The Vermilionville that William Britton Bailey returned to in 1865 was markedly different than the one he left at the start of the Civil War.
Bailey, a young printer who had worked for the Teche Courier in St. Martinville and L’Echo de Vermilionville before the war, had served the Confederacy honorably, fighting in the 19th Louisiana Infantry and participating in some of the war’s legendary battles: The Seven Days, Second Bull Run, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg — clear Confederate victories.
He fought at Gettysburg, too, where Lee was turned back in a Northern invasion, and the Wilderness, a savage encounter, part of Union Gen. Ulysses Grant’s Overland Campaign, waged as he pushed his way toward Peterburg, Va., where he laid a final siege. Bailey walked home to Lafayette from Appomattox Court House, Virginia, where Lee surrendered.
Bailey left defeat and a Lost Cause behind him as he trekked back to Louisiana. Back in his hometown of Vermilionville, he would write a new story, creating a small weekly newspaper, the Lafayette Advertiser, that would one day become The Daily Advertiser, 150 years old today.
The Vermilionville Bailey had departed was a prosperous community with some 156 lots. It had a Catholic church, a courthouse, a few stores that served both townspeople and “planters” from the parish, who comprised the vast majority of the Lafayette Parish population. Roads connected the town to nearby towns like Royville, now Youngsville, and Carencro.
Although the townspeople believed their community to be progressive, it retained some characteristics of the frontier. Criminal gangs formed in the area prior to the war; a vigilante group formed to oppose them.
Vermilionville and Lafayette Parish were conservative in their politics. About half the population was composed of slaves. The area supported John Breckinridge, vice president under James Buchanan and a stalwart defender of slavery. Former Louisiana Gov. Alexandre Mouton, who had married a governor’s daughter, presided over the Secession Convention of 1861, where slave interests dominated.
Little Vermilionville, formed in the 1820 and 1830s around the Catholic church, was cosmopolitan in its community make-up. Betty and Shelby Mier, who compiled a list of homes and residences from the 1860 Census, revealed an industrious population with peddlers, tailors, bakers, surveyors, doctors, lawyers and shoemakers.
August Poimbeouf, 46, was a wheel right born in France. Antoine Lacoste, 30, a blacksmith and Renee Gangnaux, 50, a baker, were also French born. H.L. Monnier, 62, was a planter – Swiss born. Leonise Monnier was Belgian. Sebastiane Chargois, 52 and John Aerby, 25, both barkeepers who shared a residence, were from London and Germany, respectively. Isaac Jacobs, 30, a merchant, was from Russia. So was Solomon Wise, a peddler, 36, whose wife, Fanny, 31, was from Poland.
Among their neighbors were Elizah Bailey, 25, and his family; William Bailey, 21, and his brother Columbus. All were printers.
By war’s end, the vast sugar and cotton plantations, cattle ranches and farms of rural Lafayette were changed. Slave labor that kept many of them operating was outlawed. Unlike Bailey, many of the men, perhaps a fifth, had marched off to war did not return. Labor was in short supply. Horses, mules, cattle, sheep were diminished. Louisiana had lost about half its wealth. High taxes, too, were an issue, especially under Republican rule.
J. Philip Dismukes in A History of the Development of Lafayette, characterized Vermilionville as a “middle-class town,” where education, progressive government, occupational success and civic improvement were valued. Bailey embraced and represented those values. Not three months after he returned to town, five months after Lee’s surrender, Bailey opened his own newspaper, the weekly Lafayette Advertiser, publishing the first edition on Sept. 22, 1865, 150 years ago.
Bailey operated the paper through bleak times and into prosperity. His ownership continued through Reconstruction and into a progressive period during which railroads were extended to the town and the telegraph and telephone were introduced. He touted support for public schools, a pro-business mindset and progressive government.
For most of those years, the newspaper was published in four pages on Saturdays. Briefly, in the 1880s, he tried to publish twice a week. The newspaper included community news, written in English by himself and in French by his brother, Homer, and reprinted news from distant papers. Page 4 was generally commercial, with real estate notices, legal ads and advertisements from merchants.
Politically conservative, Bailey espoused the principles of the Democratic Party and opposed Republican rule, but operated as a gentleman conservative. He bristled under Carpetbagger and Scalawag rule; after the contested governor’s race of 1872, he sided with the Democrats he believed were unfairly excluded from their political seats and urged people to withhold taxes. For a time, he lost the contract to print government notices – those contracts often kept small weeklies afloat — because of a shift of political winds.
“We all know that the protestations of that spurious government are founded on fraud and perjury and that it is corrupt and rotten to its core,” he wrote in the April 12, 1873 edition.
But he also opposed the violent eruptions that marked Louisiana towns large and small, from New Orleans to Colfax.
Bailey loved his town and his family, a wife and six daughters. He chastised homeowners for not keeping up their properties. Sidewalks, he wrote, had become almost “impracticable – to the fair sex especially,” who were limited in enjoying their evening walks about town because of unkempt outhouses, fences and homes. If homeowners could not paint, he wrote, at least whitewash.
