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

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.

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


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.

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.)


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.

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.

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.

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.


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


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.

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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

1921 News Item Tells of Mandeville Lakefront Work

On June 12, 1921, the New Orleans Item newspaper ran an extensive article on plans to improve the Mandeville harbor and lakefront. A copy of the article was found in the history research files of Don Sharp. Here is the text from that article:

Mandeville Takes Vigorous Forward Step in Improvement Bond Issues For $57,000

City by Lake Plans Great Civic, Industrial Revival

Mandeville Citizens Vote Bonds To Repair Streets and Sea-wall and Build New Docks - Free Sites Offered to Factories 
By George Daws (Item, June 12, 1921)

A sleepy, dreamy, little, typically-Southern town on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, some 22 miles from New Orleans; a town where the "folks" thought more of the traditions of their Spanish and French forefathers who first settled there than of progress and improvements; a town where great moss covered oaks sheltered wide, dusty streets, and where wonderful natural advantages were never brought to commercial use.

That was the Mandeville of yesterday. But now --

It's a lively, bustling town where the people are digging deep into their pockets to pay for improvements; where within a few short months the great work of dredging out the Bayou Castaign and  basin for big passenger ships, repairing the streets, mending the gap in the long sea-wall, will begin; where all the talk is of the future and of the three factories that are soon to be built.

Plans furnished by Mr. Reine, who will donate property for three factories, and a street. Bond issue money will be spent to build docks and dredge the channel. Click on the map to make it larger.

A great change has come over the little town of Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish. There are new city officials, headed by Mayor Dr. W. E. Van Zant. Bond issues, one a municipal issue of $32,000 to repair the streets and the sea-wall, and the other, a ward issue of $25,000 to dredge the Bayou and the basin and building the new docks, have been voted.

People Are In Earnest

The people in Mandeville are in earnest, there's no doubt about that. There's a great deal of joking and laughter and banter about the new improvements, but beneath the surface there is strength of the new belief that money must be spent to bring to the city the prosperity and growth it deserves. An indication of the popular feeling may be obtained when it is noted that there was but one dissenting vote in the issuing of the bonds. Every other person in the city and ward who voted was in favor of it.

It means a whole lot that dredging of the Bayou Castaign. It means there will be a large and safe shelter for ships and barges, that the passenger boats from New Orleans will have the right kind of docking facilities, that new factories will spring up, new workmen will come and new homes will be built.

It means progress, nothing else. And the people of the little city, now fully awake to all they've been letting slip by them during the past, are putting "shoulders to the wheel" in their whole-hearted fight to make it all a great big success.

First Settled in 1739

Way back in 1739, the first settlers crossed Lake Pontchartrain moored their boats up Bayou Castaign and settled on the site of what is now Mandeville. The Edwards, Morgans, Spells, and Tournieres were the first to come and they made friends with the Choctaw Indians. There never was much Indian trouble about that country.

The descendants of those first pioneers are residents of Mandeville. The names that are famous in the history of the little city are heard on every side. In 1797 came two other families, and in 1834 Marquis Bernard DeMarigny and his band came. The Marquis, owner of vast tracts of land mapped out the little city and began calling it Mandeville."

The newspaper article explained that with the bond issue money, the bayou would be deepened to ten feet. "A basin for ships to turn in will be dredged. A small sea wall will be built. A new dock with sheds for the protection of both passengers and freight will be built.

The bonds according to the law, cannot be offered for sale until 60 days after the election, which was held on May 25, 1921. At that time, as many as possible will be sold to the citizens of Mandeville and an attempt will be made to have merchants in New Orleans invest in the remainder.

Guard Health Reputation

There is one thing the people of Mandeville are jealous of and that is the reputation their city has as a health resort. Stories are told, and in many instances by interested persons themselves, of almost miraculous recoveries from sickness.

But about the best argument of all is the statement of Dr. Van Zant, the mayor: "Mandeville is too doggone healthy for a doctor."

Great forests of pine stretch for miles back of the city. The visitors who flock there during both the summer and winter seasons are the ones who "hike" up through the trees.

The cooling breezes from the lake keep them comfortable through the hot summer days. Then there is the fishing. Red snappers, red fish, trout, croakers, shrimp and soft shell crab abound in the waters of the lake. In the winter there is hunting, principally for wild ducks and geese, quail and partridge.

