Saturday, May 2, 2020

Iberville's Route Through Southeast Louisiana

Here is a map of Iberville's route in his exploration of southeastern Louisiana in 1699.



Click on the above image to make it larger. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Naval Shipyard and Its Personnel

The Naval Shipyard on the Tchefuncte River, just upstream from Madisonville, was a major facility, and a focal point of much activity. Among those who were instrumental in its operation were George Merrill, David Porter, Edward Preble and Captain John Shaw. Here is some information on the situations, people, and places which made it all come to pass. 

Gunboats on the Tchefuncte River in 1806

In the fall of 1806 an incident occurred on the Tchefuncte River that would change the "status quo" and have repercussions for years to come. The north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and Maurepas had become an important part of the foreign policy of both Spain and the United States since the Louisiana Purchase on December 20, 1803. Each nation felt that their claim to West Florida was correct and tensions ran high.

Some time between late October and December 1, 1806, two United State's ship-of-war called "Jefferson Gun Boats" entered the mouth of the Tchefuncte River and sailed up the three miles and anchored on the west bank opposite a little settlement which consisted of a few log cabins and huts built by Juan Baham and his sons. Baham had obtained his Spanish land grant in 1785 and had relocated from Mobile.

Gun Vessels Nos. 11 and 12, had recently arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River from the East Coast, had been ordered from Boston in September by the Secretary of the Navy to New Orleans Station with the brigs Aetna and Vesuvius. On arriving at the Belize (mouth of the Mississippi) Captain Shaw, concerned about the report of two Spanish cruisers on the "lakes" sent them to Lake Pontchartrain. While cruising on Lake Maurepas, the ships stopped at the mouth of the Amite River and found the conditions favorable for obtaining water and for beaching their ships for repairs. They found the Tchefuncte River another good place where they could obtain water, provisions and repair their ships when needed.

Gunboat No. 12 with Lt. Joseph Bainbridge in command, ordered his ship up the Tchefuncte. Lt. Bainbridge had distinguished himself with honors during the Barbary Wars. He was in the company of Lt. Stephen Decatur when he burned the stranded Philadelphia in Tripoli harbor. No. 12 followed with Sailing Master John Rush in command. 

He was the eldest son of the well-known Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, a signer of the Declaration of Independence as was his father-in-law. After five weeks of exploring Lake Maurepas and Pontchartrain the Gun Vessels returned to the Mississippi and ascended the river and anchored at New Orleans. The Aetna and Vesuvius had already ascended and were waiting in the river.

Need for a naval presence in New Orleans

Soon after the Louisiana Purchase in December 1803, the Jefferson Administration realized that a United States presence was necessary in New Orleans. The Secretary of the Navy alerted a detachment of Marines under the command of Captain Daniel Carmick to prepare for the Gulf Coast. They were the first element of the United States to arrive at New Orleans in March of 1804. 

Two years later, in 1806, a United States Naval facility was to be established when the newly Commandant Captain Shaw was appointed to the mission. He arrived in New Orleans on the brig Franklin on March 16, 1806, with Purser Keith Spence and some senior lieutenants.

John Shaw, the son of John and Elizabeth (Barton) SHAW, was born at Mount Mellick, Queen's County, Ireland. He was ordered to New Orleans in 1806 to construct gunboats for coastal defense. Leaving Boston Harbor late in September 1806, the four ships arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River on October 10. 

He established a Navy Yard on the river next to the Plaza de Armas, later known as Jackson Square. Captain John Shaw ordered the two Gun Vessels nos. 11 and 12 to enter lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain. Their orders were to show the American flag to the Spanish and explore the "lakes" and find suitable watering and repair places for the future gunboats to arrive. 

Note that the gunboats were given numbers instead of names like larger vessels of the Navy. These were under the command of Lt. Joseph Bainbridge and Sailing Master John Rush. Gun vessels were the current choice of the Jefferson administration because they were more economical and the opposition of a large navy. These vessels or gunboats were to play an important part in the military diplomacy and defense on the lakes during the next nine years.

The two brigs Aetna and Vesuvius docked at New Orleans on November 6, 1806. George Merrill arrived at the New Orleans Station in 1806 where he would spend the next seventeen years. After spending more than six weeks cruising Lake Maurepas and Pontchartrain, Gun vessels Nos. 11 and 12 returned to New Orleans in December. No sooner had they returned, Shaw ordered the four ships upriver to Natchez because of the threat of the Aaron BURR conspiracy. He frustrated Burr's intrigues in the southwest by mobilizing a naval force in the lower Mississippi. Shaw was promoted to the rank of captain on August 27, 1807.

From 1811 to spring of 1814, Captain Shaw was busily engaged in fortifying New Orleans and in helping to capture Mobile; then he took command of the naval squadron in the vicinity of New London, CT. 

Captain SHAW was shown a bend of the river located on the property of Jacques Lorreins, the owner of the twenty acres located on that prominent bend of the River. Today it is a Beau Chene Subdivision. Shaw agreed to terms with Jacques Lorreins for twenty acres and a ten year lease. In a letter to Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy, Shaw pointed out that it was the ideal location for building the ship and others, if necessary. It had a good view of the river, plenty of excellent oak, pine and cedar, and a slight incline for launching. On the Gulf it would be vulnerable to a British invasion, but on the Tchefuncte it would be better protected. By January 14, 1813, Captain SHAW was back in New Orleans after a one month absence.

Once an agreement was reached, Lt. Michael Carroll and Sailing master Jonathan Ferris were put in charge of navy crews that started clearing the land in order to build the flat bottom boat frigate a few miles away. (Inquests March 8, 1813, Probate 12214, Advertisement. Twelve copies distributed to Judge Tate Covington Court House). Permission had been granted to SHAW by Paul Hamilton, the Secretary of the Navy, and he could proceed with the construction.

Captain SHAW hired Master carpenter Francois PICHON of New Orleans to be in charge of building the ship. Captain Shaw and Pichon hired what carpenters that could be had in New Orleans and the rest of the civilian labour force were hired from residents of the North Shore. Thomas SPELL and Joseph SHARP were among the labourers who were hired. Capt. Shaw reported his activities in the preparation for building the ship to the Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy, and received his approval. It was an economic boon for the north shore. Workers were paid as much as $28.00 a month, plus rations. On the payroll list, secured from the Navy archives, there were about 150 names of civilians that worked on the ship during the peak months; many from the surrounding parishes.

David Porter appointed Commandant of the New Orleans Station, 1808-1810

Master Commandant Porter arrived in New Orleans, in June 1808, only to find his father David Porter Sr., an old Sailing Master from the Revolutionary War, who had recently been assigned to the N.O. Station, lay dying. He had been fishing on Lake Pontchartrain with his friend George Farragut, also a Sailing Master, when he suffered a stroke. Farragut had taken in the ailing Porter and he and his wife were caring for him when the young Porter arrived. In appreciation, Commandant Porter took into his home one of Farragut's sons.

After the BURR scare had died down in March of 1807, we have gunboats consistently stationed on the lakes. A Lake Squadron, flying the blue Pennant, was established by Captain David Porter . On April 30, 1808, Acting Lt. Merrill was promoted to full lieutenant. Later in the year he was given command of Gun Vessel No. 15, which had been built on the Ohio River and sent down to New Orleans where it joined the Lake Division.

With relations between the United States and Great Britain deteriorating, Congress passed the Embargo Act on December 22, 1807. Captain David Porter had to stop the shipments of contraband material that was occurring on lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain. The Act stopped or slowed down the importation of slaves, which caused hardship on some planters. The Spanish and English ships would hug the north shore of the lakes and slip into Carthage at night located at the mouth of the Amite River as a port to pick up American grain, cotton, and flour and deliver illegal slaves.

Once Porter received word that several ships, either belonging to the Spanish or British, were at Carthage loading up with cotton and would attempt to slip out of the lakes the next night. He dispatched five gunboats to block these ships at the Rigolets, but the gunboats arrived too late. These chips, with the contraband cargos, had passed through a few hours earlier. Master Commandant Porter heard that the Spanish Governor Vincente Folche was at the Tchefuncte River and went over to meet with him. Nothing is known of the outcome of the meeting.

A small international intrigue unfolded about this time when General James Wilkinson asked for transportation on a gunboat to the Tchefuncte River to meet with Governor Folche. Years later, it was learned that General Wilkinson was a secret agent working for the Spanish, (his I.D. number was 13) and he was playing both sides of the fence. 

Commandant Porter suspected that something was wrong, and through correspondence with the Secretary of the Navy, asked if the General was conducting secret negotiations 
for the U.S. Government? The Secretary stated that the General was not. 

Commandant Porter had rented a house in Faubourg Marigny and could view his gunboats anchored on the opposite shore at Algiers Point. He would communicate from his house to the gunboat Commanders with signals from a flagpole. He attempted to establish a telegraph system to reach his gunboats at the mouth of the Mississippi River. 

If the system had been completed, he could have received or sent a message to Belize in five minutes. He started to build telegraphic stations, (like he had seen in Europe), about four miles apart, thus he could communicate with a system of flags and poles. The Secretary of the Navy stopped the construction seen as being too expensive and wasteful.

