The following information has been extracted from:
The Final Report
Phase II and III Historical and Archaeological Investigations
Catahoula Parish, Louisiana
Conducted in 1997
Charles E. Pearson
Thurston H. G. Hahn III
Elizabeth L. Davoli
Carey L. Coxe
Performed under contract with the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
(See attached Figure 1-1)
Tilmon Gilbert of Kentucky was one of the first in a wave of American settlers to stream into the Tensas Basin as part of the cotton boom of the 1830s. Tilmon and his family had reached Concordia Parish by 1830. However, by 1838 they had crossed the Tensas River to establish permanent homes in Catahoula Parish. Tilmon founded Maitland Plantation on
property purchased from the U.S. Government for $1.25 an acre in 1839. He occupied what would become the heart of the plantation, the northeast quarter of Section 13, north of the Tensas River by 1838 although he did not officially own the property until August 15, 1839. In July and August of 1839, John L. Wall and James M. Fields received official title to the east and west halves of the northwest quarter of Section 13 respectively. Yet
these lands may have been in their possession by as early as 1834. Once they received federal title. Fields and Wall's widow immediately sold the land to Tilmon Gilbert. On December 14, 1839, Tilmon directly purchased and accumulated a total of 2,731 acres of land.
Tilmon moved to Maitland with his first wife, Nancy, his two young sons, Benjamin F. and John K., and his brother
, Thomas. Oral tradition purports that the plantation was named after a Native American Indian chief who lived in the area at the time (Eva Keenan, personal communication 1995) (See attached picture of Eva Couillard Keenan). By 1840, Tilmon, his sons, and brother were still living together in one household, although Thomas had purchased substantial property of his own, adjoining his brother's, the previous year. On December 14, 1839, the
same day of Tilmon's major land purchase, Thomas had acquired the west half of Section 1 and the south half of Section 2 where he established Tiger Bayou Plantation (See attached Figure 4-2). Two days later he bought all of Section 7 and the north half of Section 18 immediately to the east of Maitland. This property became Thomas Gilbert's home plantation known as Mayhew (See attached Figure 4-2).
The Maitland Plantation big house (See attached Figure 4-3) was built facing the Tensas River in ca. 1842. Tilmon and his family lived in a cabin on the site during the previous four years (Eva Keenan, personal communication 1994). The house was a one-and-a-half-story, end-gabled, balloon-framed residence raised on brick piers. A wide gallery supported by six square columns ran along the entire front of the house, and an external brick chimney was located on each gabled end. The ground floor plan consisted of two front rooms and two back rooms positioned around a central hall. In plan and elevation the home represents a folk type known as the Bluff Land House which first appeared in the state in 1840. A separate kitchen stood behind the big house, a milk storage building to the north, and a pigeon house to the south (Eva Keenan, personal communication 1994). The yard surrounding the home was fenced.
Tilmon and Nancy Gilbert had a daughter Louisa in 1842 who died prematurely in the early 1850s. Nancy died less than a year after Louisa's birth in 1843. Both mother and daughter are buried in the Maitland Plantation Family Cemetery (See attached Figure 4-4) located behind the main house (See attached Figure 4-1). In ca. 1846, Tilmon married Laura E. Moreland of Mississippi, a woman twenty years his junior. A daughter, Ellen, was born to the couple in 1844. (JHS – This is our Great Great Grandmother.)
Thomas Gilbert died on June 5, 1855 at the age of 52. His widow Louisa continued to manage his properties and the following year purchased land for Tiger Bayou Plantation. In 1857 and 1858 Maitland Plantation was expanded through additional land acquisition. Tilmon made the final purchases affecting Maitland in 1860 and 1861 when he acquired part of Sections 10 and 15 from the State of Louisiana.
Census data suggest that by 1860, Maitland had grown to include 2,400 acres (1,000 improved and 1,400 unimproved) valued at $175,000. By this stage, Maitland was the largest land holding in the region and produced four times more cotton than its largest neighbors.
Tilmon's oldest son, Benjamin F. Gilbert, had married Catherine J. O'Brien in July of 185 1 (Gillis 1976:21). The couple had two daughters, Molly and Kate, who both died as infants, prior to 1858. In 1859, Benjamin bought Solitude Plantation on Bayou Macon from Louis W. and Samuel B. Chamberlain. He is listed as a 31-year-old planter in the 1860 population schedule with real estate valued at $21,000.
