Indiana’s oldest city is lush with history. Dating back to the 1700s, the city features the largest national monument outside of Washington, DC, a presidential home, a state historic site and the city’s newest monument to its namesake.
In May of this year, the city of Vincennes dedicated a lifesize bronze statue of the French colonist, François-Marie Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes. De Vincennes founded the settlement that eventually became the city. The new statue is located on the Vincennes Riverwalk, just at the end of Main Street and close to the George Rogers Clark National Monument. For those visiting Indiana’s oldest city, make sure you take the time to visit the new statue!
François-Marie Bissot was born in Montreal in 1700 to Jean Baptiste Bissot, Sieur de Vincennes and Marguerite Forestier. Jean Baptiste was a second-generation French-Canadian colonist who served as the liaison between New France and the Miami Nation in what is now northern and central Indiana. Jean Baptiste operated out of several French outposts/forts and trading centers in the French North American colonies. When his son François-Marie Bissot came of age in 1717, he moved to be with his father at Kekionga, the Miami Native American village at what is today Fort Wayne.
After his father’s death, François-Marie Bissot became the commander at Fort Ouiatenon near what is now Lafayette, Indiana and took his father’s title, Sieur de Vincennes. By 1730, he was in charge of what is now the entirety of southern Indiana. At this time, New France was divided into five administrative districts including Canada, Hudson’s Bay, Acadie, Plaisance, and Louisiane the latter of which was further split into Lower Louisiane (Basse-Louisiane) and Upper Louisiane (Haute-Louisiane, but also known as Illinois Country). Although the border varied over the years, the district of Canada stretched down at this time to the Wabash River in Miami Territory and included Fort Ouiatenon, Fort Miamis (at Kekionga), and Fort Chécagou. Louisiane stretched northward to the Wabash River as well, but its northernmost outpost was a fort/trading center, which later was named Fort Vincennes. By 1745, the official border between Louisiane and Canada was fixed on the Wabash River halfway between Fort Ouiatenon (Lafayette) and Fort Vincennes, approximately near present-day Terre Haute.
This northernmost Louisiane fort/trading post was first created by François-Marie Bissot in 1732 as a French outpost which served primarily as a fur trading center between the French Empire and the Native Americans in the area. François-Marie Bissot selected this spot, long inhabited by Native Americans, as it was near the confluence of the White and Wabash rivers, while also being the location of the termination point of an old Buffalo Trace. It might also have been at, or near a site of a previous French fort and outpost. In an attempt to make the settlement prosper, François-Marie Bissot invited several bands of Wea and Piankashaw Native Americans along with French-Canadian colonists to move to his new settlement. The site was known generally as Post Vincennes.
A year later, he married Marie Phillippe de Longpre (1729-1801) and the couple had two children, Marie Therese and Catherine – all four of whom lived at Vincennes’ new trading outpost.
Three years later, François-Marie Bissot was part of the French war with the Chickasaw Native Americans along the Mississippi River further south. In 1736, he was captured and killed near the Chickasaw town of Ogoula Tchetoka (near present-day Tupelo, Mississippi) during the Battle of Ogoula Tchetoka.
Within a few years of his death, his trading post on the Wabash River was renamed Fort Vincennes in François-Marie Bissot honor.
The bronze statue continues this tradition. It was commissioned by the Friends of Vincennes’ Heritage and the Terre Haute based artist, Bill Wolfe, completed the work. Wolfe has completed numerous bronze sculptures across Indiana including Weir Cook at the Indianapolis International Airport, Larry Bird in Terre Haute, and numerous others.
For history buffs and fans of figurative art, the trip to Vincennes is worth it to see the new work!