La Salle: Sailing Down the Mississippi

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13033

Great discoveries, shipwrecks, mutinies, navigation mistakes, Indian attacks, failed settlements, an ungrateful king, and murder — all in a day's work for explorers like Robert de La Salle!


World, World

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Beaver, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Have you ever imagined you could find something amazing, like a diamond, a dinosaur fossil, or a buried treasure chest?
  • Have you read about archaeologists who made exciting discoveries, like an ancient pharaoh's tomb, a prehistoric beast, or a lost civilization?
  • Archaeologists have an exciting job, don't they?
  • But did you know that some of the things you see in museums have taken people many years, decades, or even centuries to find?
  • And that once they find them, there can be years of work to properly preserve them so the rest of us can enjoy these treasures?

Watch the Excavation of La Belle, from the Texas Historical Commission, about the finding of a sunken ship in Texas. Finding and preserving this long-lost ship was a triumph for the archaeologists involved. And it reminded Texans that one small event can change history!

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In this lesson, you'll learn about René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, who discovered the mouth of the Mississippi and claimed a large piece of land for France, that he named Louisiana, after King Louis XIV.

René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle

Image, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

René-Robert Cavelier was his real name, but he is better known by his title, Sieur de La Salle, meaning Lord of the Manor. And so he is simply called La Salle. It was La Salle's ship, La Belle, that was excavated in Matagorda Bay in Texas in 1995.

  • How did the ship get to the bottom of Matagorda Bay, and how did its sinking change Texas' (and America's) history?
  • And did La Salle happen to lose any other ships during his exploring career?

Let's go back to the beginning of La Salle's story.

La Salle was born in Rouen, France, in 1643. As a teen, he started studying to become a Catholic priest and asked to be sent out as a missionary to the New World to join his brother, Jean, who was also a missionary in New France (Canada). He came to Montreal in 1667, then decided not to complete his studies. He got some land, built a settlement, and became friendly with the native Mohawks. They told him that there was a great river called the Ohio that flowed to another great river, the Mississippi, and then out to the sea.

  • Could this be the Northwest Passage to China?

La Salle then caught the exploring bug and devoted the rest of his life to that pursuit. He stated that he would let no other man claim to be the first to find the waterway to China — he had to do it himself! He sold his settlement and started exploring.

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Now, move on to the Got It? section, where you'll explore La Salle's accomplishments and review the accomplishments of the other explorers you've studied.

If you haven't finished the previous Related Lessons in this French Explorers of the New World series, you won't have anything to review! Check them out now in the right-hand sidebar before continuing.

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