Researched and Written by T. D. Hudson
French & Spanish Control of Louisiana (1540 – 1803)
After Hernando De Soto’s exploration of the Mississippi Valley during the 1540s, we have little evidence of any European activity in the Ouachita River valley until the latter 1600s. European interest in the region then came in three distinct waves. The French hunters, trappers, and traders appeared first and operated along the Ouachita River valley until the Natchez Indian massacre of 1729, which frightened away any developers for a while. Next, in the 1740s and 1750s, French settlers meandered north from the Pointe Coupee Post in south Louisiana and named many of north Louisiana’s bayous and prairies. These settlers returned south to Pointe Coupee before the Spaniards took possession of Louisiana in the late 1760s. The third wave of European settlers were actually descendents of the second wave, mostly true Louisiana Creoles born near the Point Coupee and Opelousas Posts. Additionally, a few Canadians came down the river from the Arkansas Post, and a few native French traders also operated along the river in the 1770s. Although plenty of evidence exists to indicate significant Indian activity and settlement in Union Parish, these apparently pre-dated the French explorations of the mid-1700s. Certainly by the 1780s, the region served merely as hunting grounds for Indian and French trappers.
Prior to 1782, with the exception of occasional failed colonization schemes, the Europeans ignored the vast Ouachita Valley, which extended from the area around Hot Springs Arkansas southward towards the Mississippi River in Louisiana. This changed with the 1779–1782 war between England and Spain. After their defeat at the Battle of Baton Rouge in 1779, the English yielded control of Natchez to the Spaniards, and this led to several years of fighting as the English settlers resisted Spanish rule over them. After the ultimate English defeat, many settlers fled to the Ouachita Valley region, creating the threat of English/American rebel activity in the Ouachita Valley region. This prompted the Spanish governor, Don Bernardo, the Comte de Galvez, to establish a strong buffer zone between the independent American states and the Spanish province of Louisiana. In 1781 Galvez created the “Poste d’Ouachita” and named Jean-Baptist Filhiol (also known as Don Juan Filhiol) as the commandant. Filhiol served in this capacity between 1782 and 1804, and through his service helped to keep a firm Spanish grip on activities in the region.
Filhiol, his new wife, and a few others arrived in the Ouachita country in April 1782. He traveled up the river, past present-day Union Parish, to the old trading post called “Ecore a Fabri” (now Camden, Arkansas). For various reasons, after a few years Filhiol decided not to build his headquarters there and took his group back down river to the “Prairie des Canots”. With the help of a few early settlers, Filhiol built Fort Miro in 1790–1791, named after the Spanish governor Esteban Miro. The Americans took over control of the region in 1804 and later changed the name of the settlement that grew up around the fort from “Fort Miro” to “Monroe”, after President James Monroe.
From Filhiol’s reports to the Spanish governor, we learn that his corporal Augustine Roy had a claim to land surrounding Noyer’s Bluff, near the mouth of Bayou d’Loutre in present-day Union Parish by the early 1790s. No clear record exists to indicate how long (if at all) Roy resided near Noyer’s Bluff, and this is perhaps the earliest documented reference to land in present-day Union Parish. Filhiol also reported that several men settled in the region north of Fort Miro along Bayou d’Arbonne between 1790 and 1800, including Baltazard Foguel, Andre and Simon LeBoeuf, and the American John Price. It is unclear precisely where they settled, although presumably in present-day northern Ouachita Parish, closer to the mouth of the d’Arbonne on the Ouachita River.