In 1860 Mayhew Plantation remained less than half the size of Maitland. Although Louisa Gilbert still owned Mayhew, the plantation was being operated by an overseer, T. J. Jones of Kentucky. At some point after 1850, Jesse Gilbert, Thomas and Louisa's oldest son, began operating Tiger Bayou Plantation. Jesse married Fannie Byers early in 1851 and probably established his residence on Tiger Bayou. Jesse Gilbert died prior to 1859 and by 1860 his plantation was being managed by an overseer, R. Warner of Virginia.
The Civil War: 1861-1865
The Civil War severely disrupted agricultural pursuits on the Gilbert properties. Tilmon Gilbert was one of four local residents appointed by a police jury during the war to burn all cotton in the ward which might fall into Union hands. Benjamin Gilbert enlisted as a private in Company I of the 25th Louisiana Infantry on March 22, 1862. He is listed on military rolls through the following June. Benjamin left camp sick on May 11, year unknown, and apparently died soon after. Tilmon's second son, John K., enlisted as a private in Company D of the 6th Louisiana Infantry on June 4, 1861. He was wounded at Chantilly, Virginia, in the fall of 1862, and subsequently taken prisoner in late 1864 or early 1865. He was paroled at Stanton, Virginia, on May 1, 1865.
Maitland, Mayhew, and Tiger Bayou plantations all appear on a Confederate map of ca. 1864. Jesse Gilbert's wife continued to live on Tiger Bayou Plantation during the war, although by this time the farm was apparently under the management of a Mr. Crawford. Louisa, recorded as the "Widow Gilbert," still apparently resided at Mayhew when this map was made. The Maitland Plantation big house is shown, plus several small outbuildings, probably slave cabins, located immediately southwest of the house, along the Tensas River. An industrial complex, certainly a cotton gin, appears due west of the cabins.
During the siege of Fort Beauregard in Harrisonburg in 1863, Union troops traveling by steamer up the Tensas on a search mission used Maitland as a landmark.
At dawn on the 13th, Selfridge divided his flotilla. The Manitou and the Rattler ascended Little River; the Forest Rose and the Petrel went up the Tensas, while the rest of the squadron remained at Trinity.
The two tinclads, which had been sent up the Tensas, found the steamer Elmira (Confederate boat) abandoned by her crew not far upstream. A prize crew was placed aboard her, with orders to take the Elmira down river. The two light-drafts resumed their run up the Tensas. An occasional landing party was put to shore to destroy the small commissary depots which the Rebels had established along the banks of the river. By 3 p.m. the gunboats had reached Gilbert's plantation, where they tied up.
Selfridge transferred his flag to the Rattler and proceeded up the Tensas to see what the Forest Rose and the Petrel had accomplished. Reaching Gilbert's plantation, Selfridge shouted orders for the skipper of the Forest Rose to follow the Rattler; the Petrel was to remain where she was. Continuing upstream, the two vessels entered Tensas Lake and tied up at Bowman's Ferry. Here the Northern tars discovered that a detachment of Lieutenant Colonel Isaac P. Harrison's cavalry had set fire to a number of cotton bales which had been stacked near the landing. With a few well-aimed shells they dispersed several mounted Rebels observed hovering in the distance. Having learned from the inhabitants that there were no more steamboats on the Tensas, Selfridge determined to return to Trinity. Darkness overtook the gunboats, and they spent the night tied up to the bank of Daniel's plantation.
The next morning the two light-drafts rejoined the Petrel at Gilbert's. By noon the three vessels had reached the mouth of the Tensas....
Daniel's plantation, known as Sunnyside (JHS – I believe this is where Uncle Profilet Couillard derived the name of his lake house on Lake St. John), included a ferry across the Tensas and was located 7.5 river miles upriver from Maitland. The ferry connected the west bank portion of the Natchez Road which ran through Mayhew and Tiger Bayou plantations, to the east bank portion leading to Vidalia.
John A. Couillard, Tilmon Gilbert's future son- in-law, was a merchant from Bath, Maine. (JHS – this is our Great Great Grandfather.) He arrived in Catahoula Parish just before the Civil War to clerk for a Mr. Bowman at Kirk's Ferry on the Tensas River. Couillard enlisted as a private in Company D of the 6th Louisiana Infantry on March 4, 1862 in St. Joseph, Louisiana. His company was known as the Tensas Rifles, and was reportedly the first infantry company organized in Tensas Parish. The Confederate military rolls list Couillard as present for May and June of 1862, absent due to illness during July and August, and present on all rolls from September 1862 to April 1863.
