A Bastille Day look at Benard de La Harpe

Today is Bastille Day, or as they say in France, la Fête nationale.  It commemorates both the 1789 storming of the Bastille as well as the 1790 Fête de la Fédération.   

At the time both events occurred, the land today known as Little Rock, like the rest of the Louisiana Purchase, was under Spanish control. (A fact overlooked in the operetta The New Moon which is set in New Orleans during the French Revolution.)

However, since this area was “owned” by the French from 1699 to 1762 and again from 1800 to 1804, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the French heritage of the area on this day.

Even though Arkansas was explored by the French in 1722, no official settlement of the area now known as Little Rock took place until 1812.  There was no permanent settlement until 1820 (though by 1818 settlement was eminent as evidenced by the Quapaw Treaty).

Jean-Baptiste Benard de La Harpe was the lead French explorer who first came to Little Rock in 1722.

From 1718 through 1723, he spent time exploring various areas of the southern sections of North America.  His 1722 trip up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers was at least his third such expedition along a river in the area.  From 1718 to 1719, he explored part of what is now Oklahoma up from the Red River.  Next, he explored part of what is now the eastern section of Texas.

After a trip back to France in 1720, he came back to the New World in 1721.  After his February to May 1722 trip up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers, he then went to transfer Pensacola to the Spanish on behalf of the French. In 1723 he went back to France and remained there until his 1765 death.

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Little Rock Look Back: President James Monroe

On April 28, 1758, future U.S. President James Monroe was born in Virginia.  It was during his Presidency that Arkansas was surveyed and platted. Little Rock was also officially settled during the Monroe Presidency.  The Quapaw Line was drawn during his presidency. This document was the first official document to use the name “Little Rock” to describe this settlement.

Monroe was the last president who was a Founding Father.  A soldier in the Revolutionary War, he studied law under Thomas Jefferson and served as a delegate in the Continental Congress.  Although he felt the new Constitution gave too much power to a central government, Monroe served in the first US Senate before serving as Governor of Virginia.  As a diplomat, he helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase.

He was easily elected president in 1816.  During his first term in office, the US acquired Florida from the Spanish and jointly occupied Oregon with the British. He was the first president to preside over land from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Because of successes abroad (including the Monroe Doctrine) and domestically, the Monroe Presidency was known as the “Era of Good Feeling.”

Following his retirement in 1825, Monroe was plagued by financial difficulties. He died in New York City on July 4, 1831.

Monroe Street in Little Rock is named after him.

Little Rock Look Back: President Thomas Jefferson

On April 13, 1743, Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia.  Along with Benjamin Franklin, he was one of the first American multi-hyphenate Renaissance men.  Author, musician, inventor, diplomat, epicurean, architect, educator, and President. Certainly his writing of the Declaration of Independence was of paramount importance to the US, even if he had never served as President.

It was during his Presidency that Thomas Jefferson actively pursued the Louisiana Purchase which brought what is now Arkansas into the United States.  While he never visited the area, he did send explorers to chart out the Louisiana Purchase.  The subsequent surveying which took place during the Madison presidency was based on standards developed by Jefferson for the surveying of Ohio.

In Little Rock, Jefferson is remembered with Jefferson Elementary and Jefferson Street. He is also the eponym for Bill Clinton’s middle name.

Little Rock Look Back: Thomas Jefferson

220px-Thomas_Jefferson_by_Rembrandt_Peale_1805_croppedOn April 13, 1743, Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia.  Along with Benjamin Franklin, he was one of the first American multi-hyphenate Renaissance men.  Author, musician, inventor, diplomat, epicurean, architect, educator, and President. Certainly his writing of the Declaration of Independence was of paramount importance to the US, even if he had never served as President.

It was during his Presidency that Thomas Jefferson actively pursued the Louisiana Purchase which brought what is now Arkansas into the United States.  While he never visited the area, he did send explorers to chart out the Louisiana Purchase.  The subusequent surveying which took place during the Madison presidency was based on standards developed by Jefferson for the surveying of Ohio.

In Little Rock, Jefferson is remembered with Jefferson Elementary and Jefferson Street. He is also the eponym for Bill Clinton’s middle name.