History of Assumption Parish

By July 8, 2014History

History of Assumption Parish

Click for a larger view Note 12

 

This material was taken from the Inventory of the Parish Archives of Louisiana, No. 4 Assumption Parish (Napoleonville), prepared by the Louisiana Historical Records Survey, Service Division, Works Projects Administration, sponsored by The Department of Archives, L.S.U., Dr. Edwin A. Davis, Archivist, and co-sponsored by the Assumption Parish Police Jury. It was published in March 1942, and has been condensed from the original and annotated by Audrey B. Westerman. (Taken from Terrebonne Life Lines, Volume 18, No. 2, Summer 1999. Published on the Internet in September 1999 with the permission of Audrey B. Westerman and the Terrebonne Genealogical Society.)

First Residents, the Indians.

When French explorers, about the beginning of the eighteenth century ventured into the Bayou Lafourche region they are believed to have found there, Washa, Chawasha, and Chitimacha Indians, the latter composed of four powerful bands which roved from the bayou west. The Chitimacha groups made up one of the six leading tribes in Louisiana in 1700. The tribe during the first decade of white exploration gained considerable notoriety and punishment for the murder of a Catholic priest, Father Jean ST. COSME, and three Canadian companions. In reprisal Governor BIENVILLE induced other Indians to attack the Chitimacha and they were driven westward from Bayou Lafourche. Attempts were made later by rival tribes to enslave the Chitimacha and warfare continued intermittently until 1718 when BIENVILLE demanded peace to which the Indians agreed.

Before its present name was applied, Bayou Lafourche was called by the French “the river of the Chitimacha.” “The people altogether red” was a description given by members to themselves. They possessed a culture apparently somewhat higher than neighboring aborigines. The women were expert basket makers and weavers of cane mats. Rigid caste lines were maintained. Chiefs and leaders were nobles, forbidden, on pain of losing station, to marry commoners. Mounds on Lake Verret are believed to have been Chitimacha burial places. In these have been found a bust of a man sculptured in stone, human bones, burnt clay, and white stones shaped as lance or arrow heads. By 1850, although there were some wandering Indians in Assumption Parish, the Chitimacha had all departed. Note 1 At an even earlier date ranks of the tribe were becoming thinned; there were only about one hundred in the entire territory at the time of the Louisiana Purchase. Little of the history of the Washa and Chawasha Indians has been preserved. The former had villages all along Bayou Lafourche. Their principal settlement is believed to have been located near Labadieville, where in 1721 there were some fifty warriors. The Chawasha unit was even smaller. In 1870 three red men were reported as Assumption residents. Note 2 Ten years later there was only one, and Federal enumerations since 1880 fail to disclose any representatives of the race in the parish.

Arrival of the Europeans.

Prior to 1750, the French, proceeding south along Bayou Lafourche from where that stream forks with the Mississippi, settled on both sides of “the river of the Chitimacha.” They were followed by the Spanish who penetrated as far as Napoleonville which, by the time the exiled Acadians arrived in the 1760’s, had become a prosperous little colony. Note 3 Upon acquisition of the territory by the United States in 1803, English speaking landseekers came and at Napoleonville, named by a soldier who had served under the Little Colonel, they found a thriving market place. Note 4 Yet another group, the Canary Islanders or Islenos, added to the nationalities entering the area. The Islenos were sent in 1779 and 1780 by Governor Bernardo de GALVEZ to the locality near Plattenville called Valenzuela Post. The post was about at the site of Belle Alliance, where today stands a plantation home bearing the latter name and built in 1846 by Charles KOCK. Nearby are ruins of Belle Alliance Sugarhouse, once one of the most important west of the Mississippi River, and around which a Negro community has grown. South of the parish seat, the area around Labadieville was taken up by French and Spanish, joined by Acadians and a sprinkling of Germans from the Cote des Allemands or German Coast to the east on the Mississippi River. This was during the two decades after 1750. Labadieville takes its name from a pioneer resident, Jean Louis LABADIE.