Couillard was wounded on May 14, 1863, at Howard's Grove, Virginia, and remained in a Richmond hospital through June of that year. He served during July and August, was ill in September and October, and returned to service in November 1863. In January and February of 1864 he was absent on a 30 day furlough of indulgence to go to Mississippi. While on furlough from the infantry, Couillard is believed to have joined Harrison's Regiment of the Tensas Cavalry and to have served with that company until the close of the war. He reportedly was detailed on some "secret service" and was therefore not present when the company was disbanded on May 26, 1865. Couillard appears in a census of Confederate veterans and widows taken in Louisiana in 1911. Records also exist which show that he sold stationary supplies to the Confederate Army.
Postbellurn Period: 1865-1880
John Couillard married Tilmon's daughter, Ellen, on June 11, 1867. On June 18, the couple left Maitland on the small steamboat Flicker to begin a honeymoon trip to Couillard's home in Bath, Maine (Couillard 1867). The Flicker, a sternwheel packet, was built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1866 for the New Orleans-Red River trade. On the voyage, Ellen documented the post-war changes to the region in her diary [JHS – a more extensive except of Ellen’s diary is presented as an appendix to this genealogical record.]:
We are passing some very pretty plantations, but the ruthless hand of Time has sadly changed this once rich, prosperous Country & where wealth and abundance once was enjoyed is now desolation & ruin the effects of the war and repeated overflows-fine large Sugar Houses wherein was invested thousands of dollars and splendid residences -burned to the ground. Delightful flower- gardens were once to be seen & reminded one of description of 'Paradise' but like 'Eden' lost; for the serpent's trail is marked on everything and our once happy, wealthy prosperous Southern homes can never be regained.
The one and one-half day passage to New Orleans cost the couple $35.00. On June 22, the Couillards boarded the 1,037 ton, ocean-going steamer Monterey in front of Jackson Square and entered the Gulf on route to the Florida coast. By June 30th they had reached New York harbor and on the following day they boarded the 800-passenger, 2,962 ton steamboat Bristol on route to Bristol. Rhode Island. From there they travelled by train to Boston and finally to Bath, Maine.
With the loss of its slave labor force, Maitland Plantation's wealth and production were severely curtailed in the post-war era. Tilmon Gilbert owned only minimal livestock and no stored crops in 1870. All crops grown on the plantation by this lime were apparently raised by tenants. The value of Gilbert's plantation real estate dropped from $175,000 in 1860, to only $11.000 by 1870. Most of this drop in value was due to the loss of slaves. Tilmon and Laura Gilbert, plus Tilmon’s adult son John from his first marriage, continued to reside at Maitland along with John and Ellen Couillard and their two young children, James and Abby. John K. Gilbert, a school teacher and farmer, married Sarah F. Guice in July of 1870 and probably moved away from Maitland soon after. John Couillard had taken over most of the plantation management by this time. Louisa Gilbert maintained ownership of Mayhew and Tiger Bayou plantations, even though she was unable to pay the taxes due on the properties. She no longer lived on Mayhew, and both farms were managed by agents. Immediately after the war the Thomas Gilbert branch of the family left the area and relocated to what would become the town of Gilbert, Louisiana (Eva Keenan, personal communication, 1994).
Slave labor at Maitland was replaced by tenant farmers in the post-war years. An account book survives which records transactions between the Couillards and their farm laborers and neighbors from 1871 to 1904. The book indicates that a store must have existed at Maitland during these years. Whether this store operated out of the plantation big house or occupied a separate building is unknown. However, a "Store Room" is mentioned in two account book references from 1897. Storage space would have been a high priority as the Couillards were supplying their farm laborers and neighbors with far more than housing and land. The store sold food, crockery, linens, clothes, fabric, toiletries, medicines, alcohol and tobacco, stationary supplies and postage, furniture, hardware, ammunition, agricultural equipment, hay and coal, wagons, and livestock. These items were generally paid for in cotton, cotton seed, or cash, though some laborers paid off portions of their debt in corn and fresh pork. Credit was also garnered through labor such as picking, hauling, or ginning cotton, splitting rails and mending fences.
The Couillards did not directly receive 100 percent of their clients' business. Most of their customers also had accounts with shippers and dry goods dealers in Natchez and New Orleans. What the proprietors of Maitland did with apparent economic success was serve as middle men in most of these distant proceedings. John Couillard paid his laborers' bills in cash and then charged interest, generally 15 percent, on the amount owed until the cotton crop was harvested and the laborers' accounts could be settled. Couillard also loaned people money and paid their taxes and medical bills on the same terms. He charged for the use of the plantation mules, plows, gins, press and blacksmith shop. The cloth and coal purchased led to the additional expenses of hiring Ellen Couillard as a seamstress, and leasing the plantation blacksmith shop.
