East Feliciana Parish, the heart of English Louisiana's Plantation Country, is noted for its scenic beauty and historic landmarks. A legal, educational and commercial center in the days when cotton was king, the parish offers a cornucopia of quaint historic towns and unsurpassed country drives.
East Feliciana parish has flown under the flags of Spain, France, England, and the Bonnie Blue (Republic of West Florida). Feliciana is Spanish for "Happy Land" and the name is said to have its origin from "Felicite", the wife of Don Bernado de Galvez, the governor of Spanish Louisiana. The early history of East Feliciana is that of the West Florida territory.
Jackson was founded in 1815 as the Seat of Justice for Feliciana Parish before the parish was divided into East and West in 1824. The town also served as a land office and as a center for learning and culture. Legend holds that the town was originally called Bear Corners for the many wild black bears crossing nearby Thompson's Creek, and that it eventually took its name from General Andrew Jackson, who reportedly camped there with his troops on a return trip north. Jackson's architecture is significant because of an usually well-preserved historic area (a historic district of one hundred twenty-four structures was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982), and because it shares with the town of Clinton the distinction of a significant heritage of Greek Revival architecture. Unique to Jackson is a well-preserved historic commercial corridor.
Clinton was founded in 1824 as the parish seat of justice when the parish of Feliciana was divided into East and West Feliciana. It was located on a tract of land that had been granted by the Spanish government. Clinton became known as the legal center of the area, and when the Clinton and Port Hudson Railroad was established in the mid- 1830s, the town found prosperity as the cotton trading point for a large area. This prosperity is reflected in the still handsome buildings of antebellum and Victorian design. It is thought the town was named for the Clinton family of New York. Many of the early residents were from that state.
Ethel derives its name from the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railroad was there. There were two outstanding men who lived there at that time who had daughters named Ethel. Mr. McKowen who had a great deal of influence in getting a station put there and Dr. Perkins, who was a land owner.
Norwood was named for Abel J. Norwood and founded in 1883 when he gave the right of way and seventy five acres to establish the town when the railroad came through. It is located on Highway 19 about 40 miles north of Baton Rouge and almost on the Mississippi line. He gave the right of way with the understanding that all passing trains would stop in Norwood. Six trains passed through daily, stopping in Norwood whether anyone got on or off.
Slaughter was incorporated in 1888. It received its name from the original owners of the land on which it is located, Mr. Will Slaughter and his brother Joe. When the railroad was being cut through, the place was called Burnsville from a Mr. Burns who cut the right of way. At that time a post office was located there and called Belzara. After the railroad was completed and a depot put there, the station and post office were both changed to Slaughter.
Wilson was known as a railroad town from the beginning. It was situated on the main line of the great Louisville, New Orleans, and Texas Railway and a relay station (roundhouse) was located there.
THE REPUBLIC OF WEST FLORIDA
by Gus Cranow
Edited by Damon Veach
"Feliciana", that inspired Spanish word for "Happyland" graced a region whose history paralleled that of the West Florida Territory.
Aboriginal residents here were Tunica Indians who had previously usurped the native Houmas. Later, the Spanish appeared, laying claim to the territory by right of exploration, until 1699. The French were not far behind, for LaSalle having explored the Mississippi River in 1682, claimed all the lands drained by it in the name of Louis XIV.
In 1763, at the French and Indian War's end, Spain ceded Florida to England, and France ceded Louisiana and the Isle of Orleans to Spain. The area that is now East Feliciana was claimed by England as part of the Florida Territory and thus, the name West Florida came into being.
Encouraged by land grants, emigrants, mainly from the English colonies, or from Britain, poured into West Florida to populate the frontier. By 1775, many British loyalists migrated here, establishing large, prosperous plantations.
Covering West Florida, Spain supported American colonists hoping to regain lost American territory. Bernado de Galvez, Louisiana's Spanish governor, recruited troops for surprise attacks on Fort Bute and Baton Rouge, both of which soon capitulated. Thus, West Florida became Spanish again, remaining so until 1810.
In 1800, Spain was compelled to cede Louisiana back to France and, in 1803, Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States. West Florida, however, was not included since the Louisiana Purchase was vague as to defining Louisiana's eastern boundary. Though President Jefferson insisted that West Florida was American, the Spanish denied this and continued their occupation.
Feliciana settlers, unhappy under Spanish rule, revolted in 1810 and established the short-lived Republic of West Florida. They petitioned President Madison to annex the area. Their request was honored when, in October 1810, West Florida was declared part of the Louisiana Purchase and an American possession.
The United States formed the Feliciana County, later separated to form four parishes...Feliciana, East Baton Rouge, St. Helena and St. Tammany. In 1812, Louisiana was admitted to the Union with the parish of Feliciana included.
Addressing complaints that citizens of western Feliciana Parish found it difficult to travel during bad weather to the east, Louisiana separated the area into two parishes... East and West Feliciana. The former's parish seat was moved from Jackson to high land near Pretty Creek. In 1825, a courthouse was erected and the town of Clinton established as the parish seat.
From 1824 to the Civil War, the area was a vast cotton growing region with a prosperous plantation economy and a railroad to the Mississippi River, outlet to the world markets. Clinton and Jackson were cultural and educational centers; Port Hudson, the shipping center.
Civil War and Reconstruction diminished earlier prosperity here. The war intruded when small detachments of Union troops set out from occupied Baton Rouge to forage at Clinton. But by 1863, conflict reached Port Hudson when some 6000 Confederates endured a 45-day siege against a large Federal army. Despite valorous defense, Port Hudson was forced to surrender on July 9, 1863.
By 1870, the parish recovered its cotton-based economy and much of yesteryear's prosperity was regained. In the 1800's, railroads expanded in the western portion and along new rail lines, the communities of Slaughter, Norwood, Ethel and Wilson were established.
In this, the latter part of the 20th century, when advancing industrialization an the nuclear age have already developed nearby, East Feliciana retains much of its antebellum heritage and pastoral beauty, as well as a nostalgic lifestyle.
(Gus Cranow is a freelance writer, specializing in travel, history, food,outdoors.)
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