Commandant Porter assigned his lake division of gunboats to fly the blue pennant. Other divisions had red, white, or mixed colored pennants. A Lieutenant, Midshipman, or Sailing Master was assigned as commander of each gunboat. From 1808 until 1814, the Tchefuncte River, along with the base at New Orleans, was used as major repair facility. Porter also established a Navy Hospital at Bay St. Louis. Commandant Porter left his mark on New Orleans and West Florida.
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Master Commandant Daniel Patterson the new Commander at New Orleans, 1814

From 1811 to the spring of 1814, Captain John Shaw had been actively engaged in fortifying New Orleans and in helping to capture Mobile. In 1814 he took command of the naval squadron which was being blocked by the British in the vicinity of New London, CT., and there he remained until the end of the war. Soon after he joined Commander William Bainbridge's squadron, and was ordered to the Mediterranean to settle accounts with Algiers. When peace was made, he remained to protect American interests. By 1817, he returned to America, but did not go back to sea. He spent his last years in charge of the Boston Navy Yard and later of the naval station at Charleston, South Carolina.

Captain Shaw died at Philadelphia on September 17, 1823. He is interred in the Christ Church Burial Ground on Arch Street, along with Benjamin Franklin and other signers of the Declaration of Independence. His epitaph reads:

In Memory of John Shaw

Late a captain in the Navy of the U.S.
For courage and humanity
Discipline without rigor
Skill with good conduct
Integrity above suspicion
And honour without a blemish,
He gave to the world a noble spectacle
Of a man who without patronage raised
Himself among men of the highest merit
To be the first rank in the service of
His adopted country
Enjoying the confidence of the Government
Beloved in a rare degree by those
Under his parental command and
Blest with friends of kindred worth and feeling.
He died as he lived
Without fear and without reproach
On the 17th day of September 1823 aged 50 years

British invasion, the battle of Lake Borgne

The new Secretary of the Navy that replaced Paul Hamilton put little value on the gunboats at New Orleans or the building of flat bottom stationary frigates. He thought they were useless and a waste of money. The new Commander, Daniel Patterson, at New Orleans tried to defend the "block ship". He wrote to the new secretary that the block ship "Tchfuncte" was more than 80% complete and would be useful for the defense of

This fleet of which Midshipman George MERRILL was a member contained among the junior officers on its roster some of the great names of American naval history. Lt. David Porter was the future commandant at New Orleans.

Midshipman George Merrill had two tours of duty in the Mediterranean and survived personnel cuts in Navy personnel of officers in the "Peace Enactment Bill" of Congress. While he did survive the cut, in order to stay on active duty he would have to take the assignment at New Orleans. He was assigned to the newly constructed and launched Brig Aetna  which was being sent to New Orleans in September of 1806. Along would be the brig Vesuvius, Gun Boats Nos. 11 and 12, under the command of Captain John Shaw.

Lt. Merrill hoists the American flag over West Florida

On January 7, 1809, while patrolling Lake Maurepas Lt. Merrill spotted three Spanish vessels coming out of the Iberville River. Upon hailing, he found out that it was Governor Charles de Grand Pre and his family on their way to Havana. The Governor had been recalled by the Governor General of Cuba to answer questions about his administrative procedures. 

Lt. Merrill and the Spanish Governor decided to land and have lunch as it was already past noon. They landed on the shore at the mouth of the Amite River and set up tents. While having lunch, Governor Grand Pre asked Lt. Merrill why he didn't fly his country's flag. It was protocol that naval ships or any other vessel be identified as to the country it represented.

Lt. Merrill  answered that since the land was in dispute by the two countries, he thought it proper not to fly the American flag. Grand Pre replied: "You represent a great nation, a nation that I dearly love, and I think it proper that you now fly your country's flag. 

Merrill responded to the Governor's request and a pole was placed in front of his tent. Thus, on Saturday, January 7, 1809, at about 2:00 P.M., the American flag was hoisted over West Florida at the mouth of the Amite River for the first time.

After the Spanish Governor left, Lt. Merrill had his vessel repaired on the banks of the Amite River. It was turned over on its side and the bottom was scraped and painted. During the repair procedure, which took over a month, several of his sailors deserted taking U.S. Navy property with them as they went to Springfield.

In late February of 1809, Lt. Merrill resumed cruising on Lake Maurepas and Pass Manchac where he spotted a Spanish schooner the Precious Ridicule with Captain Joseph Aguilar of Baton Rouge on board. The schooners Mary and Precious Ridicule were built

in the Tchefuncte River in 1804 and 1806, respectively. In a letter to Captain Porter, Lt. Merrill explained that the ship was about 10 yards on the American side in Pass Manchac when it was taken. The schooner was loaded with American flour, wine, cheese, and clothes for troops. Lt. Merrill brought the ship into Bayou St. John.

Court martial were held on gunboats anchored in the Tchefuncte River in 1809. These courts were convened for Marines and sailors who had deserted and had sought refuge in West Florida. When convicted, the sentence was extremely harsh, especially for those who deserted more than once. 

With army deserters from Fort Adams, desertion had become a serious problem for both American and Spanish officials. On April 13, 1809, Captain Porter sent Lt. Merrill  to Baton Rouge in Gun Vessel No. 15 with a letter addressed to Spanish Governor Vicente FOLCHE, Grand Pre's replacement. The letter stated:

Sir,

"Comdt. George Merrill is charged to give you further information that deserters from the U.S. Navy are taking refuge in West Florida. The last few months the men who left the Navy Station at New Orleans and fled to West Florida are John Dickens, gunner, William Cole, Quartermaster, and Peter Jealous, Marine."

Porter got little satisfaction from sending Lt. Merrill with his letter. Governor Folche stated that there were many Spanish deserters in New Orleans and he neither had the means nor the manpower to round up American deserters.

Yellow Fever Outbreak

There was a yellow fever outbreak at the Tchefuncte River in 1809. Midshipman Thomas ap Catesby Jones while patrolling off the Gulf Coast in September spotted a slave ship. He boarded and took it into custody and sent it on to New Orleans. Some of the crew was infected with yellow fever, and the disease had spread aboard the vessel. 

Jones had no choice but to put into the Tchefuncte River and ride out the fever. The situation worsened...soon the entire crew of thirty men, including the surgeon, were seriously ill. Midshipman Jones was the only one that was not affected with the fever. 

For almost two months, under the circumstances, he did his best to take care of his men. Thirteen died and were buried in the swamps opposite side of the river from Baham Village. The surgeon, insane with fever, tried to reach the village with a small skiff, but it turned over and he drowned. It was not until January of 1810 that the fever had subsided and another gunboat assisted Jones to Bayou St. John.

Many of the U.S. Naval and Marine Officers lived on the North Shore in St. Tammany Parish. One by the name of Captain Henderson was the Corp Commandant for forty years. Lt. Michael Carroll established a mail route between Baton Rouge and Madisonville. Jonathan Ferris, the Sailing Master from New York, invested in real estate.

In the summer of 1810, Master Commandant David Porter was reassigned to Boston Harbor to be Captain of the frigate Essex. When he left he took along his foster son David Glasgow Farragut.

Events leading to the raising of the American flag on the Tchefuncte

With the land filling up with Americans from the east, many of them still instilled with the spirit and dreams from the Revolutionary days, with their land still under the domination of the Spanish king, resented the European manner of conducting government. This natural indignation ran deep, and culminated with the capture of the Spanish fort at Baton Rouge. On September 22, 1810, Colonel Philemon THOMAS, with a small force of settlers from the vicinity of Baton Rouge, other areas of West Florida, and Mississippi Territory captured Baton Rouge and made the Spanish Governor Don Carlos de Lassus a prisoner. Four days later, on September 26, 1810, the independence of the State of West Florida was declared.

The West Florida Government was formally inaugurated by November 26, 1810. A month earlier on October 27, 1810, President James MADISON issued a proclamation declaring that the lands lying south of the Mississippi River to the Perdido belonged to the United States under the terms of the Treaty of Paris dated April 30, 1803. The President directed Governor William C. C. Claiborne, of the Orleans Territory, to take possession of the new nation.

Governor Claiborne left for Natchez on December 1, 1810, to work out arrangements for the occupation of West Florida. Captain John SHAW who was returning down the Mississippi river by way of Pittsburg for his second tour of duty at the New Orleans Station joined Governor Claiborne at St. Francisville on December 8th. Governor Claiborne had received the Proclamation from President Madison who had declared West Florida United States Territory. The President had ordered the Governor to take control of the disputed territory and raise the American flag, by force if necessary.

When Captain SHAW met Governor Claiborne at St. Francisville, he found out that the Governor had raised the flag the previous day. The Governor continued down the river to Baton Rouge accompanied by SHAW and five gunboats of the River Division, stationed at Natchez, under the command of Lt. Commander Daniel Patterson, to transport the troops downriver. The gunboats first transported the 400 American troops to about two miles above the Fort. There they met Governor Claiborne supported by a force under the command of Colonel Leonard COVINGTON coming down the river road with the Mississippi mounted Dragoons.