Descendants of these settlers comprise a very considerable part of Assumption’s present population. Upon the cession to Spain in the 1760’s the first commandant was Nicolas VERRET. Note 5 He was succeeded by VILLANEUVA. The story is told that the transfer to the Spanish did not meet the approval of all Assumption men. One, DASPIT ST. AMANT, loudly opposed the new government and his arrest was ordered. ST. AMANT placed a keg of gunpowder in the door of his home and defied officers; the latter retreated on his threat to explode the powder. Friends of ST. AMANT met them during the withdrawal and persuaded the officers that the belligerent citizen should be left strictly alone, which was apparently done.

Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the first Lafourche County Judge appointed by Governor W. C. C. CLAIBORNE was James MATHER. He ws succeeded by Bela HUBBARD who in turn ws made Parish Judge, and followed by COURVOISIER, Wincelas PICHOT (who was killed in a duel), and lastly Alexander COVILLIER.

Other early residents included Isaac HEBERT, Nicolas HEBERT, L’Abbe BOURG LATINISTE, Auguste VERRET, and a man of mystery named MOREAU. The latter for some thirty years lived alone on Lake Verret at a time when that body of water was known only to a few white hunters. Note 6 By 1823 John FOLEY, D. M. WILLIAMSON, and Thomas and Augustin PUGH had moved in from English speaking states. Dr. Joseph MARTIN, Joseph LA LANDE, GUILLOT, and TOURNILLION were prominent French residents of the time. One hundred years ago plantations owned by members of the PUGH family dotted both sides of Bayou Lafourche. Still standing on the stream’s left (descending) bank across from Napoleonville is Madewood, plantation home of Colonel Thomas PUGH, completed in 1848. It was 8 years in the building. Timber was cut on the site, and bricks were made by slave labor. Decorative woodwork, exterior and interior, was turned on the plantation, hence the name. It is thought that Assumption Parish’s first courthouse stood on Madewood Plantation site. Note 7 Nearby is Woodlawn, now in disrepair. Note 8 Here in the family cemetery is a stone inscribed, “Our little Louis perished during the storm at Last Island August 10,1856.” W. W. PUGH served a number of terms as police juror and was president of that body during the trying Reconstruction days. Residing today in Napoleonville is Dr. Thomas B. PUGH, son of W. W. PUGH. Note 9 He is reputedly the oldest practicing physician in the state. Dr. PUGH is said to be the only survivor of the Last Island disaster. As a child he accompanied members of his family to the Gulf resort, and was one of the few who escaped. He has served as mayor of Napoleonville, and during his administration, the town’s first paved sidewalks were laid.

Assumption Post Office was the name given to the Napoleonville community in the 1850’s by the postal authorities, and all mail was so addressed. Mail was carried down Bayou Lafourche (by boat). That for the west went by pirogue or skiff through the Attakapas Canal to Lake Verret. In 1857 Charles A. BESSE was postmaster. After incorporation (in 1878) the Federal designation was changed to Napoleonville, and Mrs. J. W. R. PINTADO was first postmaster. Fires in 1884 and 1894 destroyed practically all of the existing town. The fire consumed even the fire hall, located on the courthouse yard. Fire fighters in the second conflagration were handicapped because a drought had left wells dry, and it was necessary to form bucket brigades from Bayou Lafourche. The fire of 1884 took one life, that of Judge WHITTINGDON who was burned to death in a hotel.

Among the older communities of the parish is Paincourtville. It was founded by the Spanish. Legend says an early traveler, unable to buy a single loaf of bread there, facetiously called the place “short of bread town,” which is just what the translation is.

Plattenville apparently was a center prior to 1793, for residents there had unsuccessfully petitioned for the erection of a church several times before one was built in that year. Note 10

At Labadieville in October 1864, Federal and Confederate forces fought a pitched battle.

Other communities, all small, reflect the cultural heritage of the French-Acadians.

Transportation and Communication.

Lafourche is the French word for “the fork,” applied by early comers to the bayou that bears that name, because of the forklike shape of this outlet from the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. These pioneers, confronted by the coastal marshes and thick undergrowth covering Assumption lands, had no transportation avenues other that the lakes and waterways, Bayou Lafourche being chief of these. Plying their courses successively were pirogues of the explorers, larger craft bearing Spanish garrisons, keel boats taking out produce of the first plantations to Lafourche Settlement (now Donaldsonville) and returning with supplies, and finally steamboats and mail packets. Bayou Lafourche because of its thickly populated banks has been called “the longest street in the world.” It still has a share of commerce (in 1942), but the progress of other transportation means has reduced its importance.