At least 11 black tenant fanners lived and worked at Maitland from 1870 to 1880. Although existing rent contracts and store accounts do not specify the amount of land allotted per tenant, the average plot probably ranged between 30 and 40 acres in size. The Maitland tenants paid one-fifth of their cotton yield in rent and then sold additional cotton to Couillard to be used to settle their accounts at his store. Twenty other individuals, primarily relatives of the tenant farmers, also maintained accounts with Couillard during this period which they paid off periodically in cash or produce. The longest term tenants during this decade included William Gilbert, Henry Majors, Stewart Mason, Samuel Smith, and Robert Stevens. Gilbert, Smith and Stevens all appear with their families in the 1870 U.S. Population Census. Smith was from Tennessee and Stevens from Virginia, while Gilbert was a native of Louisiana.
Through the 1870s, Tilmon Gilbert expanded his land holdings as a result of hardships brought on by the Civil War. J. A. Couillard bought Solitude Plantation on Bayou Macon from the estate of Benjamin Gilbert in 1869. Couillard then sold the property to his, father-in-law, Tilmon Gilbert, in 1871. Louisa Gilbert and her children could not pay the taxes due on Mayhew and Tiger Bayou plantations from 1865 through 1874. Their accumulated debt amounted to $1,423.14 in state and parish taxes. A notice of property seizure was published in 1872 and public notices requesting Louisa to pay her taxes were placed in the Catahoula News and posted on the Harrisonburg court house door. On August 28, 1875 the two properties were put up for auction, Mayhew was sold for $534.50 to S. B. Yeager. Tilmon Gilbert bought his sister-in-law's approximately 1,706-acre Tiger Bayou Plantation for $888.64.
O.K. Plantation, owned by John Bellero, was located immediately east of Mayhew, and consisted of lands on both sides of the Tensas River. John Bellero had died by 1871 and his widow Nancy apparently could not afford to pay her husband's debts. All 1,047 acres of O.K. Plantation were, therefore, put up for auction at a sheriff’s sale. Tilmon paid $10,000 for all of the plantation lands located west of the Tensas.
Tilmon Gilbert died in 1879 at the age of 78 and was buried in the Maitland Plantation Family Cemetery. In accordance with his will, Tilmon's plantation properties were distributed among his heirs. Maitland and "all the buildings, improvements, stock, and agricultural implements thereunto belonging" were left to Tilmon's wife, Laura. O.K. Plantation was given to Benjamin F. Gilbert's children, John Tilmon and William Flynn. Ellen Couillard inherited all of the improvements and most of the property on Tiger Bayou Plantation. However, the west half of Section l and the northeast quarter of Section 2 were left to the heirs of John K. Gilbert who had died by this time. John Gilbert's children, Elizabeth, Sarah Alice, and Zueffa, also received Solitude Plantation on Bayou Macon. The real estate values of the properties bequeathed amounted to $2,250 plus $160 in cattle and $250 in mules for Maitland Plantation, $800 for Ellen's portion of Tiger Bayou Plantation, $1,500 for O.K. Plantation, and $800 for the properties inherited by John Gilbert's three daughters.
The first provision of Tilmon's will dictated that his debts be discharged as speedily as possible. One outstanding debt was with William A. Peale, a cotton factor and commercial merchant located at 52 Union Street in New Orleans. A surviving invoice indicates that Tilmon shipped Maitland cotton to Pale on the Steamer Tensas and also borrowed money and purchased items such as boots and sundries from the factory. Once all debts were settled, Laura Gilbert and John Couillard, the executors of Tilmon's will, were required to divide and distribute his remaining money. Tilmon Gilbert managed his properties through the Reconstruction era so successfully that he had accumulated $11,450.52 in cash by the time of his death. He left approximately half of this money ($7,571.64) to his wife Laura, and had the remaining half divided into thirds ($2,523.86) for Ellen Couillard and the heirs of Benjamin F. and John K. Gilbert. Advances already made to the heirs during Tilmon's lifetime were deducted from the amounts due.
Tenant Farming: 1880-1896
The 1880s were a time of great change on Maitland Plantation. Laura Gilbert and a nephew were residing at Maitland, according to the 1880 census, along with the Couillards and their three young children, Howell, Cora and Ben. However, the Couillards, since at least 1877, were actually spending most of the year in Natchez, with John returning to the Tensas periodically to oversee the tenant farming.