The earliest known permanent European settler of what is now Union Parish, John Honeycutt, Sr., arrived in the Ouachita Valley region with his family between 1790 and 1795. He obtained the first known Spanish land grant for property that later fell into Union Parish. Honeycutt’s land lay along Bayou D’Arbonne, and on 14 October 1797 he sold his
“…habitation with ten arpents frontage by the usual forty arpents depth with its stock of hogs with his mark…”
to Zadoc Harman, a man of African descent who had formerly lived in North Carolina (Ouachita Parish Louisiana Conveyance Book Z, folio 46, Deed 68). Although we do not know the specific location of the land that Spain granted to Honeycutt, it was probably near the property that his son John Honeycutt, Jr. purchased from the United States government in 1826, when it finally opened the first land office in Monroe. John Honeycutt, Jr. was among the very first purchasers to appear at the Ouachita Land Office in Monroe that year; he bought eighty acres near Bayou D’Arbonne in present-day Union Parish, located just a mile below the present-day Lake D’Arbonne dam.
Commandant Filhiol’s reports written in the 1780s and 1790s to the Spanish governor gave little information on the origins of the place names already well established in the Ouachita Valley. He referred to Bayous d’Loutre and d’Arbonne by 1784. The Loutre was named for the French – Canadian word for otter or otter skin, but the d’Arbonne was named for Jean Baptiste Darban or d’Arbonne, the son of Jean-Baptiste d’Arbonne of Natchitoches. They were descendents of Gaspard Derbanne, a Canadian hunter who accompanied Louis Jucherneau St. Denis to the Red River in 1714.
The Early American Period (1804 – 1838)
As mentioned above, the earliest recorded permanent white settlers of the modern Union Parish region were John Honeycutt, Sr. and his family, who arrived in the Ouachita Valley between 1790 and 1795 and obtained a Spanish grant for land along Bayou D’Arbonne. He sold his Spanish land in 1797, but remained in the region with his family. Between the early 1790s and about 1810, the Honeycutts were the only known permanent white residents of what is now Union Parish. By 1814, Honeycutt’s John Honeycutt, Jr. owned a plantation of 625 acres on Bayou D’Arbonne. The Honeycutts lived in what soon became known as the “Upper Pine Hills” or the “Piney Hills”, the region surrounding Bayou D’Arbonne in what is now southern Union Parish. John Honeycutt, Jr. was born about 1774 in Tennessee; when George Feazel moved into the Honeycutt’s neighborhood in early 1814, John Jr. almost immediately married his daughter, Mary Feazel. It appears that John Honeycutt, Sr. died shortly after 1820, but John Jr. and his wife Mary remained in southern Union Parish until the mid-1850s.
The next earliest Union Parish settlers were John Stow, who arrived in the Ouachita Valley prior to 1810, and Mills Farmer, who arrived by 1812. Both born in 1780 in S outh Carolina, Stow and his wife Dorcas settled on land now in Lincoln Parish near the modern Union/Lincoln Parish line. Farmer apparently settled a few miles east of what later became the Village of Downsville in extreme southern Union Parish. Farmer married Susannah Wood McGowan on 13 February 1812 in Ouachita Parish. In 1814, he joined aunit of soldiers raised by William Wood (his father- or brother-in-law) to help defend south Louisiana from invasion by the British. Farmer served as the unit’s sergeant, and they marched south to help fight the British during the War of 1812. He saw service around Baton Rouge and New Orleans and afterwards returned to north Louisiana. Although he practically lived isolated in a wilderness with only a handful of nearby neighbors, Farmer ensured his children received a sound education. His son William Wood Farmer (27 Apr 1813 – 29 Oct 1854) is the earliest recorded justice of the peace for what is now Union Parish. The younger Farmer was a lawyer and surveyor, often performing surveying work for the government. After serving two terms in the Louisiana Legislature, William W. Farmer was elected as the lieutenant governor on the Democratic ticket with Governor Paul Octave Hebert. While on a trip to New Orleans in 1854 to collect surveying debts for the state from the federal government, Farmer contracted yellow fever and died. He was first interred in the Protestant Girod Street Cemetery in New Orleans, but a joint committee appointed 15 January 1855 by the legislature authorized the removal of his remains to the Farmerville City Cemetery.
William Lyles arrived in the region at the same time as Mills Farmer and settled near him in what is now southern Union Parish. John “Liles”, probably William’s brother or son, served in the Louisiana militia in 1814 with Farmer.