Leading to the west a number of smaller bayous provided the trappers and landseekers with ingress to areas around Lake Verret, Lake Palourde, and along Grand River. Canals augmented this waterway system. As early as 1807 the community that later became Napoleonville was known as “Canal.” This would indicate the likelihood of the existence at that time of a water route known in the 1850’s as the Attakapas Canal, through which keel boats traveled to the Teche Country. It was closed by 1890. This canal extended west from Napoleonville to Lake Verret. The legislature in 1904 conveyed title of its site within Napoleonville to the municipality, and it has been partially filled in. (Note: today is has been totally filled in.) Another canal is the Cancienne, leading east from Lake Verret to Bayou Lafourche near Labadieville. It was constructed in 1905.

In all of the southern parishes of Louisiana tow-paths developed along the bayous leading gradually to route called “cordelle roads.” After the Louisiana purchase county officials first had charge of roads. The police juries were given this duty in 1813. Assumption Parish was included in the general road law of 1818 which made mandatory the construction of roads along waterways and of bridges and their maintenance under supervision of the police jury.

The first telephone reached Napoleonville in 1884. Service was to Donaldsonville and was perhaps unique in that the caller wrote out his message which was transmitted by the operator. The operator was Louis CORDE. CORDE was long in public service, as a postal employee, alderman, and mayor. Under his administration as municipal chief a water works and the bridge at the parish seat were built. He was also one of the organizers of Napoleonville’s first bank.

Population and Growth

Year Total Whites Slaves Indians Negroes or
Free Persons of Color
Chinese
1810 2,482 1,915 547 10
1820 3,576 2,409 1,149 16
1830 5,669
1840 7,141
1850 10,538 5,341
1860 15,379 8,096 1
1870 13,324 3 6,984
1880 17,010 8,938 1 8,067 4
1890 19,629
1900 21,620
1910 24,128
1920 17,912
1930 15,890
1940 18,541

 

Descendants of these settlers comprise a very considerable part of Assumption’s present population. Upon the cession to Spain in the 1760’s the first commandant was Nicolas VERRET. Note 5 He was succeeded by VILLANEUVA. The story is told that the transfer to the Spanish did not meet the approval of all Assumption men. One, DASPIT ST. AMANT, loudly opposed the new government and his arrest was ordered. ST. AMANT placed a keg of gunpowder in the door of his home and defied officers; the latter retreated on his threat to explode the powder. Friends of ST. AMANT met them during the withdrawal and persuaded the officers that the belligerent citizen should be left strictly alone, which was apparently done.

Following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the first Lafourche County Judge appointed by Governor W. C. C. CLAIBORNE was James MATHER. He ws succeeded by Bela HUBBARD who in turn ws made Parish Judge, and followed by COURVOISIER, Wincelas PICHOT (who was killed in a duel), and lastly Alexander COVILLIER.

Products and Resources.

Diversified agriculture has assumed an important part in the economic picture of the parish. In addition to sugar and rice, the crops include corn, hay, oats, and vegetables. There were 21 manufacturing plants located in the parish in 1940, and lumber production totaled 2,571,000 board feet. A unique industry is the picking, baling and shipping of Spanish moss. The moss forms the basis of a hundred-thousand-dollar year industry for the Assumption gatherers. About 100 cars (railroad), approximately 2 million pounds, are sent north chiefly to furniture factories. Picking of this air plant, which hangs in abundant festoons from trees, especially in the heavily watered areas, begins in November and continues through April. Moss prices range from slightly better than 1¢ per pound for the low, green grade, to 3¢ for the top variety. A good picker can average, it is claimed, about 500 pounds a day. The price of the ginned product averages about $9 per 100 pounds. Three gins operate in the parish.

In the lake and bayou sections to the west, centering around Pierre Part community, fishing and trapping in season add to the means of livelihood followed in Assumption. Shipments of crawfish run through May, June, and July. Also, turtle meat and turtle egg shipments are made from this area, as are other consignments of fish.

