The Roman Catholic Church was the only church legally, if not actually, allowed in Louisiana during the entire colonial period. But for an alert governor the colony would have suffered an Inquisition during the 1780s against any non-Catholics in the Spanish territory.
A full volume, at least, could be written on the development of churches and the evolving of myriad religious ideas in the Parish of Rapides. This story has been told in fragments with each denomination, each church supplying its own, but there is still much more research to be done in this field.
Rapides was the western frontier to Americans around 1800, and what was transpiring here was much the story over the frontier stretching for hundreds of miles. Rapides has giants in church history; Rev. Joseph Willis, Father Bellier, Bishop Leonidas Polk, Rev. William Prince Ford, Rev. A.D. McCoy, Rev. Charles Roberts, a black who founded three schools for his people in the latter part of the 19th century.
One of the aspects of church history of which little is known is the participation of slaves and later development of their own churches. Preachers were privately employed, at least on some occasions, to preach to slaves. Mrs. Esther Wright Boyd recalled: "My Mother paid our pastor an extra salary for visiting our quarters and having service there for negroes only. . ."
As early as 1699, according to the Indian authority Swanton, the Bishop of Quebec sent three Jesuit priests from Canada to the lower Mississippi to work among the Indians. The Rev. Francois de Montigny may well have been working among the Avoyel Indians (the "little Taensas" Iberville called them) during the period from 1699-1706 when the Jesuits left Louisiana.
Franciscan missionaries from the Spanish Los Adaes came below the rapids infrequently on a long journey to bring religious services to the isolated pioneers. This was between 1717 when a mission was founded at the site to 1728 when French Capuchins came to Natchitoches. It was then the Capuchins who traveled downstream to offer the ministrations of the church to early settlers. Father Valentine of the Natchitoches Parish traveled throughout Louisiana in his missionary efforts. It was he who established a chapel at the present site of Pineville for benefit of the Indians.
Yet it is easy to assume more consistent missionary work among the Indians and scattered early settlers than actually existed. There was an appalling lack of priests for the new country, and as late as 1849 there were only three organized religious parishes over the vast Louisiana area.
The little settlement that was named Alexandria had its first Catholic Church in 1817. It was built by the Rev. Francisco Maynes, a Franciscan from the Spanish mission at Nacagdoches, Texas.
Bishop Dubourg wrote on a visit to Natchitoches in 1821, however, regarding his view of the Catholic church's work at this center from which the area below the rapids received its missionaries. "I saw with sorrow the decadence of everything pertaining to religion; the church and the presbytery threaten to collapse. . .a plan has been adopted for the frequent religious instruction and its diffusion . . in this immense parish." In 1825 there was one priest serving not only Natchitoches but the immense surrounding area. Two priests from that village served Alexandria until 1837 - Rev. Jean Baptiste Blanc (1828-1834) and Rev. Edmond d'Haux (1834-1837).
The first resident pastor of Alexandria was the Rev. Robert Duggan (April, 1840-October 18, 1843) who started construction of a new church. After this priest died, the Catholics in Alexandria were again served by a visiting priest from Natchitoches. In 1849 the Rev. Joseph P. Bellier, a former French army officer, served the Alexandria Church until 1853.
Elaine Brister, fine historian who formerly taught at Louisiana College, traces the religious history of Pineville in detail from the beginning covet of French Capuchins in 1728. She notes that in 1794, Father Pedro de Velez, a Spanish priest, visited the mission at El Rapids and baptized Dionisio, the Appalache Chief, as well as others. In October, 1896, the most Reverend Bishop of the Penalever Cardenas, first Bishop of the Diocese of Louisiana, visited the El Rapides mission.
Rev. Amos D. McCoy was appointed first rector of Pineville's historic Mt. Olivet Episcopal Church in 1847.
In 1839, Bishop Leonidas Polk, on a 5000 mile missionary voyage, stopped at Alexandria in the work of the Episcopal church. He reported "The friends of the Church were few, but desirous of the services of a minister." Rev. John Burke of Natchitoches later saw that Prayer Books were placed in Alexandria and two or three on each Red River steamer. With the monotony of long rides with little to do the pass the time away, there was a good chance they were read.