Another early Union Parish settler was Johannes Gorge (George) Feazel, who arrived in Ouachita Parish in early 1814 and settled near the Honeycutts. Feazel’s daughter Mary married John Honeycutt, Jr. on 31 March 1814. In 1822, George Feazel traveled from north Louisiana to Texas, where he had a meeting with Stephen F. Austin. However, Feazel decided to not settle in Texas and soon returned to north Louisiana. In 1824, Feazel’s son John married Christina Ferguson, the daughter of Revolutionary War soldier John Ferguson, who arrived in what is now southern Union Parish in the early 1820s from Mississippi.
Prior to 1826, the only documented landowners in what is now Union Parish are John Honeycutt, Sr., who obtained a grant from the Spanish government in about 1795, his son John Honeycutt, Jr., who in 1814 owned 625 acres of land on Bayou D’Arbonne granted (presumably) by Spain, and Mills Farmer, who owned 20 acres in 1814.Others who cleared fields and built cabins were technically squatters on government land, and this situation provided little incentive to draw settlers to north Louisiana.
The United States finally completed the task of surveying and platting the land surrounding Monroe in about 1825, thus opening the door for the government to finally begin selling some of these lands to farmers. The Ouachita Land Office opened for the first time in mid-1826, offering land at $1.25 per acre. Only around forty or fifty men purchased land in the entire northeastern Louisiana region that year, including five who bought eighty-acre tracts of land located in what would soon become Union Parish. The first purchase was on 19 August 1826, when John Stowe and Gideon P. Benton traveled to Monroe and bought land located a few miles east of the present-day Town of Downsville in southern Union Parish. Benton went to the land office strictly as the representative of William Lyles, and the government issued a land patent to Lyles a few months later. However, shortly after he paid for his land, Stowe must have sold it to John Honeycutt, for the government issued the patent to Honeycutt, not Stowe.
One month later, on 18 September 1826, John Honeycutt, Mills Farmer, and Farmer’s brother-in-law Shepherd Wood appeared at the Ouachita Land Office and purchased their own eighty-acre tracts of southern Union Parish land. Farmer bought land two miles due east of what later became Downsville, whereas Wood chose property one mile south of Farmer’s, on the modern Union/Ouachita Parish line. Honeycutt, however, purchased property located just below the modern dam on Lake d’Arbonne, apparently land that adjoined his existing plantation. At this same time, several other men purchased land that would lie in Union Parish between 1839 and 1845: Daniel and Jeptha Colvin, as well as Ferdinand Stow, bought government property near Vienna; the Louisiana Legislature put this region into Jackson Parish in 1845, and then into Lincoln Parish in 1873.
The Ouachita Land Office did very little business 1827 (only eleven transactions for the entire northeastern portion of the state), with no land in present-day Union Parish sold. In fact, the only other pre-1836 sales of what later became Union Parish property were Mills Farmer’s 5 July 1828 purchase of an 80-acre tract that adjoined his existing farm, as well as the 5 October 1832 purchase by John Huey of 40 acres on the Union/Ouachita Parish line, south of Farmer’s farm. The Hueys had settled not too far south of Mills Farmer prior to 1814, and although fairly close neighbors of Farmer’s, they primarily resided in the region that is now northwestern Ouachita Parish.
The vast majority of land sold at the Ouachita Land Office between 1826 and 1833 lay in the region surrounding Monroe – including present-day Ouachita Parish and the southernmost portions of Union, Lincoln, and Morehouse Parishes. Very little of Claiborne and nothing in Union Parish north of modern Lake D’Arbonne was yet offered for sale. Undoubtedly a few settlers made their homes in that region in the 1820s, but the only one of record is Lawrence Scarborough. He settled on Bayou Cornie in the 1820s and made improvements to a total of 200 acres located about four miles due south of Spearsville. Lawrence was a Baptist minister born in 1767 in Edgecombe County North Carolina; his father Major James Scarborough was a hero of the Revolutionary War Battle of Kings Mountain. Lawrence had settled in Burke County Georgia in the 1790s, moved to Mississippi Territory by about 1810, and traveled throughout southern Arkansas and northern Louisiana before settling on Bayou Cornie. He was a Baptist minister and preached at various churches in Claiborne Parish.
