COORDINATOR'S NOTE: John Q. Anderson published this article in the October 1956 issue of The Louisiana Historical Quarterly. Anderson was a Professor of English at Texas A & M University. He was the editor of Brokenburn: The Kate Stone Journal (1955) and Louisiana Swamp Doctor (1962) - both published by the Louisiana State University Press. Footnotes can be read by clicking on them. The article has been slightly modified for HTML presentation. For additional information on Madison Parish newspapers please see Madison Newspapers. Richard P. Sevier, January 2003

 A dot on old maps, a trace of an old levee, and a file of yellowed newspapers over a hundred years old are all that remain of Richmond, once parish seat of Madison Parish and an important town in northeast Louisiana.[1]

In this bound volume of newspapers[2], however, is preserved an illuminating picture of an energetic group of people occupied in the conquest of one of the last frontiers of the state, a people engaged in creating a way of life that perished with the Civil War.

The Richmond Compiler was founded by John O. Stewart in July, 1841, when Richmond and Madison Parish were only two years old. Stewart, known only through brief glimpses revealed in his paper, was both editor and proprietor of the weekly. In December 1841, John Kercheval, a newspaperman of Port Gibson, Mississippi[3] became Stewart's partner and apparently took over the major share of the editorial duties. For financial reasons, Stewart and Kercheval were forced to sell the Compiler before their first year ended, and on March 15, 1842, James M. Downes, attorney in Richmond became owner and publisher, Downes, an Attorney in Richmond, became owner and publisher. Downes's profession as a lawyer, and his avocation of horse racing evidently left him little time for the newspaper, although he wrote a few long editorials filled with legal jargon[4]. His papers were largely a patchwork of items clipped from other papers and prepared copy that made the rounds of most other country weeklies of the period. When Downes also encountered financial difficulties, Stewart again became publisher of the Compiler in November 1843, and in January 1844, when the last existing copy of the paper was published.

To the newspaper reader of today, accustomed as he is to shouting headlines and action photographs, the Compiler might seem tame and colorless. Headlines were unknown in the 1840's and newspaper pictures were limited to crude drawings. Furthermore, all local news, no matter how sensational, was buried on the second page, since journalistic practices limited the first page to fiction and articles reprinted from magazines and other newspapers. Traditionally, the first column of page two of the Compiler carried local news and editorial comment, though editors were infrequently moved to write what would be called editorials today. Local stories in the Compiler which are of historical interest concern parish and civic improvement, schools and churches, amusements, weather and disease, and crime and violence.

The dominant theme in the four-year file of the Compiler is the development of a new and unusually fertile cotton-growing area of Louisiana. Though Madison Parish was part of the Louisiana Purchase, the area was still relatively undeveloped in 1839 when the parish was organized. All of the easily accessible land on the Mississippi River, the eastern boundary of the Parish, had of course long since been taken up as had land along the interior bayous and rivers --Roundaway, Brushy, and Walnut Bayous in the center of the parish and Bayou Macon and the Tensas River to the west. The deep, alluvial soil of the area, laid down by centuries of annual overflow from the Mississippi and its tributaries, was among the world's richest cotton land when cleared of trees and cane. The nationwide depression of 1837, which had ruined so many Southern planters, enforced migration to new areas where smaller investments would provide greater returns. The fertile delta land of northeast Louisiana became therefore a means, whereby fortunes were easily recouped and many new ones made. Migration to Madison Parish was heaviest from neighboring Mississippi, especially the northern hill counties, but planters from other Southern states and the hundreds of slaves they brought with them, or purchased, swelled the population so that at the end of the 1850's over eleven thousand people lived in the parish. Of this number more than nine thousand were slaves--nine Negroes to every white person--adequate proof of the importance of cotton,

Editors of the Compiler, aware of the thirst for new and productive cotton land, loudly thumped the drum of promotion, as indeed country editors all over the nation were doing for their own particular areas, Editor Kercheval, praising the potential of the parish in 1841, stated that within the past two months were more than "twenty gentlemen from one county in Mississippi had purchased land on the interior bayous and would become residents during the ensuing winter or spring." He pointed out that much land along Bayou Macon and the Tensas was still available. "This country is, of course, new yet," he wrote, and settlers "will have to bear many privations and live roughly for a while, but they will be amply compensated in the end for their troubles" (I: 17, October 26, 1841). A short time later he expressed regret that "the census of this State was not taken one or two years later" because the population of the parish had increased fifty per cent more in the past fen months than if had in the previous ten-year period. He despaired of even estimating the number of people arriving within recent months and cited "A gentleman" as estimating that more than 1,200 Negroes had been brought in within the past six months. (I: 27, January 4, 1842)

Soon after Editor Downes took over the paper in March 1842, he too envisioned an unlimited future for Madison Parish, and his bombastic praise of the area hardly knew bounds. "Our rivers and bayou front land he wrote, 'It is universally acknowledged, are scarcely equaled. Our bottom or swamp lands are admirably adapted for grazing." After reminding his readers that a small expenditure on clearing out the interior bayous and rivers would bring steamboats to every man's door, Editor Downes cited reasons for the phenomenal increase in Madison Parish population:

"Emigration is pouring in our borders from Maine to Mississippi. Many of these left their worn out hills and peaceful, pious homes for Texas, they wended their way to north Louisiana---they beheld.... Our well watered valleys.... They are irrefutably overcome, they are transfixed to our soil, and Texas and their mighty hero of San Jacinto are banished from their thoughts. Yes, we feel what we speak. We return thanks to our Maker for having diverted our steps from Texas, for having thrown us in this delightful land. Louisiana is destined to be the richest star in the constellation, and Madison, the brightest taper in her cluster...." (I: 38, March 22, 1842). From this passage, one can easily visualize lawyer Downes in the courtroom.