In 1844, Bishop Polk reported:
"In the town of Alexandria, a congregation has been organized, embracing many of the families of the parish of Rapides, which bids fair to be an inviting field of labor, and one of importance in the diocese. During my visit, there was a meeting of the vestry and friends of the church, and measures were taken for the erection, at an early date, of a suitable church edifice."
In the fall of 1846, the Rev. Elijah Guion, who later opened a school for girls on Bayou Rapides, described the business of being a missionary in an area which included Natchitoches and Alexandria at the two extremities:
" - the distance by land, between the two extremities of my route, will be about 135 miles, and this journey I shall be expected to perform monthly, mostly on horseback, with a horse hired oftentimes at my expense, this being all missionary ground, and but a few seeming to think of the expense the missionary is at.
I think, if it were possible for those at the eastward who feel interested in the success of the Church at the West, to see me on my journeyings and wanderings through the woods and swamps, now exposed to the drenching rain, and again almost fainting under the burning heat of a nearly vertical sun, that some active and efficient measures would be speedily adopted to relieve me of a portion of this burden, by sending out two or three additional Missionaries well supplied with Bibles, prayerbooks, and tracts and with a support suited to the expensive nature or missions in this part of the country."
On November 28, 1847, Bishop Polk became the first rector of St. James in Alexandria, thus ending the beginning phase in which the church was served intermittently by missionaries. Due to the loss of the cotton crop to caterpillars in '45 and '46 and the flooding of farm lands by Red River in '49, '50, and '51, no church building had been started. Church was held in the courthouse. But the cornerstone of a building was finally laid November 1, 1851. "Church building was important, but not everything to Mr. McCoy." In May, 1852, still without a building, Rev. McCoy confirmed 146 members, the largest class ever presented at any one time by any one clergyman in the Diocese of Louisiana. The building was not completed until 1854, and by then there were 165 black and 37 white communicants.
The same individual was in the Alexandria office when chapels were built at Cheneyville and Pineville - Trinity and Mt. Olivet. In 1859, Bishop Polk acknowledged the part of Mrs. McCoy in the erection of Mt. Olivet:
"This building was erected by the self-denial, the zeal and devotion of the wife of the late rector of the Parish of St. James, Alexandria Rev. A.D. McCoy, and stands as a monument testifying to the capabilities of womanly influence when directed by the desire simply to honor God and do good to men."
By 1857, there were eleven congregations meeting in Rapides, seven of them composed of blacks.
Black churches were started in the parish after the slaves were freed, and many churches still are in existence which began during the Reconstruction period. Although a century later efforts have been made toward integrated churches, the black churches are strong centers of religious and social life for many people. The First Union Baptist Church on the corner of Lee and Sixth Street in Alexandria, founded in 1868, is probably the oldest of these.
During the Reconstruction period Baptist and Methodist Churches, though particularly the former, organized private academies for educating the children. These academies lasted into the twentieth century.
The schism that developed among members of Beulah Baptist church in the 1840s in particularly interesting in its relation to the similar happenings across the southern frontier. Spirited Jabez Tanner whose parents were instrumental in founding Beulah Baptist, led the dissenters to a final break with the older congregation. Since the entire community was almost totally connected with a maze of kinship ties, the break with the older church produced great pain and suffering among family members and, as a descendant recounted it, "The Up-the-Bayou Tanners didn't speak to the Down-the-Bayou Tanners for years."
Jabez Tanner felt called upon to put the story of the development of the schism, the breaking off and building of the new church into print. He wrote that he was early accused of being a Campbellite, a popular frontier religious movement, but he had never heard of it. He accordingly wrote for information. That a connection was made there can be little doubt, since Joseph and Alexander Campbell apparently visited Cheneyville and its new church.
No more historic ruin survives in the parish than the four columns left of the Christian Church built in the 1840s on Bayou Boeuf as Old Cheneyville.
