Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Major Tatum's Whirlwind Tour Through St. Tammany

 Much has been gleaned from the diary kept by Major Howell Tatum that described General Andrew Jackson's trek across St. Tammany Parish, through Covington, and on down to Madisonville in 1814. He and his men then crossed Lake Pontchartrain and a few weeks later met the British troops in Chalmette on January 8, 1815, at The Battle of New Orleans.

Andrew Jackson, Seventh President of the United States

Major Tatum was Jackson's acting Topographical Engineer. He was sixty two years of age while traveling with Jackson through St. Tammany. We start looking at his journal just after he and Jackson have spent the night at Ford's Fort in Sandy Hook, Mississippi.

On page 93 of his diary, he describes the area along the Pearl River, in Mississippi, and says: "A considerable number of settlements are stated to be on Pearl River, above this place, and some few below, on each side of the river. It appears probable, from Mr. Fords information, that the upper part of this country will afford valuable settlements within the space of a few years."

Ford's home is on the Pearl River in Sandy Hook, Mississippi. It also known as Ford’s Fort and was built in 1805 by Reverend John Ford. On November 27-28 in 1814 the Ford Home hosted General Andrew Jackson, who stopped there on his way to defend New Orleans from the British during the War of 1812. (Information source)

After coming into Louisiana, they finally arrive at the "Bogue Lucy."
In his journal, Tatum describes crossing a number of creeks, some with settlements, along the way while heading to the Chifonta (Tchefuncte) River. 

In his own words:

"Proceeded from hence to John Alstons on Bogue-Chitty 10 miles, in all 30 miles, and halted after night. Bogue-Chitty and all other waters crossed this day, empty into Pearl-River. This Creek (Bogue-Chitty) is about 50 paces in width and stated, by Alston, to be navigable to the distance of 40 to 50 miles above this place.

In The Vicinity of the Village of Sun

"He states it to be 10 or 12 miles to its junction with Pearl river," Tatum says, speaking of the Bogue Chitto River.  "It contains a narrow strip of good lands on each side and is well settled near the creek, on both sides. Big Creek is the English of Bogue Chitty, or Chitta."

"It is 80 miles from hence to Baton-Rouge---16 1/2 miles to the Town of Wharton (Covington) on the waters of Chefonta, and 24 1/2 or 25 miles to Madisonville 2 miles above the mouth of Chefonta. On this day the party had to swim three creeks.

November 29th, 1814

"Proceeded from Alston's and crossed the Creek at 6 o'clock A. M. Passed over a good piece of Bottom Land and swam a Bayou at the extreme edge at William Roses plantation at about 3/4 miles. Passed the old cantonment on Little Feliah  (Falaya) at 11 miles.

Little Bogue Falaya Saw Mill

"Near this place there is an excellent Saw-Mill on the same creek. Proceeded in all 16 1/2 miles to the Town of Wharton on Big Feliah (or Big Long Creek) a fork of the Chefonta river. The Indians call both these creeks Bogue Feliah, and distinguish them by the Greater & Smaller, or Big Or Little, and these names are still retained by the settlers.

Covington Is Described One Year After Its Founding

"Wharton is a small new town containing but a few ordinary buildings. It is the seat of justice for the county in which it stands, and is situated at the head of navigation, on the bank of the creek. Sloops & Schooners ply between this place and the bridge on the Bayou St. Johns, two miles distant from the Town of Orleans.

"It is said to be 30 miles by water, and not more than 10 miles by land, from hence to the entrance into the Lake Pontchartrain. It is 8 miles from Wharton to Madisonville, making in all 24 1/2 miles from Alstons to the latter Town.

"The lands from near Alstons (say from Roses) are very poor and the growth altogether pine. About 5 miles of the distance between his residence and the Cantonment has been laid nearly bare of Timber by a severe Hurricane.

"The lands from Wharton to the Town of Madisonville are a mixture of Pine and Oak and contain several tolerable farms & plantations.

"The whole of this route contains excellent range for Black Cattle which has become an object of primary importance with the settlers in this quarter, cattle being considered as a species of circulating medium in most of their contracts. In fact, this currency circulates pretty generally from hence to, and on, the waters of Tombigby & Mobile rivers."

Major Tatum continues his narrative: "From Wharton proceeded to Madisonville & halted for the night, on the way crossed the Main Chefonta river (about 60 to 80 paces wide) at 3 miles.

(Note: This crossing may have been at the point of land between the Bogue Falaya and Tchefuncte Rivers, which is about three miles from central Covington)

"It is estimated that the whole length of this river, on a direct line tuning from So. East to North West does not exceed 30 miles. The Course traveled this day was about So. So. West.

1814 Madisonville Described

"The Town of Madisonville is situated on the West bank of the Chefonta river about 2 miles from its junction with Lake Pontchartrain. This Town is small and indifferently improved. It lies about 2 miles, also, from the Navy-Yard. The only importance that can be attached to this place is, its advantageous situation as a depot for country produce destined for New Orleans, distant about 30 miles, and also from its being the most advantageous place of landing, for all travelers from New Orleans, to Tennessee, Kentucky, Mobile & the back parts of Georgia. 

A painting by Marshall Joseph Smith entitled Laundry Day on Lake Pontchartrain at the Mouth of the Tchefuncte

Major Tatum continues:

"It is evident from this statement, that the growth prosperity of this place must eventually depend upon the whims and caprices of mankind, when it is considered, in addition, that the country around will scarcely ever be able to produce more than the necessary provision for the support of life. Great quantities of Tar-Pitch and Turpentine might be prepared for use and exportation in the adjacent country, but, I apprehend a new supply of (more industrious) settlers must first inhabit this country.

November 30th, 1814

"Embarked at 10 o'clock A. M. on board of (William) Collins' Packet and proceeded across the lake to Fort St. Johns at the mouth of the Bayou distant 22 miles at which place we arrived about 8 o'clock P. M."

End of Major Tatum's references to St. Tammany

And thus General Andrew Jackson arrived at New Orleans after passing through St. Tammany. Major Tatum basically noted that if the right settlers moved in it could become a nice place.  
A little over a month later, on January 8, Jackson and his forces met the British and after a short battle, he emerged the victor. As it turned out, however, the battle was fought after the Treaty of Ghent had been signed on December 24, 1814, thus ending the War of 1812. But news traveled slow those days, so the men fighting the battle two weeks later didn't know that the hostilities had already ended.
According to, on January 21, 1815, just over a week after the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson wrote a couple of paragraphs about Major Howell Tatum, telling his superiors that Tatum had "exhibited all the ardor of youth in the hour of peril."

Tatum dated his field report at New Orleans,  Feb. 20, 1815, and four months later on June
15 resigned from military service.

Later, "in a dispute over certain events of the New Orleans campaign, Jackson in 1817 referred his interrogators to Tatum's journal as the work of a man "whose impartiality is proverbial," the article went on to say.