In June 1842, Downes predicted that the trouble between Texas and Mexico would deter immigration to Texas and further increase the population of the parish. Again he called attention to the "thousands of acres of good land" on the interior bayous to be had "at Government prices" (I: 50, June 14, 1842). In July he praised the early settlers of the area:

"The early settlers of this country were not graduates of Universities nor men of fortunes, but men, many of whom religious or civil oppression had driven from their homes--descendants of the sturdy yeomanry of Scotland, and enterprising emigrants from the States, - men who could camp upon the naked ground and sleep tranquilly exposed to the firmament, - men who beheld in every tree of the forest a compass to track their course, and who cheered by their families alone enjoyed contentment in the solitude of a wilderness, - men who could grapple single-handed with the bear, the catamount and the panther, and bid defiance to the tribes of red men that hovered around them. The rifle and the cutlass were the constant companions of these enterprising pioneers; and with these, unaided by laws other than their consciences, they protected their rights, resented their wrongs, and decided their grievances, Such were the race that have preceded us, and who soon are to be forgotten, whilst a more effeminate, more literate and refined race, assume their station and realize the benefits resulting from their deprivations and dangers...." (II: 3, July 19, 1842)

Considering the instances of violence in the parish as reported by the Compiler, (to be noted later), one wonders about the "more literate and refined race" which had followed these remarkable pioneers.

In the fall of 1843, Downes printed a letter from "Tensas" on the subject of post offices for the back country in which the correspondent maintained that the area was settling so fast that hardly a day passed "without some new acquisition to this delightful and, already, thickly populated section of country" (II: 23, November 29, 1842) [5]

When Stewart returned to the Compiler in the fall of 1843, he continued predicting a rosy future for Madison Parish. "Our soil is unrivaled in its adaptation to the production of grain and vegetables of every description," he maintained. "All we need is adequate time, and sufficient public spirit and enterprise to convert our swamps into productive fields." he concluded. "It will require some labour and expense, it is true, but the laborer will reap a glorious harvest" (III: 6, December 15, 1843).

This editorial speculation appears to be whistling in the dark when one considers the many notices of sheriff's sales of property and slaves appearing concurrently in the Compiler along with market quotations of cotton selling at six to ten cents per pound and the many references to hard times in national news items.

Editors of the Compiler, anxious as they were to convince the outside world that Madison Parish was a second Eden, knew that the potential of the parish could not be realized without internal improvements. Consequently, they were equally vociferous concerning the building of roads and bridges and improving navigation. Richmond was located on Roundaway Bayou, which rises in the northwestern part of the parish, meanders across it, and empties info the Mississippi at the southern boundary. Because of obstructions, Roundaway was not navigable to sizable boats in 1841. In November, 1841, Editor Kercheval, calling attention to an advertisement for the steamboat Hannibal running from the mouth of Roundaway to Vicksburg and other points, said, "It is but two miles from this point to the mouth of the Bayou, and it is just as easy to come here as there, were it not for a few logs and old trees in and over the Bayou." He predicted that in two years steamboats would come up Red River, ascend Tensas, enter Roundaway, and return to the Mississippi again at New Carthage (I: 19, November 9, 1841). With the next spring rise, Kercheval became enthusiastic; Roundaway, he said in February 1842, was "in fine boating order. Flat-boats, steam-boats, yawls, and keels can ride in our harbor with the greatest safety." He foresaw the day when the wharf at Richmond would be crowded with boats (I: 34, February 23, 1842). A week later he noted that several flatboats and "one very fine keelboat" were at Richmond and that there was room for the Hannibal (I: 34, March 7, 7842).

When Downes became editor later that month, he promptly urged a $20,000 state appropriation for clearing all streams in the area. Naturally most concerned with Roundaway Bayou, he observed, "A single lock constructed on the Roundaway, below Richmond, near the crook or narrows would give us a navigable stream the whole or 2/3 of the year to New Carthage--or with slight additional expense to New Orleans" (I: 38, March 22, 1842). Then, in the fall, Downes noted, in connection with agitation for levees, that a large crevasse at New Carthage permitted boats to pass into the interior waterways earlier than was usual during the fall rise in the Mississippi (II: 12, September 20, 1842)

Agitation for the clearing of Roundaway was still going on in December 1843, when Editor Stewart printed a letter from Vicksburg which stated: "I take pleasure in informing you that the Steamer Little Yazoo will leave here on Tuesday next for the Tensas, where she will run as a regular packet during the season. She is a new boat, and well calculated for that trade. She will if possible go up as far as Richmond..." (III: 6, December 15, 1843)

Stewart pointed out that the Yazoo was a small steamer and would probably be able to reach Richmond since water was high in the bayou. Again he repeated the plea for money to clear out Roundaway and emphasized the advantages of steam navigation to the town. "The arrival of a steamboat," he said, "would indeed form a new era in the annals of our town, The incalculable advantages which would result to citizens of this portion of the State, from improvement and navigation of our interior rivers and bayous, for sending their cotton to market, and saving of time and expense in hauling to the river, as well as a hundred other advantages that might be named, are matters of no small importance."

