Notes from a fascinating world.
The world is like a bazaar, full of interesting odds and ends, and I've been exiled into it. This is my all-over-the-map (literally and metaphorically) attempt at capturing some of the world's many wonders.
A bronze statue of Pierre le Moyne d’Iberville looks over the harbor of Havana, the city where he died in 1706 while preparing for an expedition against the English colonies of the Carolinas.
His was a life that illustrated the interconnectedness of the histories of the countries of North America. Born in Montreal in 1661, d’Iberville made his name as a young man in the French struggle against English encroachment in the Hudson Bay area. In 1686 he joined an expedition to James Bay and captured three forts, over which he was made commander. In 1690 he distinguished himself in a battle fought in today’s Schenectady, New York. And the Hudson Bay campaign of 1697 made him the greatest hero of New France.
With the Treaty of Rijswijk of that same year ending hostilities between England and France, the French government sent d’Iberville south to the Louisiana territory to explore and to fortify the Mississippi. René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, had previously laid claim to Louisiana on behalf of the French crown, and d’Iberville’s mission was now to shore up France’s claim. He succeed in rediscovering the mouth of the Mississippi and establishing a series of forts: Fort Maurepas on Biloxi Bay, Fort La Boulaye near today’s New Orleans, and most importantly Fort St. Louis in 1702 on the Mobile River. The last of these served as the capital of French Louisiana until 1711. Later the town was moved a short distance away and became Mobile, Alabama, while Old Mobile came to be named after its founder and called Le Moyne. It was due to d’Iberville’s successes that Louis XIV decided to develop Louisiana as a colony.
But just then war reignited between France and England, distracting d’Iberville from the project of colonization. This time it was the War of Spanish Succession, or as it was known in the North American theater, Queen Anne’s War. In early 1706 d’Iberville led a French fleet to victory in the West Indies, capturing the islands of Nevis and St. Christopher. He then sailed to Spanish Havana and prepared to launched an attack on the Carolinas. Here he died suddenly of yellow fever, a few days shy of his 45th birthday. He was buried in the Plaza de Armas in the heart of the old city.
The life of d’Iberville was like a line connecting the dots of North America from Quebec to Cuba. The city he founded, Mobile, and the city where he died, Havana, became each other’s most important trading partner from the early 18th century until the U.S. embargoed Cuba after the 1959 revolution. Despite the hostility between the two countries, Mobile and Havana became sister cities in 1993.
Writer, traveler, lawyer, dilettante. Failed student of physics. Not altogether distinguished graduate of two Ivy League institutions. Immigrant twice over. "The grand tour is just the inspired man's way of getting home."