Schools

Little is known of the early schools in Assumption Parish. By an act of 1819 the legislature required police juries to organize and administer a school system. In 1821 administration passed to a board of five trustees, appointed annually by the police jury. What action, if any, jurors took under these laws have not been established. However, some sort of organization seems to have been effected by 1825, for in that year the legislature empowered the Assumption trustees to dispose of a school house on the plantation of L. FROMENTAL. At the same time permission was given the board to donate funds “to an institution that will undertake the education of young ladies in the parish.” It was also about this period that Bishop William DUBOURG suggested a boys’ boarding school and seminary adjoining the Church of the Assumption at Plattenville. These plans do not seem to have materialized, however. The Sisters of Loretto nearby were instructing “a few schoolgirls” in 1826. A Catholic diocesan seminary was established in 1838 near the Plattenville Church, on ground donated by Father DEVA. It operated until 1855, when it was destroyed by fire. One of the seminary students was Adrien ROUQUETTE, poet-priest and Indian missionary.

By 1868 there were 10 public schools in the parish. The teachers were paid $1 a month per pupil. In 1889 there were 19 white and 18 colored free schools. An Assumption planter, Col. W. W. PUGH, served as the state’s first superintendent of schools after reorganization of the educational system in 1847.

Churches

Like most other parishes of south Louisiana, especially those where the population is largely of French extraction, Assumption Parish is predominantly Roman Catholic. Early colonials were ministered by a priest from Donaldsonville. After settlers near Valenzuela Post had petitioned Commandant VERRET and Governor MIRO for permission to erect a church, a small wooden structure was completed in 1793. Father Bernardo DE DEVA was assigned there and opened the registers April 20 of that year. The church was not incorporated until 17 April 1811, when it legally took the name of the Church of the Assumption. Father DEVA retired in 1817, but on 20 December 1819, he blessed a new church which replaced the first shack-like house of worship. It was he who performed the first baptism in Assumption Church, that of Ambrosio DUGAS, son of Ambrosio and Magdalena DUGAS, on 24 April 1793.

On a plot donated by Miss Elizabeth DUGAS, St. Elizabeth’s Church at Paincourtville was built in 1840. The congregation was chartered March 27 of that year. Parishioners promptly rebuilt their church after a fire in 1854. In 1903 a third structure, the present one, was completed. Nearby of a special steel scaffolding is the church bell, too large for either of the church’s two towers. It was brought from France and was a gift of the Xavier DUGAS family.

St. Philomena’s at Labadieville dates from 1848 as an organized parish. It was in 1843 that a mission was established at what was then Brulee Labadie, and the first Mass was said in the home of Widow Zacharie BOUDREAUX. The first building was occupied in 1847.

A chapel was built in 1858 at Pierre Part. This was the beginning of St. Joseph’s Parish. The first church burned, and subsequent buildings were destroyed by storms in 1909 and 1915.Attached to this parish at present is a floating chapel, Our Lady Star of the Sea, dedicated in 1936. Note 11 This craft, powered by a launch, and its appurtenances including sleeping quarters for the priest, plies all of the Bayou country to the west as far as Lake Verret. Records of Our Lady Star of the Sea show for its first year of operation 6,531 attendances at Mass, 2,151 communions, 25 baptisms, and 7 marriages.

Another of the older groups is St. Anne’s at Napoleonville. By 1850, residents had asked the diocese heads to establish a church. Lazarists Fathers at Plattenville who were serving Lafourche missions at the time opposed it, and it was not until 1874 that a church, built on land given by the FOLEY family, was placed under the invocation of St. Napoleon. When a new building was begun in 1907 the parish name was changed to St. Anne. St. Anne’s Church was completed in 1909.

Other Catholic centers included Immaculate Conception Church, near Napoleonville; St. Jules, at Belle Alliance; St. Martin’s, near Belle Rose; St. Augustin’s, at Klotzville; and St. Benedict the Moor Church, at Bertrandville. The last two are for colored communicants.

Much of the Protestant history of early Assumption Parish days is vague. Lorenzo DOW, a somewhat eccentric Methodist preacher who also sold “Dow’s Family Medicine,” possibly touched Assumption, for his journal relates that on November 4, 1804, he “crossed into Louisiana” from Natchez, is known to have penetrated the southern parishes area as far as the Attakapas Country, and has been placed by one authority at points along Bayou Lafourche. He was followed there by early circuit riders, for September 1850 places at Napoleonville, “a Protestant Church, built in 1837.” Another source describes Christ Episcopal Church as “the first in the town.”