Winter flooding in February and March of 1882 resulted in seven inches of water in the Maitland big house. The high water at Maitland in 1882 was part of a flood considered the most destructive in the history of the Mississippi Valley. The entire alluvial valley area to the Gulf of Mexico was inundated. At New Orleans
, flood stages continued for 91 days, and approximately 284 crevasses formed in the levees protecting the valley. Further floods in August of 1883 halted efforts to repair the levee damage from 1882. High water almost as severe as that of 1882 reached Maitland in July of 1884. Flood waters reached the site again in January 1885. March 1886, and March 1887. The floods of the 1880s forced Benjamin Gilbert's children, John Tilmon and William Flynn, to give up O.K. Plantation (Eva Keenan. personal communication, 1996). Likewise, John Gilbert's heirs sold their portion of Tiger Bayou Plantation to Richard E. Kiper in 1885.
A small bayou on Maitland in Section 24 was the original site of what became known as the Maitland Baptist Church. Local secondary sources claim that a church was established on the site as early as 1858, however, the earliest reference to the church in primary documents dates to 1885. John Couillard stated in his diary that he and his children Jimmy, Howell and Cora, came out to Maitland from Natchez on May 26, 1885, and began building a church for the hands. Another document dated 1885 states that Frank Shafer was paid $34 for building the church and $20 for building benches. This church may have been located on this tract of land because an earlier church had once stood on the site, and/or because tenants and perhaps even slaves had been buried on the site prior to the Civil War. The bell previously used to call the slaves to work at Maitland became the new church bell.
Secular construction also occurred on Maitland Plantation property in the early 1880s. A school house had been built south of the quarters area by May of 1881 (See attached Figure 4-12). Couillard noted in his diary that flood waters reached the school house twice during that summer, and again in 1897 and 1903. In May of 1882, Couillard paid a Miss Lee $90, presumably, to teach at the school. Oral tradition claims that this original school house was built south of LA 921 near the current site of the Maitland Baptist Church. Eva Keenan, the great-granddaughter of Tilmon Gilbert, attended this school as a child. When this structure fell into disrepair early in the twentieth century, a second school was built by the Trichel brothers, contractors from Harrisonburg who boarded at Maitland. This second school was originally built with one room to serve 10 to 15 children. This room was later split into two to separate upper and lower grades. The building was also used as a church and a community center. By the mid twentieth century the school house had been converted into a tenant residence occupied by members of the Jordan family. The site of the second school house is recorded as a state historic standing structure in 1994. Neither the site nor structure were judged to be potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The school house was torn down in the spring of 1995 in preparation for the construction of the Sicily Island Levee.
Laura Gilbert was away from home, probably in Natchez with her daughter's family, when she died late in 1884. John and Jimmy Couillard brought her remains back to Maitland on December 15, 1884, and she was buried in the Maitland Plantation Family Cemetery the following day. The Maitland big house thereafter remained vacant most of the year, except when the Couillards returned to oversee the farming and ginning or to maintain the plantation buildings. John Couillard returned to Maitland every fall in September or October and stayed through to February of the new year in order to gin the cotton of his tenants and neighbors. Couillard was also responsible for maintaining a second gin complex at O.K. Plantation. Probably mule-powered prior to the 1850s, the Maitland gin had been converted to steam by 1864. Mechanical problems frequently hindered the ginning. In 1879 the Maitland and O.K. gins both broke down due to engine problems. One of the two gin stands at Maitland broke again in 1888. As the Maitland steam-powered gins could not run without sufficient water, an underground cistern was located at the gin site. In 1884, 1886 and 1889 the ginning was delayed due to frozen or broken water pumps, or a lack of rain water in the gin cistern.
During ginning season, John typically began work before 5:00 am. Barring mechanical difficulties, his work day could last from 12 to 20 hours. After ginning, all cotton was pressed. The Maitland press was mule-powered until at least 1889. The press mechanism broke and had to be repaired in 1886. The pressed bales of cotton and bags of cotton seed were then weighed in the gin yard and hauled by the tenants to the plantation bale shed located on the bank of the Tensas immediately southwest of the big house. From there the cotton was shipped by steamer to New Orleans or Natchez. Plowing for next season's crop would begin again in late February and March, and planting from April to June. The cotton was picked from October through December. John Couillard made short trips out to Maitland with members of his family during the growing season to check on the progress of the crop and the state of the family cattle herds. Their stock fluctuated between 18 and 42 head throughout the decade, as cows and calves were bought and sold in Natchez. The Couillards relied on their tenants to tend the cattle when the family was not in residence. During the summer the Maitland and O.K. gin buildings, as well as the Maitland brick kiln, were used to stable the Couillard cattle during periods of high water.
