1. Bayou Sara and the "Father of Rivers"

"Audubon arrived by steamboat in June of 1821 at the port city of Bayou Sara. It was founded as a cotton port and trading post in the late 1700s by John Mills right on the banks of the Mississippi River where the creek of the same name flowed out, a propitious location. Early flatboaters travelling south with the current to peddle loads of produce and goods would often pull into the calmer creek waters to spend the night, and the little settlement initially catered to their rowdy needs. In the early days, one memoir recalled it as “a notorious river town where ladies did not dare go on the street in daytime unescorted and never after dark. Barrooms and brothels were plentiful and everyone carried pistols.” A few years before Audubon arrived, one respectable planter described travelling by steamboat and stopping overnight at Bayou Sara, where a company of riotous young men boarded and disturbed his rest, explaining that “this place has a sporting element and a reputation considerably greater than the size of the town would indicate.”

After the first steamboat, the New Orleans, descended the river in 1811 with three passengers, Nicholas Roosevelt, his pregnant wife and his dog, there would soon be a dozen or more vessels moored daily at the Bayou Sara landing, taking on cotton, disembarking passengers, delivering mail. Surviving devastating fires, yearly flooding and Civil War shelling, Bayou Sara grew into one of the 19th century’s most important river ports, the center of commerce and supply source for the outlying plantations in English Louisiana. Populated by neither planter nor slave for the most part, Bayou Sara was home to a large concentration of immigrants escaping persecution in the Old Country who provided the practicalities and underpinnings for the Cotton Kingdom, their skills in financing and merchandising having been sorely lacking in what was essentially an agrarian society.

When Audubon walked up the hill into St. Francisville atop the bluff, he had intended to stop at nearby Wyoming Plantation for a brief rest and repast before journeying to the Pirrie Plantation where he’d been hired to tutor the young daughter of the family, but he was so struck by the lush landscape and flourishing birdlife that he set out afoot for Oakley some five miles distant, where he would spend a very productive summer." Anne Butler