On the outskirts of Napoleonville is Christ Episcopal Church, picturesque edifice in the Gothic Style; around its ivy-covered walls cling many historic facts. The congregation was established in 1852 and for a time worshipped in the courthouse and in the library of Dr. E. E. KITTREDGE at Elm Hall Plantation. During the ministry of the Rev. J. F. YOUNG, Dr. KITTREDGE donated a site on Elm Hall for a church. The red brick structure with a steeply pointed roof was built by Frank WILLS of New York and was consecrated by Bishop Leonidas POLK in 1853. During the War between the States, Federal troops stabled their horses in the church. Also it was claimed that the invaders used the stained glass windows above the altar as a target during pistol practice. Years afterward the glass was sent to New York and repaired so expertly that the damage could not be detected. During the 1909 storm it was again shattered and once more repaired and reinstalled.

Notes

Note 1 – The 1860 census of Assumption Parish listed one Indian named Josephine age 15, living between the Solar and Pererra families, in the area of Brule St. Vincent, Ward 9, p. 87.

Note 2 – This was actually one family living in Ward 10 of Assumption Parish: House 112 Family 130 – John Combella age 30, Indian born LA; Marie Combella age 20 Indian born LA, and Mariel Combella age 3, Indian born LA. Also in their house was Marceline Sulia age 15, given as white, born LA. A Solar family lived nearby. There is a record of baptism of a John William Campela (son of John Campela and Celestine Derydar) born 10 Sept. 1871, bt. 23 Dec. 1871 at St. Elizabeth Church. Sponsors were Perique Sanchez and Marie Alleman (BRDA 12-119) A John Compellon, age ca. 25, was buried 10 Mar. 1872 from St. Elizabeth Church Records (BRDA 12-148).

Note 3 – The Acadians who settled in the area of Bayou Lafourche below the church at Plattenville actually were those who came to LA in 1785 on the ships from France. The settlement of the 1760’s is a misstatement copied by many historians and is incorrect.

Note 4 – Louis Monginot in 1832 purchased the tract where Napoleonville now stands and had it platted in lots.

Note 5 – The first Nicolas Verret served as Lt. Governor, then as Commandant and Judge of the First Acadian Coast from 1770 until his death. He took over the office after his brother-in-law Louis Judice became Commandant and Judge at Lafourche des Chetimachas (now the area of Donaldsonville) on the Second Acadian Coast. The first Nicolas was living in St. James Parish, the original Cabahanoce Post until his death. It was his son, Nicolas Verret (II) who was Commandant at Valenzuela from 30 Sept. 1786 until 15 Feb. 1798. Auguste Verret (son of Nicolas I, and brother of Nicolas II) served as Commandant at Valenzuela from 16 Feb. 1798 to 27 Nov. 1799.

Note 6 – This information was taken from De Bow’s Review, Sept. 1850, p. 288. In 1810 Maxile BOURG lived on the Attakapas Canal near Lake Verret and on 10 April 1811 he sold his right to operate the ferry from the Lafourche Canal to the Attakapas which had been granted by the State Legislature. If MOREAU lived there for 30 years, it must have been before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Note 7 – At the time when the site was owned by George MATHER. See also Madewood Plantation: http://www.assumption.k12.la.us/madewood/pointsof.htm

Note 8 – Woodlawn was torn down years ago. Only a couple of markers still survive in the little family graveyard, which is on the side of Hwy. 308.

Note 9 – He is buried in Christ Episcopal Church Cemetery, Napoleonville LA, with dates born 8 May 1853, died 4 May 1952. His wife was Nannie Mosely Jones, also buried there.

Note 10 – See The Church of the Assumption Through the Years by Mrs. Celine B. Verret (published 1995) for a complete history.

Note 11 – Harnett T. Kane, “Floating Chapel Celebrates Its Second Anniversary in the Bayous,” New Orleans Item-Tribune, 17 April 1938.

Note 12 – The research for this map was done by Kenneth Toups and was published in Audrey B. Westerman’s “1860 Census Assumption Parish, Louisiana”, Second Printing 1987. A scanned image from that document was obtained by permission of Audrey B. Westerman. The above map, based on Kenneth Toups map, was recreated by Joel Ohmer in 1999.

 

©1999 Joel A. Ohmer
All Rights Reserved
 

 

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