Through the 1880s, the Couillards traveled between Natchez and Maitland by steamship. The Tensas, H. Hanna Blanks, Collins, Tributary, H.J. Dickey, Blanks Cornwall
and C.D. Shaw
all transported goods and/or passengers on the Tensas River. These boats generally plied the river in the winter months when water levels were sufficiently high. The Tensas
was a 333-ton, sternwheel, wooden-hulled packet built in Jefferson
, Indiana, in 1875. By 1877 she was running the New Orleans-Bayou Macon-Tensas trade under the command of Capt. W. W. Cooley.
Couillard recorded the boat's arrival at Maitland in 1881, 1884 and 1886. The steamer was well known for having a large circular saw blade engraved with the number ten hanging between her stacks. The H. Hanna Blanks reached Maitland in 1883, 1886 and 1889. This sternwheeler, built in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1880, travelled between New Orleans and the Ouachita River. The boat's masters included Jack W. Blanks, L.P. Delahoussaye in 1884, F. Wright in 1886, and L.V. Cooley in 1889. Couillard sold Captain F. Wright 25,330 lbs of cotton at eight and three-eighths cents a pound in 1886. The Blanks sank in the Ouachita on December 29, 1889.
The Collins shipped freight from Natchez to Maitland for $6 in 1885. This boat also ran to Trinity in 1887. John Couillard travelled on the Tributary from Maitland to Natchez in April, 1887. The Tributary was built in Madison, Indiana, in 1880 and from there went to Vicksburg for the Yazoo River trade. Ellen and John Couillard travelled to Maitland together on the H.J. Dickey in 1888. This boat also carried Maitland cotton on various trips in 1890. The Dickey, a sternwheel packet built in Memphis, Tennessee in 1881, ran from New Orleans to the bayous (Lafourche, Macon and Tensas) under the command of Capt. J.B. Sullivan. In 1883 she was sucked into a crevasse 23 miles below Donaldsonville, but recovered, only to sink after hitting a snag at Toothpick Point on Bayou Macon on January 14, 1891. John Couillard and 77 bales of his cotton travelled on the Blanks Cornwall in 1888. This sternwheeler was built for Capt. Jack W. Blanks in 1887 in Jefferson, Indiana. It ran briefly on the Ouachita before moving into service on the Yazoo and Tallahatchie. The Charles D. Shaw carried passengers and supplies to and from Maitland in 1890 and 1893. This 1883 sternwheel packet, also built in Jefferson, Indiana, ran in the Natchez-Vicksburg trade under Caps. John C. Fowler. Shortly after 1893 the Shaw moved to Apalachicola, Florida.
In 1888 John Couillard, at 52 years old, was essentially running Maitland Plantation alone. His oldest son Jimmy worked in Natchez for Millette, a cotton buyer. Abby, his oldest daughter, spent much of her time at Anchor Plantation further up the Tensas. Howell attended Jefferson College north of Natchez, and Cora studied at Whitworth College. Bennie, the youngest child, was then 11 years old. To ease his work load, Couillard apparently tried unsuccessfully to engage an overseer for Maitland. John Bruce owned the plantation east of Mayhew at Lee Bayou from at least 1864. In January of 1889, Bruce turned down Couillard's offer to move to and manage Maitland.
Goods purchased off the plantation continued to come from New Orleans early in the decade but by 1888 were supplied by William Abbott, cotton buyer and dealer in staple and fancy groceries, locate at 119 North Commerce Street in Natchez. Abbott was in business in Natchez from at least 1877 through 1935.
Plantation in Decline: 1890-1900
The 1890s were a difficult decade for the Couillards and their tenants on Maitland Plantation. John was frequently ill, and help on the farm was increasingly hard to find. Mechanical difficulties such as a faulty or frozen water pump, a broken gin stand, and an empty cistern, were frequent. During the 1890 ginning season, water had to be hauled from the river to allow the ginning to proceed. Major floods and freezes destroyed crops and livestock throughout the decade. A freeze in early March of 1890 was followed by a flood which lasted through May. The flood of 1890 originated in the Ohio Basin and was augmented by heavy rainfall. In the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee District, flood waters were higher than those of 1882 at many points. Four levee breaks, two in Arkansas and two in Louisiana, resulted in ruined crops and the loss of 25 of the Couillard's 53 head of cattle. The entire region was so devastated that government rations were brought in by steamer. The summer then brought cutworms to the cotton and screwworms to the stock. Another freeze and flood followed in 1892. Two big breaks in the levees in Arkansas brought waters which destroyed fruits and vegetables and submerged the Maitland cotton and corn crops. Once again, government rations were necessary. Six inches of snow in the winter of 1895 weakened the cattle, while another frost in 1897 killed the corn crop. More levee breaks that spring left standing backwater all over Maitland.