In January 1844, Stewart stated that Tensas River was in "good boating order for steamboats, to the mouth of Roundaway Bayou," and in February he noted that the steamer Sablne from New Orleans was at the mouth of Roundaway and would return that afternoon (Ill: 14, February 9, 1844). A week later he protested that "produce dealers" on the Mississippi endeavor to prevent flatboat men from bringing their boats info Roundaway, by representing to them that the bayou is in such a condition that they cannot get through with their boats." He assured his readers that the story was false and threatened to give names of the offenders if such stories were repeated (III: 15, February, 16, 1844).

On March 29, 1844, the Compiler happily noted that William Douds "will continue to run a boat between New Carthage and Richmond regularly three times a week, as long as the bayou is in a boatable condition." Citing the advantage to citizens for passenger and freight traffic, the editor wished the enterprise success (III:21). Then, in April the long-awaited clearing out of Roundaway seemed nearer when Editors Stewart and Ferry received and promptly printed a letter from R. H. Sterling, superintendent of the State snag boat experiment in the area. Sterling believed that Roundaway could be cleared for steamers carrying up to seven hundred bales of cotton for about two thousand dollars. "If labour can be applied at low stage of water in the fall." The editors stated in an editorial in the same issue that they had talked with gentlemen who lived on the Tensas about Sterling's work. "All speak of him," they said, "as a most diligent and faithful public agent." Captain Sterling was expected to spend the summer with his snag boat on Bayou Macon and return to the Tensas in the fall to complete work on that stream (III:25, April 26, 1844). Unfortunately the file of the Compiler ends before Roundaway was completely cleared for steamboats, as it eventually was[6]

Editors of the Compiler were also concerned with the improvement of roads, often complaining of the condition of present ones and agitating for new ones. Most of the police jury ordinances in 1840 and 1841 concerned road building. A board was appointed to review the road laid out from Richmond to the Mississippi opposite the mouth of the Yazoo River; new roads were established from Richmond to Bayou Macon, along the east side of Bayou Macon, and from the Tensas to the mouth of Alligator Bayou to intersect the Bayou Vidal road. A road was projected from the "common crossing on Roundaway Bayou" to Diamond Island Bend on the Mississippi (I: 34, February 22, 1842). In May 1842, roads were established from Bear Lake and Joe's Bayou to Milliken's Bend. Laying out these roads through swamps and canebrakes involved much labor, even though they were only sixty feet wide. Slaves of planters along the routes were requisitioned for the labor, as indeed they were needed for clearing streams.

A ferry over Tensas River was established in May 1842 to be operated by Charles Carpenter[7] who was permitted to charge twenty-five cents for transporting a man and a horse, twelve and one-half cents for a man on foot, $1.50 for a wagon and four horses, and one dollar for the wagon and two horses (I: 50, June 14, 1842). These rates were cheaper, of course, than fares at the ferry crossing the Mississippi at Vicksburg, which were set by parish ordinance in November 1842. A charge of $2.50 was made for a wagon and four horses, $1.50 for a four-wheeled carriage and fifty cents for a man and a horse (II: 24, December 20, 1842)

In September 1842, Editor Kercheval noted that the Madison Bridge Company was then building a bridge over Roundaway Bayou near Richmond. The bridge (he said) will afford great convenience to travelers as well as the residents of the country, this point being in the direct route between Vicksburg and Monroe, and the thoroughfare for the emigrants from the northern part of Mississippi, Alabama and the contiguous country to the fertile regions of this state and Texas (II: 10, September 6,1842).

In December he printed an irate letter from a contributor who complained that tolls for passage over the bridge were excessive. The charge was thirty-seven and one-half cents for a loaded wagon and twelve and one-half cents for a man and horse (II: 24, December 20, 1842).

Despite efforts of the officials, many roads in the parish apparently continued to be poor. A letter signed "Tensas" printed in the Compiler in the fall of 1842 complained that every road in the parish was in a wretched condition. "It is a well known fact", the correspondent states, "that three-fourths of the emigrants passing through Richmond are obliged to travel the miserable excuse for a road leading to Tensas and Bayou Macon, for to that part of the parish emigration is now ending, and if they do not stop there they are compelled to travel the same route to go to the parishes of Washita (sic) or Union, Arkansas or Texas." "Tensas" felt that the road could be repaired with twenty good hands in three days by bridging a couple of bayous, cutting timber out of the road, and widening if in some places (II: 21, November 22, 1842). The poor condition of public roads during this period is readily understandable when one considers that much of the area was subject to annual overflow since the elaborate system of levees that later controlled the Mississippi and its tributaries had not been conceived of in the 1840's.

Another phase of parish improvement which editors of the Compiler supported was the establishment of schools and churches. Educational opportunities in the parish were limited to private schools such as that advertised by James A. Martin in the Compiler in February 1842. Citizens of Richmond and vicinity were notified that Martin would open a school for the "purpose of teaching the ordinary branches of an English education" in a three-month term. Fees for "Orthography, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic" per month were $2.50 per student. "Geography and Grammar" added cost $3.00, and "other branches" could be agreed upon with the patron. "From long experience as a teacher, "Martin assured the public of his "ability to render General Satisfaction" (I: 33, February 15, 1842). The success of Martin's school is not indicated in later issues of the Compiler, but a similar school, operated by Mrs. H. H. McLean and her sister at Milliken's Bend, was advertised in April 1843.