Attacts Weekenders

Every weekend hundreds of New Orleanians visit Mandeville. The Pleasure Bay, one of the largest passenger boats on Lake Pontchartrain, will shortly begin to make the trips from West End to Mandeville. Railroads run excursion trains every Sunday. The coaches that left New Orleans last Sunday were filled with typical picnic throngs - there were old folks and the young couples, and the swimming set and lunch baskets and all of the other things considered necessary.

It's really a mystery where all of the people go when they leave the train in Mandeville. They just seems to disappear. Some go right down to the lake and follow its winding shoreline out for a mile or so, probably to their own favorite fishing ground. Others head into the forests to spend the day beneath the great sheltering trees. Many have their own picnic grounds, hidden away in the trees.

And then "Lover's Lane." It's a long, long trail through the woods winding along over the little creeks and diminutive ravines, past the immense trees and back from the lake into the very heart of the forest. It's popular... but not too popular, Y'understand?

Mandeville heartily welcomes the visitors. Right now plans are being made to offer the excursionists better accommodations. There is talk of clearing out more spaces beneath the trees and building little benches and tables; of improving the beach for swimming and erecting more bath houses and probably opening a large dancing pavilion.

Population Swells In Summer

In the summer the population of Mandeville is some 600 to 800 greater. There are scores of houses for rent every year and visitors from all over the country go there to spend the season.

The main industry of the little city is the Poitevent and Favre sawmill where over 250 men are employed. There the yellow pine, brought down from the forests about 9 to 10 miles back of the city, is cut into timber.

The Chinchuba Deaf Mute Institute, operated by the Sisters of Notre Dame, is on the outskirts of the town.

On the lake shore is the great house called "Rest-A-While," a summer home for Orleans people operated by the King's Daughters. All during the summer months different groups come there to stay for the two-week vacation.

This year the high school will be opened in the new school building. This building, recently inspected by state officials, was declared to be one of the best in the state, especially as regards athletic equipment. H. H. Levy, of the parish school board, was one of the strongest workers for the erection of the new building.

New Depot Erected

The New Orleans and Great Northern Railroad recently built a new depot in Mandeville, costing $10,000.

The Public School League, an organization of mothers, is the leading club of Mandeville and is active in all school matters.

Then there is also the Mandeville Progressive Association, the chief civic organization. Dr. Van Zant is president.

Two of the strongest workers for the street improvements are Jules Bagur, retired, former proprietor of a New Orleans store, and Paul Esquinance.

Many of the more important plans for the dredging of the bayou were made by George E. Reine, the owner of much of the land on the west side of the bayou. Some time ago, Mr. Reine succeeded in having sent to Mandeville government engineers, who were to report on the government opening the mouth of the bayou.

This work was not done, it is said, because the government officials refused to O.K. the expenditure unless factories were built before the bayou was opened. This could not be accomplished, so the work was stopped.

Sites Donated Facilities

Mr. Reine declared he has already entered into negotiations with the men who will erect the woodle handle and the canning factory and the saw mill. He has promised to donate sites for these factories and also to give to the city the property for a new street to border the bayou.

Reports have been current that the Southern Yacht Club will build a "stop station" at Mandeville after the bayou is opened. The ground for this house will also be donated, it is reported.

Some distance up the Bayou there is a natural basin, where the yachts could easily turn around. It is reported to have the "stop station" there.

Mandeville Yacht Club

The Mandeville Yacht Club, which has disbanded some years ago, will be re-organized, said Mr. Reine, when the bayou is re-opened. In years gone by there were great yacht races there and the people of the city are anxious to have them again.

New City Officials

Here are the names of the new city officials:

Dr. W. E. Van Zant, mayor; Councilman W. A. Griffin, Stephen Jozsn, W. R. Smith, E. H. Baudot, and James Band.

The committee named by the city to have charge of the work of arranging for the $32,000 bond issue includes the following: H. H. Levy, A. Dupre, Charles A. David, D. J. Mulligan and George Glockner.

There's but one conclusion to be drawn after a trip to Mandeville and a visit with the "live" citizens of that city and that is --

The city is progressing. There is a forward spirit, there is cooperation between all classes, with a noticeable lack of "bickering" between the various elements. That the city is bound to grow and that the "neighbors" across the lake - the Orleanians - are going to be mighty proud of Mandeville in time to come. 