Other early settlers of northwestern Union Parish include Powhatan Boatright, who settled in what is now the Zion Hill Community, about four miles south of Scarborough’s farm, in about 1835. Also in the 1830s, Francis W. Turpin settled in what is now Spearsville.
Apparently prompted by some unknown sequence of events (perhaps the resolution of some bureaucratic red tape that prevented the government from offering certain tracts for sale earlier), the floodgates opened in 1836 with thousands of land purchases at the Ouachita Land Office. Thirty-six settlers purchased land in the Union Parish region that year, primarily in the southern half of the parish near Bayous d’Arbonne and d’Loutre. Immigration increased dramatically in 1837 with the arrival of the first large wave of Alabama settlers led by Colonel Matthew Wood, and continued unabated until the opening of the War Between the States in 1861.
Creation of Union Parish & Farmerville
The Louisiana Legislature created Union Parish on 13 March 1839 from Ouachita Parish. At that time it bordered Union County Arkansas on the north, the Ouachita River on the east, Claiborne Parish on the west, and Ouachita Parish to the south. Union Parish reportedly took its name from a statement made by Daniel Webster: “liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable”. These influential local citizens petitioned the legislature for the creation of Union Parish: Wiley Underwood, Peter J. Harvey, John Taylor, Colonel Matthew Wood, Stephen Colvin, Philip Feazle, Daniel Payne, and William Wood Farmer. The legislature appointed John Taylor as the first parish judge, and he held this position for twenty years. Elections for the Union Parish Police Jury (the governing body of each Louisiana parish was called the “police jury”) were held in March and April 1839.
Upon the order of Judge John Taylor, the first meeting of the Union Parish Police Jury was held at the home of William Wilkerson near the mouth of Bayou Corney on 15 May 1839. Police Jury members elected included: John N. Farmer (Ward 1), Jeptha Colvin (Ward 2), Phillip Feazel (Ward 3), Matthew Wood (Ward 4), Needham M. Bryan (Ward 5), Bridges Howard (Ward 6), and D. P. A. Cook (Ward 7). As its first item of business, the Police Jury elected Colonel Matthew Wood as their first president. The second item of business was to elect Thomas Van Hook as the clerk of the police jury.
The Union Parish Police Jury deliberated all day on 17 May 1839 concerning the location of the parish seat. Still meeting at the house of William Wilkerson on May 18th, they agreed that the “seat of justice” should be located near the confluence of Bayous d’Arbonne and Corney. They also selected the name of ‘Farmerville’ for the parish seat, undoubtedly in honor of early settler and War of 1812 veteran Mills Farmer, who had died a few years earlier on 21 October 1834.
Union Parish Police Jury President Colonel Matthew Wood went to the government land office in Monroe on 28 May 1839 (almost certainly traveling down Bayou d’Arbonne) and purchased 160 acres of government land for $1.25 per acre for the purpose of establishing the parish seat of Farmerville. They selected and marked out a “public square” and the adjacent town lots. The police jury began selling the lots in July 1839, but did not authorize the construction of town streets until the next year. Farmerville grew slowly, not receiving her town charter from the state until 1842.
James Hayden Seale (1814 – 1865/1870) had arrived in north Louisiana with Colonel Matthew Wood’s group in February 1837, along with his brother-in-law David Ward. A veteran of the 1836 Creek War in Alabama, Seale was also a lawyer. He became quite active in the construction of Farmerville and in Union Parish politics for the next few years. By July 1839, Seale had removed many stumps from the town square, and he and Wood dug the first well there. When the United States Postal Service officially opened the Farmerville post office on 2 May 1840, they appointed Seale as the first postmaster; he served in this capacity until 6 July 1842. On 1 June 1840, the police jury put Seale in charge of the construction of Farmerville’s first streets, ordering them to be fifty feet wide. The following year, Seale continued to work on clearing the courthouse square, for on 8 June 1841 the police jury paid him $100 for
“…digging up 84 stumps, rolling, piling, and burning logs, and filling up a large hole on the public square…”
Seale served as the tax assessor for 1841 and 1842, and beginning in 1842, he served one term as Union Parish sheriff. He left Union Parish for New Orleans in 1846, and later moved to Jackson Parish, where he served as the clerk of court in 1850.