When the Milliken's Bend Academy was opened in February 1844, Editor Stewart gave extensive publicity to the school by writing an editorial as well as running an advertisement. He expressed gratification at the "prosperous beginning" of the school under the direction of Mr. and Mrs. Puller and noted that the Academy was "the first attempt which has been made to establish a respectable academy or high school in this parish." He urged citizens of the parish to support the newly founded school and stressed the importance of the "moral and intellectual training of the young." The people of the community were responsible, he said "for building up and fostering good institutions of learning." Thus putting educational opportunities within the reach of all. Several prominent citizens of the parish were listed as trustees of the Academy (III: 14, February 16, 1844).

Among ordinances of the police jury published in June 1844, was a resolution to establish a school in each of the wards, for which trustees were named. Because the file of the Compiler ends the next month, the success of this effort is not known. Though these efforts to provide educational opportunities in Madison Parish in the 1840's seem inadequate, it should be remembered that children of planters were usually educated at home under private tutors and that many of them attended Eastern and Northern preparatory schools and colleges.

Efforts to establish churches in Madison Parish in the early 1840's were even less successful than the movement to provide schools, or so it seems. When one consults the existing file of the Compiler, Editor Stewart in November 1842 lamented the absence of a church building and divine services in Richmond and cited this fact as a "defect in our society". He recommended that regular church services be held in available buildings, and he was always careful to note the appearance in town of itinerant ministers who occasionally held services in public buildings. On May 17,1842, for example the Compller mentioned that a Rev. Mr. Donnan held morning and evening services at the courthouse and that the meetings were attended by "a large and attentive audience." Contributions were taken up in order to have a regular monthly preaching (I: 46). Succeeding issues of the paper do not indicate that services were indeed held regularly, although Rev. Donnan was reported beginning a protracted meeting on December 9, in connection with "other distinguished ministers" (II: 23, December 6, 1842). In the same paper Editor Downes printed a letter from "Luther", who complained of the failure to observe the Sabbath in the area. It is "not more venerated than any other day," he said, "and is rather a day of amusement, than worship and holiness". In November 1843, Editor Stewart announced preaching in Richmond twice a month by Rev. Carter Jones of Mississippi (III: 3, November 24 1843). Despite the absence of organized churches, the religious life of the parish during the period may have been more extensive than "Luther" and the few notices in the Compiler indicate.

On the other hand, a national religious movement that received a great deal of attention in the Compiler-as indeed it did in every other newspaper--was Millerism[8]. Followers of William Miller, who predicted the end of the world in 1843, the Millerites were the subjects of much newspaper satire and humor in the early 1840's. Editor Downes noted in the Compiler on July 5, 1842, that an egg was found in Massachusetts[9] with the words "Prepare for 1843" legibly written on it; "we never thought hens were such darned fools before," he quipped. In September 1842, he noted that over four thousand people had assembled in Miller's tent tabernacle in Albany, New York to hear a speaker explain in a two-hour sermon that April 23, 1843, was certainly the day on which the world would end. "Now, if were to happen on the first (April Fool), wouldn't they be completely fooled!" (II: 13, September 27, 1842). On April 4, 1843, Editor Downes noted that the Millerites dressed in ascension robes, had gathered a hundred strong in a cemetery in Providence, Rhode Island to await the resurrection (II: 40, April 4, 1843). When the world did not end in 1843 as Miller had predicted, editors of the Compiler joined their journalist brethren all over the nation in laughter at the expense of the Millerifes.

Although Richmond was too small to offer such a variety of amusements and diversions as might be found in New Orleans, local citizens found relaxation in such simple events as an occasional ball or wedding, court-days, horse racing, and political gatherings. According to reports in the Compiler, court-day was the most popular form of entertainment. Sessions of the district court drew crowds of spectators from the surrounding area. The festive nature of these court-days may be inferred from Editor Kercheval's reply to the editor of the Concordla Intelligencer in neighboring Tensas Parish concerning evidence in Madison Parish of the effects of the nationwide temperance movement then in progress; Kercheval noted that a flatboat loaded with hard cider was expected to remain at Richmond during the session of the district court, "probably for the accommodation of the Concordia Bar". (I: 42, April 19, 1842). "The gentlemen of the green bag", as lawyers were called, were famous not only for their oratorical and histrionic ability but for their capacity to consume liquor as well,

In November 1842, Editor Stewart remarked that Richmond had been crowded for a week with citizens of the parish "and a host of strangers" who were on hand for the district court session being held in the new courthouse (II: 23, November 29, 1842). A brief glimpse of the diversity and color of these combined business and pleasure gatherings may be gained from an item in the Compiler in May 1844: Our town for some days past has presented quite a lively appearance. The session of the court has called many persons together from various parts of the country, all doubtless having objects of their own to accomplish. Candidates soliciting votes among the sovereigns, creditors soliciting their dues, lawyers soliciting fees, and editors soliciting additional names for their subscription list, make up a portion of the motley crew. The (New Orleans) Tropic has had an agent on the ground since the "first day of the term…"(III: 27, May 10, 1844).