After the soldiers were landed, the gunboats dropped down the river and anchored in a line opposite the fort. Their heavy 32 pound cannons pointed on the fort were primed and ready to fire. It was an overwhelming force to contend with! Fulwar Skipwith who had been elected Governor of the newly declared Lone Star Republic by the legislature on November 22, 1810, realized that it was useless to resist and ordered the gate to the fort to be opened. With the gunboats covering the landing of the troops, the American flag

was quickly raised, and the short life of that nation came to an end. On December 10, 1810, the 15-starred flag of the United States became the sixth flag to fly over the Florida Parishes and St. Tammany. General COVINGTON, the distinguished soldier who stood next to Governor Claiborne, in Baton Rouge, at the demise of the West Florida Republic died a hero's death during the War of 1812.

Captain SHAW then proceeded down the River to New Orleans. A letter dated December 24, 1810, written by Lt. Merrill from the Tchefuncte River, awaited Shaw's answer. The Tchefuncte River had been a main port and repair facility, next to Bayou St. John, for the gun vessels on the Lakes and Gulf Coast since 1807. In his letter Lt. Merrill related to the Captain of the "lawlessness" and "depredations" going on at the Tchefuncte and asks: "What are my responsibilities?" And, "What shall I do?"

The reply came in a letter dated December 30, 1810:

"Sir,

I have received your letter from Tchfoncte (sic) and the Articles forwarded. It is with extreme regret indeed I observe the existing depredations which daily occurs on the North side of the lake but it is also to be hoped ere long, that our laws will be put in force and supported in that quarter with equal energy. I enclose you the President's Proclamation. You will then see then see the course our Government intends to pursue. The American Flag was hoisted on the 7th inst. at St. Francisville and at Baton Rouge on the 10th. It is your duty as an Officer to give protection for all those who claim it as Americans and I have to desire that in all cases where in lawless outrages are committed on the good and peaceful citizen of that District, which you are now in, will be protected by every means in your power but do not use force unless attacked or driven to it through necessity. His Excellency, Governor Wm. C.C. Claiborne has appointed several Civil Commandants to preside in the districts bordering on the Lake. Should you apply to these affairs of Justice, you are required to give them every aid and assistance in your power to enforce the laws. There will be shortly in the Lake a division of eight Gun Boats for its protection. I am repairing those Gun Boats now here for that service.
So as soon as you can possibly get out from where you are now (Tchefuncte River) proceed to Fort St. John and report yourself to me. I have some enquiries to make of you on official duty. The Gun Boat under your command (No. 15) I understand is very defective and worthy of a general repair under the circumstances. You had best give your bends and side a good coat of half boiled tar, lampblack, and fish oil. I intend to employ 2 old boats in procuring timber in the Lakes, for general repair in the spring.
Wishing you every health and happiness, Sir
I am Your Obedt. Serv.
Captain John Shaw

As an officer in the navy it was the duty of Lt. Merrill to give protection to any citizen that asked for it, and he was to assist any officer of the law appointed by the Governor to restore and keep order. Needless to say, that each gunboat had a crew of armed sailors ready to fight and to carry out orders when required. A reason why the people were in such a hostile mood was that on July 25, 1810, a convention of men from the various districts of West Florida was held. William COOPER, the representative for the "District of Tanchipaho and Chifiincte" was a North Carolina Tory who had been serving as one of the alcades for the Spanish. He had remained a staunch Spanish loyalist.

William COOPER refused to go along with some of the extravagant demands of the convention. In a letter to Folch, the Spanish governor in Pensacola warned him that the Spanish government might be overthrown.24 In retaliation, Cooper's property was destroyed by loyalists who disapproved of his actions at the convention, and he was branded a traitor.

Captain Shaw helps suppress the 1811 German Coast Uprising

The 1811 German Coast uprising was a slave revolt that took place in parts of the Territory of Orleans on January 8-10. The violence took place on the east coast of the Mississippi River in what is now St. John the Baptist and St. Charles parishes, Louisiana.25 The German Coast was an area of sugar plantations with a dense population of enslaved people, outnumbering whites by nearly five to one. American Governor Clairborne was not used to a society with the number of free people of color which Louisiana had, but he had worked to continue their role in the militia established under Spanish rule. With the spread of ideas from the French and Haitian revolutions, Americans worried about slave uprisings in the Louisiana area.

A group of conspirators met on January 6, 1811, shortly after the sugar harvest and processing had been completed. The revolt began on January 8 at Manuel Andre's plantation. After striking and badly wounding Andre, the slaves killed his son Gilbert. The rebellion quickly gained momentum. Some accounts claim a total of 200-500 slaves participated. During their two-day, twenty-mile march, the slaves burned five plantation houses (three totally destroyed), several sugarhouses, and crops. There were few firearms, although they carried mostly pikes, hoes and axes, and marched to drums while some carried flags while a few of the leaders rode on horseback.

From the Andre plantation, another eight slaves from the next door plantation of the widows of Jacques and George Deslondes joined the band. At the plantation of James Brown, KOOK one of the most active participants and key figures in the story of the uprising joined the insurrection. At the next plantation down, Kook attacked and killed Francis Trepagnier with an axe. The next stop was at the home of the local doctor. Finding the doctor gone, Kook, the radical slave owned by James Brown, set his house on fire. As they moved downriver, the insurgents passed larger plantations from which many slaves joined them, mainly from the Meuillion plantation, the largest and wealthiest plantation on the German Coast. The rebels tried to set his house on fire, but a slave named Bazile fought the fire and saved the house.

After nightfall, the slaves reached Cannes-Brulees, about 15 miles northwest of New Orleans. Typical of revolts of most classes, free or slave, the insurgent slaves were

mostly young men between the ages of 20 and 30. They held the lower-skilled occupations on the sugar plantations, where they laboured in very difficult conditions.

The suppression of the revolt

After being injured, Colonel Andre went to the other side of the river to round up a militia in order to pursue the rebels. By noon on January 9, the residents of New Orleans had heard of the insurrection on the German Coast. Over the next six hours, General Wade Hampton 1, Commodore John Shaw, and Governor William C.C. Claiborne sent two companies of volunteer militia, 30 regular troops, and a detachment of 40 seamen to fight the slaves. The troops reached the Jacques FORTIER plantation about 4 a.m., but the slaves had left and started back upriver. The troops traveled about 15 miles back up the coast and neared the plantation of Bernard Bemoudy. There, planter Charles Perret, under the command of the badly injured Andre and in cooperation with Judge St. Martin, had assembled a militia of about 80 men from the opposite side of the river.

At about 9 o'clock, this second militia discovered the slaves moving toward high ground on the Bemoudy plantation. Perret ordered the militia to attack the slaves. The battle was brief! Within a half hour of the attack, 40 to 45 slaves had been killed and the remainder slipped into the woods. Perret and Andre's militia tried to pursue slaves into the woods and swamps, but the territory was too difficult to continue the efforts.

Outcome of the revolt

Having suppressed the insurrection, the planters and government officials continued to search for slaves who had escaped. There were two sets of trials: one on the Jean N. Destrehan plantation and one in New Orleans. The Destrehan trial resulted in the execution of 18 slaves, whose heads were put on pikes. The New Orleans trial resulted in the executions of 11 more slaves, publicly hanged in Jackson Square, and their heads put up to decorate the city's gates. About 95 slaves were killed outright, or tried and executed
If* as a result of this revolt.

The uprising had been short-lived and quickly crushed by local forces. The legislature of the Orleans Territory approved compensation of $300 to planters for each slave killed or executed. The Orleans territory accepted the continued presence of US military troops after the revolt, as they were grateful for their presence. The national press covered the insurrection, with Northerners seeing it arising out of the wrongs suffered under slavery.27 January 8-10, 2011, will mark the 200th year of the event. There is no state or federal historical marker to commemorate the insurrection.

Activities of Lt. Merrill, 1811

After Lt. Merrill returned from the Tchefuncte River to Bayou St. John as Captain SHAW had ordered, we are informed in his letter written on February 1, 1811, to Paul Hamilton, the Secretary of the Navy, that "the Flag of the United States had been hoisted at all inhabit points along the Coast and margin of the lake. Lt. Merrill had it hoisted at

the Tchefuncte River on January 6, 1811." Having dispatched the Alligator with Mr. George FARRAGUT on board, the American flag was hoisted at Pass Christian on the 9th and on the 13' at Pascagoula.

Governor Claiborne pressed Captain SHAW to ready his gun boats to protect New Orleans against a Spanish attack. Only Gun Boats Nos. 25 and 64 were in active service. Nos. 58 and 66 were being readied and No. 65 was about to be examined. On January 28, 1811, Lt. Merrill was dispatched with leaky No. 15 to deliver a load of provisions to the Gun Boat Squadron lying at Mobile, and then to return to one of the Islands (Horn, Deer, or Cat) to cut cargoes of oak timber for knees for repairing Bomb Ketch Aetna. "Take as much as you can stow and return to Bayou St. John" were his orders. 29

On March 15, 1811, Lt. Merrill with No. 15 captured a pirate vessel along the Gulf Coast. They were caught plundering vessels and had been taken by a boat of men from No. 15. Gun Boat vessel No. 64 had to bring them to Bayou St. John. Three members of the pirate crew lived in New Orleans. Lt. Merrill had difficulty getting to Mobile with the supplies and the cutting of timber due to the conditions of his gun vessel. He was obliged to have a passing boat deliver the supplies to Mobile for $100. Needless to say, Captain SHAW was upset.