Of the original Gilbert properties, only Maitland and Ellen's portion of Tiger Bayou Plantation remained in the family by 1890. The Couillards and many of their neighbors housed their cattle at what remained of the Tiger Bayou Plantation when the Tensas was in flood. By 1898, O.K. Plantation belonged to a Mrs. T.K. Green and Mayhew to Camille Hahn. The flood of 1893 forced William Dorrance to give up farming at Otterslide. The 1893 flood left the Couillards in such dire economic straits that they were forced to mortgage their home. Assessments made of Ellen Couillard's properly in early 1898 and 1899 valued her land at $4,000.
To insure a steady income, the Couillards rented out rooms in two houses in Natchez from 1889 through 1895. The family lived at 403 North Union Street, but rented space in two other homes. One, known as the Hardie house, was located on High Street and the other on State Street. A single room in these houses generally rented for $2.50 per month. Occasionally an entire house was occupied for from $20 to $35 per month. Some of the residents had their rents reduced by serving as cooks or making household repairs.
One beneficial development that reached Maitland in the 1890s was the railroad. John Couillard documented the arrival of the New Orleans and North Western (N.O. & N.W.) Railroad to the region in his diary. He noted that construction was in progress by November of 1889, and that the tracks had reached the Tensas by January of 1890. The line extended north from Concordia to what later became the town of Clayton. Another line connected Concordia to Vidalia where the train crossed the Mississippi River by ferry to reach Natchez. By March 1890, John and his son Jimmy were already riding the rails from Natchez to the Tensas, crossing the Tensas by ferry
, and walking to their properties. By April, a railroad bridge had been built across the Tensas allowing the line to extend up to Lee Bayou and further north. Yet this bridge became impassable when the river was in flood. During the flood of 1892, John Couillard took the train as far as Clayton, rode and walked to the Hunter Place on the opposite side of the river from Maitland, and then took a skiff across the flooded river. The first through train on the completed line passed Maitland on May 30, 1897.
The new train line allowed the Couillards to travel between Natchez and Maitland much more easily and rapidly than they could by steamship. They then began to make more frequent journeys to Maitland, but stayed for shorter periods of time. In June of 1893, Ellen and John arrived at Maitland in the morning and were able to return to Natchez that same evening. As the railroad grew, steamship travel on the Tensas rapidly declined. John Couillard records only four steamship journeys for the entire decade. The C.D. Shaw carried the Couillards to Maitland in the summer of 1890. The Danube travelled up the Tensas in July and August of 1892 to deliver emergency rations to flood victims, as did the Shaw in 1893. The Danube was a sternwheel packet built in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1877. She operated on the Red River from 1877 to 1890 and sank near Natchez on June 9, 1891. The ship was raised and rebuilt and continued in the New Orleans-Shreveport trade until 1894. After breaking her wheel in the Atchafalaya in 1896, she was towed to New Orleans and converted into a garbage barge.
The floods of 1892 and 1893 brought such economic ruin that even the Couillard's longest-term tenants were forced to leave the plantation. Sam Smith had only 35 lbs. of cotton with which to pay his rent and store bill in 1893. He came to Natchez to turn his two mules and two cows over to John Couillard as payment for his debts, and then left Maitland. Sam's son Sammie settled his accounts with Couillard in the same fashion. Henry Majors had only two or three bales of cotton to gin in January of 1893. He soon left and Couillard recorded that there were no new hands with which to replace him. Samuel Dudley and Bailey Bradley also left Maitland in 1893. The three tenants remaining at Maitland after 1893 had all departed by the end of the 1896. John Butler sold his wagon, two mules, two cows, two yearlings, two plows, one scraper, a cultivator, plus his cotton and seed to settle his store debt in January of 1896 Sam Wilson and Simon Mason left the property that same year.
The Twentieth Century: 1906-1997
In 1900, 63-year-old John Couillard continued to oversee the farming at Maitland from his residence in Natchez. However, he now received help from his two sons, Bennie and Howell, who both began to farm parts of the family property in 1900 and 1901, respectively. Bennie was 23 years old and single in 1900 and resided at Maitland. He appears to have worked the family property in 1900 and 1901, but had left the farm by 1910. Howell made substantial purchases of primarily food from the plantation store in 1901, yet no prices or debits are recorded in his account which suggests that he never truly had to repay his father for these items. In ca. 1900, Howell married Ida Hudson Johnson and together they had five children: Charles Gordon born in 1900; Howell, Jr. born in 1904; Elliot Gilbert born in 1905; Abbie Elsie born in 1906 and Eva born in 1908. Elliot died at less than a year of age and was buried in the Maitland Plantation Family Cemetery. Howell and his family apparently lived in a home built immediately east of the Maitland big house.
