Who has walked this ground before me?
As a teen, I wondered that while working on our Alabama farm. Walking behind our mule, I would find the occasional arrowhead and once in the same day my brother and I found two tomahawks. I have these rocks today in a cabinet in my living room, the earliest part of my treasured rock collection.
The Creek Indians, we are told, lived in those hills and hollows in North Alabama before President Andrew Jackson ordered the tribes east of the Mississippi River to be removed to Oklahoma. This “trail of tears” constitutes a sad saga in American history. The teenage boy which I was, was fascinated with thoughts of the native Americans who lived here long before we arrived. (May I recommend a book? A Brutal Reckoning: Andrew Jackson, the Creek Indians, and the Epic War for the American South by Peter Cozzens.)
Once while giving some Atlanta friends a tour of New Orleans, I asked, “Did you know Abraham Lincoln came to our city?” They didn’t.
Few people do.
The teacher in me kicked into overdrive.
“Lincoln came to New Orleans twice, once in 1828 when he was 19 and again in 1831, at the age of 22,” I told them.
In those days, people would build flatboats and float down the Mississippi bringing crafts or produce to sell. On arrival, they would peddle their cargo, then tear up the boat and sell it for firewood. They would walk around for a couple of days and “see the elephant,” as they called it, then book passage north on a paddle-wheeler.
The first time, Lincoln came as a helper for his boss’ son, and the second time he was in charge.
Professor Richard Campanella of Tulane University wrote Lincoln in New Orleans, published in 2010 by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press. It’s the best and most complete thing ever written on the subject, I feel confident in saying. Subtitle: The 1828-1831 flatboat voyages and their place in history.
Now, the book is so dense, with interesting insights and details on every page, that reading it is a slow process. Campanella even tells us where the flatboat probably docked, where Lincoln and his friend may have stayed, and which slave auction they may have watched.