The First Christian Church of Alexandria was organized July 3, 1904.
Methodist circuit riders crossed the Mississippi River to preach to frontiersmen by 1807. At least one story is recorded by church historians of the insistent preacher coming upon a pioneer who - undoubtedly exaggerating - told him he had moved further west to get away from the Methodist Circuit riders!
These were the churches organized in the parish before the 20th century with the exception of the Presbyterians. Lost are the details involving the origins of the pre-Civil War work of this group except their famous minister, Rev. Timothy Flint. Rev. Flint lived in Alexandria from 1823-1828 and from 1832-1834. The first continuous Presbyterian Church organized in Alexandria was started in August, 1891.
A century later Christian Scientists, the Church of Christ, Lutherans, the Pentecostal, and other Protestant Churches have multiplied in the Alexandria-Pineville area and in the parish.
World War I was indirectly responsible for the establishment of the Lutheran church in Alexandria. Although New Orleans early had a German settlement and therefore their churches, Louisiana Lutheranism did not grow from that source. RAther it was the vast numbers of northern Lutheran soldiers sent to army camps in central Louisiana during World War I and II. How the early camps and lumber barons such as Hardtner and Zimmerman aided the establishment of Alexandria's Lutheran congregation has been told in Anna C. Burns' book The History of Redeemer Lutheran Church .
(Taken from information acquired when the author was editor of the special Sesquicentennial Edition of the "Alexandria Daily Town Talk" in 1957 from local Jewish authorities).
In 1848 the first Jews arrived in Alexandria. There were 30 in the city six years later when the body of an unknown Jew was brought to Alexandria for burial. There was no Jewish cemetery so local Jews contributed $34 for purchase of a burial ground in Pineville. On the spot organized the Hebrew Benevolent Society.
Seven years later, in 1861, the Congregation Gemiluth Chassodim was organized and the first Jewish Temple was built in 1866. In 1877 42 Jews contributed $1100, and 30 children were enrolled in the religious school. B'Nai Israel was organized December 9, 1913.
The education of young children on the frontier was often dependent on whatever guidance the parents could give, or, more especially the mother. As many demands as there were on her time, there was little time for the pioneer mother to teach the elements of reading, writing, and figuring. A surprising number at least tried.
As the settlement of Rapides advanced, tutors came in, mostly from up north where there were more educational opportunities at the time. Timothy Flint, a reflective Presbyterian minister, arrived in Alexandria in the winter of 1823 or the following spring. He brought his wife and five children and, although disappointed at the intellectual climate of the town, decided to stay in Alexandria and teach school. A Harvard graduate himself, he became a partner with Judge Henry Adams Bullard, who was then practicing law in Alexandria. The two opened adjoining summer homes at the site of Fishville.
The following announcement in 1824 announced the school taught by Harvard graduates:
"The subscribers take leave respectfully to inform the public that they are jointly employed by Trustees of the College of Rapides, as instructors of that Institution. They teach all the elementary branches together with Latin, Greek, and French languages, with the use of Globes, History, and Elocution.
The writing department is superintended by Mr. Gunning and that of Languages by Mr. Flint, who will shortly be fitted to receive a number of pupils as boarders, who can, if desired, retire with him to the pinewoods. The Misses will be under the care of Mrs. Flint, who will teach plain and ornamental needlework. Music and painting will be taught if sufficient encouragement be given. They pledge themselves to watch with unremitting diligence over the comfort, health, and improvement of their pupils."
THE COLLEGE OF Rapides was typical of schools largely supported by private funds which were the chief means for schooling beyond the elementary needs of small children. Although the Territorial Legislature in 1805, and, later, the state legislatures, attempted to provide for public education, the effort was mostly on paper, as one historian has put it. The legislature made provisional grants to these private academies requiring a certain number of indigent students be allowed to attend the school. There is no evidence that this was carried out, so far as the editor has found. The Alexandria Academy succeeded the College of Rapides. Planter from the bayous built a school, Spring Creek Academy, in their Spring Hill community in 1837. William Prince Ford, who became the owner of Sosomon Northup a few years later, was president of the Board of Trustees.
