On This Day
1685 – René-Robert Cavelier establishes Fort St. Louis at Matagorda Bay thus forming the basis for France’s claim to Texas.
The French colonization of Texas began with the establishment of a fort in present-day southeastern Texas. It was established in 1685 near Arenosa Creek and Matagorda Bay by explorer Robert Cavelier de La Salle. He intended to found the colony at the mouth of the Mississippi River, but inaccurate maps and navigational errors caused his ships to anchor instead 400 miles (640 km) to the west, off the coast of Texas. The colony survived until 1688. The present-day town of Inez is near the fort’s site.
The colony faced numerous difficulties during its brief existence, including Native American raids, epidemics, and harsh conditions. From that base, La Salle led several expeditions to find the Mississippi River. These did not succeed, but La Salle did explore much of the Rio Grande and parts of east Texas. During one of his absences in 1686, the colony’s last ship was wrecked, leaving the colonists unable to obtain resources from the French colonies of the Caribbean. As conditions deteriorated, La Salle realized the colony could survive only with help from the French settlements in Illinois Country to the north, along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. His last expedition ended along the Brazos River in early 1687, when La Salle and five of his men were murdered during a mutiny.
Although a handful of men reached Illinois Country, help never made it to the fort. Most of the remaining members of the colony were killed during a Karankawa raid in late 1688, four children survived after being adopted as captives. Although the colony lasted only three years, it established France’s claim to possession of the region that is now Texas. The United States later claimed, unsuccessfully, this region as part of the Louisiana Purchase because of the early French colony.
Spain learned of La Salle’s mission in 1686. Concerned that the French colony could threaten Spain’s control over the Viceroyalty of New Spain and the unsettled southeastern region of North America, the Crown funded multiple expeditions to locate and eliminate the settlement. The unsuccessful expeditions helped Spain to better understand the geography of the Gulf Coast region. When the Spanish finally discovered the remains of the French colony at the fort in 1689, they buried the cannons and burned the buildings. Years later, Spanish authorities built a presidio at the same location. When the presidio was abandoned, the site of the French settlement was lost to history.
The fort was rediscovered by historians and excavated in 1996, and the area is now an archaeological site. In 1995, researchers located the ship La Belle in Matagorda Bay, with several sections of the hull remaining virtually intact. They constructed a cofferdam, the first to be used in North America to excavate the ship as if in dry conditions. In 2000, excavations revealed three of the original structures of the fort, as well as three graves of Frenchmen.
Born On This Day
1784 – Judith Montefiore, British linguist, travel writer, philanthropist (d. 1862)
Judith, Lady Montefiore (née Barent Cohen; 20 February 1784 – 24 September 1862) was a British linguist, musician, travel writer, and philanthropist. A keen traveller, she noted the distress and suffering around her, more particularly in the “Jewish Quarters” of the towns through which she passed, and was ever ready with some plan of alleviation. Her privately printed journals, threw light upon her character, and showed her to be cultureed, imbued with a strong religious spirit, true to the teachings and observances of the Jewish faith, yet exhibiting the widest catholicity to those of other beliefs. She was quick to resent any indignity or insult that might be offered to her religion or her people. Montefiore authored the first Jewish cook book written in English.
Judith Barent Cohen, fourth daughter of Levy Barent Cohen and his wife, Lydia Diamantschleifer, was born in London in 1784. The father, of Angel Court, Throgmorton Street, was a wealthy Ashkenazi or German Jew.
She married Sir Moses Montefiore on 10 June 1812. Marriages between Sephardim and Ashkenazim were not approved by the Portuguese Synagogue; but Moses believed that this caste prejudice was hurtful to the best interests of Judaism, and was desirous of abolishing it. There is little doubt that that marriage did more than anything else to pave the way for the present union of English Jews. They were married on 10 June 1812, and took a house in New Court, St. Swithin’s Lane, next door to one Nathan Maier Rothschild, living there for 13 years. This was likely Nathan Mayer Rothschild, founder of the Rothschild banking family of England, whom one of her sisters, Hannah (1783–1850), had married in 1806.
Her prudence and intelligence influenced all her husband’s undertakings, and when he retired from business, the administration of his fortune in philanthropic endeavours was largely directed by her. Lady Montefiore accompanied her husband in all his foreign missions up to 1859, and was the beneficent genius of his memorable expeditions to the Holy Land, Damascus, Saint Petersburg, and Rome. By her linguistic abilities, she was enabled to materially assist her husband in his self-imposed tasks. During the journey to Russia, in 1846, she was indefatigable in her efforts to alleviate the misery she saw everywhere around her. The wife and daughter of the Russian governor paid her a ceremonious visit and expressed the admiration she had inspired among all classes. Her sympathies were greatly widened by travel; two journals of some of these travels were published anonymously by her. The last years of her life were spent alternately in London and Ramsgate.
For some years her health had been so bad that they had spent much of their time in Europe in the hope of improving it, but she had at last become too weak to undertake the journeys, and her last days were spent in England. Only a few months prior to her decease, the couple had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, and this period was marked by what seemed a partial restoration of her health. On 24 September 1862, after exchanging blessings with her husband, she fell into her last sleep. Lady Judith died 24 September 1862. At her death, Sir Moses founded in her memory the Judith Lady Montefiore College at Ramsgate. 
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