New exhibit features French colonial ship, artifacts

By the Advocate Editorial Board
April 27, 2017 at 6 p.m.
Updated April 28, 2017 at 6 a.m.

A new exhibit at the Museum of the Coastal Bend is sure to delight history enthusiasts and visitors in our area.

The "La Belle Interpretive Exhibit" features an outdoor, large-scale outline of the ship's deck just outside the museum's front doors. The Museum of the Coastal Bend's permanent exhibit "Where Texas History Began," is a place where the history of the Crossroads comes to life for its patrons.

The exhibits at this museum make you excited about the place you live while also providing an insight to different cross-sections of culture that have molded our community today.

One of the striking features of the La Belle exhibit is how small the deck actually was. The ship carried about 50 people on its voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from France to Matagorda Bay. It was never meant to travel such a long distance, but French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier and his crew were able to make the trip.

A team of archaeologists dug up the site where La Belle shipwrecked and found pieces of the hull, which are on display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, along with hundreds of artifacts.

In Victoria, you can see several of those artifacts on display inside the museum as part of the La Belle exhibit as well as the newly minted outline exhibit.

The pieces of La Belle that were found technically belong to the French government since it wrecked in a body of water; however, the remains of Fort St. Louis - because it was built on land - belong to the Texas State Historical Commission.

After the remains of the ship were discovered, an agreement was drafted between the Texas State Historical Commission and the French government to allow for an indefinite long-term loan of the items tied to La Belle.

In a 2005 Victoria Advocate column, Henry Wolff Jr. wrote about the French sailor whose remains were found on La Belle.

The French sailor was buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

"French officials decided, 'He had come to the New World to seek a new life and therefore should be buried here,'" Wolff wrote.

The La Salle Odyssey Trail, which includes museums in Austin, Rockport and Edna, features other artifacts from the shipwreck.

The artifacts all tell a different portion of the story of La Salle, said Sue Prudhomme, executive director of Culture Affairs for Victoria College.

Begin your journey in discovering the history behind the shipwrecked La Belle, which was intended to reach the Mississippi River instead of the Texas shore, by starting with the Museum of the Coastal Bend's new interpretive exhibit, La Belle, before hitting the trail.

"It's a fun trail for people to do," Prudhomme said. "We've seen people come by here that try to see them all in one day."

Thanks to a DOW Seadrift Operations Community Gives Grant of $4,800 grant, the museum was able to make the new exhibit possible.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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