In addition to these people, local planters, squatters, bear hunters, peddlers and slave traders swarmed into the town to enjoy the crowd and thrill with the oratory of the courtroom. In an age devoted to oratory, the conflict and drama of the courtroom, exploited fully by "the gentlemen of the green bag," served an important emotional need in the rural South.

Court-days also offered another important form of entertainment. After adjournment of court, the gentlemen of the bar gathered at taverns and citizenry crowded around to hear the lawyers review important cases, recount amusing experiences, and tell humorous tales. Since tale telling was a favorite pastime on steamboats, around campfires and firesides, in taverns, and during court sessions, lawyers who traveled about the country became important mediums through which so many oral tales and so much backwoods yarns were disseminated, Much of this oral literature eventually found its way into the newspapers and the sketches of such humorists as A. B. Longsfreef, Thomas Bangs Thorpe, William T. Thompson, Sol Smith, Johnson J. Hooper, Joseph G. Baldwin, and Henry Clay Lewis, some of whom were lawyers. Because editors of the Compiler realized the importance of court sessions to their readers, court-days were always prominently featured in their papers.

Another local diversion that attracted crowds probably as large as court-days was horse racing. Interest in this sport reached a high point in the United States in 1842 with the famous match-race between Boston and Fashion on the Long Island Course in New York City, in which Fashion not only won but set a new record as well[10]. Like most other towns of any size in the South, Richmond had a racecourse.

Early in 1842 the Compiler carried a notice marked "Public Amusement" which informed subscribers that the "Richmond Louisiana Course" would be prepared for the reception of horses on February 22 for the spring season commencing in May. Proprietor H. E. Downes offered "a handsome Gold Watch, valued at one hundred dollars, to be run for, agreeable to the rules and regulations of the Course." Admission to the track was free to see single heats of four hundred and forty yards (I: 36, March 8, 1842).

Richmond had its own great match-race in 1842 when H. E. Downes's Georgia Maid ran against Lawson Dunn's John Stacker on June 25. The Compiler announced a two hundred-dollar purse for the winner of the "single dash of a line". "It is impossible to form an accurate estimate of the immense amount of money, property etc.... that will be hazarded on this race.", the announcement said. "We understand that one or two flat-boats--loaded with produce, merchandise, etc., a drove of mules and several yoke of oxen, besides a large wallet of N. O. Shiplasters have already been staked on the issue." The race was to take place at noon and was to be followed by several quarter races, and then Georgia Maid was to run against Mr. King's Plough Boy at four o'clock. "We anticipate lots of sport," the announcement continued, "and lots of people" to witness if, Unfortunately there was no follow-up story, and so if is not known which horse won Richmond's great match-race, (I: 51, June 21, 1842).

Though court days and racing were chiefly masculine diversions, occasional balls and weddings were evidently highlights for the ladies. Though many private balls were obviously not reported on in the Compiler, a ball given by Mr. Hinman, merchant in Richmond, illustrates the public dances of the period. Editor Stewart attended and commented that the turn out of ladies was " really surprising."

"In the company met at an early hour (he wrote), attended with good music--when they commenced the performances of the night and reeled off cotillions until ten o'clock (for the Madison Parish girls know how to do it) when they retired to feast upon the "fat of the land"--and never did our Creator spread a table more superfluously loaded with the luxuries of life. There was everything that was good to eat, drink and look at, from a sugar kiss to a pretty girl--and if there was any gentleman there who did not feel like falling in love, just must have been some crusty old bachelor--" (I: 31, January 31, 1843).

In running wedding notices, Editor Stewart was likely to add his congratulations if he had been treated to champagne and wedding cake. In May 1844, on a visit to Carroll Parish (Probably to obtain new subscribers), Steward attended a country wedding which he wrote up at length. The affair took place in the "Herricane (Hurricane?)" community near the Arkansas line. Couples often went up info Arkansas to be married, he said, because no license was required.

"Horseback is the favorite mode of traveling (he wrote), and the ladies are dexterous, expert and graceful riders. When horses are scarce they ride double, and oft the happy lovers mount the same steed and take an unceremonious leave for the parson's, before whom they plight their mutual and fervent vows of faith and love. A marriage is usually celebrated with festivity and rejoicing. Vast numbers attend. After it is consummated, the bridegroom and bride mount their horses, accompanied by their attendants and repair to their home, where are assembled all the people, old and young, from grand mam and grand dad, down to the boys, dear girls and little ones, in readiness to celebrate their nuptials."

Following the supper at which "a most sumptuous table is spread," the violin is introduced "and the jovial dances begin," Cotillions were dances first in deference to the ladies, but the forest boys don't fancy cotillions, they must have the reel tall doings, and rapture to the full heart brimming. 'Roaring River', 'Sich a Gettin' Up Stairs, ''Leather Breeches,' Mol the Wod'. 'The Devil Among the Tailors,' 'Dance all Night,' etc, etc., are the favorite airs which they heel and tow more rapidly than horses seized with the stampede.

