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Somewhere near the mouth of the Mississippi, in 1682, La Salle took possession of what was later known as the Louisiana Territory, for France, but it was not until February, 1699 that an attempt was made to colonize the province. It was then that the brothers Iberville and Bienville, heading a company of several hundred French Canadians landed near Biloxi.
During the same month Iberville located, with the aid of Bayou Goula guides, the Mississippi passes, which La Salle had signally overlooked. He took a landing party in smaller boats from his ships and ascended the river beyond Baton Rouge, visiting various Indian settlements, and with a Frenchman's tact cultivated the friendship of the inhabitants.
After that his main party returned downstream to the Gulf Coast, while he and several companions in birch-bark canoes entered what is now the Iberville river and paddling on down through the Amite, across Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain, continuing their way through the Rigolets and finally rejoining their forces on the Coast sometime late in March. These intrepid Frenchmen were the first of civilized men to set foot on St. Tammany soil.
In June of the same year, Bienville, still in his teens, headed a peace mission to the Acolapissa tribe, then located at what is now known as Indian Village on Pearl River about twelve miles from its mouth, opposite Honey Island. This tribe in all numbered about 1200, of which 250 were warriors.
Their customs were similar in all respects to those which the explorers learned about from the other natives they had visited. After the establishment of the city of New Orleans the Acolapissas followed the French to the south shore of the lake about 1730. Acolapissa means "People who listen and see".
In their wake a portion of the great Choctaw nation came from the upper region of Pearl River in Mississippi and occupied the St. Tammany wilderness until their tribal remnants were finally removed to Indian Territory in the 90's.
The historical position of St. Tammany Parish on the map may be traced as follows:
From the days of Louis XIV, 1699, to the close of the Seven Years War, 1763, it was part of the Biloxi District of the Louisiana province. When that war ended with the loss by France of all her territory on the American Continent to England, it was included in the British maps as part of the Manchac District of British West Florida.
At the close of the American Revolution, when the Spanish tortes at New Orleans, under Galvez, joined hands with the colonies, the country was taken over by Spain, and the royal surveyors classed it as the Chiffon-tat District of Feliciana.
In 1810, this section in Louisiana lying between the Pearl and Mississippi rivers rose in revolt against Ferdinand VIII of Spain. The settlers set up a miniature republic, which had an ephemeral existence of 74 days. During that time the part lying between St. Helena and the Pearl was awkwardly designated as St. Ferdinand.
In 1811, following the proclamation of President Madison annexing Spanish West Florida to the United States, Territorial Governor W. C. C. Claiborne carved Feliciana into four parishes. This one he tagged St. Tammany. Taimenand, or Tammany, was a Delaware Indian chief. The name signifies affable or friendly, an idea which the Governor no doubt hoped the large number or red-skins here would seize upon.
Spain Assumes Power
At the time Spain assumed power in 1779, there were not more than fifteen or twenty English and Scotch Irish families who had settled in this wilderness. Their British land grants were all located in liberal lots along the shore of Lake Pontchartrain between the Lacombe and the Tangipahoa rivers.
Following a naval battle off Mandeville between British and American sloops-of-war, in which the Britisher was captured, Captain William Pickles came ashore and received an oath of allegiance of all the settlers to the American Colonies.
After 1785, when the so-called Great Western Movement from the Atlantic Seaboard began, Miro, the Spanish Governor, at New Orleans induced a large number of pioneers chiefly from Georgia and the Carolinas to settle in these parts. They located principally along the Bogue Chitto, Pearl, Tchefuncte and Tangipahoa rivers, and it is from that sturdy stock that a large portion of the present day inhabitants boast their descent.
In 1811, Coquille, or Cokie Bank. on the Tchefuncte, became Madisonville. Writing in 1812 concerning Madisonville Amos Stoddard says in Sketches of Louisiana:
"At present this town is little more than a name attached to an elegant, healthy and eligible spot of ground for a seaport town. About half a dozen French built mud-walled huts, and about as many log cabins, and two or three frames are all of the present improvements."
Prominent among the first settlers were the Baham and Edwards families. The town was laid out by the heirs of Joseph Baham and incorporated by the Legislature in February of 1817. One feature of the charter provided that all persons subject to military draft were "to have the liberty of voting" irrespective of age.
