St. John's Port at Bayou St. John
They Were Here First!
Research by Emily Antoine and Erin
Centuries ago, when Native Americans first entered Southern Louisiana, they saw vast marshes and swamps. While looking for places to settle, they found a body of water which they named Bayouk Choupic after the mudfish. They started building their villages there. On Bayouk Choupic palmetto leaves and tree branches were use to build houses. Others built their homes on top of mounds or hills of dirt and clamshells.
The natives used the bayou for transportation and food. Using the bayou, along with a path now called Bayou Road, they were able to travel to the Mississippi River. A trading community developed on the convergence of Bayouk Choupic and Bayou Road.
One such tribe was the Tangipahoa, which means ?Corn Gatherers? or ?Corn Cob People?. They are thought to be a part of the Acolapissa from Pearl River. They moved closer to Lake Pontchartrain and stopped on the north and south shores. One day, the Houma, from the Choctaw Tribe, and their allies entered a Tangipahoa village and destroyed it. After returning to Pearl River, they moved to another river. That river now bears their name. It is called the Tangipahoa River.
Some Acolapissa lived here. The Houma and the Bayougoula lived on Bayou St. John also. All three are related, says Grayhawk of the Cannes Brulee Native American Center. He also tells us that the Houma see the crawfish as a sign of bravery.
Later, the French came looking to control the Mighty Mississippi. They wanted control over trade to their Canadian colonies. What they needed was a shorter route to the river from the gulf. That is when French explorers met natives from Biloxi. They showed the French their route to the bayou. They traveled from Biloxi, on the Gulf of Mexico, to Lake Borgne. Then into Lake Catherine and into Rigolets Pass. From there they went into Lake Pontchartrain to Bayouk Choupic and stopped at the bend. They walked down Bayou Road to the Mississippi. The French decided to build a city there. They built the city of New Orleans on the crescent of the river - their New Orleans, the part of the city we call the French Quarter. The city was surrounded by a wall, which is now Rampart, St. Peter, Esplanade, and Canal Streets. They renamed Bayouk Choupic, calling it Bayou St. Jean, and used it for importing and exporting goods with New Orleans as their port city.
Other people, including the Spanish, wanted New Orleans because they wanted to control trade. To protect the city, the French built a fort at the mouth of the bayou called Fort St. Jean. When the Spanish owned Louisiana, they called the fort Spanish Fort.
Bayou St. John is a small, sluggish channel that was once a major shipping route between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River. Because of the river's constant geographical evolution, the stream is no longer directly connected to the river, the lake or any of the other bayous. But when the French arrived in the area, they used it as a trade route for trappers and merchants.
The French established a landing at the headwaters of the bayou and named it Port St. John when the City of New Orleans was established at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1701, the French constructed a fortress near the mouth of the Bayou. Under Spanish rule in 1779, the fort was rebuilt and became known as Spanish Fort. Remnants of the structure still exist. Local folklore says that the voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, performed voodoo at the mouth of Bayou St. John on Lake Pontchartrain.
Bayou St. John was fundamental to the early life of New Orleans. In 1803 a canal was dredged from the Bayou toward the City's heart. It was a commercially valuable route until 1838, when Americans built a new canal from Lake Pontchartrain into the city. Bayou St. John has not been navigable for boats larger than canoes and skiffs for the better part of this century, because of construction of bridges and changes in commerce.
As early as 1703 (15 years before the founding of New Orleans), the Bayou was used as a shipping channel for French trappers and traders who lived on the Bayou. Prior to the arrival of the French, a Choctaw Indian village of the Houmas tribe existed at the headwaters of the Bayou. They had probably already relocated to what is now called Houma, Louisiana by the time the French arrived. The French established a landing at the headwaters and named it Port St. John when the City of New Orleans was established. A route to the new City on the river was cleared and named Grand Route St. John. A street bearing this name still exist to memorialize this route. In 1701, the French constructed a fortress near the mouth of the Bayou. Under Spanish rule in 1779, the fort was rebuilt and became known as Spanish Fort. Remnants of the structure still exist. Local folklore says that the voodoo queen, Marie Laveau, performed voodoo at the mouth of Bayou St. John on Lake Pontchartrain.
Bayou St. John was fundamental to the early life of New Orleans. In 1803 a canal was dredged from the Bayou toward the City's heart. This new canal terminated at current day Basin Street named for the ship turning basin at the terminus of the canal. This canal was originally called the Carondelet Canal in honor of the Spanish governor of that name. In 1838, a new canal under American control was dredged from Lake Pontchartrain into the City. The new canal was known as the New Basin Canal. The Carondelet Canal became known as the Old Basin Canal and remained primarily under the control of the Creoles. Bayou St. John and the Old Basin Canal became commercially less important. The Bayou has not been navigable for the better part of this century. Construction of vehicular bridges and changes in commerce during this century have rendered the Bayou unsuitable for water traffic except for very small canoes and skiffs.
The high ground along Bayou St. John offered some of the earliest settlement opportunities in the city. In 1708 European arrivals settled along the Bayou. As a major route from Lake Pontchartrain, the Bayou became even more important with completion of the Carondelet Canal in 1795. The Old Spanish Custom House, built in 1784, at the corner of Moss and Grand Route St. John, is the oldest structure still standing in the neighborhood.
For many, Bayou St. John offered the possibility of living in houseboats. However, with the 'ragtag' nature of the houseboats, the decline of the corridor as a critical part of the trade route, and the Bayou's increased use as a holding basin for city drainage, the area experienced a general deterioration in its condition. By 1936 it was declared a non-navigable stream. Today the Bayou is a pleasing green space connecting residential areas surrounding City Park both to one another and to the park.
An Act for Laying And Collecting Duties or Imports and Tonnage within the Territories Ceded to the United States, by the Treaty of the Thirtieth of April, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Three, Between the United States and the French Republic, and for Other Purposes:
SEC. 4. And be it further enacted, That, to the end that the laws providing for the collection of the duties imposed, by law, on goods, wares and merchandise, imported into the United States, and on the tonnage of ships and vessels, and the laws respecting the revenue and navigation of the United States, may be carried into effect within the said territories, the territories ceded to the United States by the treaty above mentioned, and also all the navigable waters, rivers, creeks, bays, and inlets, lying within the United States, which empty into the Gulf of Mexico, east of the river Mississippi, shall be annexed to the Mississippi district, and shall, together with the same, constitute one district, to be called the 'District of Mississippi.' The city of New Orleans shall be the sole port of entry in the said district, and the town of Bayou e St. John shall be a port of delivery, a collector, naval officer, and surveyor shall be appointed to reside at New Orleans, and a surveyor shall e be appointed to reside at the port of Bayou St. John; and the President of the United States is hereby authorized to appoint, not exceeding three surveyors, to reside at such other places, within the said district, as he shall deem expedient, and to constitute each, or either of such places ports of delivery only. And so much of any law or laws, as establishes a district on the river Mississippi, south of the river Tennessee, is hereby repealed, except as to the recovery and receipt of such of duties on goods, wares and merchandise, and on the tonnage of ships c or vessels, as shall have accrued, and as to the recovery and distribution of fines, penalties, and forfeitures, which shall have been incurred before the commencement of the operation of this act.
By the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, Chiconcte (Madisonville) and Barrio of Buck Falia (Covington) had begun to develop as trade and transportation centers. The Port of Bayou St. John in New Orleans began trade excursions across Pontchartrain to the settlements, and vessels began to be built on the Northshore. So began an industry in Madisonville which continues today.