Biloxi (/bəˈlʌksi/; bə-luk-see), officially the City of Biloxi, is a city in Harrison County, Mississippi. The 2010 United States Census recorded the population as 44,054. Along with the adjoining city of Gulfport, Biloxi is a county seat of Harrison County.
The city is part of the Gulfport-Biloxi metropolitan area and the Gulfport-Biloxi-Pascagoula, Mississippi Combined Statistical Area. Pre-Katrina, Biloxi was the third largest city in Mississippi behind Jackson and Gulfport; but with its population losses following that storm, it was passed by Hattiesburg. Also, in the 2010 census, Southaven is shown as the fourth largest city, so Biloxi is now ranked fifth in the state.
The first permanent settlement in French Louisiana was founded at Fort Maurepas, now in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and referred to as Old Biloxi, in 1699 under the direction ofPierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, with Louisiana separated from Spanish Florida at the Perdido River near Pensacola (founded 1559 and again in 1698).
In 1720, the administrative capital of French Louisiana was moved to Biloxi (or Bilocci) from Mobile (or Mobille). French Louisiana (part of New France) was known in French as La Louisiane in colonial times, but in modern times is called “La Louisiane française” to distinguish from the modern state of Louisiana (also “Louisiane” in French).
Due to fears of tides and hurricanes in the 18th century, the capital of French Louisiana was later moved by colonial governor Bienville, in 1723, from Biloxi to a new inland harbor town named La Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans), built for the purpose in 1718–1720.
In 1763, following Great Britain’s victory in the Seven Years War, France had to cede French Louisiana east of the Mississippi River, except for New Orleans, to Great Britain, as part of the Treaty of Paris. At that same time, Louisiana west of the Mississippi, including New Orleans, was ceded to Spain as part of the Treaty of Fontainebleau.
British rule persisted from 1763 to 1779, and then Spanish rule from 1779 to 1798. Despite this, the character of Biloxi remained mostly French. In 1811, Biloxi came under United States of America control as part of the Mississippi Territory. Mississippi, and Biloxi with it, were then admitted to the union in 1817.
Now that ownership was settled, Biloxi began to grow. It became a summer resort, with the advantages of close proximity to New Orleans and ease of access via water. Summer homes were built by well-to-do farmers and commercial figures. Hotels and rental cottages came into existence to serve those who could not afford their own homes.
One of Biloxi’s most known features has been the Biloxi Lighthouse, which was built in Baltimore and then shipped south and completed in May 1848. (It and another are the only surviving lighthouses of twelve that once dotted theMississippi Gulf Coast.)
In the early stages of the Civil War, Ship Island was captured by Union forces, which led to the effective Union capture of Biloxi as well. No major battles were fought in the area, and Biloxi did not suffer direct damage from the war. Some local Union sentiment could be discerned following the war’s conclusion.
In the postbellum period, Biloxi again emerged as a vacation spot. Its popularity as a destination increased with railroad access. In 1881, the first cannery was built in the town, leading to others soon joining the location. Biloxi grew again, and as different ethnic groups came to work in the seafood factories, Biloxi gained a more heterogeneous population.
During World War II, the United States Army Air Forces built Keesler Field, now Keesler Air Force Base, which became a majorbasic training site and site for aircraft maintenance. The Biloxi economy boomed as a result, again bringing more diverse groups to the area. By 1958, the first Jewish synagogue had been built in the town.
Biloxi’s casino history dates back to a period in the 1940s, when open, if technically illegal, gambling took place in a casino within the Broadwater Beach Resort. Open gambling ended during the 1950s. The Mississippi Gulf Coast became known as the “Poor Man’s Riviera”, and was frequented by Southern families interested in fishing expeditions during the summer.Commercially, Biloxi was dominated by shrimp boats and oyster luggers.
In the early 1960s, the Gulf Coast again emerged as a prime alternative to Florida as a southern vacation destination amongNortherners, with Biloxi a center of the focus. Biloxi hotels upgraded their amenities and hired chefs from France and Switzerland in an effort to provide some of the best seafood cuisine in the country. Edgewater Mall was built in 1963.
With the introduction of legal gambling in Mississippi in the 1990s, Biloxi was again transformed. It became an important center for casinos, and the hotels and complexes brought millions of dollars in tourism revenue to the city. The more famous casino complexes were the Beau Rivage casino resort, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino (Biloxi), Casino Magic, Grand Casino, Isle of Capri Casino Resort Biloxi, Boomtown Casino, President Casino Broadwater Resort, and Imperial Palace. Like Tunica County in the northern part of the state, Biloxi and the surrounding Gulf Coast region was considered a leading gambling center in the Southern United States.
To celebrate the area’s Tricentennial in 1998/99, the city’s tourism promotion agency invited the nationally syndicated Travel World Radio Show to broadcast live from Biloxi, with co-host Willem Bagchus in attendance.
By the early 21st century, Biloxi’s economy rested on the three prongs of seafood, tourism and gaming.