Updated: Aug 19
Fort Sauvage, the Natchez Village after the Fort Rosalie Massacre
I was looking at old Spanish maps of Louisiana in the Archives of Seville and came across a startling image in a map dated 1746: another fort east of Natchitoches. I knew of Los Adaes (Adayes, Adais) and St. Jean Baptiste, of course, but what the heck was the other one? It was too far south for Fort Miro near today's Monroe -- which wouldn't make sense, anyway, as the map depicts the first French period, not the Spanish period (1762 to 1801), of Louisiana.
So I started digging for some clues. First, I determined that the fort looked like it was on the Ouachita River (also called Black River). Then, I searched for French maps, and luckily, we have the Library of Congress to help. A French map from 1747 shows the fort as "Fort Sauvage ruine en 1731." My goodness, this the Natchez settlement that was destroyed by French troops and Choctaw, Houma, and Tunica allies in the early 1730s.
In 1730, the Natchez people raided the French settlement surrounding Fort Rosalie at the Mississippi River. They most likely conducted this warfare due to the French building tobacco plantations on their ancestral lands -- the French fortification and plantations were displacing the Natchez's temples, villages, and earthen pyramids. The French government decided to retaliate by completely annihilating the tribe from the Mississippi River. The remaining people freed their non-Natchez captives and removed themselves to a village along the Ouachita, which they fortified with a stockade. While I believe this village, or "Fort Sauvage" as labeled by the French, was not a new settlement, it was first mapped in 1730.
I found two hand-drawn French maps from 1730/1731 that show the disbursement of the Natchez village, and it was substantial. There is no way this was not a major settlement prior to the altercations, and like the village of Natchitoches, it was also inhabited by a small French contingent of settlers and traders. I believe this is why the French maps of the Natchez village were rendered in such good detail, and how the military and allies were able to attack and destroy the village in January of 1731. People who survived the assault were sold into slavery in Haiti, including several African-born people who had joined the Natchez, who had hoped their alliance would release them from bondage.
By the 1750s, the village is only a memory, and any trace of the settlement disappears in maps from the 1760s and later. This "map loss" is good evidence that the Red River Valley and its tributaries were heavily developed by native villages,* and we don't really know the half of it. We're literally walking on tens of thousands of years of bones.
By 1752, the Natchez village is a historic relic. Library of Congress.
*I'm currently researching a village that was, I believe, on the south side of the Red River at the Bois d'Arc confluence in today's Lamar County, Texas.
Kenneth Myers, a friend and a reader of Red River Historian, wrote an excellent and very detailed account of the Natchez and their adversity with the French in his book, 1729: The True Story of Pierre & Marie Mayeux, the Natchez Massacre and the Settlement of French Louisiana. You can find the book here.
To see the maps in full, follow these links:
1746 Spanish Map: http://pares.mcu.es/ParesBusquedas20/catalogo/description/20997
1731 Plan of the Natchez Fort: https://www.loc.gov/item/2021668646/
1730 Map of the two Natchez Forts: https://www.loc.gov/item/2021668647/
1747 Map of Louisiana: https://www.loc.gov/item/00560608/
1752 Map of Louisiana: https://www.loc.gov/item/75692506/