Lt. Merrill had previously written to Captain Shaw about the poor conditions of his ship. On April 3, 1811, Gun Boat No. 15 was at the Tchefuncte for repairs. On that same day, Captain Shaw wrote to Lt. Merrill that Lt. Cunningham was up the river at Tchefuncte cutting spars and yards. Shaw mentioned that he had heard complaints about the crew as "having been noisy and troublesome. That he hopes no commander of a Gun Vessel will allow this to happen." On May 14, 1811, Captain Shaw ordered Midshipman Francis H. Gregory to give command of Gun Vessel No. 24 to Lt. Merrill, and that he was to stay
•5 A
across the lake for a couple of weeks.

Captain Shaw's daughter married Francis Hoyt Gregory (1780-1866), an officer in the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812 through the Civil War, then as a Rear Admiral.31

The War of 1812

On April 30, 1812, Louisiana was formally admitted to the Union as the 18th state. The annexed territory of West Florida was joined to the state by an act of Congress under the name of the territory of Feliciana. This territory had been created on December 22, 1810, and had been divided into four parts: St. Helena, St. Tammany, Feliciana, and East Baton Rouge upon its creation.

On July 9, 1812, Captain John SHAW received word by express that war had been declared with Great Britain. Even though the New Orleans Station was a long way from the Atlantic Coast, the farthest from the nation's capital, it began preparation for war. He had at his command some four hundred officers and men, distributed among two brigs of war and eleven gun boats.

Captain SHAW conferred with General WILKINSON about defending New Orleans from a British attack. General WILKINSON, an authority on defending harbors with floating batteries, thought a floating barge or stationary ship with heavy cannons would be the best option to defend the mouth of the river and the Rigolets. SHAW thought that a flat bottom frigate that could maneuver in shallow waters around New Orleans and carry heavy cannons would be the best means of defense on Lake Borgne and the Rigolets. He had plans for a flat bottom frigate drawn, and he hung the plans in his office. A site to build the stationary frigate and permission from the Secretary of the Navy was needed. In his opinion, the Gulf Coast around Bay St. Louis would be a good location to build a ship.

Hurricane of August 19,1812, hits the Gulf Coast and New Orleans

Shaw's letter to Merrill who was cruising off the Bay St. Louis was to pull back No. 24 to the Rigolets while keeping a sharp eye for any foreign ship with troops on the way. He forwards Merrill a copy of the Act of Congress passed on June 18, and orders him to "attend strictly to former orders respecting the exclusion of vessels with foreign troops on board from our waters." Secondly, he is to start a recruiting drive to increase Gun Vessel No. 24 and No. 64 to full strength. Thirdly, he was ordered to inform Captain SHAW of "all circumstances which may transpire" on his cruising grounds.

On August 1, 1812, Captain SHAW wrote to Lt. Daniel DEXTER and ordered that he move all gun vessels under his command (some at the Balize) to Bay St. Louis. Captain SHAW hadn't realized that he had started a movement of several vessels over open water and a hurricane was approaching. On August 19 and 20th, it ferociously hit the Gulf Coast areas and New Orleans. It set back military preparations many months with great material damage and some loss of lives. It also demonstrated the weakness of the naval forces on the New Orleans station and their vulnerability to natural catastrophes.

Captain SHAW reported to the Secretary of the Navy Hamilton on the calamitous condition of the small naval force attached to his station: the Brig Enterprize (sic) on the eve of dropping down to the Balize was driven ashore, without loss of lives, and with little or no damage to her hull. The bottom being in soft mud will be attended with considerable difficulty and consumption of time.32

The Brig Viper, "also in Port, undergoing some slight repairs, was completely unrigged, and, with the loss of her bowsprit, mainmast, and guns, completely cut-down, fore and aft, to her waterways: This was occasioned in part by the extreme violence of the gale, and partly by the accidental circumstance of three or four large Merchant vessels running foul of her." 33

Gun Vessel No. 64, commanded by Mr. William Johnson, was stranded in Lake Pontchartrain, within half a mile of Fort St. John. The lives of none of her crew was lost, nor had she received much injury, but forced by the violence of the tempest, over an extensive level shallow mud bottom, Captain Shaw anticipated much trouble in getting her off again.34

The Ship Remittance recently purchased for service received but little or no injury while the Ketch Eatna, which had for some time previously been employed as a sheer-hulk, was driven from her position by several large Merchant vessels, sunk, and had two men drowned. 35 Captain Shaw was anxiously awaiting news of the fate of the Brig Siren at anchor off Ship Island and the other gun vessels at, and in the vicinity of Bay St. Louis.36

From New Orleans, Captain SHAW reported that the Navy-hospital had half of its roof carried away, and the kitchen and other "appendant buildings" were blown away. The hospital contained upwards of one-hundred patients, and had to be repaired immediately. The estimated expense to repair the damage sustained to the Naval Service, by the hurricane, was from twenty to thirty thousand dollars. The Military also sustained much injury. The French Market-house, in point of spaciousness and elegance (perhaps equaled by scarcely any in the United States) across the street from the Navy Yard was completely leveled, and under the ruins many people who had sought shelter from the storm were buried.

Several Gun Vessels Nos. 27, 66, and 163 under the command of Lt. Daniel S. DEXTER were caught in open water from the Balize, and had a very difficult time as the gale raged with unabated fury. Some tried to anchor near shore but several had their lines broken and were driven up on shore. Some threw their cannons overboard to stay afloat! Lt. DEXTER feared the loss of No. 66.37

In January of 1813, the bodies of five sailors were washed ashore at Bayou Castin. They were badly decomposed having been in the water for such a long time. The local inhabitants reported the bodies to Parish authorities of St. Tammany and the bodies were buried along the lake shore. The presence of the Navy which was close by on the Tchefuncte River never acknowledged the death of these sailors. No records were found in which the US Navy claimed them.

Lt. MERRILL and Gun Vessel No. 24 rode out the storm with minor damage somewhere close to Bay St. Louis. Captain Shaw needed the use of No. 24 and Lt. Merrill's expertise immediately after the storm. He wrote to Lt. Comdt. Louis ALEXIS, Eastern Division, Bay St. Louis:

"Sir,

It has been considered necessary by General James Wilkinson that a correct survey be made of the Coast and Islands to the Eastward, commencing from the East side of the Rigolets round Lake Borgne, Malhauveaux Island, Cat, Horn, Ship Island, and Delphine Island from there along the Coast and ending at Pearl Island. In compliance with the General's requisition on me I have ordered the Alligator to be in readiness to receive on board Lt. BUSH of the Artillery accompanied by an Engineer who have direction to execute this mission. In order to excel this object and vacillate as much as possible its execution and having a knowledge and skill and abilities of Lt. George Merrill, one of the best pilots, I

have directed that he be ordered to receive on board Gun Vessel No. 24, under his command, the gentlemen as above named and to proceed with them agreeably to their instructions. Lt. Merrill in this instance must be directed to use exertion as possible in his power to afford assistance in the execution of this survey.

On September 25, 1812, in reply to letters received from New Orleans, P. HAMILTON, the Secretary of the Navy, authorized Captain SHAW to make every necessary provision to supply the place of any boats, that may have been lost, & to defend the Water passes to New Orleans.

"A competent force must be provided, without delay. If the gun-boats can be repaired, let it be done without delay; If they canot be repaired, You are authorized to purchase suitable vessels, if in Your power, & fit them up: for carrying guns — & in fitting them You will use all the good materials of the gunboats to save expense. If the gunboats cannot be repaired, & You cannot purchase vessels to answer the purpose, Your next, & only alternative will be I presume, to build—But this I apprehend You will not be able to do in time: under these circumstances, & considering your great distance from the seat of Government, You will consult with general Wilkinson & the Navy Agent, & either repair the Boats, or purchase or build others, as may be in Your power, & as the good of the Service may suggest the object being to provide an adequate defense with every possible expedition & on the best possible terms. You may, should it be judged necessary, fit up, or procure twenty boats, calculated to carry, one to two guns each. If such boats could be hired, at a reasonable rate, & valued by disinterested competent judges, & the United states to pay for them, at such valuation, in the event of their being destroyed, or captured by the Enemy, it would be, a more desirable arrangement than any other exception that of repairing the boats should they be worthy of repair: but it is hoped, that a less number than 20 Boats will be sufficient with the two Blockships, which You were authorised to procure by my letter dated a few days since!''

For P Hamilton
Chas: W. Goldsborough39

On October 24, 1812, Captain SHAW listed the vessels under his command. The brigs Siren, Viper, and Enterprise were about ready for service but were short of seamen. Gun vessels No. 24 and No. 5 were on the Tchefuncte being repaired with No. 66 on its way. The army survey that Lt. MERRILL had participated had been completed.

In a letter to General Wilkinson dated December 12, 1812, Captain SHAW mentioned that he was returning to the Tchefuncte to inspect a gunboat that was being repaired and that he had some contracts for timber to be made, and that it would occasion his absence from six to eight days.40 It was on this trip that he took the decision to build the Block Shop across the Lake instead of Bay St. Louis.

