienville paddled over.

He announced to Captain Bond that they were in territory already claimed by France. If they proceeded further, they faced opposition by the French fortifications beyond.

There was, of course, nothing of the sort. But Captain Bond sized up Bienville, that young brother of d’Iberville, and took him at his word. The Carolina Galley turned around, taking hopes of British colonization in these parts with it.

Photo: Paul Broussard

Bienville went on to found La Nouvelle-Orléans in 1718, just north of the spot of the English Turn. By 1723, it became the capital of French Louisiana.

Nearly three centuries later, that crook in the river is marked by a simple brown plaque. Further away, in the French Quarter, a monument to Bienville lives. There, the father of New Orleans forever stands watch, ready to tell the next brazen con, if push comes to shove.

Visit New Orleans and start your story with #OneTimeInNOLA.

Jenny is a writer of culture both high and low. Her work has appeared in V Magazine, Lenny Letter, and TIME, to name a few. She first fell in love with New Orleans over buttermilk biscuits and strawberry preserves. She’s been a NOLA regular ever since.

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