Other schools were privately established, often by couples who not only taught the students, but boarded them as well. They did not receive state subsidies. Some of these were the Rapides Institute of Luther F. Parker, an academy conducted by Dr. and Mrs. Meyer, Digg's Pine Grove Academy on the Natchez Road and Rapides Female Academy run by Rev. Elijah Guion.
Father J.G. Bellier opened a Catholic boy's school in 1857, and the Daughters of the Cross struggled to keep a girl's school - St. Frances de Salles - opened in Alexandria after 1858.
Louisiana State University had its beginning in Rapides Parish. It is said that the initial meeting of interested men in establishing Louisiana State Seminary was at Tyrone Plantation on Bayou Rapides. Tyrone was the home of George Mason Graham who was named to the first Board of Supervisors. He was elected vice president of the board.
The Legislature of 1847 authorized a search for the most favorable site. In 1852, a committee decided on the pine woods on the north side of Red River in Rapides Parish.
In 1859, Colonel William T. Sherman, who had resigned from the army and tried other professions, was elected to head the seminary. A West Point graduate, he was employed at $3500.00 per year.
The school opened January 2, 1860 with 35 or 36 cadets with an increase until 70 were enrolled that first session.
The first Board of Supervisors were: President, Thomas Overton Moore, Governor of Louisiana; General George Mason Graham, Vice-President; Thomas Courtland Manning; Neal Davidson, Michael Ryan; Dr. S.A. Smith; J.A. Bynum; Ralph Smith Smith; S. W. Henarie; William L. Sanford; Colonel Walter O. Winn; G. Baillio; Patrick F. Keary; W.W. Whittington; Colonel Feneton Cannon; John H. Ransdell; Henery Avery; D.C. Goodwin, and William B.G. Egan.
After Louisiana seceded from the Union in January, 1861, Sherman resigned and returned to the United States Army. Most of the students resigned to enter the Confederate Army. One joined the United State Navy.
The Seminary reopened October 2, 1865, under Golonel David F. Boyd as superintendent. The college building was burned October 15, 1869 and it was reopened in Baton Rouge the next year.
G.P. Whittington, an attorney himself, published a series of articles on the history of Rapides Parish which he eventually expected to incorporate in a book. Following his death, August 31, 1932, at the age of 51, the Alexandria Committee of the National Society of the Colonial Dames in the State of Louisiana published his uncompleted history. This valuable contribution to our history has been reprinted in connection with the Bicentennial, and is available through the same group. Attorney Whittington had completed his writing of Rapides history up to the Civil War period.
In his book, Whittington, the great grandson of Governor Joseph Marshall Walker, included a chapter on "Courts and Lawyers Prior to 1860," which gives considerable detail.
Briefly, the County Judges provided for Rapides in the 1804-1805 Acts of the Territorial Legislature were more like justices of the peace, who became familiar local officials over rural Rapides almost until mid-twentieth century. These men worked as part time officials, whose office was ordinarily their homes, and whose jurisdiction was severely limited. They were able to perform marriage ceremonies, and to handle civil cases involving conflicts over very small amounts of money, minor disputes of other kinds, and misdemeanors. A Superior Court was used in appeals in most cases but the inconsequential.
Justices of the Peace rarely had legal background, but were simply politically appointed respected citizens.
The Superior Court held two sessions a year in Rapides during the territorial period to try criminal cases. The first meeting of the grand jury in 1807 resulted significantly in a blistering reproof to Spanish officials across the Sabine River, for furnishing refuge to runaway slaves from Rapides. William Miller, himself a planter and slave owner, was foreman of the grand jury and signed the report.
Under the Constitution of 1812, made with the entrance of the state into the Union, the state was divided into judicial districts with a judge over each district, Rapides, Natchitoches, Avoyelles, and Catahoula, the latter two cut off from Rapides in 1808, comprised the Sixth District. The Judge, appointed by the Governor, had an indefinite term based on "good behavior." The Judge appointed a Clerk of Court. A District Attorney was likewise appointed by the governor. Both appointments by the governor had to have the consent of the Senate.
