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Maritime Heritage

Maritime Heritage

Recent north winds dropped the level of Bayou Liberty about as low as it goes in winter. This exposed part of the shoreline, normally underwater, is showing something I never noticed before- several heavy, granite blocks. Given the location, they had only one purpose I want to imagine - ballast from the schooner Marguerite.  This was the boat owned and operated by trading post owner Joseph Laurent who, no doubt, routinely tied her up here.  Could it be?

Joseph Laurent (b- 179? - d. 1865) was likely the first to build where Camp Salmen later came to be. He built a trading post on the bluff above the bayou (now named Salmen Lodge) and was a lake trader, someone who routinely sailed from north shore rivers to deliver locally produced materials, crops and farm animals to New Orleans and Gulf Coast destinations and returned with other merchandise. There were dozens and dozens of these guys and their boats operating on Lake Pontchartrain in the early 1800s, for water was the best way to travel. They were the pick-up trucks and taxi cabs of their day.

The Marguerite was built on the Tchefuncte River in 1811. She was a two-masted schooner, 48 feet long, 13.5 feet wide and weighing 18.5 tons.  She drew 3.5 feet of water and was seaworthy enough to take whatever Lake Pontchartrain was likely to throw at her. On top of all the other advantages of the site, Laurent chose this part of the bayou because it happened to be wide enough to turn the boat around for the return trip.

Consider everything it took to safely operate this piece of equipment. Not only did Laurent have to navigate long distances using mast, sail, block and boom, he had to contend with all manner of wind and wave. He also had to get up and down Bayou Liberty to get to his trading post. Fortunately, the bayou trends southwest and prevailing winds would often favor this tack but there are dozens of curves throughout the bayou until you reach the lake. A contrary wind could have stopped the Marguerite dead in her tracks. Hopefully Laurent packed a lunch.

There were only two ways back then that we know of, for getting in and out of this predicament - warping and towing. With warping, a hand was actually sent overboard with a rope, either swimming or in a dingy, to grab the next tree and pull. Or you could have gotten towed with an ox or a mule from the bank. Although this sounds a lot easier, it means a great deal of preparation by hacking away any obstacles on the bank to create a tow-path. This is something else I'll just have to wonder about. That Camp Salmen actually has a maritime heritage is a wonderful added feature to our park.

Last modified on Saturday, 17 October 2015 15:54

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