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Early History of Lewisburg

After extensive research in the history of the Lewisburg area, combining genealogy records with historical accounts of who did what where and who owned what when, the following information has been compiled by Don Sharp.

In 1777, Paul Labyteaux and Samuel Ferguson first settled in the Lewisburg area. The two men were living in New York in 1776 when job opportunities opened up for skilled workers needed to work on military fortifications in Pensacola, FL. They went there under contract, and by the time the work was finished, the American Revolution had started, and they were unable to return to New York.

They and about two dozen other workers were told that if they decided to stay they would be given land grants along the Gulf Coast, until conditions were less dangerous to return to the Eastern seaboard.

"Grants were rapidly filling in the area with fleeing Loyalists," according to Donald Sharp, historian, "and Labyteaux and Ferguson decided to take their land grants on the Pontchartrain lakefront near Bayou Chinchuba." The land grant Paul Labyteaux acquired was the Ferris property (a British Land Grant) .

Over 40 grants were given from the Tchefuncte River over to Bayou Castin by 1777, with an estimated population of about 350 people in the area at the time.

The settlers thought they were far enough from the war and would be safe. This proved to be wrong, as British and American forces soon fought on Lake Pontchartrain, and in October of 1779 British colonists at Mandeville were forced to sign an oath of allegiance to the United States.

Paul Labyteaux, Samuel Ferguson and  Rebecca Ambrose were at Bayou Chinchuba when the Peace Treaty of Paris was signed in September of 1783. They were among the half dozen or so other residents who chose to stay on the lakefront in the area of Bayou Castin.

In 1798, Peter Labyteaux, the son of Paul, petitioned for a Spanish land grant next to that belonging to his father. A grant of 114 arpents was given him by Spanish Governor Baron Carondelet.

Paul Labyteaux died before 1819 and his four surviving children (Peter, Elizabeth, Jemmia and Mary) sold his approximately 254 acres to Jacob R. Hardenberg and Joseph W. Scott (Esquires) from New Bruswick, New Jersey.

Samuel Ferguson died about the same time as Labyteaux, and his land passed into the possession of his son Thomas Ferguson. He sold his father's property to William Dewees, a Justice of the Peace for the City of New Orleans.

Painting of Lewisburg lakefront, 1899
Dewees received 428 acres in that transaction, and since he was not planning to live across the lake, he hired William McDermott, an American settler living in the area for some years, to be the "caretaker" for the newly-acquired property.

In 1813, shortly after joining the United States, Louisiana residents were told they had to petition Congress-appointed Land Commissioners if they had any "land claims" left over from the British or Spanish eras.

McDermott, although he had never filed for a land grant himself for some reason, did claim the land belonging to Deweesas as his own. Dewees, as Justice of the Peace, had seen this sort of thing before, so he filed a law suit and won, having McDermott removed from his land.

In 1815, Dewees moved to Washington, D.C.

McDermott was not deterred, so he moved eastward and tried to claim the land on the adjacent Labyteaux/Ferguson tract as well as the Ambrose tract which had been abandoned.

In 1814 McDermott made a will before Judge James Tate, the St. Tammany parish judge, saying he wanted to leave his 400 acre plantation to his wife Mary and his children Wiliam Jr. and Clara Eliza. "His land, which he claimed, was bordered on the east by Jacob Bartle and on the west by land of William Dewees, known as the land of Paul Labyteaux and on the north by Samuel Loyd and Thomas Spell," Donald Sharp wrote in his research notes.

After the legal issues were resolved, in 1818 William Dewees sold to Sailing Master Jonathan Harris the Labyteaux/Ferguson tract for $3000.

A year later, in 1819, Haden Edwards bought the old Paul Labyteaux land grant at Bayou Chinchuba for $9,000 from Ferris, the price of which was "highly overinflated" but Haden was anxious to get his family of of disease-ridden New Orleans.

Unfortunately, Haden stopped making payments on the property a few years later after he left for Mexico City. His family had to move to Madisonville as a result. 

The Bayou Chinchuba property was returned to Jonathan Ferris. It was then acquired by William Weeks, and after changing hands a few more times, it wound up owned by James Amour and Christian A. Dorbett, who sold it to Hugh Gordon on February 20, 1827. At that time the 980 acre tract was known as "Paradise," according to documents found by Don Sharp. 