In 1845, a new Constitution fixed the term of office for the judge. It also placed Rapides in the Thirteenth Judicial District. In 1852, the Constitution provided that a judge would be elected for a four year term.
In the early years, the Supreme Court held its session for both the eastern and western districts in New Orleans. The Legislature decreed that the session or the western district should be alternated between Alexandria and Opelousas. But before this law could be put into effect, another was passed making it mandatory that the court sessions should annually be held at both towns.
Such sessions brought lawyers and others from outside the area, and stimulated the political interests in the parish. Local lawyers also, were able to participate in law cases that, otherwise, never would have come into Alexandria.
Research is needed on these individuals, some of which may be found, not only in public archives, but in family papers in the hands of descendants: Henry Adams Bullard, William B. Hyman, Thomas C. Manning, William Dunbar, Josiah Stoddard Johnson (killed in a steamboat accident in 1833), Henry Boyce, James G. Campbell, John Harris Johnson. Among the names of Rapides lawyers are many distinguished men.
During the ante bellum period Rapides contributed to the state a governor: Joseph Marshall Walker.
A native of New Orleans, Joseph Marshall Walker came to Rapides in 1817 with his wife, Catherine, and the first of their 12 children. He claimed 203 acres on Bayou "Cotye" (Cotile) that belonged to his father, a surveyor. A cotton planter and slave owner, Walker served in a number of lesser state offices before his election as governor in 1849. He was the first governor to serve in the new capital.
The last decade before the Civil War was, in some ways, the Golden Years, as they have sometimes been called by Southern writers. They were in other ways a decade of the same deepening strife known over the South. The mounting tension built up by abolitionists and anti-Southerners with the counter hate and anxieties of Southerners is bound to have touched the last person in Rapides Parish.
Yet, by now, planters had cut down the woods and built plantations on which they grew huge crops of cotton, corn, and sugar. Thousands of blacks worked on the plantations, making the best of life lived in inadequate cabins, and nourished on an inadequate diet using too much corn and pork.
By the 1850's the planters had managed to use the slave labor when the crops were done to build immense farm houses that appeared grand indeed in a country not many years removed from the frontier.
The pattern of indebtedness, and the human tendency to overspend under conditions to which the planter and and the family knew no alternative made for a strange outlook. Money - or credit with was its equivalent - was obtained periodically from sale of the land. With the increased value of cotton in the economy, the price of cleared, river bottom land was correspondingly increased in value from the dollar or so an acre for which the first white settlers obtained it from land speculators, to $40 and $50 an acre by mid-century. The money poured into the plantation economy by land sales tended to give false light to the prosperity of the cotton and cane planters whose income from crops was supplemented by sale of land.
Sugar cane production became so important in Rapides that, especially along Bayou Boeuf, sugar mills were built every few miles.