In December 1803, Jaques Drieux, a New Orleans creole acquired from the Spanish Government, 1600 acres lying in the fork between the Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncte rivers, on which he planned the Town of St. James. Due to the instability of the times and the meager population nothing came of it until some time after the annexation of the Florida Parishes to Orleans Territory, when John Wharton Collins in May 1813, bought the "town" from Drieux with its claim to four inhabitants for $2300.
Collins was a young New Orleans merchant who with others of his family had migrated from Philadelphia and established themselves in New Orleans and St. Tammany soon after the Louisiana Purchase. On July 4, he dedicated a portion of the area which he called the Division of St. John of Wharton.
The Collins were off-shoots of the Wharton family of England made famous by the Whig leader, Thomas Marquis of Wharton in King Williams' time (1690). In March 1816 Wharton was incorporated by the Legislature, but in doing so the lawmakers changed the name to Covington, in honor of General Leonard A. Covington, a hero of the War of 1812.
Shortly before this happened the Town of Covington, Kentucky was named to honor the same person. The often repeated story that the name was inspired by a label found on a Covington Kentucky whiskey keg is an absurdity.
More Attractive Look
Following the defeat of the British at New Orleans and threats of a Choctaw uprising having subsided, the Parish in general and the new town of Madisonville in particular, took on a more attractive look. Collins removed his business establishment to Covington, and energetically pushed the sale of his building sites.
The start was Immediate, but he did not live long to see his town grow. He died in 1817 at the age of 29, thereby founding by his death the only cemetery Covington has required until recently. Collins left one son, Thomas Wharton, who has been long known as a noted writer and jurist. Judge Collins died in 1887.
In spite of its isolation by water for three-quarters of a century, a great and varied commerce was carried on between the Parish and New Orleans. As early as 1816 Darby in his Travels writes of the large business done with the two towns. He refers to cotton, beef, pork, hides, dairy-cheese, lumber, pitch, lime and bricks, "including all kinds of poultry".
Poultry no doubt implied the vast abundance wild game in those days on which New Orleanians feasted. St. Tammany clay has always proved to be the finest for firing, and up to the time of the Civil War half the building and paving bricks used in New Orleans were manufactured from it.
David B. Morgan
During the War of 1812 General David B. Morgan, one of the early founders of Madisonville; became second in command to General Jackson at the defense of New Orleans. His troops stationed on the west bank of the Mississippi, by their delaying action, prevented the British from making a rear attack on Chalmette during the main engagement; which might have proved disastrous. General Morgan was the great-grandfather of the late Lewis L Morgan, Congressman from St. Tammany during the Wilson regime.
While on the subject of the Battle of New Orleans, we might take a view of the backdrop which this parish furnished that historical scene. On November 28, 1814, General Jackson, with his six youthful aides arrived at Ford's Ferry on their mounts and crossed Pearl River into St. Tammany Parish (that part which is now Washington).
The following day they rested at the old John Alston place on the Bogue Chitto, where the Parish seat was then fixed. From there they came to the newly built army barracks on Little Bogue Falaya, by way of the Old Military Road as it is now called, and on the evening of December 1 reached Madisonville, where the General and his staff took passage on a mail packet, arriving at Spanish Fort the following morning.
Their horses' hoofprints might have still been visible on the trail, when on December 13, the British Armada was already riding off the Rigolets, while the rude mud fort was being defended by an infantile squadron of five American gunboats. The enemy saw the necessity of disposing of this outfit in short order, but not without a heavy expandible loss to themselves.
Then followed a grizzly and agonizing landing of thousands of troops in a freezing wind and rain on what is known as Pearl River Island, the most inhospitable spot in St. Tammany Parish. Not an ounce of dry fuel existed, and there they lodged in the mire for a week with only dormant alligators here and there for a foothold.
After that they took off for Chalmette in their launches leaving many of their men frozen in the bogs. Today the spot is called English Lookout where the Louisville & Nashville Railroad crosses through the parish.
In 1819 the area of St. Tammany was about 1800 square miles, and contained about 4000 inhabitants, the largest part of which lived in the northern half. This half was then erected into Washington Parish.