In describing the young men at the backwoods frolic, Stewart commented, "Some have their shirt collars of so extensive dimension, and starched so very stiff, you can only discern that portion of the cranium above the upper extremities of the ears." He continues, "Some have scarves or cravats of a deep red hue; others have short legged pants which, with the aid of raw-hide straps, they draw half down their legs. The coat sleeves of some reach a little below the elbow--while others have their pants suspended close under the arm pits: (III: 26, May 3, 1844). Editor Stewart apparently did not expect his paper to circulate widely in Carroll Parish; else he would not have risked offending subscribers in that area. His description of a backwoods wedding owed, of course, much to the popular humor of the period in which frontier social affairs were satirically presented.[11]

Although editors of the Compiler did not print sensational stories of crime and violence on their front page -- their fights, duels, murders, and violent deaths. Though such disturbances were infrequent, enough of them occurred to show that Madison Parish in the early 1840's was still a frontier. In November 1841, for instance, the Compiler reported "We regret to state that a difficulty occurred in this village on Monday last between two persons, whose names are Morris and Chance. The difficulty ended by the death of Mr. Morris." Chance was "immediately arraigned before Asa Carmon, Esq." Who bound him over until the next term of court in the sum of $250 (I: 22, November 30, 1841). No report of punishment was published later.

Then in January 1842, the paper reported that flat-boatmen from Warren County, Kentucky, were apprehended stealing cotton from O. B. Cobb's plantation on the Mississippi River. "Mr. C. arrested them" the editor said, "and gave them their election between the penitentiary and the jurisdiction of Judge Lynch. They chose the latter, and were honored with their deserts" (I: 30, January 25, 1942). John Hawkins, a native of Kentucky, was reported drowned in Roundaway Bayou below Richmond on April 21, 1842. He was engaged "in getting out boards, shingles, etc., and while rafting the timber, he fell overboard and never rose again. Allegedly subject to "attacks of fits", Hawkins was thought to have had a seizure. With no family in the area and no friends "to shed a tear," the editor remarked, "there will be no contested application for the curatorship of his estate" (I: 23, April 26, 1842)

The grand jury of the parish found a true bill against James D. Fall and Thomas E. Robbings for fighting a duel on April 19, 1842. Unfortunately Editor Downes--perhaps to avoid getting mixed up in a feud--failed to mention the cause of the disagreement--probably politics, horse racing, or a woman, common causes for duels at that time. Then, early in 1843, Editor Downes printed a letter from "Alligator Tensas" who lived on the Tensas River, complaining that parish law officers had done nothing to discover the murderer of "our worthy friend and neighbor", John W. Sims. The citizens of the community, the writer said summoned an officer of the law, who did not come, and they proceeded to hold an inquest themselves. The writer asked for justice to be done. Since there was no follow-up on this crime, the murderer was apparently never discovered (II: 29, January 3, 1843)

Prominent citizens of the area were sometimes involved in violent affairs. The Compiler printed this note on April 11, 1843: "We hear that Judge Felix Boxworth, of the Parish of Carroll, in the State, was shot on the 13th, by a young man on the plantation of Mr. Behler" (II: 41) [12] Since Judge Bosworth was a horse racing enthusiast, the dispute could well have been over some race. Bosworth wrote Judge Alonzo Snyder of Richmond a letter on January 2, 1846, asking Snyder to judge in favor of Dr. George D. Shadbourne[13], also of Richmond, a hundred dollars which Bosworth had lost on a bet, presumably on a horse race.[14]

Editor Stewart in November, 1843, noted in connection with district court then in session that the erection of the "new and handsome courthouse--the beautiful edifice which adorns our village" had "improved the morals and condition of the people." He observed that there had not been "a single breach of the peace in the town of Richmond for several months past, nor have we heard of any flagrant misdemeanor in any part of the parish, since the last term of court," Optimistically, he added, "It is ardently to be hoped that her days of bloodshed and crime are past and that an new era is about to dawn upon her, and that in future peace, virtue and morality shall prevail within her borders, from the banks of the Mississippi, to her farthest swamps" (III: 2, November 17, 1843). But contrary to his expectations, the next year was a particularly violent one in Madison Parish. In January 1844, James Wilkins, who lived near the mouth of Roundaway Bayou, was shot and killed by a Mr. Wotley in a dispute over a mule. Wotley allegedly rode up to Wilkin's house, accused him of killing the mule, shot him and fled. (III: 10, January 12, 1844).

Less than three months later violence flared on the streets of Richmond. John T. Mason shot and killed David Bradford with a double-barreled shotgun. "We forbear from referring to the circumstances which led to this sad and deplorable event," Editor Stewart commented (III: 13, March 15, 1844). Despite his caution, however, Stewart became involved, for in the next issue of his paper he said, "We regret to learn that Mr. Mason and some of his friends take exception to some parts of the notice" about the murder (III: 14, March 22, 1844). Three months later the Mason trial was the forensic highlight of the court session. Mason was defended by five lawyers--H. S. Foote of Mississippi, D. S. Stacy of Vidalia and Attorneys Shannon, Amonett and Pierce of Richmond, For the State according to the Compiler, were "The District Attorney, Mr. Bonham, Mr. Boyle, of Bayou Sara, and Messrs. Wallace and Perkins of this parish." In describing the dramatic three-and-one-half-day trial, Editor Stewart Wrote:

"Perhaps so great a display of learning and ability, has never before been witnessed in this parish, in the investigation and argument of any case. Several of the gentlemen mentioned, made their first appearance before a jury in this case, and so for as we have heard an expression of opinion, acquitted themselves with great credit. Gen. Foote closed the argument for the defense, and Mr. Boyle for the prosecution. They are both bold and talented lawyers, and the collision of their minds may be compared to the grappling of two giants--great interest was manifested in this trial, and a very unusually large number of persons were present during its progress."