P.A. Champomier listed the following sugar cane planters, and their production in hogsheads of sugar for 1851-52. "R" and "L" designate "right" or "left" of the river:
RED RIVER ABOVE ALEXANDRIA HOGSHEAD Meredith Calhoun, Firenze Plantation........L..............207 P.T. and T.J. Hickman.......................L...............38 William Waters..............................L..............112 BELOW ALEXANDRIA: Michael Welch...............................R................. P.R. Compton................................R................. Levi Wilson.................................R...............50 BAYOU COTAILLIE ABOVE ALEXANDRIA: C.H. Blanchard..............................L...............40 C.D. and H.B. Bullard.......................L...............60 T.G. Calvit.................................R..............134 BAYOU RAPIDES ABOVE ALEXANDRIA: J. and A. Innis and Mother..................L..............123 Dr. John Seip...............................L..............135 E. and R. Archinard.........................R...............74 E.H. Flint..................................R&L............518 BAYOU ROBERT: Mrs. H.F. Overton, Lodi Plantation..........R&L............310 Sosthene A. Baillio.........................R&L............260 Mrs. E.R. Williams, Willow Glen Plantation..R&L............642 G.Y. Kelso..................................R&L............... BAYOU BOEUF: Charles H. Flower...........................R&L.............50 Thomas O. Moore.............................L..............403 Gervais Baillio.............................L..............277 A. W. Burgess & Randsdall...................R&L............265 Josiah Chambers.............................R&L............175 C.H. Flower & Sister, 235, & Linton, 65.....L..............300 Smith & Carnal..............................L..............108 W.C.C.C. Martin.............................L..............110 Lewis Thompson..............................L..............611 W.C. Chase, Chase Land Plantation...........R&L............510 John Compton................................R&L............748 James H. McWaters, Lunenburg Plantation.....R..............563 M. and T.J. Wells, Wellswood Plantation.....L..............815 William H. Scott............................L...............59 John Compton................................L................. Winder Crouch...............................L..............138 R.L. Tanner.................................R..............151 J.W. Pearce.................................L...............48 Joshua Pearce...............................L...............53 Mrs. Desire Tanner..........................L..............215 L.A. Stafford...............................R..............302 Wm. R. Cheney (now Andrew Jackson)..........R..............125 W.W. Chambers, 236 (now Mrs. Ford) 41.......L..............277 Gould and Audebert..........................R...............70 Hugh Carlin.................................R..............150 Est. of H.J. Cheney.........................R..............242 Jabez Tanner................................L..............147 Lambeth and Maddox, Waverly Plantation Rillieux apparatus......................R..............340 Peter Tanner................................L...............49 Isra Bennett................................R...............43 TOTAL AMOUNT............................10,127 hh
J. W. Dorr, a newspaper reporter from New Orleans' "Crescent," left priceless commentary on inland Louisiana in 1860. Dorr said he found Pineville "somewhat sandy, flourishing village of five or six hundred residents, with two stores, an Episcopal Church, a good tavern, and a large brewery, which supplies a fair article of that weak potation to the thirsty sons of the fatherland who are in considerable fore hereabouts." He noted that a number of Pineville citizens had occupations in Alexandria.
Pineville, in the beautiful highlands with picturesque pine trees, became the site of cemeteries serving both itself and its twin city across the river.
Alexandria, a plantation trade center and river port had 1600 people.
Three branches of New Orleans' banks - Louisiana State Bank, Bank of Louisiana, and Canal Bank - had opened and closed their doors in Alexandria. Most probable reason was that the plantations of which Alexandria was the center were bound into a financial system with New Orleans factors or financial agents which continued year after year. The factors held liens on unplanted crops and served as purchasing agents for the planters. Much of the produce was shipped by steamboat from Alexandria to the planters' factors who sold the crops. In turn, the merchandise needed on the plantations was shipped to Alexandria more often than not and redistributed from there, the southward bound often sent by the Red River Railroad of Ralph Smith Smith and company.
General stores clustered at the river's edge.
Rapides men participated in American Revoluntionary events since the militia from the area was called into service by Spanish Governor Galez, The Captain-Commandant was Estevan Layssard, and they were with the expedition marching against the English at Natchez, Baton Rouge, and Fort Butte.
