Home > PublicationsEncyclopedia >  La Harpe, Jean Baptiste Bénard de

LA HARPE, JEAN BAPTISTE BÉNARD DE (1683–1765).

Explorer Jean Baptiste Bénard de La Harpe was born in 1683 in Saint-Malo, France. In 1703, after serving for a short time in the army of Philip V of Spain, he traveled to Peru. There in 1705 he married a wealthy widow, Doña Maria de Rokafull, and returned to France. He published an account of his experiences, Relation, circa 1706, now lost. In 1718 La Harpe decided to return to the New World.

Accompanied by forty fellow adventurers, in the summer of 1718 La Harpe disembarked on Dauphin Island off the coast of present Alabama. The group went to New Orleans and claimed to have orders to settle lands along the Red River. The nature of La Harpe's commission is unclear; however, he assumed role of concessionaire for the Company of the Indies. In the spring of 1719 the party explored the lower Mississippi River and then traveled up the Red and Sulphur rivers, probably reaching present Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

La Harpe founded Fort Saint Louis de los Cadodaquious in late April 1719. Located in present Bowie County, Texas, the site is also called Fort Breton or Fort San Luis de Cadodachos. La Harpe immediately wrote to Gov. Martín de Alarcón and Father Margil de Jesús in Spanish Texas, proposing a trade relationship. However, Spanish law outlawed trade between the two colonies. Moreover, Spain and France were engaged in the War of the Quadruple Alliance. After La Harpe exchanged threats with the Spaniards and the French attacked the Mission of San Miguel de Linares de los Adaes, the Frenchman turned his attention to exploration.

Seeking trade with the Comanche, in the summer of 1719 La Harpe's party crossed present Oklahoma, probably following the Canadian River. The precise route is unknown. They did not find trading partners, and in November 1719 the expedition returned to the Red River. La Harpe was ill and disenchanted with his Red River concession. After regaining his health, he traveled down to New Orleans in January 1720 and then returned to France. His second venture to the New World ended in failure.

Within the year, La Harpe returned to North America to rebuild the outpost that René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, had founded on Matagorda Bay in present Texas. The ship Subtile missed its mark and deposited La Harpe and his fifteen soldiers on Galveston Bay in the late summer of 1721. After a difficult winter La Harpe abandoned the post and once more set out to explore. His plan to open trade with the Spanish colonies via the Arkansas River in 1722 was thwarted by lack of logistical support. After returning to France, La Harpe published the Journal historique concernant l'etablissement des Français à la Louisiane, putatively an account of his work in the New World. Unfortunately, it is not a reliable source inasmuch as La Harpe makes many claims that cannot be substantiated. He died on September 26, 1765.

Carl N. Tyson

See also: EUROPEAN EXPLORATION, FRENCH

Bibliography

Isaac J. Cox, "The Louisiana-Texas Frontier," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 10 (July 1906).

Ralph A. Smith, trans., "Account of the Journey of Benard de La Harpe," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 62 (July, October 1958, January, April 1959).

Carl N. Tyson, The Red River in Southwestern History (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1981).

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society. This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia and part or in whole.

Photo credits: All photographs presented in the published and online Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture are the property of the Oklahoma Historical Society and are held in the agency's Research Division Photo Archives.


Citation

The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Carl N. Tyson, "La Harpe, Jean Baptiste Bénard de," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org (accessed October 19, 2017).

About the Encyclopedia | Terms of Use | Using the Encyclopedia