Francois Derbanne

Derbanne, Francois Guyon des Pres (1671-1734)

Francois Derbanne (d’Erbanne or d’Herbanne), a French Canadian who explored the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers and was prominent in early Mobile and Natchitoches, is most often noted for his trek across Texas in 1717, of which he wrote an account. He was born at Quebec on February 6, 1671, and was with Le Sueur in his search for minerals on the upper Mississippi in 1698-99. He took part in the exploration of the upper Missouri in 1706. By 1710 he had moved to Dauphin Island, adjacent to Mobile Bay, where he had charge of Antoine Crozat’s company warehouse. In 1716 he was at the forefront of Bienville’s campaign against the Natchez Indians.

Later that year, when Louis Juchereau de Saint Denis returned to Mobile from his first journey to San Juan Bautista and Mexico City, Derbanne became his partner for contraband trade with the Spaniards. With merchandise from Crozat’s storehouses, destined for sale in Nuevo León, the traders left Mobile in canoes on October 10, 1716, for the Natchitoches Indian villages on the Red River. They carried the merchandise thence on mules that had brought from Coahuila the effects of the six new Spanish missions of eastern Texas.

The traders spent two months among the Hasinai (Tejas) Indians, for whom the Spaniards were building missions. The journey from there to San Juan Bautista (Guerrero, Coahuila) extended from March 22 to April 21, 1717, on a route slightly at variance with the Spanish Camino Real (see OLD SAN ANTONIO ROAD). Derbanne’s “Relation” is a valuable account of the country, the flora and fauna, and Indian demographics. It also reflects the geographical understanding of the time. From a commercial point of view, the trip was a disappointment, as Derbanne saw scant prospects for a lucrative trade because of the distance and Spanish opposition. He and the other partners left San Juan Bautista on September 1 and returned to Dauphin Island on October 26, 1717.

In January of that year Derbanne took up residence at Natchitoches, where he managed the Company of the West’s warehouse at Ft. St.Jean Baptiste, acquired land and slaves, and became the second wealthiest resident. He had married Jeanne de La Grand Terre, who is believed to have been a Natchitoches Indian. They had six children. After some years there Derbanne wrote his “Relation du poste des Natchitoches,” dated June 12, 1724. He died in 1734 in New Orleans and presumably was buried there. His wife died two years later and was buried at Natchitoches.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Katherine Bridges and Winston De Ville, trans. and eds., “Natchitoches and the Trail to the Rio Grande: Two Early Eighteenth Century Accounts by the Sieur Derbanne,” Louisiana History 8 (Summer 1967). Jay Higginbotham, Old Mobile: Fort Louis de la Louisiane, 1703-1711 (Mobile, Alabama: Museum of the City of Mobile, 1977).

Robert S. Weddle

The Handbook of Texas Online, a joint project of The General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This