Captain SHAW was shown a bend of the river located on the property of Jacques Lorreins, the owner of the twenty acres located on that prominent bend of the River. Today it is a Beau Chene Subdivision. Shaw agreed to terms with Jacques Lorreins for twenty acres and a ten year lease. In a letter to Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy, Shaw pointed out that it was the ideal location for building the ship and others, if necessary. It had a good view of the river, plenty of excellent oak, pine and cedar, and a slight incline for launching. On the Gulf it would be vulnerable to a British invasion, but on the Tchefuncte it would be better protected. By January 14, 1813, Captain SHAW was back in New Orleans after a one month absence.

Once an agreement was reached, Lt. Michael Carroll and Sailing master Jonathan Ferris were put in charge of navy crews that started clearing the land in order to build the flat bottom boat frigate a few miles away. (Inquests March 8, 1813, Probate 12254, Advertisement. Twelve copies distributed to Judge Tate Covington Court House). Permission had been granted to SHAW by Paul Hamilton, the Secretary of the Navy, and he could proceed with the construction.

Captain SHAW hired Master carpenter Francis PICHON of New Orleans to be in charge of building the ship. Captain Shaw and Pichon hired what carpenters that could be had in New Orleans and the rest of the civilian labour force were hired from residents of the North Shore. Thomas SPELL and Joseph SHARP were among the labourers who were hired. Capt. Shaw reported his activities in the preparation for building the ship to the Paul Hamilton, Secretary of the Navy, and received his approval. It was an economic boon for the north shore. Workers were paid as much as $28.00 a month, plus rations. On the payroll list, secured from the Navy archives, there were about 150 names of civilians that worked on the ship during the peak months; many from the surrounding parishes.

Creeks attack Fort Mims

At the end of August, 1813, the Creeks attacked Fort Mims, north of Mobile, and killed over 300 settlers. The inhabitants of the North Shore and the Gulf Coast were in a state of panic and wanted protection from the Indians. Governor Claiborne came up with a plan. He and Captain Shaw crossed the lake to Madisonville in early September to meet with the Parish leaders. Governor Clairborne took along a large number of rifles and powder from the arsenal at New Orleans. His plan was to use the string of forts already in place and build another fort, this one a stockade, with the help of the workers at the yard. It would be located across the Tchefuncte River from Madisonville and adjacent the main trail leading to the navy yard. Captain Shaw told the Parish leaders that he would have the fort manned with an Officer and a Detachment of Marines, along with a few heavy cannons. This would give protection for the workers of the Navy Yard and the residents of Madisonville. The other forts in Clairborne's plan would be Ford's Fort on the Pearl River, the fort at Springfield, and the fort at Baton Rouge.

If the Creeks were to unite with the Choctaws, there could be an attack, but it was presumed highly unlikely. Captain Shaw wrote to the Secretary of the Navy that he thought the Creeks were too far away, and even if they attacked, he was sure that he could defeat them. (Several old fortifications of logs were found in the northern part of some of the West Florida Parishes, possibly the result of the Creek threat).

Master Commandant Daniel Patterson the new Commander at New Orleans, 1814

From 1811 to the spring of 1814, Captain SHAW had been actively engaged in fortifying New Orleans and in helping to capture Mobile. In 1814 he took command of the naval squadron which was being blocked by the British in the vicinity of New London, CT., and there he remained until the end of the war. Soon after he joined Commander William Bainbridge's squadron, and was ordered to the Mediterranean to settle accounts with Algiers. When peace was made, he remained to protect American interests. By 1817, he returned to America, but did not go back to sea. He spent his last years in charge of the Boston Navy Yard and later of the naval station at Charleston, South Carolina.

Captain Shaw died at Philadelphia on September 17, 1823. He is interred in the Christ Church Burial Ground on Arch Street, along with Benjamin Franklin and other signers of the Declaration of Independence. His epitaph reads:

In Memory of John Shaw

Late a captain in the Navy of the U.S.
For courage and humanity
Discipline without rigor
Skill with good conduct
Integrity above suspicion
And honour without a blemish,
He gave to the world a noble spectacle
Of a man who without patronage raised
Himself among men of the highest merit
To be the first rank in the service of
His adopted country
Enjoying the confidence of the Government
Beloved in a rare degree by those
Under his parental command and
Blest with friends of kindred worth and feeling.
He died as he lived
Without fear and without reproach
On the 17th day of September 1823 aged 50 years

British invasion, the battle of Lake Borgne

The new Secretary of the Navy that replaced Paul Hamilton put little value on the gunboats at New Orleans or the building of flat bottom stationary frigates. He thought they were useless and a waste of money. The new Commander, Daniel Patterson, at New Orleans tried to defend the "block ship". He wrote to the new secretary that the block ship "Tchfuncte" was more than 80% complete and would be useful for the defense of

New Orleans, but it fell on deaf ears. In April of 1814, the Secretary wrote to Commander Patterson to stop construction, lay off the workers, and close in the block ship on its stocks.
The British Armada showed up on the Gulf Coast and anchored off Ship Island in early December. Led by Vice Admiral Cochran in his 74 gun flagship Tonnant, the over fifty ships was the largest foreign armada ever to approach American shores. Lt. Commander Michael B. Carroll, before the battle, sailed a schooner up the Tchefuncte and blocked any traffic going up or down the River in an effort to protect the yard and block ship.

The battle of Lake Borgne occurred when British Admiral Cochran gave the order "to clear the Lakes." Forty barges loaded with soldiers and sailors attacked the five gunboats which were led by Lt. Thomas ap Catesby JONES in Gunboat No. 5. The gunboats were overwhelmed after a desperate fight.41 Lt. Jones, an important player in the formative period in U.S. Naval history, was wounded in the shoulder and all of the gunboat crews were captured. The Battle of Lake Borgne had given General Jackson three precious days to establish his defense.

Born in Philadelphia in 1772, Marine Major Daniel CARMICK was appointed lieutenant of Marines in Ganges 5 in May 1798, and entered the new Marine Corps as captain July 11, 1798. During the Quasi-War with France he commanded the marine detachment in Constitution, and served with distinction in the Mediterranean. A night battle occurred on December 28, 1814, at Villere's Plantation on the river below New Orleans. Major Carmick commanded the Marines in the Battle of New Orleans. He was wounded in this engagement. He died of his injury in St. Tammany Parish on November 6, 1816, and was buried in the New Orleans St. Louis Cemetery.

John D. Henley, a Barbary War veteran, commanded schooner Carolina during the Battle of New Orleans. After the delaying action by Lt. Thomas ap Catesby Jones at Lake Borgne, Carolina and other ships harassed the British with naval gunfire while protecting General Andrew Jackson's flank on the Mississippi River. Henley's ship was destroyed, but he made a major contribution in the last great victory of the war. 42

John D. Henley rose to the rank of Captain on March 5, 1817, and continued to serve with distinction until May 23,1835, when he died on board Vandalia at Havana, Cuba.

Final years of Lt. George Merrill, 1815-1822

Lieutenant Merrill's movements during the Battle of New Orleans are obscure. It is likely that he was at the facility on the Tchefuncte River protecting the Block Ship with Lt. B. Carroll. Th£N&yWard on the Tchefuncte was used during the War of 1812 to induct men on the north shore into the Louisiana Militia. A month after the Battle of New Orleans, the order was given to discharge the 12th and 13 th Regiments at the Navy Yard immediately.

A. U.S. Navy census of ships at New Orleans, in 1816, shows that the "Tchefuncte" was still on its stocks and still on the Navy rolls. Lt. Michael B. Carroll had resigned his commission and returned to Maryland, where he married and became a "gentleman farmer." From this marriage he had two children and died in 1832.

In 1816, Lt. MERRILL was appointed to command the Navy Yard in St. Tammany. He was in charge at the Tchefuncte when, in 1818, a fire broke out one night at the yard. A few Marines, on guard, had lit a fire to keep warm and it got out of control catching a shed on fire which burned down. An ex-Marine Lieutenant by the name of Lawrence de Cruise who was cashiered by Captain David Porter for behavior unbecoming an officer was living near the Tchefuncte facility. De Cruise was a trouble maker and several run-ins with other officers stationed in St. Tammany. After the fire, he wrote a letter to Commandant Daniel Patterson of the New Orleans Station blaming Merrill for the fire. Patterson, who held a grudge against Merrill since December 14, 1814, saying that Merrill had leaked information about his planned surprise attack against the Pirates at Barateria, saw his chance to get even. He called for a Board of Inquiry against Merrill for action unbecoming an Officer of the United States Navy.

Merrill's fellow officers on the Inquiry Board did not see it that way and dismissed the charges as "unfounded". This did not satisfy Captain Patterson! He told Lt. Merrill that he did not have a place for him in his command. Lt. Merrill, instead of transferring to another station on the East Coast took a half-pay leave of absence and settled down in Madisonville. Note his letter on previous page where he reports his address to the Secretary of the Navy as Madisonville, March 1817 and signed G. Merrill.

In 1821, a new Navy Secretary ordered Captain Patterson to recall Lt. Merrill to full time duty at the New Orleans Station. His re-entering the service did not last long. Lt. Merrill, after 17 years of service with the Navy at New Orleans, died on July 17, 1822, at Madisonville, less than a year after returning to full time duty. There was no indication in the records that he was sick. He was 39 years of age. The hard life for officers and seamen of the New Orleans Station had taken its toll. His brother, Stephen Merrill, from Hartford, Connecticut, came down to take care of his brother's affairs.