In 1869, the western boundary was pushed back from Tangipahoa to the Tchefuncte to make room for the new parish of Tangipahoa. After the creation of Washington, the seat of justice was removed from Enon on the Bogue Chitto to Claiborne opposite Covington on the Bogue Falaya. After ten years Covington by an act of the legislature was made the permanent parish seat. The site of the present courthouse was established in 1838.
It was along about that time that regular steamboat service was transplanting sailing vessels on the lake, but it was still a matter of another fifty years before railroads were to penetrate the parish, though numerous charters were obtained from the legislature to operate them, such as the Madisonville & Covington (1836), Ponchatoula-Pearl River (1837) and others, but the great panic at that time forestalled those dreams.
However in 1868 the Mandeville Sulphur Springs Railroad was chartered by the legislature. This one took root but from another direction. In 1870, the name was changed to the New Orleans North Eastern, and first crossed the Trestle into the newly-born town of Slidell in 1882, but Covington was not reached until five years later. The N. O. N. E. is now the Southern Railway.
For nearly a century St. Tammany was regarded not only as a health resort, and a vacationist's paradise, but also the surest refuge against the summer plagues of yellow fever that came to New Orleans with alarming regularity. Hotels and summer homes seemed to nestle in every nook of the dense piney woods.
Those who have reached grandparent status may read with mixed amusement an account of Covington published in 1892.
"Covington is on the rivers Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncte, just above their junction about 35 miles north of New Orleans and nine miles from Lake Pontchartrain. For many years it was the only shipping point for all the cotton raised in a large part of the Florida Parishes and the southern portion of the State of Mississippi.
The land around was considered entirely valueless for agriculture, and nothing but bricks, lumber, tar, wood and sand were shipped from the Tchefuncte River. With the end of slavery came a new era. The brick and lumber industry almost ceased and the people were forced to turn their attention to the soil.
In a faint-hearted way a few experiments were made, and the results were surprising to everyone. The cotton crop increased year by year and last season Covington shipped over 4000 bales.
Health Resort Status
About 1856 it was discovered that some of the wells and springs were medicinal in their nature; since then the town has been a resort for invalids. It now has a population of 750 inhabitants, 12 stores, two butcher shops, 2 bakeries, 2 blacksmith and wheelwright shops, 1 newspaper and printery, a tannery, a tailor and shoemaker shop, 4 churches and 2 schools.
Covington is about 30 feet above the rivers that flow on either side furnishing navigation for steamboats and sailing vessels at all times of the year. The land is high and dry covered with beautiful pine, magnolia, beech, holly and gum, intersected by romantic roads and lanes and over all an unlimited supply of clear cold and perfectly pure artesian."
The natural attractions seem not to have changed much, but the remainder of the picture belongs in the old family album.
The first view we have of Madisonville is given us by Amos Stoddard, Travels in Louisiana, 1813.
"At present this town is little more than a name attached to an elegant, healthy spot of ground for a seaport town. About half a dozen French-built mud-walled huts, and about as many cabins, and two or three frames are all of the present.
Madisonville is understood to be chosen by the agents of the Navy Department for the repairing and even building small vessels of war for the southern station. The vicinity abounds with oak, pine and cypress. Here tar is also made in abundance with as great facility as in any part of the union."
For the past 140 years the dreamy-eyed little town on the Tchefuncta has lived up to its vocation for the building of ships large and small. Madisonville was first incorporated by the legislature in 1817; one feature of the charter was that any young man subject to the draft was privileged to vote.
When we come to the founding of Mandeville the scene becomes more colorful. It sprang full-fledged from the brain of Bernard Marigny, famous Creole and bon vivant, in three days. In the beginning of 1834 Marigny was considered to be one of the wealthiest men in Louisiana.
He owned a sugar plantation covering five miles, bordering on Lake Pontchartrain. He also owned the site of present day Mandeville between Bayou Castaigne and Lewisburg. This he plotted into lots, and guaranteed steamboat service from Milenburg at one dollar per trip. He advertised if the purchasers were not satisfied, after inspection their payments would be refunded.
