The 1810 revolution that made the North Shore part of Louisiana
During Louisiana’s colonial period, the Florida Parishes — the eight parishes bounded by the state line, Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, and the Mississippi River — were part of Spanish West Florida. The Americans claimed the expanse after the Louisiana Purchase but didn’t do much more than make that declaration. There matters stood until 1810, when residents of that region, most of whom were English, revolted against Spain, and President James Madison annexed the territory. The Spanish protested but didn’t fight it, and the Florida Parishes — East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Livingston, St. Helena, present-day Tangipahoa, St. Tammany and Washington parishes – were part of Louisiana when it became a state in 1812.
Once upon a time, the Florida Parishes stood mostly as remote farmland, with those directly north of Lake Pontchartrain serving as a destination for New Orleanians seeking an escape from the city (and, until science proved otherwise, the air that, they believed, spread such scourges as yellow fever and malaria). Then, in the mid-20th century, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway was built, providing a direct link to western St. Tammany Parish, opening up the North Shore region to wider settlement. Today, it serves as a bustling bedroom community to the Crescent City.
- The 1810 revolt against the Spanish was led by, among others, the splendidly named Fulwar Skipwith, who was elected governor of the breakaway Republic of West Florida.
- The Republic of West Florida was in existence for only a few months before annexation by the United States. Its capital was at St. Francisville.
- A flag commemorating that rebellion, which displays a white star on a blue background — and which resembles the Confederate Bonnie Blue Flag — hangs at all state Tourism Commission facilities, parish courthouses and state parks in the Florida Parishes.
- Citizens of the Florida Parishes declared their independence from Spain in the Pentagon Barracks in Baton Rouge.
- Descendants of the Scots-Irish immigrants who had come to America in the 1720s started arriving in the Florida Parishes about 1790, establishing numerous hamlets and farmsteads.
- The Florida Parishes are nothing if not diverse, starting with the Scots-Irish influx and continuing with African Americans, both slaves and free people of color, as well as Germans, Sicilians, French and Native Americans. All these cultures are celebrated with various festivals.
- The arrival of train service in 1887 was a boon for New Orleanians seeking an easy way to visit the Florida Parishes.
- The North Shore air, known popularly as ozone, was thought to possess curative powers for people suffering from respiratory ailments. The reason: vast stands of pine trees that exuded a rich, oxygenated mix.
- Complementing this asset was the water in St. Tammany and lower Tangipahoa parishes, which came from a huge underground lakes supplying plenty of mineral springs. Spas sprang up to serve people seeking the benefits of hydropathy, a treatment involving a copious intake of water. The most prominent spa grew to become Abita Springs.
- Italians were originally recruited to Louisiana to work in sugarcane fields, but that changed in 1890, when a New Orleanian brought in an Italian family to pick his strawberries in the Florida Parishes. That experience gave the Italians a knowledge of strawberry farming, and they evolved from being pickers to becoming landowners.
- Because of the influx of Italian workers in the Tangipahoa Parish town of Independence, many business signs there were in Italian, not English, by 1910.
- St. Joe bricks, which seem to be everywhere, were made at the Salmen Brick Works in Slidell.
In the pre-Causeway years, the Florida Parishes must have, indeed, seemed like another country to New Orleanians. But that bridge, followed by the I-10 twin spans, changed everything. They made commuting to the city from St. Tammany and neighboring North Shore parishes feasible, and they gave New Orleanians relatively easy access to the parishes’ pastoral pleasures, even though growth was inevitable. While Covington, Mandeville and Slidell are definitely expanding, there’s still plenty of room on the North Shore for folks who want to kick back, even if it’s only for a weekend away from city life.