Historical Sketch of Saint Charles Parish
Saint Charles , one of the original nineteen civil parishes of the territory of Orleans , was created in 1807 from the County of the German. The parish seat has been at its present location since the erection of the first courthouse. Until 1872, it was known as Saint Charles parish Courthouse, but at that date the village, which now has a population of 335 (in 1938), was named Hahnville.
Because the territory included within the boundaries of the parish is out by the Mississippi River , it has lain in the path of early explorers. De Soto discovered the Missisippi in 1541, but not until the spring of 1682 did La Salle pass the banks of what soon came to be known as “La Cote Dess Allemandes.” In 1699 Pierre and Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, known as Iberville and Bienville, explored the Mississippi from its mouth as far as the mouth of the Red River . Bienville returned through the Mississippi to Ship Island , where they had first landed, while Iberville entered the Bayou Monchac (River Iberville) and, in a canoe, discovered and explored the route through that bayou, lakes Maurepeas and Pontchartrain to Ship Island . Thus, the Lake Pontchartrain shores of the present parish of Saint Charles were known to the French at this early date.
Although no permanent settlements are known to have been established within the boundaries of the present parish during the next twenty years, its location placed it in the path of numerous explorers and traders. Actual settlement of the “ German Coast ” came as the result of publicity sponsored by John Law’s Western Company, the first settlers arriving there about the year 1719, or at least before 1721. A census of 1724 mentions two German villages some ten “lieues” (about 30 miles) above New Orleans on the right bank of the river. The location of these villages is not definitely known, except that “le premier ancient village allemando” was one and one-half miles from the river, and the second about three-quarters of a mile inland. The date of the founding of the second of these villages is given as 1721, which would place the founding of the first as some previous date, probably by the twenty-one German families that arrived in 1719 on the ship Les Deux Freres. In October of 1721, a group of settlers, for the most part Germans, arrived in Biloxi , the seat of the provincial government at that time.
In the ship Portefaix under the leadership of Karl Freiderick D’Arensbourg, who brought news to the new world of the collapse of John Law’s “Mississippi Bubble.” In September of 1721 or 1722, a hurricane forced the abandonment of the two old villages and the establishment of new settlements on the higher land of the river front. When the group, under D’Arensbourg, arrived in New Orleans , they were met by the Germans from the settlements on the Arkansas River , who had abandoned their homes there on receipt of the news of the failure of their leader John Law. With the aid of Bienville, these were persuaded to join the new colonies, and the combined group founded, midway between the older villages, a new settlement which they names “Karlstein.” Floods, fever, lack of plows and draft animals, and Indian forays (reported as late as 1748) mad the life of these German pioneers a difficult and hazardous one, but with characteristic energy and frugality, they soon made their settlements known as the “ Golden Coast .” Through the years, the old German names have been Gallicized, but in spite of the changes, the families of Germanic origin persist to this day. Other accessions to the population of the “ German Coast ” came from the settlement of Swiss soldiers employed by the French colonial authorities, and in settlers from Lorraine in 1754.
Because that portion of Saint Charles Parish, east (actually north) of the Mississippi was included in the Isle of Orleans, all of Saint Charles passed under the rule of Spain in 1762. Three years later, number of Acadian exiles received aid from the inhabitants of the German Coast , and some settled among the Germans. The spark setting off the revolution of 1768, against Spanish control of the colony seems to have been generated on the German Coast and to have received the support of the new settlers on the Acadian coast. D’Arensbourg, included among those to be punished, was fortunately spared the fate of the other revolutionaries. O’Reilly designated Saint Charles an ecclesiastical parish early in his acting governorship. The Coast nominally passed into French hands again in 1800 and was transferred to the United States by the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The two ecclesiastical parishes, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Charles , were made the county of the German Coast in 1805, and in 1807 Saint Charles was made a civil parish. No legislative act has changed the boundary of the parish to date, although its original boundary was defined merely as the parish of Saint Charles .
The Commandants of “La Cote des Allemandes,” according to the remaining records, were:
Karl Freiderick D’Arensbourg, 1740-68
Francois S. Bettile, 1770-82
Jaques Maricot, 1783-94
Antione Daspit St. Amand, 1795-1805
The county judge was Achilles Trouard, 1805-6, and the first parish judge, Pierre Bauchet St. Martin, 1807-11.
