I wrote this article for Road Trips Magazine October, 2009. This legend is still circulating as fact!
The Legend of the Trent Brothers
The following tale of how Old Trenton was founded has been told and retold as fact for over sixty-two years. As a matter of fact, a local newspaper retold it as fact less than a year ago. The only problem is…not a bit of it is true. Back in 1942, a man named Andrew J. Navard, writing under the nom de plume “Andre Cajun” decided to tell the story of how the town of Trenton, a forerunner of West Monroe, was founded. Not one to let facts get in the way of a good yarn, Mr. Navard wove a tale of two trouble-making brothers hell-bent on breaking every rule Commandant Juan Filhiol came to enforce. As a result of getting kicked out of Fort Miro for their insolence, a town was born. What follows is a summary of the tale, so that the next time you hear it, you can set the record straight!
In 1790, Calvin Trent and six others, all from Connecticut, along with their families, arrived in Fort Miro. They were received warmly by Filhiol and soon settled around the Fort. Calvin Trent had five children, among whom were twin boys named John and Sebastian. They did not settle in as well as the others who traveled with them. They refused to work and take their turn at standing guard. They would disappear for weeks in the woods to hunt. When they did come to the fort, they would cause all kinds of mischief. Filhiol and the rest of the residents had enough. In the summer of 1792, they were expelled from the fort.
The two brothers didn’t mind very much that they would no longer be welcome in the fort. Directly opposite the fort and across the river, they built a log cabin. The cabin soon became known in the area for cheap whiskey, dancing, gambling and prostitution. This didn’t set well with the God-fearing Fort residents across the river. At night, they resorted to taking pot shots at the lights of the Trent brothers’ cabin. They got so good at shooting them out that the brothers moved their operation two miles up the river. Thus, the town of Trenton was born. The brothers began to import the best whiskeys from the east, which was better than what you could get from Natchez. This soon forced Fort Miro’s residents to buy theirs from the Trent brothers. Resentment climbed higher.
In 1804, the United States bought the Louisiana territory. There was a big celebration in the town of Trenton where the liquor flowed and the American flag was raised. Beneath the flag that waved in the breeze, John Trent proclaimed himself mayor of the little town.
In 1806, Aaron Burr traveled down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, stopping in at Natchez. It was here that he learned about the Trent brothers. Burr decided to pay them a visit. It was his plan to carve himself an empire out of the west and he thought John and Sebastian could help him. They turned deaf ears to his cause. Burr was so angry that he vowed that the three hundred men he had waiting in Mississippi to help him would swarm in and wipe them out and the town with them. The brothers told him he was welcome to do it, but there were over a thousand armed Indian braves between them and the town, who would stand ready to defend them. Burr never carried out his threat.
In 1807, America passed the embargo act. When the effects of the embargo were felt in Trenton, the brothers and a few other Trenton citizens decided to go to New Orleans and make a deal with Lafitte the Pirate for contraband. Lafitte was amiable to their offer. As a result, goods came through Trenton and not Fort Miro. You could buy goods in Trenton for a third of the cost of Fort Miro businesses.
In 1814, Captain Henry Shreve had stopped in New Orleans to conduct business. Andrew Jackson had need of boats to help defend New Orleans and promptly confiscated Captain Shreve’s boat. Captain Shreve had no money to fight Jackson in court. Having learned in Natchez how wealthy the Trent brothers were, he decided to pay them a visit. They agreed to loan him the gold. Captain Shreve won his boat back. In the summer of 1816, Captain Shreve sent the first steamboat up the Ouachita River to visit the town of Trenton. It also stopped at Fort Miro, and the town was so happy to see the boat that they named their town after it. Ever after, the town has been called Monroe.
The Trent brothers watched their little town grow and flourish into a booming center of industry. Gradually the lawless were forced out of the town and it developed an air of respectability. In the spring of 1832, John Trent passed away. Seeing no place for an old troublemaker like him, Sebastian sold all of his property, wrapped the body of his brother in hides, coated it in tar and made his way back to Connecticut, the land of his birth. He would never return. Trenton would survive many booms and busts, until the coming of the railroad finally destroyed it in the 1880’s.
There was no Calvin Trent and his sons John and Sebastian. In actuality, there was a man named William Trent, who started the first ferry landing on the west side of the river. It is from this man that Trenton gets its name from. The Trent brothers’ story is the more interesting tale and therefore it refuses to die. We Southerners just love a good story, right?