It was sold in 1829 by Hugh Gordon to Judge Joshua Lewis. Gordon was a notary in New Orleans and may have been a clerk in the Superior Court system who may have known Judge Lewis through that connection.

Judge Lewis Came From Kentucky

Judge Joshua Lewis (1772 - 1833) was a descendant of John Lewis who came from Ireland to America in 1720. Judge Lewis was the nephew of Meriwether Lewis, the famous American explorer who led the Lewis and Clark expedition across the continent between 1804 and 1805. 

Judge Joshua Lewis

Judge Lewis served under Andrew Jackson in the War 1812, as did several others in the area.

Judge Lewis married America Lawson, who was the daughter of General Robert and Sarah Merriwether Lewis.  They first settled with their children near Lexington, KY, in 1798.

Joshua Lewis was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1799, 1803, and 1804.  A year later, in 1805, Lewis was sent to New Orleans by President Thomas Jefferson to help clear land title issues following the Louisiana purchase, according to Wikipedia.

He and his family traveled from Kentucky to New Orleans via a keelboat on the Mississippi River.

After his first year in New Orleans, in 1806,  he was appointed a judge of the Superior Court of the Territory of Orleans and, following Louisiana's becoming a state in 1812, he served with the 1st Judicial District Court. 

In 1815 he ran for Governor, but lost the election to Jacques Villere.

What first attracted Judge Joshua Lewis to buy land on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain for his retirement home in 1829? Sharp feels the main reason was to get away from the pestilence and disease of New Orleans. When he retired around 1829, he sought out the healthier conditions on the north shore for he and his wife.

He had first made his home in New Orleans in 1806, but over the years other acquaintances of his from Kentucky also came to the Crescent City for opportunities for financial gain. Among them were Haden Edwards who came in 1815 and who was the first to make the move to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain in 1818.

Among the ways in which Judge Joshua Lewis may have gained knowledge of the desireability of living on the north shore was the fact that he had tried several cases in his court that involved land on the north shore.

 "Also, there were several lawyers who either lived there or who had connections to the Tchefuncte River or Bayou Castine," said Donald Sharp.

One of those lawyers, a gentleman who had also come from Kentucky, was Joseph H. Hawkins. A resident of Madisonville, Hawkins would enter into a business partnership in 1821 with Stephen F. Austin, who would later become known as "the father of Texas."

Hawkins and Austin worked together to drum up interest, and actually make arrangements for the first colony of American settlers to set up homes in Texas. Hawkins died in 1823 from contracting yellow fever.

Judge Joshua Lewis' wife, America Lewis, died on October 1, 1830, and is probably buried in the Madisonville cemetery, Don Sharp believes. was buried in the Madisonville cemetery.

Lewisburg Named

 Three years later, Judge Joshua Lewis died on June 20, 1833. Following his death, the tract that he owned was named "Lewisburg" by his heirs in his honor. They then had the land surveyed, divided into lots, and sold. (See map.) 

One of Judge Lewis' daughters married celebrated journalist Peter Knight Wagner, and one of his sons was a New Orleans sheriff, State Senator, and Mayor of the Crescent City.

The sons of Judge Lewis also invested in St. Tammany real estate.

Dr. John Hapden Lewis and his brother John Lawson Lewis purchased 350 acres making up a two part rice plantation in St. Tammany Parish in 1841. Hampden had completed medical school in France in 1839.

Born in Lexington, KY, on March 26, 1800, John Lawson Lewis, a son of Judge Joshua Lewis, was elected sheriff of the Parish of Orleans in 1845 and later served as a member of the State Senate before he won election as mayor of the City of New Orleans April 10, 1854. 

John Lawson Lewis

He married Henriette Baham, daughter of Melanie Foucheer and Renez Baham on March 22, 1842, in New Orleans. Henriette was the first cousin of Henriette DeLillie, foundress of the Sisters of the Holy Family.

John was instrumental in having the statue of Andrew Jackson placed in the Place d'Armes (Jackson Square), and he also figured prominently in the placement of the statue of Henry Clay on Canal Street in April of 1856. John died on May 15, 1886.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

London Research

In July of 1979, Don Sharp traveled to London, England, to spend two weeks doing research on St. Tammany's English settlers. Most of the land records were housed at "Kew Gardens."