The jury deliberated from eleven o'clock on Saturday morning until Monday morning and returned a verdict of "excusable homicide" (III: 29, May 24, 1844). Certainly the Mason trial provided drama long remembered in Madison Parish.

In March 1844, John Prall, a resident of Newark, New Jersey, was killed when a tree fell on him while he was burning dead timber in a field near Richmond, Then in May in a fight on Bayou Macon a man named Fields used a bowie knife on a man named Brimberry and inflicted several wounds, though apparently not deadly.

Since crime and violence usually led to more exciting court-days, it is easy to see that the second page of the Compiler which brought such news to subscribers was often the most interesting to readers of the weekly.

Second-page items in the Compiler that were often of great interest to subscribers were reports of weather and disease. Since these topics of perennial interest were usually thought to be so closely related, the Compiler often reported them together. A rain season was likely to bring an epidemic of yellow fever or the even more dreaded cholera.

In August 1841, the Compiler reported yellow fever on the decline in neighboring Tensas Parish where thirty-seven persons had died of fever in St. Joseph, a town of one thousand population. The disease, it was thought, had been imported from Cuba on river craft or had been produced by the rotting wood of an old wharf in the town. In September Editor Stewart advised his readers not to go to Vicksburg because of Yellow Fever. "We were there a few days ago," he said, "and found that the sickness was general and spreading (II: 13, September 28, 1841), He repeated the warning the next week, but by November he thought the city safe for visitors. He wrote on November 9:

"We were there a few days since, and were assured by the citizens that no new cases were occurring, except amongst persons who were compelled to pass the summer in the city, and whose systems had become thoroughly impregnated with the seeds of the fever--the many severe frosts that we have had, together with the recent high winds and heavy rains, have effectually cleansed the atmosphere in and around the city and rendered it altogether safe for our citizens to visit it. (I: 19)"

Thus ended the fever season for 1841 and not until the next August did the Compiler mention yellow fever. On August 9, 1842, Editor Downes commented that the weather had been unusually cool for that time of the year and that the sudden change "together with the abundance of watermelons, etc., has occasioned some sickness, principally Ague and Fever: (II: 6). Two weeks later he cited the New Orleans Bulletin as reporting a few cases of yellow fever in that city, "principally among the shipping" (II: 8, August 23, 1842). Early in September, Downes noted that the Picayune reported only a few cases of fever in New Orleans and commented that New Orleans newspapers were reluctant to admit the extent of the disease. As proof, he cited the Vicksburg Sentinel, which in turn quoted 'a gentleman from New Orleans--in whose veracity we have undoubted confidence, that the fever was indeed widespread in New Orleans. In reporting the rumor, Editor Downes said:

"We mention it for the purpose of putting our city authorities on their guard. No one who witnessed the fearful ravages which this fell destroyer of the human family committed in our community last fall, but must feel anxious to do all that is practicable to prevent its introduction into this city (II: 12, September 20, 1842)."

Yellow fever did not become widespread enough in Madison Parish or Vicksburg that fall or during the succeeding two years of the Compiler file to receive any considerable attention.

Weather, especially rain which caused overflow of the Mississippi and the bayous, was another problem. Rain was both a curse and a blessing: too much of it in areas above Madison Parish might cause disastrous overflow that would ruin the crops, since no adequate levee system was then established; too little of it would impede steamer transportation in the interior waterways during the critical spring and fall seasons when supplies were brought in and cotton hauled out. Consequently, editors of the Compiler kept their readers informed on the progress of both the spring and fall rises in the Mississippi.

These brief comments on news stories in the Richmond Compiler between 1841 and 1844 which were of purely local interest do not by any means exhaust the topics of historical interest in that file of newspapers. The weekly printed much national news, including the texts of presidential speeches and debates in Congress: resolutions adopted at public meetings, such as those of a group in Richmond protesting the activities of Northern abolition societies in 1841: fiction lifted bodily from some current book to fill up a whole front page, and at least one poem every week, some of them local effusions; advertisements of local general stores which sold everything from imported cloth to crockery; advertisements for runaway slaves that had been apprehended and were being held in the local jail subject to release to their owners; notices of sheriff's sales of property and slaves, printed often in both French and English; court notices of suits such as that Resin Bowie's wife filed against him in Carroll Parish[15]: and finally a host of other intriguing items--all of which makes turning through such a volume of old newspapers an exciting experience.

The Richmond Compiler seldom showed evidence of such crusading spirit. Though they indulged in some good-natured rivalry with neighboring papers, they escaped such violence as that of the duel between rival editors in Vicksburg in 1844, which cost one editor his life.[16]

© 2003 Richard P. Sevier (

[1] Located two miles south of the present parish seat, Tallulah, Richmond was the first parish seat of Madison Parish. During the Civil War, General John G. Walker's Texas Division camped at Richmond prior to the attack on Federal white and Negro troops at Milliken's Bend. After the Battle of Milliken's Bend, June 7, 1863, Walker's division withdrew to Richmond, thence to Delhi. On June 15 the Federals burned Richmond and it was never rebuilt.

[2] The only known file of the Compiler is owned by Mrs. S. B. Bettis, Tallulah, and is now on loan to the University of North Carolina Library. The file begins with a fragment of the last page of Vol. I, No. 7 in August 1841, and continues weekly to Vol. II, No. 52, June 23, 1843, at which time the paper was discontinued. Publication was resumed with Vol. III, No. 1, November 10, 1843, and continued regularly though No. 30, July 12, 1844, and accumulated a total of 412 pages. According to Mrs. Bettis, a companion volume covering the four years following existed in Monroe, La. until a few years ago, when it was destroyed by water and mold.