Where Lt. Merrill was laid to rest is not known. If he were buried in the Madisonville Cemetery, his marker disappeared years ago. It is possible that his remains were taken to the Protestant Cemetery in New Orleans where several other Navy Officers were buried. The handwriting for closing the New Orleans and Tchefuncte facilities was on the wall. It is ironic that Lt. Merrill died just as the Navy was about to shut down in St. Tammany.

Closing the gates of the Navy Yard in New Orleans

Fort Oak was still standing at Madisonville as was indicated on a map of Louisiana of 1819. (Tanner's Map of Philadelphia). It disappeared from the map shortly after 1820. There was one gunboat on the roster of Navy Ships at New Orleans in 1821. Congress passed a law giving the President the power to sell military facilities that were no longer needed. The decision was made to break up the Block ship Tchefuncte on its stocks and

1808 Map of New Orleans

Here is a map of New Orleans in 1808, which was mainly the French Quarter at that time. Click on the image to enlarge. 


Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Establishment of the United States Navy at New Orleans, after the Louisiana Purchase, and its Influence on West Florida

By Donald J. Sharp
April 8, 2009

1804
The Louisiana Purchase in December, 1803, made officials in Washington realize that they would have to have the United States Navy's presence in New Orleans for its security. Secretary of the Navy Robert Smith ordered Marine Captain Daniel Carmick to sail, as soon as possible, with a detachment of 300 Marines. 


They reached New Orleans in March, 1804, and because Spanish troops still occupied the Barracks in the city, were billeted across the river in barracks near the Powder magazine. In June of 1804 Captain Carmick was sent by Governor Claiborne to Mobile to ask Spanish permission to run a mail route from Fort Stoddard overland to the Tchefuncte River. This was granted. 

Post Oak

Captain Carmick was on the Tchefuncte River in early July making arrangements for the mail route. The mail stop on the Tchefuncte River was called " Post Oak". The mail was then transferred to a mail boat to complete its journey to Bayou St. John.

1805
In October of 1805, Captain John Shaw was appointed the Commandant of the New Orleans Station. He had been in the Mediterranean and just arrived back in Washington, when he learned of his new assignment. He arrived in New Orleans in March of 1806 on the Brig Franklin and immediately met with Governor Claiborne, who assigned him a place on the river in front of the Plaza de Armas. 



Captain John Shaw


Gunboats

President Jefferson and his Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, had a naval policy to use gunboats to protect the harbors on the East and Gulf Coasts. It was supposed to be more economical and appeased members of his party, who wanted a small navy.

1806
The first two gunboats built for the New Orleans Station were named Nos. 11 and 12. They were built in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Boston Harbor under the direction of Commodore Edward Preble, hero of the Barbary Wars. They were assigned to the New Orleans Station in the summer of 1806, sailed from Boston harbor in late September and arrived at the Mouth of the Mississippi River at the end of October. 



Captain Shaw ordered them to cruise Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas due to the high tension between Spain and the United States. Nos. 11 and 12, with Lt. Joseph Bainbridge and Sailing Master John Rush in command, cruised the two lakes looking for prospective landing sights for repairing and watering their vessels. They found the Amite and Tchefuncte Rivers quite adequate to fit their needs. 

Baham Family in Madisonville

Can you imagine the look on the faces of the Baham Brothers and their families when these two United States warships sailed up and anchored next to their village on the Tchefuncte River in 1806? 

The Commanders were from important families on the east coast. Lt. Joseph Bainbridge, younger brother of Captain William Bainbridge, who was the Captain of the Philadelphia when it ran aground off Tripoli Harbor in 1803. He was also the Captain of the Constitution when it fought the British warship Java and won an impressive victory for the United States in the War of 1812. Sailing Master John Rush was the eldest son of the famous American Doctor, Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, and one of this Nation's founding fathers.

1807
The gunboats were recalled from the lakes to New Orleans in early December of 1806 and sent up to Natchez because of the threat of the Aaron Burr conspiracy. After the Burr scare had died down in March of 1807, newly built gunboats from Ohio, began to arrive down the Mississippi river. They were being constructed along the Ohio River instead of the east coast, and then sent to New Orleans. As they would arrive, some were sent to patrol the lakes, some assigned to the river and some sent down to the Belize.


Tension Mounts Between U.S. and Britain

In late 1807, with the relations between the United States and Great Britain deteriorating, Congress passed the Embargo Act Of 1807,which had a profound effect on West Florida. The Act stopped or slowed down the importation of slaves, which caused a hardship on some planters. Captain Shaw was ordered to Washington for the Aaron Burr Trial and a new Commandant for the New Orleans Station was appointed. 




He was Master Commandant David Porter, who would soon leave his mark on New Orleans and West Florida. (There is a movie that came out called "Master Commandant and Commander: The voyage to the end of the World" with actor Russell Crowe playing the part of David Porter. There is also a book on my list that would make excellent reading for those who want to know more about Porter. It is "Nothing Too Daring: A Biography of Commodore Porter 1780-1843. by David F. Long)

1808
Master Commandant Porter arrived in New Orleans in June of 1808 to find his father David Porter Sr., an old Sailing Master from the Revolutionary War, who had recently been assigned to the New Orleans Station, lay dying. He had been fishing out on Lake Pontchartrain with his friend George Farragut, also a Sailing Master, when he had a stroke. Farragut took in the stricken Porter and he and his wife were caring for him when young David Porter arrived. 


Porter Gives Farragut A Home

In appreciation, Commandant Porter took into his home one of Farragut's sons. In 1808 the U.S Navy's activities increased dramatically on the north shore. The gunboats were using the Amite and Tchefuncte Rivers as regular stops for repairing their vessels, cutting timber, or to take on water and provisions. Some of the sailors and Marines on the gunboats deserted to West Florida when the opportunity arose.

In 1808 Porter tried to enforce the Embargo Act, passed by Congress, on Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, which were frequently used to smuggle contraband merchandise. Spanish and British ships were using a small port near the mouth of the Amite River, named Carthage, to smuggle in slaves and take out contraband goods, such as cotton and grain. Porter used his gunboats to try and stop these ships, which would hug the north shore of the lakes and slip into Carthage at night. 


Porter Meets With Spanish Governor

Once, he had word that several ships, both belonging to the Spanish and British, were at Carthage loading up with cotton and would try to slip out of the lakes the next night. He dispatched five gunboats to block these ships at the Rigolets but the gunboats arrived too late. These ships, with their contraband cargos, had passed through a few hours earlier. Master Commandant Porter heard that Spanish Governor Vincente Folche was at the Tchefuncte River and went over to meet with him Nothing is known of the outcome of the meeting.

A little international intrigue was unfolding at this time as General James Wilkinson asked for transportation on a gunboat to the Tchefuncte River to meet with Governor Folche. Many years later it was learned that General Wilkinson was a secret agent working for the Spanish, (his I.D. number was 13) and was playing both sides of the fence. Porter suspected something wrong and through correspondence with the Secretary to the Navy, asked if the General was conducting secret negations for the U.S. Government? The Secretary stated that he was not. Commander Porter called Wilkinson "General Puff', indicating what he thought of him.


Naval Station Innovations

Porter was an innovator and immediately organized the New Orleans Station on arriving. He made the decision to divide the gunboats into divisions with each one flying a different colored pennant. He had rented a house in Faubourg Marigny and could view his gunboats anchored on the opposite shore at Algiers Point. He would communicate from his house to the gunboat commanders with signals from a flagpole. He tried to establish a telegraph system with his gunboats at the mouth of the Mississippi River, If the system had been completed, he could receive or send a message to the Belize in five minutes. 


Signal Flag Stations

He started to build each telegraphic station, about four miles apart and could communicate with a system of flags and poles, like he saw in Europe. However, the Secretary of the Navy stopped construction as being too expensive and wasteful.. Porter assigned his lake division of gunboats to fly the blue pennant Other divisions had red, white, or mixed colored pennants.  A Lieutenant, Midshipman, or Sailing Master was assigned as a commander of each gunboat. From 1808 until 1814, the Tchefuncte River, along with the base at New Orleans were used as the major repair facilities. Commander Porter also established a Navy Hospital at Bay St. Louis.

1809
The beginning of January, 1809 found Lt. George Merrill patrolling Lake Maurepas looking for any kind of smuggling activity. He spotted three Spanish vessels coming out of the Iberville River. Upon hailing, he found out that it was Governor Charles de Grand Pre and his family on their way to Havana. The Governor had been recalled by the Governor General of Cuba to answer questions about his administrative procedures. 


Raising The First American Flag

Lt. Merrill and the Spanish Governor decided to land and have lunch, as it was already past noon. They landed on the shore at the mouth of the Amite River and set up tents. While having lunch, Governor Grand Pre asked Lt. Merrill why he didn't fly his country's flag? Merrill answered, that since the land was in dispute by the two countries, he thought it proper not to fly the flag. Grand Pre replied, you represent a great nation, a nation that I dearly love, and I think it proper that you now fly your country's flag. Merrill responded to the Governor's request and a pole was place in front of Merrill's tent. Thus, on Saturday, January 7, at about 2:00 P.M. the American flag was hoisted over West Florida for the first time.