John Davis, known in New Orleans history, as the famous impresario of the Orleans Theatre engaged with Marigny in the enterprise, and contracted to build an elegant hotel to be called The Mandeville facing the lake. Between the 24th and 26th of February, 1834, 432 lots were sold at auction in New Orleans to 358 persons.
The Hotel was opened on a grand scale on July 4, with Louis Boudro, noted French cook, in charge and during the years that followed up to the Civil War, Mandeville was held as one of the gayest summer resorts in the south, coupled with regattas and picnic excursions, people flocked by the hundreds for dancing, bathing and fishing.
On occasion when duelling was losing its seclusiveness in the city the creole hotbloods would board a steamboat and settle it all in the shade of the lakeshore oaks. Marigny used about 200 slaves to operate his cane mill, and when not employed at that they were kept busy operating his saw mill and brick kilns.
The one time plantation, of a man who died a pauper, is now Fontainebleau, Louisiana State Park. Mandeville was incorporated by special charter in 1840. and still serves its purpose with few amendments to the present day.
Slidell was one of the last to enter the family of St. Tammany towns. Located on Bayou Bon Fouca, or Vincent at the lower end of the Parish in the section that was first settled by the Creoles from New Orleans, its Founders Day only dates back to the Spring of 1882. According to an account of Abbe Adrien Rouquette, noted apostle to the Choctaw Tribe, whose mission was established at the Indian settlement just above, Slidell was visited by a large group of directors and employees of the New Orleans Northeastern Railroad just completed.
The great creosoting works and saw mills were running full blast, and gathered at what was known as the Robert House were a number of distinguished guests who came in for the occasion. Archbishop F. X. Berey of New Orleans was the speaker of the day. Slidell was named after the famous politician and diplomat of New Orleans, whose daughter had married
Mr. Erlinger, head of the great lumber industry which he was then building. Other names are those of Fritz and Jacob Salmen, who founded the great brick industry around which the town grew up. In 1890 the population was 200.
Abita, it seems is a corruption of a Choctaw word meaning "source" or "fountain head" and suggests that the name may have been inspired by the famous springs adjacent to the Abita River.
Back in 1855, William Christy, said to have been the first Kentuckian to enlist in the War of 1812 came to New Orleans, and fought under Jackson and remained to become a leading citizen, headed a group of New Orleans professional men, which also included a number of St. Tammany landholders, J. J. Bossier in particular, to incorporate the Abita Company.
The purpose of the act was to establish "All kinds of factories on such lands near Christy Springs, with their prospective water supply, and to construct turnpikes and railroads from the springs to Lake Pontchartrain. Soon thereafter came the Civil War which left Abita in oblivion until the arrival of the East Louisiana Railroad operated by the Poitevant lumber interests.
Then Joseph Bossier woke up with his plan for Bossier City, and the town soon blossomed into a health resort with hotels, boarding houses and cottages bulging with tourists from New Orleans seeking to switch from their old cistern water to a more potable drink. Abita was incorporated in 1905.
In horse and buggy times it was five miles from Covington. It is now about five minutes, with careful driving. The springs are now a part of the State Park's System. They are said to have a flow of 4,000 gallons daily.
Pearl River & Folsom
Pearl River in the Eighth Ward and Folsom in the Second are smaller towns that have been incorporated within the past 50 years, but each originated from community settlements as old as the parish itself.
Returning to other phases of the past the population of St. Tammany at the outbreak of the Civil War was 5,406, of which one-third was in bondage. On January 22, 1861, Sidney S. Conner, delegate, voted for secession. Immediately thereafter The St. Tammany Grays, commanded by Capt. Charles Crosby, and The St. Tammany Artillery under Capt. J. A. Turner were organized.
The serenity of the country scene was not disturbed until the garrison from Fort Pike, having spiked their guns marched through Covington to Join General Lovell's forces at Camp Moore following the evacuation of New Orleans in April 1862. Then followed three years of tragic want and suffering.
Guerillas made attacks on some of the most prominent inhabitants assuming they were Union sympathizers, while foraging expeditions by Federal troopers in no time stripped the country of its livestock and crops leaving the people on the verge of famine. Black labor having been liberated, flocked to General Butler in New Orleans, and deserters from the Confederate cause retired to the densest forests near enough to their families to see them at night.