[3] In an exchange of editorial pleasantries with the Port Gibson Correspondent, Kercheval printed part of a letter from Editor Thomas D. Jeffries, "our old friend" who wrote "Many, very many, years ago did the youthful editor (Kercheval) take up his abode in our little town. We have met him on many occasions--drank together over the sparkling bowl..." After Kercheval left the Compiler in March 1842 he became co-editor of the Concordia Intelligencer, St. Joseph, La.

[4] In his first editorial, March 15, 1842, Downes exclaimed, "Reader, imagine yourself suddenly called to the editorial chair from a profession entirely unconnected with such a situation.... we are determined to please our solid readers, and speak in plain unvarnished English". But the lawyer in him got the upper hand, for his long editorial proclaiming editorial policy and political neutrality bristles with Latin phrases. Downes's learning also is evident in an editorial criticizing a poem by a local poet. He found one line short a syllable, but since he could not find the poet to make the addition, Downes made it himself and printed the poem.

[5] The correspondent was exaggerating, of course. Three years later when Henry Clay Lewis settled on the Tensas River to practice medicine, he found relatively few people in the area. In his Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp Doctor (Philadelphia, 1850), published under the pen name "Madison Tensas, MD", Lewis said (p. 111) that there was but one frame house in the settlement, the remainder being log houses. He otherwise implies that it was a frontier settlement."--See my "Henry Clay Lewis, Alias 'Madison Tensas, M.D., The Louisiana Swamp Doctor," Bulletin of the Medical Library Association, XTIII, (1955), 58-73.

[6] In the early 1840's, planters of Madison Parish hauled their cotton to the Mississippi River for shipment to New Orleans. Among steamers mentioned in this service were the Oceola, Capt. Pease; the Tuskins,; Capt. Jeffries; The Maid of Arkansas, Capt. Charley Gyles; The Baton Rouge, Capt. Walworth; The U S. Mail, Master Charles J. Brenham; and The Sultana, The Vicksburg and The Alexander Scott.

[7] The "Mr. C," whom Lewis mentions in Odd Leaves from the Life of a Louisiana Swamp Doctor (p. I10) was quite likely Charles Carpenter.

[8] Millerism, an Adventist movement, resulted from the preaching of William Miller (1782-1849), who prophesied the Second Coming of Christ between March 1843 and March 1844. Miller was an obscure country preacher originally, largely self-educated, though deeply sincere. Thousands attended his tent tabernacle, which he took about the country in the 1840's. The movement caused a great concern, and newspapers published exaggerated accounts of the Millerites' activities, though stories of members wearing ascension robes and holding meetings in graveyards are largely fictitious.

[9] See Walter Blair Native American Humor Chicago, 1937), 62-64, and Franklin J. Meine, Tall Tales of the Southwest (New York, 1930). Introduction.

[10] The premier turf event of the 1840's, this match is one of the most celebrated in American racing history. Highly publicized, the event was attended by a crowd estimated at between fifty and seventy thousand people, including forty U. S. Congressmen. Run on May 12, 1942 for a purse of $20,000, the race was a North versus South match - Fashion representing the North and Boston representing the South. Fashion, owned by Henry K Toler of New Jersey, won fifty-two heats out of sixty-four during her career, and her four-mile record stood for thirteen years. Boston was owned by William R. Johnson, "The Napoleon of the turf," so called because his horses had won sixty-one out of sixty-three matches. Over the gate to his "Oaklands" plantation in Virginia was a sign which read, "There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse." John Harvey, Racing in America. 1844-1865 (2 vols, New York, (1944), II, 79, 85, 156, 158

[11] See especially "The Dance", in A. B. Longstreet's Georgia Scenes (New York, 1840); "The Knob Dance--a Tennessee Frolic," by G. W. Harris, reprinted in Meine's Tall Tales of the Southwest; and T. A. Burke (ed), Polly Peablossom's Wedding; and other Tales (Philadelphia, 1851).

[12] At the age of twenty-three, Bosworth became the first parish judge of Carroll Parish (now East and West Carroll Parishes) when it was created in 1832. He served in the Mexican War and died at Vera Cruz in 1847. His body was brought back for burial at Lake Providence. See Frederick W. Williamson Northeast Louisiana, a narrative history of the Ouachita River valley and the Concordia country (Monroe, La. 1938), 99.

[13] See my Henry Clay Lewis, Alias "Madison Tensas". After Lewis moved to Richmond in 1849, Shadbourne (or Shadburne) became his partner and served as curator of his estate after Lewis's death in 1850

[14] Felix Bosworth to Alonzo Snyder, January 2, 1846, in Alonzo Snyder Papers (Department of Archives, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.)

[15] Among official notices in the (Compiler, June 14, 1844, (III:32), is an announcement of as suit filed May 8 by Nancy Latimore against Resin Bowie for $2710 and five slaves. She also requested that her property be separated from that of her husband.

[16] On March 15 (III: 19), the Compiler reported that a Mr. Ryan, editor of the Vicksburg Sentinel was killed in a duel with a Mr. Hammet, editor of the Vicksburg Whig.