Here is a newspaper article about the trip as published in the St. Tammany Farmer newspaper on Thursday, August 2, 1979.

From the forty plus British land grants he found in London that were located in the area from the Tchefuncte River to Bayou Castin, he drew the following "crude" land map.

Early Lewisburgh Map

From the files of Donald J. Sharp, an 1834 map of Lewisburg, an early settlement between Mandeville and Madisonville on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. To see an enlarged version, CLICK HERE.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Fort Oak 1813-1822

St. Tammany Parish had a fort of its own, located just northeast of Madisonville. It was built in the fall of 1813 by order of Governor W.C. Claiborne and Navy Capt. John Shaw.

After hearing about the Native American uprising leading to the massacre of Fort Mims in Alabama, the residents of Madisonville convinced the Governor and local Navy officials that a fort was needed. The local inhabitants and the workmen on the "blockship" at the nearby Naval yard would build the structure. We do not know its size or configuration, but there were 150 workers and at least 50 area inhabitants. 

It was a "stockade" fort, meaning it was built with posts in the ground, with parapets on each corner to fire the cannons. Lt. Michael Carroll was in charge of the construction. It was under the command of Captain John Shaw, who placed a Marine guard with heavy cannon in the fort. It was located near where the Otis House in Fairview Riverside State Park is today, and stood from 1813 to about 1822 when the Marine guard was taken out.

Click on the images to make them larger. 

How It Came To Be

The residents of Madisonville petitioned Governor Claiborne for protection from the Indians, and he and Captain John Shaw of the U.S. Navy made a special trip to Madisonville to meet with the community leader David Bannister Morgan and Rene Baham, who was part of the meeting.

Gov. Claiborne's plan for protection was to build a fort on the east side of the Tchefuncte River opposite the village and have a supply of rifles and gunpowder on hand in the fort for the inhabitants.

In addition, Capt. Shaw would place several cannons with a detachment of Marines. Shaw stated he had no doubts that he could defeat any band of Indians that would attack the area.

Where to place the fort? This is where David Morgan came in. With his knowledge of the area by his surveying in 1804 and 1812, he drew a map as to the selection of what he thought would be the best location. (See map).

A representative sample of what Fort Oak might have looked like.

Where was "Fort Oak" located? It had to be in a clearing due to the cannons placed by Capt. John Shaw. The clearing would give the cannons a clear field of fire. The only clearing between the Naval facility and Madisonville was near Jacques Lorreins house, (near where today's Otis House is) on the east bank of the river, opposite Madisonville.

Christopher McKee wrote the book "A Gentlemanly and Honorable Profession: The Creation of the U.S. Naval Officer Corps., 1794-1815." The 600 page book was published by the US Naval Institute Press in 1991. He joined Don Sharp and his son on their visit to Fairview State Park to get a better idea of the location of Fort Oak. 

Don Sharp at Fairview State Park, searching for the site of Fort Oak

Admiral Farragut Helps The Choctaws

Admiral David Glascow Farragut of the United States Navy aided the Choctaws of St.   Tammany Parish during the period of military occupation of New Orleans. Adrien Rouquette had met Farragut on a trip up north years before* the War.   His nephew, James Rouquette (Dominique's eldest son)  had sailed with Farragut on a mission which took him around the world by sea.   

Pere Rouquette,  after the burning of Buchuwa Village,  sent an urgent appeal to Admiral Farragut for permission to cross Lake Pontchartrain to bring much needed medicine, food and clothing to The Nook for his  suffering Indians. Farragut responded by sending a Federal gunboat up Bayou Lacombe to escort the Choctaw mis­sionary to New Orleans and back to Lacombe.

(Photo courtesy National Archives)

According to Wikipedia, Farragut was the first rear admiral, vice admiral, and admiral in the United States Navy. "He is remembered for his order at the Battle of Mobile Bay usually paraphrased as "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" in U.S. Navy tradition."

"Born near Knoxville, Tennessee, Farragut was fostered by naval officer David Porter after the death of his mother. Despite his young age, Farragut served in the War of 1812 under the command of his adoptive father. He received his first command in 1824 and participated in anti-piracy operations in the Caribbean Sea. He served in the Mexican–American War under the command of Matthew C. Perry, participating in the blockade of Tuxpan. After the war, he oversaw the construction of the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, the first U.S. Navy base established on the Pacific Ocean."