The first parish courthouse was located on the present site but no information concerning it has been obtained. Another courthouse was constructed in 1826; one hundred years later, the police jury voted an $85,000 bond issue to remodel this building. The contract for $68,144 was awarded to J. A. Hasse, Jr., and the architect William R. Burk on December 23, 1926. On September 20, 1927, the present building was accepted, and the contract canceled.
The best land in this parish is a ribbon along each bank of the Mississippi averaging some three miles in width. This natural levee is extremely fertile, and because of its accessibility, was early settled, and has remained the most important part of the parish.
The history of the development of the police jury as the administrative and governing body of Saint Charles parish is, with a few minor exceptions, that of all parishes, for the legislative acts, creating, conferring powers, and modifying the duties of that body have all been general in application.
The police jury, although it was not legally called by that name until 1811, was established by the same legislature that divided the territory of Orleans into civil parishes. The system seems to have evolved from earlier French and Spanish forms of local government. The county judge and justices of the peace were the successors of the colonial commandant and syndics. In one instance at least, in Opelousas County , the county officials met with twelve inhabitants to deliberate upon matters of county concern. Hence the establishment of the “parish assembly” or police jury in 1807 was but the application of the older system to the new political unit, which, in itself, was also descended from an earlier prototype. Upon the establishment of nineteen civil parishes, of which Saint Charles was one, the parish judge, with the justices of the peace and twelve inhabitants appointed by him formed a body authorized to meet once a year, or oftener, to deliberate upon roads, bridges and levees, local administration and police, and the equal distribution of taxes. By successive acts between 1811 and 1824 justices of the peace were eliminated from the “parish meeting”. The parish judge, however, continued as a presiding officer of the police jury in Saint Charles parish until 1845, when his office was abolished by the Constitution.
A feature of local government had its origin in 1813, when the parish judge and the justices of the peace were authorized to divide the parish into wards, “similar to the towns and townships in our sister states, possessing in a greater or less degree pattern of local self-government”, from each of which a police juryman was to be elected biennially. This same act set the annual parish meeting date as the first Monday of July. From 1816 to 1847 the legislature fixed the limits of not less than five or more than twelve wards in any parish. While there have been changes from time tot time, the general outlines laid down for subdivisions of the parish, then, remain in force today.
The police jury was given the power to sue in 1817, and the supreme court held some years later that the police jury could be sued as "necessarily implied and incidental to express powers granted".
Police powers, of a legislative and administrative nature were early granted to the police jury over internal affairs, slaves, taverns, the sale of liquors, the construction of fences, hedges, punishment of trespass, and the police of sheep and cattle and other domestic animals, the prevention of cruelty to animals, the preservation of wild life, hawkers and peddlers, dogs, and traffic on public highways. Police juries have had power since 1813 to enforce their ordinances with fines or imprisonment. In recent years (1938) the police jury has received authority to purchase tear gas, tear gas bombs, and machine guns for the use of the sheriff and law enforcement officers, who must account to the jury for the equipment placed in their charge.
The police jury has been the chief agency of the parish in the construction, maintenance, and oversight of public works. Roads and levees were placed under its jurisdiction in 1807 and these powers expanded from time to time, and extended to include oversight of bridges, streams, ferries, toll bridges, and necessary taxation for such work. After the last constitution, (1938) the police jury was given jurisdiction over navigation canals, and rice flumes in levees. The police jury divided the parish into road districts at an early date and selected “syndics” to administer them. The establishment of special taxing districts for the construction and maintenance of public works under its auspices has become rather common during the past fifty years. There has been legislative provision for levee districts since 1880, drainage districts since 1894, navigation districts since 1914, sewerage and gravity drainage districts since 1924. After 1855, the police jury was authorized to subscribe to the stock of companies “undertaking works of public improvement”. During the past few decades police juries have been empowered to won and operate gas plants, parish fair grounds, recreational systems, and parish airports.
[source: "Inventory of the Parish Archives of Louisiana" – Saint Charles Parish Prepared by The Historical Records Survey Division of Women’s and Professional Projects Work Progress Administration No. 45 Saint Charles Parish (Hahnville), University, Louisiana, The Department of Archives, Louisiana University - submitted by: Nancy Piper]
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