Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site
Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site is a replica fort of a French military and trading outpost in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The original site of the fort is located a few hundred yards away. The original fort was built in 1716 by Sieur Charles Claude Dutisné who was sent to Natchitoches with a French garrison to build a fort to prevent Spanish troops from marching from Texas in to Louisiana. The fort eventually became a key trading center for the Native Americans, Spanish, and the French in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Today, the fort is open to visitors from Wednesday until Sunday.
Backstory and Context
Juchereau de St. Denis maintained a delicate, seemingly duel, loyalty to Spain and France. He was responsible for the development of both New France (Louisiana) and Spanish Texas. Married to a Spanish woman, St. Denis declared his desire to become a subject of Spain. In January of 1743, he wrote a letter to Jean Frederic Phelypeaux, comte de Maurepas, at Versailles, resigning from his position as commandant of Natchitoches. He wished to retire to New Spain with his wife and children. However, because the Spanish believed him to be a secret agent of France, they forbade him to do so. He died in Natchitoches on June 11, 1744.
Among his descendants is the founder of the Knights of the White Camellia, Alcibiades DeBlanc (1821-1883). The Knights of the White Camellia was an organization formed after the Civil War for the purpose of keeping former slaves from voting and ensuring white men maintained their political power. Another of St. Denis’ descendants, Jefferson J. DeBlanc (February 15, 1921-November 22, 2007) was a fighter pilot during the Second World War. A Marine Corps pilot, he earned the distinction of ace during WWII and later received the Medal of Honor.
The fort was held by the French until 1762 when England defeated France in the French and Indian War. France was forced to cede the Louisiana colony to Spain. Spain occupied the fort but eventually abandoned it and it was in ruins by the time of the Louisiana purchase. The replica fort was constructed in 1979.