Men of Rapides volunteered in large numbers for service in wars - the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 after the end of the War of 1812, and the Mexican War brought General Zachary Taylor a full company of volunteers. The Red River Republican of May 26, 1846, listed these volunteers, the naming of whom provides insight into the leadership of Rapides in 1846:
Captain George Mason Graham 1st Lieutenant - Stokes A. Smith 2nd Lieutenant - John H. Holt 1st Sergeant - R. H. Cuny 2nd Sergeant - J. J. Oliver 3rd Sergeant - H. M. Neal 4th Sergeant - J. W. Martin Corporals E. Johnson 2nd - R. A. Patterson 3rd - H. A. Gordan 4th - S. PaulPrivates: J. Abbott; P.E. Bell; J.T. Bledsol; C. W. Boyce; W. C. Ballard; C. D. Bullard; J. Butler; G.W. Bruce; P. Beauman; W.L. Blair; Rovert Bullack; N. R. Bell; J. Chambers; A. A. Crain; George W. Cheney; Williem Coltern; R.A. Crain Jr.; W.F. Cheney; R. Curts; A. H. Clark; R. C. Dungey; E. DeBlanc; W.B. De Loach, Jr.; D. Doran; James Eustis; David Evans; J.T. Flint; H. Freedman; C. Fredling; J. P. Fox; Edward Fleming; Henry Fredmire; T.W. Groves; Louis Gossen; J. W. Gordon; V. Goul; J. S. Grooms; P. Huffman; C. W. Hammett; K. Holstein; G. Harris; P. A. Hickman; H. Heweth; P.J. Hunter; G. Hite; J. C. Johnson; D. James; B.W. Kimble; H. Leckie; J. Logan; Dr. P.R.P. Mayor; J. G. McNutt; J.A. McWaters; J. Mason; J. Murphey; J. Muldon; J.J. Mervin; W.H. McKenzie; A. Martin; W. J. Neal; T. O'Driscoll; J.D. Osborn; H. O'Neal; J. H. Pinkney; J. S. Proctor; L. Pouche; A.C. Phillips; C.P. Payton; M. Ryan; B. C. Rogers; J.F. Roberson; G.S. Stamps; J.T. Sanford; T.F. Scott; M. Sheffield; L. A. Stafford; J. Severn; S.J. Sumith; P. Thompson; A. Tuck; I. Banbibber; J. S. Woods; J. Wilbanks; T.W. White, and Jacob Whigley.
"Mssrs. Butler and Logan were desirous to go with the company but were rejected because they had some bodily injury, that disqualified them from performing the duty of soldiers. We do not know whether Mr. Flint can be said to belong to the company - still as he is in active service he may be considered a Rapides Volunteer. Mr. Harris, through acting as sergeant major, still belongs to the company."
While these volunteers represent the general attitude toward military service, there were those who held different views. One of these was Ezra Bennetts' young son commenting on the Mexican War:
"Cheny Ville June 2, 1846 Dear Uncle . . .I attended a Barbecue last week. We had a fine dinner and two speeches, on delivered by Y.P. Thudly and the other by Mr. Taylor. War is all the talk now, a good many went from this place to fight. I think if I was old enough I should be off like a brave feller to help to give them Jesse . Pa is contented to stay at home and gight frass, for he has plenty of it. . .Was this Zachary Taylor?
Rapides Parish planters, and others associated with them, were keenly interested in the proposition of capturing more territory that could logically use slaves, and thus eventually become voting slave states in the United States. As the United States became settled, as the nation expanded, the Southern slaveholding states correspondingly shrunk in comparison. The cominating power of the southern section (Virginia, furnished four of the first five Presidents of the United States> became a thing of the past as the nation expanded.
In New Orleans, William Walker organized a filibuster to march on Nicaragua, and Mississippi's "fire-eating governor," just across the river to the east, was busy organizing the South in the mid 1850's to form a filibuster to capture Cuba and make the island part of Mississippi. Fragments of daybooks left from Ezra Bennett's Store on Bayou Boeuf, below Cheneyville, suggest this crossroads country store may have been a secret hideout for Governor Quitman's Cuban expedition which was planned for 1855. Most of the Boeuf migrants who lined that area of the Boeuf were from Mississippi, and undoubtedly, knew Quitman well and were sympathetic with his objectives: to save the South.
News of William Walker's exploits the following year commanded inches of space in the small Marksville paper, and it is certain Rapides residents were aware of these sub rosa romantic, if quixotic schemes. By their very secret nature, and their plans for military excursions of private citizens against foreign powers, there is understandably, nothing like complete data concerning them. What does remain provides a gauge of the degree of desperation among Southerners, who literally felt their world was being destroyed by the Abolitionists, and leaving them without alternatives. The thinking was more concerned with economics and the labor supply than with that of humanitarians.