In early August, 1862, a Union Officer reporting on guerrilla activities to Butler wrote that all along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, he found traces of indiscriminate plunder and destruction.
The wharfage from Lewisburg, then a shipping point was in ashes "Madisonville was deserted and every public and private building closed." Until peace was restored there were no less than 20 clashes between Federals and Confederates, and though not amounting to actual engagements took serious toll. Reconstruction, which followed improved matters little, and for twenty years thereafter the Parish came to an economic stand still.
St. Tammany's first newspaper, The Louisiana Advocate was founded in 1832, by Col. J. D. Davenport, veteran of the Seminole war, and survived until 1860. It was succeeded by the Covington Wanderer which lasted throughout the Civil War.
Later it was followed by several carpetbagger journals, all published at Mandeville. The Wave, The Crescent and the Mandeville Republican. In 1874 the St. Tammany Farmer was established, and still continues as one of the top weeklies in the State. The St. Tammany Times, published at Slidell is one of the more recent contributions to the press.
Incidental to Louisiana journalism, it is worthy of note that John Gibson, a nephew of John Wharton Collins, and who succeeded him in establishing Covington in 1826, returned to New Orleans, where in time he became owner and editor of several newspapers published there, the last being The True American. from which he wielded a powerful influence. George W. Kendall was first employed by him until elected to start the Picayune, in 1837.
In a hilly wooded country veined with watercourses that rose and fell with the seasons roads unworthy of the name were the chief pangs of pioneering. An ancient Indian trail, which began on the Tombigbee River. and ended at Madisonville was honored by the Spaniards as the Kings Highway, but all they did was to give it a name.
Today this course is marked by the highway system connecting Bogalusa with Baton Rouge via Madisonville and Ponchatoula. On returning to Tennessee after his New Orleans victory Jackson laid out a military road beginning at Madisonville and which ran in a straight course across the Mississippi to Muscle Shoals.
In order to maintain this road the legislature required in 1822 all hands living within five miles on either side in St. Tammany Parish to give twelve days work a year upon it and no more than six at one time.
Another old road (now Turnpike) known as the Kentucky Road left Madisonville due north and was the one used by the keelboat-men who hoofed it back home after disposing of their wares in New Orleans.
From 1813 on the Legislature granted ferry privileges to many, limiting their franchises. In some instances exemptions from the tariff were made for jurors, voters, militiamen and those going to church. It's hard to see how a franchise paid off, which probably brought about later the multiplication of toll bridges over the principal streams, but with exemptions omitted.
It was not until 1913, about the time the T Model Fords were being tried out on the old ox trails that the taxpayers voted $180,000 for the first graded roads.
In 1919 they issued $750.00 in bond, to which the Federal Government added $250.00 aid for topping, and this is what brings us up to the present parish highway system: Asphalt Roads 116.74 miles: concrete roads 74 miles; graveled roads, 172.74 miles; under state maintenance, to this must be added about 300 miles of "farm roads" built and maintained by order Police Jury supervision.
The first appeal to the Legislature for educational aid from any parish was in 1816. It came through Representative Jesse R. Jones. who moved to Covington from Virginia in 1813, and died at 93, after having served in every capacity as merchant. soldier, jurist and statesman. He may be said to be the father of early education in St. Tammany. This resulted in the first school law to be enacted in Louisiana.
In 1828, the Covington Academy was established, and a lottery of $25,000 was authorized to support it.
In 1837 the Covington Female Academy was established by the legislature, and an appropriation was made for it. In the same year the Fellenburg Institute of the Parish of St. Tammany was authorized. After the adoption of the Constitution of 1845. the state became more liberal to its school children, but in such a niggardly way that it is embarrassing to read the figures. In 1850 the school report on this parish reads:
Seventeen Districts, 20 schools in operation. Total number of educable children, 711. of which 470 attended school and 241 did not. Average period of education was four months, twenty days. Amount apportioned to parish out of state funds $3,565. Teachers salaries $967.
It is needless to repeat the blackout of schools from the time of Civil War and the dark period which followed, and parish education didn't mount up until the turn of the century. The following is the 1952 report :
Total value public school property $3.296.373.24
Expenditures on public education 1,432,365.05
White pupils registered 3.597
Negro pupils registered 1,901
Total School registration (public) 5,498
Parish Library Reports
Book circulation 1952-53 113,386
Registered borrowers '1953- 6.388 or 24.04% of population of which 40% are children.