Early in the decade the Couillards continued to buy most of their goods from William Abbott, the cotton buyer and supply merchant in Natchez, These goods were still shipped to Maitland by steamer as late as 1903. Maintenance and some new construction must have occurred at Maitland in 1901 and 1902, for Couillard records the purchase of 1,600 bricks for the "Home Place". By this time bricks were apparently no longer made on the plantation but purchased machine made from brick factories.
In June of 1901, Ellen Couillard sold all of her portion of Tiger Bayou Plantation, then known as "Bayou Field Trace," to S.F. Kiper for $2,000. A 1909 document acknowledging Ellen Couillard's acceptance of her mother's succession describes Maitland as it then existed.
Over 75 percent of the Maitland Plantation property was sold in December of 1914. Ellen sold 1,906.7 acres to A.C. McComb of Wisconsin for $17,160.30.
John A. Couillard died on October 17, 1918, at the age of 82. After her husband's death, Ellen moved to Pineville to live with her daughter, Abbie and her son-in-law, Jeff Weast, a bookkeeper for a gravel company. Howell Couillard then moved his family into the plantation big house. By 1920 Howell was listed as the head of the Maitland household. At Otterslide, John Woodin had died by 1920. His widow Alice remained on the property with her son Dwight and his family. Dwight's son, Martin D., who became chancellor of Louisiana State University, ultimately inherited the property and maintains ownership today.
Howell and Ida Couillard's six-year-old daughter Abbie died in 1912, and their eighteen-year-old son Charles in 1918. By 1920 only 15-year-old St. Clair and 11-year-old Eva lived at home with their parents, with Minnie Bradford residing at Maitland as a boarder. Howell and Ida lost a fourth child, Howell, Jr., in 1932. Ellen Couillard's economic position as a widow was precarious enough that she was advised in 1926 to apply for a Louisiana Veterans' remission of $30.00 per month. Ellen died in 1938 at the age of 93. Maitland and an additional property in Rapides Parish were left to Howell, Bennie and ten additional Couillard heirs. Howell traded his share in the Rapides property in exchange for complete ownership of Maitland. However, Howell died only three years later in 1941, and his wife Ida in 1948. All are buried in the Maitland Plantation Family Cemetery. In 1930 and 1941 the big house and eight structures, including the school house, stood in the quarters area at Maitland, while two structures were located at the Maitland gin site.
Howell and Ida Couillard's surviving child Eva then inherited Maitland. Eva married Samuel Edward Keenan in 1932. In 1935, she had purchased the fractional northwest quarter of the northwest quarter of Section 24 from her grandmother Ellen in order to build a house. However, after her parents' deaths, Eva and Samuel occupied the Maitland big house where they raised three children, Duane, Samuel St. Clair and Abby. During their joint tenure at Maitland, the Keenans raised both beef cattle and cotton. In 1955 the Keenans leased the 2.45 acres area around the Maitland crossing of LA 567 and 921 to the Maitland Recreation District for a period of 99 years. Then in 1957, the State Department of Transportation acquired the rights-of-way necessary to pave these two highways.
Prior to his death in 1958, Samuel Keenan had acquired the southeast quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 14 and the southwest quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 13. These approximately 80 acres located south of LA 921 were valued at $10,000. After Sam's death, Eva sold off the plantation cattle and began leasing the property for farming. Four structures, including the school house, still stood in the quarters area in 1957 and one building was located at the gin site. In 1963 Eva sold a portion of Section 13 to her son Samuel St. Clair for $750. Due to apparent economic problems, this property was sold back to Eva in 1965. Eva Keenan sold her son Duane a portion of Section 12 in 1964 for $500.
The plantation big house and 642 acres of Maitland currently remain intact. In 1994, Eva donated the plantation big house, the 20.73 acres surrounding the house, and 19 pieces of furniture to her daughter Abby Keenan Moore. The remaining portions of Maitland not already distributed among the Keenan heirs remain in a trust administered by Abby Moore. This trust requires that the remaining property and assets be distributed to each descendent according to need. Eva Couillard Keenan, the great-granddaughter of Tilmon Gilbert resided in the plantation big house until her death in September of 1997.