Some Rapides citizens, perhaps only some in the lower part of the parish, were involved in filibusters, at least to the extent of contributing money. There is reason to think they were much more involved than that.
One small, but significant facet of Rapides Parish history that should be investigated, is the question of how many Rapides planters owned or rented Cuban property, or were otherwise involved in sugar cane production in Cuba. At least one Rapides planter owned a cotton plantation on Bayou Boeuf and carried on sugar operations in Cuba.
The formation of the Republican Party in 1854 for the purpose of abolishing slaver, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the publishing of Uncle Tom's Cabin , the Stephen Douglas-Abraham Lincoln debates and John Brown's raid brought tension and anxiety to Rapides Parish.
Rapides planter society with Alexandria lawyers, and other professional men and merchants, were peculiarly oriented to politics. The heated discussions over the abolitionists, the possibility of secession, the place of the South in the Union -- these undoubtedly, were constantly discussed as the 1860 election drew near.
The crucial 1860 election brought out three different factions of the Democratic party.
The first group was the down-the-line pro-slavery, states' rights Democrats, who included politicians in office and Rapides' gubernatorial candidate, Thomas Overton Moore of Mooreland Plantation on Bayou Robert just south of Alexandria. This group was uncompromising, and they supported the ticket of Breckinridge of Kentucky and Lane of Oregon. Thomas Courtland Manning, Lewis E. Texada, Robert Hunter, John K. Elgee, and Mercer Canfield were of this group. Their organization was represented by a newspaper, the "Louisiana Democrat."
The "Old's Man's" ticket, headed by Bell of Tennessee and Everett of Massachusetts, had its backing in Rapides Parish in the older statesmen of Rapides, so to speak. All, of course, were Democrats. They were, however, mostly former members of the old Whig Party, and leaned toward the notion that the best kind of government was one in which a capable elite made the important decisions. George Mason Graham, Mexican War Veteran, and called one of the "Old Gentlemen" in local papers, stood for the Union and strove to prevent secession. The spokesman for this group was the newspaper, "The Constitutional" edited by C.W. Boyce. This group inclined toward compromise.
The third faction was composed of the spirited Irishman, Michael Ryan, and one of the largest, if not the largest, slaveholders in Louisiana, Meredith Calhoun. Calhoun was from Colfax which, at this time, was still in the area of Rapides Parish. Calhoun purchased one of Alexandria's weekly newspapers, the "Red River Democrat," changed its name to the "National Democrat," and it became the spokesman for this faction's political views. Luther F. Parker, and attorney and head of a boys' school, was editor, though he received help from Ryan, and a man named Lloyd.
When Lincoln was elected in the fall of 1860, Breckenridge and Lane carried the parish's vote. The people of Rapides Parish knew the handwriting on the wall. Crops were planted, Alexandria business went on, slaves were bought and sold. But the sense of crisis dominated all undertakings.
On November 19, 1860 Governor Moore issued his call for a special session of the General Assembly at the State Capitol in Baton Rouge. On December 12, Moore's message to Legislators was blunt: "I do not think it comports with the honor and self respect of Louisiana as a slaveholding state to live under the government of the Black Republican President."
Governor Moore laid the groundwork in his message for the calling of a Convention, on January 23, 1861, to be composed of membership equal to that of the House and Senate.
An election was held immediately, and Rapides in a flurry of intense political activity, elected four delegates: John K. Elgee, one of the most outspoken advocates of secession; Thomas Courtland Manning, able lieutenant of Moore; Levis E. Texada; a man named Smart, all of whom were supported by the conservative Moore.
Although the convention met to decide on secession or not, Governor Moore actually "beat the gun" in getting the state out of the Union and into war: he seized the United States arsenal at Baton Rouge, Forts Jackson, St. Philip, and Pike. In addition, he responded to the request of the governor of Mississippi with munitions and arms. This was all done before the convention assembled January 26, 1861. The vote was for secession -- and Rapides Parish delegated joined their governor, himself from a Rapides plantation below Alexandria.
Next - The Civil War 1861-1865
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