Fine early chart the mouth of the Mississippi River, from Bellin's Petit Atlas Maritime.
The two primary navigable channels for entry into the Mississippi River are shown, with soundings for navigation.
At the center right, in an area marked with symbols for drifting wood, the Island and Fort of Balise (or Balize) is shown. This was the point at which sailing vessels planning to navigate up the Mississippi River would take on a pilot familiar with the journey, to aid in navigating the difficult course through the Mississippi Delta.
The site of La Balize dates to the arrival Robert de La Salle, who claimed the land in 1682 for the French crown. De La Salle noted the site as important for monitoring two major forks in the river, so passage could be controlled. By 1721 the French built a 62-foot high wooden pyramid and established a the settlement.
In the early 18th century, the Roman Catholic Church created seven pioneer parishes in the Louisiana colony, including La Balize, founded in 1722.
Despite its vulnerability to hurricanes, the site became the primary location where pilots could meet the ships. The complicated conditions on the Mississippi River required ships to have river pilots to help them navigate the bar, with its changing currents, mud and sandbars, and avoid going aground. After the Americans took control of the territory by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, they sometimes called the village Pilotsville.
Jacques-Nicolas Bellin (1703-1772) was among the most important mapmakers of the eighteenth century. In 1721, at age 18, he was appointed hydrographer (chief cartographer) to the French Navy. In August 1741, he became the first Ingénieur de la Marine of the Depot des cartes et plans de la Marine (the French Hydrographic Office) and was named Official Hydrographer of the French King.
During his term as Official Hydrographer, the Depot was the single most active center for the production of sea charts and maps, including a large folio format sea-chart of France, the Neptune Francois. He also produced a number of sea-atlases of the world, e.g., the Atlas Maritime and the Hydrographie Francaise. These gained fame, distinction, and respect all over Europe and were republished throughout the 18th and even in the succeeding century.
Bellin also came out with smaller format maps such as the 1764 Petit Atlas Maritime, containing 580 finely detailed charts. He also contributed many of the maps for Bellin and contributed a number of maps to the 15-volume Histoire Generale des Voyages of Antoine François Prévost or simply known l'Abbe Prevost.
Bellin set a very high standard of workmanship and accuracy, thus gaining for France a leading role in European cartography and geography. Many of his maps were copied by other mapmakers of Europe.