The early meetings of the police jury frequently became chaotic, and on 12 July 1841, the police jury required Sheriff William C. Carr to attend the meetings regularly, as they were “…frequently Disturbed by officious and disinterested persons…” whose conduct was not “…in accordance with the laws and general Customs of our State…” The police jury allowed Carr $2 a day for preventing
“…any person or persons intruding upon this body by Loud words or medling [sic] with business in which they are not Directly concerned…”
In September 1841, the police jury passed a procedural motion stating that its members:
“…shall have the priviledge [sic] to speak without interruption from other members untill [sic] he may git [sic] through his Subject provided it does not exceed 20 minutes and that no abusive Language Shall be used by one member toward another member & that each member Rise on his feet When he speaks on any subject….Violators subject to a $5 fine…”
The first serious recorded controversy in Union Parish occurred around the 1840 Presidential election. Although most of the story comes from local tradition rather than recorded facts, documented evidence exists of a serious disturbance between Matthew Wood and Peter Harvey that resulted in Wood’s migration to Texas. The story according to Dr. Max H. Williams:
“Wood and Harvey had differing opinions about parish business which may have originally put them at odds with each other. To make matters worse, Wood was a staunch Whig, where as Harvey was a fervent Democrat. Following President William Henry Harrison’s premature death shortly after taking office on 4 April 1841, Wood and Harvey casually met on the street in Farmerville. Wood, wearing a black armband around his coat sleeve as a sign of mourning for Harrison, greeting Harvey. However, Harvey refused the salutation, remarking that he would not speak to anyone who mourned such a scoundrel as Harrison. In anger, Wood drew his pistol and shot Harvey at close range. A button on Harvey’s coat is said to have caused the bullet to deflect, leaving him with only a minor flesh wound. Harvey reportedly then wrested the pistol from Wood and beat him with it until bystanders intervened. At that moment, Wood’s son Willis Wood arrived and put his father on a horse and took him home. Shortly thereafter, Wood left Louisiana for Texas, likely persuaded by his sons-in-law John Taylor and William C. Carr, the parish judge and sheriff. We have no record that Wood ever stood trial for his assault upon Harvey.”
After spending a few years in Texas, Wood returned to north Louisiana and lived near his son in what was then southwestern Union (now Lincoln) Parish, where he died in 1855. Union Parish experienced incredible growth during the twenty-four year period 1837–1861, with settlers arriving in droves from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. Prior to 1860, no east/west rail line existed across north Louisiana, and so water remained the primary mode of transportation. To reach the available farmland of northwestern Louisiana and southwestern Arkansas, settlers from the Gulf coast states most often crossed the Mississippi River at Natchez, then came up the Ouachita River past Monroe to either Bayou d’Arbonne or further north at Alabama Landing. Although some made Union Parish their permanent home, many remained only long enough to grow a crop or two before migrating further westward.
To handle this influx of immigrants, during the 1840s the Union Parish police jury authorized the construction of a courthouse and grogshop (tavern) in Farmerville, and numerous ferries, bridges, and roads all over the parish. By 1850, communities had formed throughout the parish, with new post offices at Ouachita City (on the Ouachita River), Marion, Cherry Ridge, Spearsville, Shiloh, Downsville, d’Arbonne, and Spring Hill. Naturally, Farmerville experienced the most significant growth, acquiring the services of at least one newspaper, numerous physicians, lawyers, and merchants, as well as cabinet makers, wagon makers, blacksmiths, tailors, carpenters, brick masons, and millers.