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'The Ship That Changed History' Makes Its Final Voyage Today

It's called 'the ship that changed history,' and LaBelle, the flagship of French explorer and colonizer Sieur de la Salle, will make it's final voyage today, 1200 WOAI news reports.

  The LaBelle, which was founded at the bottom of Matagorda Bay in 1996, will be transported from Texas A&M University, where it has been painstakingly restored since its discovery, will be transported in pieces to the Bob Bullock Texas History Museum in Austin, where maritime archaeologist Peter Fix says it will be reassembled in public.

  "Principally she is approximately 380 pieces, and based on degradation, we now have a couple hundred more," Fix told Newsradio 1200 WOAI.

  La Salle's 1685 voyage to the Gulf Coast is perhaps the most momentous event in early Texas history, and has it worked out like La Salle had hoped, the state, if it was a state, would be far different today.

  La Salle, who was one of the best known explorers in America, with cities, counties, and universities named in his honor all across the country, was dispatched by France's 'Sun King,' Louis XIV, to drive the Spanish out of Mexico and seize the territory for the Glory of France.  At the time, Louis was the most powerful monarch in the world, and the Spanish, worn out from 150 years of exploiting the riches of the New World, were becoming a second class power.  It looked like a good gamble for Louis.

  But first geography and leadership failed La Salle. One of his ships was seized by pirates off the French colony of Haiti.  Then he made a 500 mile error in geography, mistaking Matagorda Bay for the mount of the Mississippi, where La Salle intended on landing.  That meant rather than the budding French settlement that became New Orleans, where La Salle expected to use as his base, he landed in the territory of the hostile Karankawa Indians, who killed several of his crew.  Another ship was run aground.  La Salle decided to seek help along the Mississippi, which he had helped chart, leaving the crew of LaBelle in Matagorda Bay.  La Salle was murdered by his own mutinying crew, and the Karankawa sold the remaining French to the Spanish, leaving LaBelle to founder in Matagorda Bay, where, for centuries, it appeared on Spanish charts as 'Navio Quebrado,' or 'Broken Ship.'

  A team excavated LaBelle in 1996 in what is called one of the most extraordinary engineering feats ever associated with an archaeological excavation.

  Fix says on board, were one million artifacts, a snapshot of the life of a 17th Century explorer.

  "Everything that was requisite to ship yourself across the ocean and live in a foreign country, where that foreign country was not going to be able to supply you with the goods you were used to from home."

  Fix says many of the items were trinkets that La Salle hopes to trade to what he hoped would be friendly Native Americans.

  "Over a million items that were actually removed from the ship, everything from the smallest trading bead to the larger bronze cannons."

  The La Belle will go on display at the Bullock Museum in October, and Fix estimates that it will take eight months to assemble her, which will give visitors an opportunity to see how the pride of the Sun King's fleet was assembled.

 

 

 

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