Journal of the Rev. Timothy Flint part IV

          The soil on the surface is generally light, fertile, and of a black colour, except in the oaklands, where it is whitish, and rather stiff and meagre clay.  At intervals

we see masses of those triturated marine shells mixed with the soil, which constitute such a geological puzzle to the investigation of the dwellers, who turn them up with the plough, and content themselves for their inability to explain how they came there, by perceiving their visible tendency to enrich the soil.

          The principal timber is the sweet gum, (nyssa aquatica,) which has on this stream the singular habit of throwing up, in many instances, three or four straight stems from a single buttress at the height of two or three feet from the ground.  The gum, when in leaf, is a very handsome tree, nearest resembling the sugar maple, but is, as far as I know, useless.  The high belt of land, as usual with all the Louisiana streams, slopes back from the river to the swamp.  The quality and value of tracts are indicated here, as the phrase is, by their running back well, or otherwise; that is, by their having a wide or narrow skirt of high soil between the river and the overflowed swamp, the approach to which is indicated by a wide belt of switch cane, and sometimes of the high cane.  Extended in every direction through the wide alluvion, when I traversed it, brown and leafless, are occasional clusters of pine trees.  These strange visitants of a deep and fertile alluvion are every where in the south, as you know, the double index of health and sterility.  Long residence in this country has imparted to me the same associations with the rest, and it was with difficulty that I could convince myself, by the appearance of the growth and the soil, as well as the testimony of the inhabitants, that these trees in this alluvion invariably clustered most in the most fertile, black, and shelly soil.

The size of these trees is enormous.  It was the season when the trees are ordinarily in half leaf.  The weather was now gloomy and uncomfortable, the vast gum forest sear and leafless, the ground generally covered with water.  The trees of the gum forest were large, straight, tall and numerous.  But above the regular roof of the summits of these trees, these huge evergreens reared another story into the air, as it were a forest on the summit of another forest, swinging their deep green umbrella tops over the leafless woods, and towards the leaden sky, creating even in this vast swamp a spectacle in contras with all else in view of sublimity.

          Another idea was suggested in view of the improvements on our way.  Few of the dwellers could in any way consider themselves owners of the soil.  Yet under this uncertainty almost every house was surrounded by its young and thrifty orchard of fruit trees.  Especially were there great numbers of fig trees of unusual luxuriance.  Where people have confidence in life, the next thought is of surrounding themselves with comforts, at least such as their condition and habits have led them to deem such.  On the long bayous of our river, on each side of which the great cotton plantations spread like prairies, you may travel thirty miles amid continuous lines of plantations, and no where see what may fairly be called a single fruit garden.  To make money through cotton is visibly the first and the absorbing idea.  The maxim of life seems adopted from the epicurean motto quoted by St. Paul, though otherwise not severe students of the scriptures – let us make cotton and money, for to-morrow we die.

          Although you easily anticipate that the agent of a non-resident landholder of the largest grant in the country, traveling among the dwellers on that grant, can hardly promise himself popularity, yet wherever we stopped, we experienced the most ample hospitality.  We spent the third night of our journey at Mr. Grayson’s[1], an intelligent and agreeable family.  Such also we found to be that of Mr. Figliol[2], son of the commandant of this post in Spanish times.  In order to judge of the value of individual lots, we more than once traced them far back through the cane brakes up to the saddle skirts of our horses in the water of the swamps.  It was a relief in such cases to wind back to the high and dry banks of the river, which rolled along through the woods, moderately full, uniformly of one width, clear and beautiful, alive with water fowl, and a river of the most safe and perfect steamboat navigation, though more tortuous than the path of a serpent, often meandering two leagues to gain a mile of direct advance.  Three steamboats already run on this river and its tributaries.  One of them, the Chesapeake, in which I afterwards descended the river to its mouth, passed us, as we stood on the shore twenty-five miles below Monroe, smoking down the forest with a load of eight hundred bales of cotton.  Such already are the auspices of a river but partially beginning to be settled, and the name of which still sounds in the ears of the Atlantic people as the Ultima Thule of the American frontier.

          From a general survey of the soil on the alluvial shore of your grant, we found the upper stratum of the vegetable soil generally black, often shelly, and, as I have

remarked, in the highest and richest parts grouped with magnificent pines.  The sub-soil is of a reddish tinge, entirely different, however, from that of Red River, inclining more to flesh colour, but reposing like that, at the depth of from eight to twelve feet, on a white hard clay, apparently in the process of indurating to slate stone.  Cultivation renders even the grayish oak soil black, and, unlike its effect on the Louisiana lands in general, decidedly improves it.  The yield and staple of the cotton equal ours, and the planters here have never experienced a failure of a crop either from the worm or storms.  Add to this that the country is decidedly more healthful, and the consequent chances of life and ability to labour, and I cannot discover that any district of the state offers more inducements to planters.

          On the fourth day of our journey, we plunged through a deep swamp on the upper boundary of your grant, passed the bridge over the bayou Mchoire–l’Ours[3], and having rested awhile at the pretty place of Mr. Downes[4],soon afterwards came in view of the long and magnificent avenue of young catalpas bounding the road that passes through Mr. Girod’s[5] plantation.  These beautiful trees, as indeed is most of similar ornament in this vicinity, are the product of the taste and disinterestedness of Judge Bry[6], the opulent and intelligent Genevese planter residing at the next plantation in the skirts of the village of Monroe.  He reared these fine trees in a nursery from the seed, in a region where the native tree is not found, and imported them as ornaments for the roadside to all who would take the trouble to plant them out.  I have not seen so beautiful an avenue of trees

elsewhere in the state ; and it is a striking specimen how much ornament can be accomplished with a little care.  The timber, too, is said to be almost incorruptible ; and, planted at the distance of a rail’s length, they answer an admirable purpose as posts, into which the rails being inserted become fixed by the overgrowth of the living fibre.[7]


[1] This is most likely Thomas Grayson of Caldwell Parish (1770 – 1839) or one of his sons.

[2] Edmond Landry Grammont Filhiol (1779 – 1871).

[3] Bayou Mouchoir de L’ourse, six miles south of Monroe at the southern limits of Richwood.  The French translation means roughly, “Bayou of the Jaw of the Bear”.  Most people today know it as “Mushwaterloo”.

[4] Senator Solomon Weathersbee Downs (1806 – 1854).

[5] Stephen F. Girard, (1750 – 1831) thought to be the fourth wealthiest American in history, owned a huge plantation in Louisiana, managed by Isaac Henry Bry.  Girard never set foot in Louisiana.  The town of Girard, LA is named for him.

[6] Judge Isaac Henry Bry (1791 – 1854).

[7] Here he is describing Lovers Lane, where legend says green catalpa lumber was used to make a fence.  The lumber rooted and grew into a row of trees.

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