The town government tried to make middle-class Vermilionville more polished, but, alas, the times were what they were. Streets were unpaved, saloons present and animals might roam the streets. The March 13, 1869 edition noted that $5 fines were in places for these transgressions: tying your horse to the sidewalk or marketplace, public intoxication, disturbing the peace. The following year, Vermilion’s town fathers passed a resolution to allow hogs to roam the streets – provided the hogs had a ring in their nose.
Bailey promoted his hometown and its advancement not only as a newspaper proprietor but also as a public official. He served as clerk and treasurer for the City Council, and in 1884, the year Vermilionville took the name Lafayette, he was elected to his first of four consecutive terms as mayor. In 1892, he stepped down as editor and eventually sold the newspaper after Gov. Murphy J. Foster, appointed him clerk of the District Court. He sold the paper that year.
Death came at 58 on July 26, 1896, after his return from a vacation to the Texas coast.
A family historian said his vocabulary was good; his editorials were well written. But family recollections were more of his personal kindness than his newspaper or political work. He was always ready to read to his children, the family history said. He smoked a pipe; he loved to sit on his porch and talk with neighbors.
Headlines through the years
Here is how The Daily Advertiser has handled coverage of some major issues and events over the last 150 years:
—Election issues arise in Opelousas, May 8, 1869: U.S. troops were sent to Opelousas to enforce appointments of Dr. Brooks and Capt. Amrein as sheriff and parish judge, respectively. The Lafayette Advertiser suggested James Haynes and A. Garrigues had been elected to those positions. Meanwhile, a congressional subcommittee on election fraud and intimidation had reached New Orleans, intending to go to election trouble spots in the state.
—Outsiders interfere withe labor, Feb. 9, 1878: An editorial advised that “someone in the community” had been hiring farm workers in Lafayette Parish and sending them to St. Mary Parish to toil. “If there is no law to punish such interference with labor … one should be enacted without delay,” the newspaper’s editorial said.
—No rush to progress, Aug. 16, 1906: The Lafayette Advertiser reported that two local businessmen, Ed Higginbotham and A.L. Preager, had purchased automobiles through LaCoste Hardware Co. Higginbotham’s car costs $2,500 and would be used at his business, the newspaper said. Preager’s car cost $800, and would be used both for business and as “a pleasure car.” In September, the Lafayette Advertiser editorialized that the City Council should pass speed laws for automobiles.
Local people of note
—Caffery nominated for diplomacy, March 3, 1911: Jefferson Caffery of Lafayette was nominated for secretary of the legation at Caracas, Venezuela. Caffery, later to become an renowned ambassador, had taken the diplomatic exam six weeks The nomination awaited Senate approval. Caffery was a member of Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute’s first graduation class.
—Hadacol founder was SLII debator, May 7, 1912: Louisiana College and Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute debated the subject, “Resolved, that women should be admitted to the right of suffrage.” SLII, represented by valedictorian Martha Pellerin and Dudley J. LeBlanc, won the debate. LeBlanc went on to become one of Acadiana’s most colorful businessmen and politicians, and was the driving force behind the nationally known elixir Hadacol in the 1950s.
—Kathleen Blanco wins governership, Nov. 16, 2003: Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco, D-Lafayette, carried 52 percent of the vote to defeat Republican Bobby Jindal and win the governership. She was the first woman elected governor in Louisiana.
Matters of faith
—Cornerstone set for Ascension Episcopal, Sept. 14, 1901: The cornerstone was set for the Ascension Episcopal Church. Bishop Garrett of Dallas presided and Psalms 132 and 136 were read. W.E. Phillips of New Iberia was to be architect and contractor for the new church.
—Cornerstone set for Catholic church in Abbeville, Feb. 24, 1911: The Rev. W.J. Teurlings of St. John’s in Lafayette traveled to Abbeville to officiate in a ceremony there. A copper box in the corner stone contained copies of current newspapers, a long parchment roster of church members, religious medals and coins.
—St. Paul’s opens, March 12, 1912: Archbishop Blenk of New Orleans arrived in Lafayette for services opening St. Paul’s Catholic Church, founded by black Catholics who had worshiped at St. John’s. Among those greeting the archbishop were 280 children from St. Joseph School. The next day, Blenk blessed and dedicated the church.
Oil and gas
—Oil gusher reported at Anse La Butte, Nov. 19, 1907: A gusher producing 5,000 barrels a day was reported at Anse La Butte in St. Martin Parish. The land was the property of State Sen. Robert Martin, who got a 10 percent royalty for the oil. spurted oil 10-12 feet above the derrick, which was 72 feet high.
—Reserves found off coast of Louisiana, Nov. 11, 1948: In Chicago, two Humble Oil and Refining researchers said extensive oil reserves had been found at two sites on the Continental Shelf south of Louisiana. One well was owned by Humble, the other by KerrMcGee. The Associated Press reported that drilling operations had been taking place as far as 30 miles off the Louisiana coast and as deep as 50 feet.
