Small Town News


Old times at Lees Landing

The Ponchatoula Times of Ponchatoula, Louisiana

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Sawmills and shipyards were in full operation at the mouth of the Tangipahoa River in the 1830's, with construction of schooners and barges used on the river and in trade with the Crescent City., About a dozen schooners and about six barges were built in the 1830's and 1840's at the shipyards on the river. Lumber and other supplies needed for ship construction came from the forests near the river, with much of it coming from upriver areas near May's Landing.

Some of the lumber for the ship construction could be floated down the river, but other items had to be loaded on schooners and barges at May's landing and other points and sent downstream.

After the schooners were built they shipped lumber, tar, turpentine, oak bark for use in tanneries, cypress shingles, and other items to New Orleans to be exchanged for manufactured goods, fancy groceries, glassware, etc.

Commercial activities continued at May's Landing from the 1820's through the remaining years of the Nineteenth Century with schooners stopping at the landing to carry the bounty of the pine, oak and cypress forests to New Orleans, and bring needed items from the city to area residents.

One of the major industries in the area continued to be lumbering. Timber was needed to produce lumber for homes, shipbuilding, and vast amounts of cord wood for thousands of New Orleans fireplaces. Some of the needed timber was brought to area mills over the dirt roads by the use of log wagons with very large wheels and pulled by teams of oxen. Some of the logs were cut into lumber at the mills near Lee's Landing and shipped down the river by schooner, while large quantities of logs were also rafted down the river to the several area mill sites further downstream.

Most of the cargo being shipped down the Tangipahoa River, across the lake and up Bayou St. John to the Crescent City consisted of naval stores.

The piney woods produced tar from carefully burning "fat pine" to be used to caulk ship beams, coat the lines used aboard ships, and for use in medicines. Turpentine was distilled from pine rosin.

Oak, pine, and cypress trees were sawed into planks and used for special purposes such as ship and home construction, staves for barrel making, and thousands of spokes for wagons and carts. Cypress timber was also cut and split into shingles for roofing homes, and for pickets for fencing. Cord wood for the many residential fireplaces of the Crescent City, and later for ever-hungry steam engines was always in demand.

These and other materials were transported to New Orleans in light draft and maneu-verable schooners, and less ma-neuverable but less expensive barges that carried larger and bulkier items. Shipyards had been established at the mouth of the river and schooners and barges were constructed there using the local timber. Several schooners and barges are on record as being constructed by the shipyards on the river in the 1830's, and the shipyards are believed to have established years before that decade.

The barge Sawyer, for example, constructed at one of the shipyards on the river in 1834, was a two-masted vessel that was 77 feet long, 19 feet abeam, and drew four feet of water. This vessel was owned by John A. Merle of New Orleans.

A slightly smaller barge, the Carroll, was built on the river in 1839 and drew only three feet and three inches of water. The Carroll was owned and sailed by local resident William Robertson.

Having a shallow draft vessel was vitally important, as the ships had to clear the sand bars which developed at the mouth of the river. The schooner Adeline owned by long time river residents William and Levi Wells plied the waters of the Tangipahoa during this period.

Thomas May and his family witnessed the increased commerce along the river from their home near the landing.

Another item that was shipped down the river to New Orleans was the bark from the many oak trees that grew alongside the more abundant pines. The bark from the oak trees was needed in large quantities for use in the tanning of hides. The term tanning was derived from the Latin tannum meaning "oak bark," and involved immersing the prepared hides in a solution made from the bark. The tanneries were usually located at the edge of a community since the hides, the tanning bark solution, and another stage in the process involving the use of animal feces produced a smell that was less than admirable (and you once said "my job stinks").

Obtaining the bark meant that some of Thomas May's slaves had to remove the bark from the oak trees that were cut down for other purposes and could also more carefully remove some amount of bark from the living oak trees without killing them. Thomas owned about 640 acres of land and the land owner upstream from Thomas, Mrs. Mary Celeste Ouvre, the widow of John Batiste DeNelle, who had later married Antoine Lavigne also had 640 acres of land.

The large land holdings were not fenced and workers for Thomas May accidentally or otherwise were said to have entered the lands owned by the widow DeNelle and cut bark from about a thousand oak trees.

Antoine Lavigne representing his wife's interest rode to Covington in August 1821 and filed suit against Thomas May in the sum of $1,000 for the damages caused by May's workers cutting the bark and carrying it off to New Orleans. The court called several of the neighbors to court to testify about the details of the case. Henry Cooper, William Cooper Jr., John Badeaux, John Lanier, and Lawrence Sticker all appeared in court and told what they knew about the land boundaries and the bark removal. The court issued a judgment of $560 in favor of the widow DeNelle in April 1822.

Thomas May quickly appealed the district court's decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court. Working at "judicial speed" the Supreme Court ruled against May and confirmed the district court's decision. By the time the court ruled in June 1824, it made little difference to Thomas, for that was the year of his death.

Original Publication Date: January 19, 2012

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