St. Francisville, Louisiana
October 31, 2019
Dear Family & Friends:
October 30 started with a trip to a medical clinic in St. Francisville to have a tick removed from my chest and a nasty rash on my body treated. I tried to remove the tick myself with a pocket knife, but to no avail. Dr. Brad removed an object from my chest but he did not think it was a tick. As a precaution, he prescribed some medicine to treat the rash and counter any possible Lyme disease, which can be caused by ticks.
Where do I begin, and where do I end in describing St. Francisville? The city is everything I expected, and way more. It is a small, charming little city in West Feliciana Parish. In Louisiana, what we call “counties” in California are called “Parishes.” The city has a population of about 1,500.
St. Francisville is the second oldest incorporated city in Louisiana. It began in the 1730’s as a burial ground for Spanish Capuchin Monks who took advantage of the dry high bluffs to bury their dead. The city was named after the Order’s Patron Saint Francis. St. Francisville was formally developed by charter and plot plan by John Johnson in 1807.
In the late 1790’s, Bayou Sarah was developed as a trading post and river port on the banks of the River below St. Francisville. It became the center of commerce on the River. It had a wild and bawdy reputation that rivaled “Natchez Under the Hill,” which I previously described. Sadly, it was destroyed by the Great Deluge of 1927.
Here’s a little known fact(at least to westerners). The Florida Parishes of Louisiana, extending east from the Mississippi River to Florida, were originally British and later Spanish West Florida. This large swath of land was not included in the Louisiana Purchase. In September of 1810, armed rebels stormed the Spanish Fort at Baton Rouge initiating the West Florida Revolt. They succeeded and proclaimed Saint Francisville as their capital. They established a bicameral legislature, elected a governor, and dispatched an army to control this territory. The Lone Star Flag served as the flag of this Republic. The Republic of West Florida existed as an independent nation for 74 days before the territory was forcibly annexed by the American forces during the Administration of President James Madison. In 1812, Louisiana was admitted to the Union as a state.
Here’s another interesting fact: at one time, over two-thirds of America’s millionaires owned one or two homes on the bluffs between Natchez and Baton Rouge.
Pat Butler was nice enough to lend me his truck, so I spent much of the day visiting the many plantations in, and near, St. Francisville. My only wish is that I could have spent a full week visiting these fantastic plantations. My favorite plantation was the Greenwood Plantation.
Greenwood Plantation was built in 1850 by William Ruffin Barrow in the Greek Revival style with 28 columns surrounding the house. Until the Civil War, 750 slaves worked the cotton and sugarcane fields on the 12,000 acre plantation. Mr. Barrow co-authored the 1861 statement of succession from the Union. Louisiana was the sixth state to secede from the Union. Mr. Barrows’s actions were considered treasonous and a capital offense. Greenwood Plantation has been featured in more than 15 films, including Bonny & Clyde.
On October 31, Halloween Day, I visited the Rosedown Plantation State Historic Site. This fabulous Plantation, which once comprised over 3,455 acres, was constructed in 1835. Two-hundred and fifty slaves worked on the plantation. It has been placed on the list of National Historic Landmarks. Sara Bowman, the daughter of the owners of the Rosedown Plantation, married James Bowman from the neighboring Oakley Plantation. They had ten children. Many of the great Plantations were owned by relatives
After visiting the Rosedown Plantation, I traveled to the Oakley Plantation, which is now an Audubon State Historic Site. John James Audubon painted some of his birds at Oakley.
Pat picked me up and drove me over the bridge where we had a great lunch in New Roads, Louisiana at Morel’s restaurant on the False River. After lunch, we returned to the St. Francisville Police Department where I made arrangements to have my canoe transported back to the river tomorrow morning. Mayor Billy D’Aquilla drove up and we had a nice visit at City Hall. He has been a Councilman and Mayor for 48-years.
Here is a poignant story of grit and survival. Anne Butler is the owner of the Butler Greenwood Plantation where I am staying. She is Pat Butler’s cousin. “Miss Anne” is an accomplished author of many books and a respected journalist. Miss Anne survived an attack by her husband of seven years, who was once the warden of the maximum security Angola State Prison in Louisiana. He shot her five times and sat down to watch her die on her plantation’s front porch. The shots to her abdomen and arm were intended to inflict a slow and painful death. She survived. He was convicted and died in Angola State Prison. Miss Anne wrote a book about the shooting titled “Weep for the Living.” A movie documenting her life is in the works. When I first met Miss Anne, she was recovering from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her left eye. Please keep this courageous woman in your prayers.
My heartfelt thanks to Pat Butler, who made all of this possible when he confronted me at the alligator sandbar to “run me off his property.” We are now good friends.
Tomorrow, Pat and I will have breakfast at the Birdman Coffee Shop, and I will be back on the Mighty Mississippi, bound for Baton Rouge. I hope to arrive in New Orleans on November 8, where I will be joined by my daughter, Lisa, her husband, Jeff, and my daughter, Lori. From November 8-11, we will pre-celebrate the end of my journey in the Gulf of Mexico.