—208 companies to exhibit at LAGCOE, Oct. 8, 1959: A mile-long Oil Equipment Parade through downtown Lafayette launched the four-day Louisiana Gulf Coast Oil Exposition. Some 208 companies would exhibit equipment and services at Blackham Coliseum, where the exhibition would be open to the public on Friday through Sunday. It was a record number of exhibitors.
Our French and Cajun heritage
—Lawyer appointed to lead French council, Sept. 11, 1968: Gov. John McKeithen announced that James Domengeaux, a Lafayette lawyer and former congressman, would chair a 50-person council to develop the French language in Louisiana. The Council on Development of French in Louisiana would be “empowered to do any and all things necessary to accomplish the development, utilization and preservation of the French language” in the state.
—Festival Acadiens et Creoles forerunner drew 8,000 to Blackham, March 27, 1974: Blackham Coliseum was filled with Cajun spirit with more than 8,000 people on hand to listen to CODOFIL’s tribute to Cajun music. The Council on Development of French in Louisiana presented the program with the Smithsonian Institution. Performers included Dennis McGee and S.D. Courville, Marc Savoy, the Balfa Brothers, Bois-Sec Ardoin, Clifton Chenier and Jimmy C. Newman.
—BeauSoleil wins Grammy, March 22, 1998: After six previous nominations, BeauSoleil won a Grammy Award, the first for a Cajun band. Michael Doucet of BeauSoleil the award marked a “maturing” of Cajun music. The band was formed in the 1970s, and went full time in the 1980s.
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
—Lafayette lands a state institution, May 18, 1901: Plans were made to celebrate the opening of the new state school in Lafayette, the Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute, on June 15. Gov. W.W. Heard Greetings would be received from other state schools. “Our people all feel that the event of opening this handsome building … marks the beginning of an epoch in our history,” the newspaper wrote.
—School athletics may hurt academics, Jan. 28, 1925: A commission appointed by the state Department of Education said three colleges — SLII, Louisiana Polytechnic Institute and the State Normal College in Natchitoches — tended to overemphasize athletics. The commission said educational values are marred when inducements are offered to players, when the administration and faculty help in recruiting athletes and when schools charge one another with violating recruiting norms.
—Celebration marks UL name change, Sept. 11, 1999: The University of Louisiana at Lafayette launched its centennial celebration by signing paperwork at the Cajundome to officialy change its name from the University of Southwestern Louisiana. A large crowd attended, including the daughter and grandson of the first president of the school, Edwin L. Stephens. The granddaughter was a 1932 graduate.
Infrastructure and institutions
—Southern finishes passenger line to Baton Rouge, Jan. 10, 1911: Passenger service would soon begin on the Southern Pacific rail line to Baton Rouge. Completion of the 57-mile track took arduous labor through the Atchafalaya area. The trip would take 4 1⁄2 hours.
—Advertiser: Coliseum bids due Oct. 18, Sept. 26, 1947: Bids would be opened Oct. 18 to build the South Louisiana Mid-Winter Fair Coliseum, Southwestern Louisiana Institute President Joel Fletcher said. The coliseum, funded for $300,000 by the Louisiana Legislature, would be built on the Lafayette-Abbeville Highway near the city’s southern limits. SLI would be entitled to share the facility.
—Lafayette due a federal courthouse, June 7, 1960: A new federal district court was due for Lafayette, U.S. Rep. Edwin Willis said. The congressman, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Lafayette would be one of 35 districts to get a courthouse. The nearest federal courthouse was in Opelousas.
News of the strange
—Hung in effigy, city marshal responds, May 11, 1895: In a letter printed in The Lafayette Advertiser, City Marshal J. Vigneaux indentified Henry Church, Augustus Albarados, Wilfried Riu, E. Mouton, Alcide Mouton, Bud Triay and John Vandergriff as the men who had hung his image in effigy on the town streets under “the obscure veil of the night.” Vigneaux referred to the identified men as “a band of cowards and malicious and prejudiced idiots,” as well as “cowardly curs.”
—Import hippo, congressman suggests, April 1, 1910: U.S. Rep. Robert F. Broussard proposed in Washington a plan to introduce the African hippo into the south Louisiana area to eat the water lily, which was obstructing streams. A concern was expressed in Washington that the hippo might be attracted to rice fields, of which there were many in Acadiana. Broussard’s plan also noted that the hippo could be hunted for meat, although opponents said it would be too difficult to move hippos that had been hunted and killed.
—Tango condemned, Jan. 20, 1914: The Knights of Columbus at a local council condemned the dancing of the tango. The council encouraged a revival of the quadrille and the “graceful waltz.” The council said mothers and fathers should be aware of “numerous danger signals which mark the path of the boys and girls who adopt those dances.