All of the leading denominations—Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Catholic churches have their foundations rooted in St. Tammany for well over a hundred years, but each had a mustard grain beginning.
It is believed that Half Moon Baptist Church, a log chapel with a hard clay floor on the Bogue Chitto bank, was the first Baptist church in Louisiana. It was built in 1811. Shortly thereafter another church was erected on Hays Creek.
Up to 1818. there were only six Baptist churches in Louisiana, and four were in that part of St. Tammany which is now Washington Parish. The Methodists in some respects may be said to be coeval with the Baptists as having the earliest establishments in the Parish. On August 29, 1834, E. P. Ellis, Hezikiah Thompson, John J. Mortee, and John Bickham, Trustees, selected a site for the First Methodist Church in Covington for a "Meeting House" providing it would be open to Christians of other denominations when not used by the Methodists.
The Presbyterians were the third Protestant denomination to establish themselves in St. Tammany. Timothy Flint, who has left a literary legacy to Louisiana preached at Madisonville and Covington during 1822. The Pine Grove Presbyterian was incorporated by the Legislature in March 1837. Rev. Samuel Birch Hall came to Madisonville in the 1820s, but removed to Covington to teach in the Covington Academy. In that year he organized and built the first Presbyterian church in Covington.
The first priest to set foot on St. Tammany with missionary motives was the Jesuit Father John Du Ru. In April 1700, in company with Sieur Sauvolle, the governor at Biloxi, he visited the Acolopissas at their village and was well received, but conditions did not warrant an establishment.
It was 141 years later that Renez Baham and wife donated to Archbishop Blac a site with a brick chapel constructed in Madisonville for use as a Catholic church in 1843, a site was acquired for a St. Peter church in Covington.
In 1850, St. Theresa Church, now Our Lady of the Lake was built at Mandeville. At St. Benedict some four miles from Covington, St. Joseph's Benedictine Abbey, occupying some 1,200 acres was begun around the turn of the century.
It is conducted as a seminary for training to the priesthood. In 1890 there were six Catholic churches in St. Tammany, with a seating capacity of 650. There were 1,836 communicants. Christ Church Episcopal, Covington was incorporated in 1844.
The Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized in Abita Springs, January 16, 1900. The illustrations elsewhere in this work alone can tell how far the branches of the mustard tree spread to day.
The Choctaws of St. Tammany and Father Rouquette
The powerful Choctaw tribe once owned half of the State of Mississippi, and Pearl River was peculiarly their own. After a visit of Regis du Roullet to their headquarters in Neshoba County in 1729, the Choctaws were friendly with the French from the beginning.
It is thought that a large number of them moved into St. Tammany to be closer to the new French city of New Orleans. They brought their own place names with them, which they knew in Neshoba, such as Bon Fouca, Abita, Falaya and Chitto. Their main villages were all along these streams. At any rate they were the only tribe that supplanted the Acolapissas when they migrated to the Orleans side.
In the 1820s the Rouquettes and Cousins, Wealthy New Orleans families operated extensive brick industries at Bon Fouca and Lacombe. Adrien Emanuel Rouquette was born in 1811, and during his early boyhood was always "at home" among the Indian youths. He was schooled in France, but returned to Louisiana in an unsettled state of mind, but he never stopped his studies, nor lost his desire to be among his Indians in their stately forest country. He finally entered the priesthood.
For a while he was stationed at the Cathedral in New Orleans, but became so restless that he finally was allowed to rejoin his savage friends. After that he lived as one of them in their midst, teaching and working with them. The red men called him "Chata-Ima" meaning Choctaw-like.
He built several small chapels scattered in the forest between Mandeville and Lacombe, and usually gathered his congregation under some great live oak for his sermons and religious rites, but withal he did not fail to produce poems, articles, and editorials in real literary excellence. He died in 1887, not long before the last of the tribesmen with whom he had labored the most of his life, were transferred to Indian Territory. The day of his funeral many of them walked great distances to kneel at his tomb.