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|Expedition discovers small settlement on Black River|
At 8 a.m. on Sunday, October 21, 1804, the Ouachita River Expedition arrived at a small settlement along the shore of the Black River in present day Catahoula Parish.
In route to the hot springs of Arkansas, the men, traveling on a keelboat, were tasked by President Thomas Jefferson with exploring and mapping the Ouachita River Valley and determining the chemical properties of the hot springs. William Dunbar, a planter, scientist and surveyor from Natchez, and Dr. George Hunter, a chemist and land speculator from Philadelphia, were in charge of the exploration, which included three of Dunbar's slaves, Hunter's teenage son and 13 soldiers from the U.S. Army garrison at New Orleans.
Also onboard the keelboat was Harry, a runaway slave the expedition had picked near the Black River's juncture with the Red.
Both Dunbar and Hunter were natives of Scotland who separately came to America in the 1770s as young men determined to make their way in the world. They had never met until the summer of 1804.
A few months later, on October 16, the expedition departed from the mouth of St. Catherine's Creek below Natchez and traveled southward down the Mississippi. The party entered the mouth of the Red River on the west bank about 15 miles south of Fort Adams in Wilkinson County, Miss., located on the east bank.
Paddling, sailing and towing the keelboat against a weak current, the Red led the expedition to the mouth of the Black, where the explorers performed a sounding and determined that the river was 20 feet deep with a bottom of black sand. Traveling up the Black, the timber along the river rose to a height of 40 feet.
Dunbar said the party next "arrived at an Island, small but elevated, said to be the only one in this river for more than 100 leagues ascending." Concordia historian Robert Dabney Calhoun identified this island in his 1931 book on the history of the parish as Island Bayou. It's located near the community of Mayna, about 16 miles south of Jonesville.
There on the (Catahoula) bank "near the Island is a small settlement commenced by a man and his wife," Dunbar wrote in his journal.
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