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Fort Assumption

After La Salle's failed attempt to colonize the lower Mississippi Valley in 1684, the French launched a new effort in the early eighteenth century. Under the leadership of Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, the French subdued the Natchez Indians and built forts at Natchitoches, Natchez, and Arkansas Post to protect the Mississippi River fur trade.

In 1739 Bienville organized an army of twelve hundred Frenchmen and twice as many blacks and Indians to eradicate the Chickasaws. He ordered the construction of a fort on the fourth Chickasaw Bluff at a site near the railroad bridges in present-day Memphis. According to a contemporary account, the elaborate fortification included three bastions fronting the land and two fronting the river with seven wide terraces sloping down to the river. It was finished on August 15, 1739, the Feast of the Assumption, and thus was named Fort Assumption.

During the winter the army suffered from weather, disease, desertion, and drunkenness. The French received peace overtures from the Chickasaws, but they proved fruitless. On March 20, 1740, the Chickasaws agreed to release some hostages, and by March 31, Bienville's discouraged troops were withdrawn from the bluff. The French made a final unsuccessful foray against the Chickasaws in 1754. In 1762 the French king, exhausted by the struggle to maintain colonies in America, ceded his Louisiana possessions to Spain in a secret treaty.

Although the French claimed the fourth Chickasaw Bluff for eighty years, actual French occupation lasted only a few months. Today, all that remains of the French heritage is the name of a Memphis subdivision and a memory.

Suggested Reading

James T. Robinson, "Fort Assumption: The First Recorded History of White Man's Activity on the Present Site of Memphis," West Tennessee Historical Society Papers 5 (1951): 62-78.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010