Another incident that occurred at the Tchefuncte River in 1809 was a yellow fever outbreak. Midshipman Thomas ap Catesby Jones while patrolling off the Gulf Coast in September, had spotted a slave ship. He boarded and took it into custody and sent it on to New Orleans. The problem was that there was yellow fever on board the slaver and several of his crew got infected. It spread to other crew members and Jones had no choice but to put into the Tchefuncte River and ride out the fever. 


Yellow Fever Strikes Crew

It only got worse; soon the entire crew of 30 men, including the surgeon, was seriously ill. Midshipman Jones was the only one that was not affected with the fever. For almost two months, he had to do the best he could to take care of his men. Thirteen died and were buried in the swamps on the opposite side of the river from Baham Village. The surgeon, insane with fever, tried to reach the village with a small skiff, but it turned over and he drowned. It was not until January of 1810 that the fever had subsided and another gunboat assisted Jones to Bayou St. John.

Also, in 1809 court martial were now being held on gunboats anchored in the Tchefuncte River. Mainly the Court martial were convened for Marines and sailors who had deserted and had sought refuge in West Florida. When convicted, the sentence was extremely harsh, especially for those who deserted more than once. With Army deserters from Fort Adams, desertion became a serious a problem for both American and Spanish officials. Porter sent Lt. Merrill to see the Spanish Governor at Baton Rouge to solve this problem, but to no avail.


Many Officers Lived in St. Tammany

Many of the U.S Naval and Marine Officers lived on the North Shore in St. Tammany Parish. Two Marine Officers who had their Headquarters in St. Tammany went on to become the Marine Corp Commandant. One, by the name of Captain Henderson was the Corp Commandant for forty years. He established many traditions that are still used today. Other Officers, like Lt. Michael Carroll even started a business. Carroll established a mail route between Baton Rouge and Madisonville. 


Jonathan Ferris, the Sailing Master from New York, invested in real estate In the summer of 1810; Master Commandant David Porter was reassigned to Boston Harbor to be Captain of the Frigate Essex. When he left, he took along his foster son David Glasgow Farragut.

1810
Captain John Shaw returned for his second tour of duty on the New Orleans Station in the fall of 1810. He came down the Mississippi River and caught up with Governor W. C. C. Claiborne at St. Francisville on December 6, just after the governor raised the American flag there. Claiborne had orders from Washington to annex West Florida without delay. He was to later raise another American flag over the Fort at Baton Rouge. 


The Forced Annexation Of West Florida

Captain Shaw joined him at St. Francisville to complete this mission. Captain Shaw called in the five gunboats of the River Division, stationed at Natchez, under the command of Lt Commander Daniel Patterson to transport the troops downriver. The gunboats first transported the 400 American troops to about 2 miles above the Fort. There they met Governor Claiborne and Colonel Covington coming down the river road with the Mississippi mounted Dragoons.

After the soldiers were landed, the gunboats dropped down the river and anchored in a line opposite the fort. Their big 32 pound cannons were then trained on the Fort, primed and ready to fire. When Claiborne and his forces arrived at the fort, they combined into an overwhelming force. 

Fulwar Skipwith, the President of the newly declared Lone Star Republic, realized that it was useless to resist and ordered the gate to the fort opened and the American flag was then raised.Thus, with the help of the United States Navy, West Florida was annexed to the United States on December, 10, 1810.

Gunboat Sought To Ensure Peace

Captain Shaw continued on down river to New Orleans. When he got there he found a letter from Lt. George Merrill from the Tchefuncte River. Merrill wrote that there was much lawlessness on the north shore of the lake and even violence by some of the settlers. What should he do? Captain Shaw told Merrill West Florida was now part of the United States and it was his duty as an officer in the Navy to give protection to any citizen that asked for it. 


That he was to assist any officer of the law appointed by Governor to restore and keep order. Needless to say that each gunboat had a crew of 30 heavily armed sailors, ready to fight, and to carry out Merrill's orders. Lt. Merrill quickly restored the peace on the Tchefuncte River.. The reason that the people were in such a hostile mood was that their representative to the West Florida convention, William Cooper, was murdered and his property destroyed by the same revolutionary forces that were part of this same convention.

First American Flag Over St. Tammany

Thus Lt. George Merrill from Hartford, Connecticut, who raised the first American flag over West Florida at the mouth of the Amite River on January7, 1809 now raised the American flag over St Tammany Parish on January 6, 1811.

1812

The War of 1812 broke out that spring and even though the New Orleans Station was a long ways from the Atlantic coast, the station prepared for War. Word of the War was sent to all ships to be ready for action against the British. Captain Shaw conferred with General Wilkinson about defending New Orleans from a British attack. 


General Wilkinson, who was an authority on defending harbors with floating batteries, thought a floating barge or stationary ship with heavy cannons would be the best option to defend the mouth of the river and the Rigolets. Shaw thought that a flat bottom frigate that could maneuver in shallow waters around New Orleans and carry heavy cannons would be the best means of defense on Lake Borgne and the Rigolets. He had plans for a flat bottom frigate drawned up and hung in his office. 

All that was needed now was the site to build the stationary frigate and the Secretary of the Navy's permission. He was thinking of the Gulf Coast around Bay St. Louis as a good location to build the ship. On August 19 and 20th, a ferocious hurricane hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast areas. Ships were sunk or driven aground and many sailors and marines lost their lives on the lakes, river and Gulf Coast. 

Hurricane Victims Wash Ashore

Three sailor's bodies were washed ashore at Bayou Castin in early January, 1813. They were badly decomposed and seemly had been in the water a long time. And inquest was held by local authorities of St. Tammany and the bodies were buried along the lake shore. Sadly to say, the presence of the Navy, which was close by on the Tchefuncte River, never acknowledged the sailors deaths.

1813
In December of 1812, Captain Shaw had to make a trip to the Tchefuncte River to inspect a gunboat that was being repaired. It was on this trip that Captain Shaw made the decision to have the stationary frigate built on the Tchefuncte River instead of Bay St. Louis. On the Gulf it would be vulnerable to a British invasion where, on the Tchefuncte it could be better protected. Permission had been granted to Shaw by the Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamiliton to proceed with construction. 


Naval Yard Location

While at the Tchefuncte, Shaw came to an agreement with north shore resident Jacques Lorreins, who was the owner of the twenty acres located in a prominent bend of the Tchefuncte River that Shaw wanted to lease. As soon as Shaw and Lorreins came to an agreement, Lt. Michael Carroll and Sailing Master Jonathan Ferris were put in charge of navy crews that started clearing the land. 

Shaw had hired Master carpenter Francois Pichon of New Orleans, who had come to Louisiana from Boudreaux about ten years earlier, to be in charge of building the ship. Captain Shaw and Pichon hired what carpenters that could be had in New Orleans and the rest of the civilian labor force, were hired from residents on the North Shore. Thomas Spell and Joseph Sharp were among the laborers that were hired. Shaw reported all that he had done in the preparation for building the ship to Secretary of the Navy Paul Hamiliton and received his approval. It was an economic boon for the north shore, to say the least! 

Workers Hired, Paid $28 A Month

Workers were paid as much as $28 dollars a month, plus rations. On the payroll list, secured from the Navy archives, there are about 150 names of civilians that worked on the ship during the peak months; many were from the surrounding Parishes.


At the end of August, 1813, the Creeks attacked Fort Mims, north of Mobile, and killed over 300 settlers. The inhabitants on the North Shore and the Gulf Coast were in a state of panic and wanted protection from the Indians. Governor Claiborne came up with a plan. He and Captain Shaw crossed the lake to Madisonville in early September to meet with the Parish leaders. Governor Claiborne took along a large number of rifles and powder from the arsenal at New Orleans. 

Fort Built to Protect Madisonville Area

Claiborne's plan was to use the string of forts already in place and build another fort, this one a stockade, with the help of the workers at the yard. It would be located across the Tchefuncte River from Madisonville and adjacent the main trail leading to the navy yard. Captain Shaw told the Parish leaders he would have it manned with an Officer and a detachment of Marines, along with a few heavy cannons. 

This would give protection for the workers at the Navy Yard and the residents of Madisonville. The other forts in Claiborne's plan would be Ford's Fort on the Pearl River, the fort at Springfield, and the fort at Baton Rouge. If the Creeks would unite with the Choctaws, there could be an attack, but this was highly unlikely. Captain Shaw wrote to the Secretary of the Navy that he thought the Creeks were too far away and even if they did attack, he was sure that he could defeat them. (Several old fortifications of logs were found in the northern part of some of the West Florida parishes. It could be the results of the Creek threat.)

1814

Captain John Shaw was reassigned to Boston Harbor and Master Commandant Daniel Patterson took over as the new Commandant. The new Secretary of the Navy, that took Paul Hamiliton's place, put little value on the gunboats at New Orleans or the building of a flat bottom stationary frigate. He thought they were useless and a waste of money. Master Commandant Patterson, the new Commander at New Orleans, tried to defend the "block ship: 


Ship Under Construction Cancelled

He wrote to the new Secretary that the Blockship "Tchfuncte" was more than 80% complete and would be useful for the defense of New Orleans, but it fell on "deaf ears". In April of 1814 the Secretary wrote to Patterson to stop construction, lay off the workers, and close in the blockship on its stocks.

