At Pointe Coupée, the dead arm is alive and well (New Roads)

Photo Ian Hundley

Located on the north shore of an arcuate lake (called False River), a few kilometers west and south of the Mississippi River, the town of New Roads is the parish seat of the Pointe Coupée Parish in the Center of the State of Louisiana.

The first dwellings and city streets date from 1822 (now New Roads and St. Mary streets). They can be found at the end of an existing public road (“Chemin Neuf”) which linked the lake to the Mississippi River located several kilometers to the north. In fact, the origin of New Roads dates back to the 1720s, under the French administration of Colonial Louisiana. The lake had just been formed and had been named “False River”. East of the lake, the area encompassing both shores of the Mississippi became known as “Pointe Coupée”. False River? Cut Point? The changing course of the Mississippi certainly had something to do with the story…

The False River

In 1700, at the outset of the French regime, the Fausse Rivière (False River in English) occupied the main river bed of the Mississippi, which bypassed a narrow land projection of its eastern shores. But the circumvention of this point or peninsula, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) in length, was time consuming and tedious navigation. The French did prefer to cross this point by carrying their canoes by means of a much shorter portage. By 1720, seasonal floods of the Mississippi River had finally dug the riverbed in a straight line, cutting the point in half. The elbow of the old river bed, being isolated, became a dead arm (thus the name False River). Moreover, it was protected from the angers of the mighty Mississippi by a natural rise of the alluvial plain composed of fertile lands. Conditions were in place for settlers to settle permanently at Pointe Coupée…

The Nicolas LaCour house would have been part of the French military post of Pointe Coupée in 1733, which would explain its large size (photo Melissa Oivanki)

It was therefore in the 1720s that French colonization really began. In 1732, Colonial Louisiana governor, Étienne Périer, estimated the population of Pointe Coupée at about thirty inhabitants spread over both shores of the Mississippi. With a view to protect the residents, in light of a punitive war against regional Natchez, Périer left on the spot a dozen marine troopers garrisoned in a simple redoubt built in 1733. The nearby military post and community church were located on the south shore of Mississippi (now St. Francisville old Ferry Landing). The Chemin Neuf was built much later, in the 1770s, under the Spanish administration of Colonial Louisiana.