La Belle artifacts tell quite a story
Please note: A portion of the Bullock Museum’s first floor galleries, including the ship La Belle, is temporarily closed and undergoing a major transformation that will open on December 10, with an exclusive Museum Member opening on December 9. (Read more.)
Sometimes mud is a very good thing. When archaeologists began to excavate the wreckage of La Belle, they found that the ship's cargo, sunk beneath Matagorda Bay mud for three centuries, had been extraordinarily well preserved.
When La Belle began its journey in 1684, the ship's hold was packed with crates and barrels of items intended to both support a new colony and supply a military expedition into Mexico. These artifacts–including tools, cooking pots, trade goods, and weapons–give unprecedented insight into the strategies and supplies needed to establish new colonies in 17th-century North America.
What to See
The preserved hull of La Belle and more than 30 artifacts are on display in the exhibition. Highlights include a bronze cannon, muskets, trade goods such as axe heads and glass beads, pieces of the ship’s rigging, and tools for farming and carpentry.
All La Belle artifacts are the property of France from the collection of the Musée National de la Marine. Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission, Austin.
La Belle Artifact Facts
Archaeologists found 21,500 pounds of gunpowder on board the ship, representing one-fifth of the 108,000 pounds of gunpowder French King Louis XIV gave to La Salle for the expedition. The king also provided the expedition with 32,000 pounds of bullets, 400 firearms, 150 swords, 4 bronze cannons, 8 iron cannons, 2400 cannon balls, 6 petards (bombs), 300-400 grenades, 50 polearms, and 100 pistols. Photo courtesy Texas Historical Commission
Trade goods accounted for the majority of the ship's cargo. Included were 1,617 brass hawk bells, 1,571 brass rings, 17,000 brass pins, 500 knives, and 664 axe heads.
One box of beads found on La Belle contained 618,000 glass beads, all strung together by color.