The British invasion armada showed up on the Gulf Coast and anchored off Ship Island in early December. There were over fifty ships in the armada led by Vice Admiral Cochran in his 74 gun flagship ship Tonnant. It was the largest foreign armada ever to approach American shores. 


Battle of Lake Borgne

The battle of Lake Borgne occurred when British Admiral Cochran gave the order "to clear the Lakes" Forty barges loaded with soldiers and sailors then attacked the five gunboats which were led by Lt. Thomas Catesby Jones in gunboat no 5. Sailing Master Jonathan Ferris was in command of another gunboat. 

The gunboats were overwhelmed after a desperate fight. Lt. Jones was wounded in the shoulder and all of the five gunboat crews captured. The Battle of Lake Borgne gave General Jackson three precious days to establish his defense. 

Tchefuncte Naval Yard Defended

A night Battle occurred on December 28 at Villere's Plantation on the river below New Orleans, and Marine Major Daniel Carmick was hit in the head by a British rocket. He died of his injury later in St. Tammany Parish. He is buried in the New Orleans St. Louis Cemetery. Lt. Commander Michael B. Carroll, before the Battle, sailed a schooner up the Tchefuncte River and blocked any traffic going up or down the River in an effort protect the yard and block ship.

1815
The Navy Yard on the Tchefuncte was used during the War of 1812 to induct men on the north shore into the Louisiana Militia. A month and a half later, after the battle, the order was given to discharge the 12th and 13th Regiments at the Navy Yard immediately. Thomas Spell of Bayou Castin, had a stroke three days after being discharged at the yard and died. He was buried, at his request, on the banks of Chinchuba Creek (now called the Tom Spell memorial Cemetery) at Mandeville.


1816
A U.S. Navy census of ships at New Orleans in 1816 shows that the "Tchefuncte" was still on its stocks and still on the Navy rolls. Lt. Commander Michael B Carroll had resigned his commission and returned to Maryland, where he married and became a "gentleman farmer". From this marriage, he had two children and died in 1832. Lt. George Merrill was appointed commander of the navy yard on the Tchefuncte in 1816.


1818
Merrill had a run in with Captain Daniel Patterson in 1818 over a fire at the Tchefuncte Navy Yard and went on half pay retirement and lived at Madisonville. In 1821 a new Navy Secretary ordered Lt. Merrill back to duty. His re-entering the service did not last long, as he died in the summer of 1822 at his home in Madisonville. He was only 38 years old. His brother, Stephen, from Hartford, Connecticut came down to take care of his brother's affairs. 




Navy Yard To Close

The handwriting for closing the New Orleans and Tchefuncte facilities was then on the wall. Congress passed a law given the President the power to sell military facilities that were no longer needed. "Fort Oak" was still standing at Madsionville as was indicated on a map of Louisiana of 1819. (Tanner's Map of Philadelphia) The "Tchefuncte" was still on its "stocks" in 1820. The pirates, for the most part, had been chased out of the Gulf of Mexico into the Caribbean.

1821

There was one gunboat still on the roster of Navy Ships at New Orleans in 1821. The stockade fort on the Tchefuncte was now gone, and the Secretary of the Navy gave the order to the three Navy Commissioners to break up the blockship Tchefuncte, save what you can from the remains, and leave only one Navy personnel at the Tchefuncte facility.


This was Sailing Master Jonathan Ferris. Pieces of the block ship that could be used, were taken from the broken ship and transported to the six Navy stations on the east coast.

Main Mast Repaired

1823

The Schooner Grumpus, in the spring of 1823, which had been fighting pirates in the Caribbean, came into New Orleans with a split main mast. Orders went out across the lake to Sailing Master Ferris to find two masts in the St. Tammany forest, one for use as a replacement.. This was done and it was the last official act carried out at the Tchfuncte facility. 


What equipment that was left in the yard was shipped to the new Navy facility at Pensacola. Jonathan Ferris who had arrived at the New Orleans station in 1810 from New York and was the last of the Navy personnel to leave the Tchefuncte, was assigned to the new Pensacola Navy Yard. Ten years later his, old friend in arms Andrew Jackson, then President of the United States, promoted Ferris to the rank of Lieutenant.

Ferris had been overlooked on the promotion ladder for many years because of being a Sailing Master of a gunboat at the New Orleans Station. He was in his fifties when promoted to Lieutenant and died a few years later in Virginia. Captain John Shaw, who was Commandant of the New Orleans Yard twice, and assigned to the Boston Navy Yard, died in 1823 at Boston. His first wife died earlier of the fever in New Orleans and he married for the second time. She was a member of the prominent Breed family of Boston, in which the battle of Breeds Hill derives it name.

1824
Captain Daniel Patterson who came with Captain John Shaw in 1806 and replaced Shaw as Commandant in 1813 was given a promotion in 1824 and assigned to the Constitution as its Captain. The Constitution was preparing to sail with several other ships to the Mediterranean to show the American flag.


Joseph Hawkins Named Naval Agent

He could now be called a Commodore, the highest title in the Navy. Joseph Hawkins, a New Orleans lawyer, living in St. Tammany Parish was promoted to Naval Agent at New Orleans by the President. He died in 1823. after becoming agent just two years earlier. 

Hawkins was involved with Stephen Austin in the Texas colony adventure. Austin was hired by Hawkins as a law clerk in 1820. In 1821, Austin left New Orleans to take up his father's quest for a Spanish land grant in Texas and to establish a colony; Hawkins had backed Austin financially to the tune of $6,000. 

The Hawkins/Austin Texas Colony Venture

A contract was drawn up between the two men stipulating that Hawkins was to receive half of any money made from the venture. Needless to say, Austin did not honor the agreement for several reasons. In defense of Austin, a Mexican law prevented him from having a foreign partner in ownership of the Texas colony. Austin, himself died in poverty and made no money from the venture. He never could pay off Hawkins or his family. The Hawkins widow sued, using a St. Tammany lawyer named Nathaniel Coxe, which brought little results. Coxe took Hawkins' place as Naval Agent at New Orleans, after his death in 1823.

1826
The order came from Washington to close the New Orleans Navy Yard in 1826. Lieutenant George Rousseau, a native of New Orleans and the last officer attached to the Yard, closed the gates in September of that year and handed the keys over to naval agent Nathaniel Coxe. 


Naval Yard Closed

From the establishment of the United States Navy at New Orleans in 1806, until it closed in September of 1826, it exerted a strong influence, not only in New Orleans but on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain and Maurepas. This influence extend into the political, social, and economical areas of West Florida. Politically, it was their presence, in the form of gunboats and repair facilities that reinforced the policy of Thomas Jefferson's administration that West Florida was part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 and consequently belong
to the United States. 


Naval Personnel Lived in St. Tammany

Socially, many of the Officers attached to the Lake Division gunboats and the personnel at the Tchefuncte Navy Yard participated in many parish activities. Economically, the Navy and its personnel were a major economic stimulus on the north shore, especially in St. Tammany Parish. It was the navy's presence that helped to maintain law and order during difficult times and played an important role in the annexation of West Florida to the United States in 1810.

Epilogue
Many of the Officers that were assigned to the New Orleans Station went on to have successful naval careers. Captain David Porter became a national hero with his famous voyage to the Pacifie Ocean, and was later promoted to the Board of The Navy Commissioners, this Post he resigned after several years and became the chief Admiral in the Mexican Navy, and finally after leaving the Mexican Navy, he was appointed to a diplomatic post in Turkey, where he later died. 


It was in the Pacific, with the frigate Essex that he destroyed the whaling fleet of Great Britain and established a base in the Marquese Islands, which he called Madisonville. He claimed the islands for the United States, but Congress wasn't interested in its ownership. 

Farragut Becomes An Admiral

He took his foster son David Glasgow Farragut on this long voyage, which transformed the boy into a man. He then fought two British frigates off the Chilean Coast but was defeated, Porter than returned home to a hero's welcome in the United States. His foster son, David Glasgow Farragut, who later fought in the Civil War for the Union, was in command of the forces that captured New Orleans and went on to become the first Admiral in the United States Navy. 


Admiral David Farragut


Then there was Lt. John Henley, the nephew of George Washington, and commander of a gunboat on Lake Pontchartrain in 1808 and 1809, who was the first to sail an American warship to Canton, China and fight Malaysians pirates. His trip helped to opened China and the Pacific Ocean up for the United States. He later died aboard his ship in Havana Harbor of yellow fever. 

Another Officer was Thomas Catesby Jones, who also played a part in Pacific foreign policy for the United States, both in the Hawaiian Islands in 1825 and the coast of California in the Mexican War. He retired to his home in Virginia where he later died.

John Rush and The 1st Book On Mental Health

Finally, there was Sailing Master John Rush, who went insane after fighting a duel and killing his friend and fellow officer, Benjamin Turner, on the New Orleans Station. He was sent back to the Navy Hospital at Philadelphia, where his father, the famous American Doctor, Benjamin Rush, treated his mental condition, all the while studying his son's disease. From his experience in taking care of his son, Dr. Rush wrote the first book on Psychiatry in America. Dr. Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence as was his father-in-law.