Kenner - The Early Years
The area we know as Kenner was once a wilderness of cane reeds, some of which were over six feet in height. . Cannes Brulees - the land of burnt cane reeds - referred to the area along the Mississippi from the Chapitoulas Coast up to what is today the St. Charles Parish line.
The French observed the natives burning these wild reeds to flush out rabbits and other small game animals
It was one of the first sites in the lower Mississippi Valley to be named by European explorers.
In 1718 the French founded New Orleans for the purpose of controlling and utilizing their inland territories. The lands along the Mississippi were composed of rich alluvial soils and wealthy Frenchmen invested in large agricultural enterprises along the river. The land grants they received were called "concessions." While New Orleans was yet a village of thatched huts, wealthy French investors had secured vast holdings along the Mississippi and undertaken the construction of the first plantations.
Early Land Holders...
Two of the earliest plantations were established at Cannes Brulees in 1720 by d'Artaguiette and d'Artagnan.
Jean Baptiste Martin d'Artaguiette
Jean Baptiste Martin d'Artaguiette was a French Naval Commissioner sent to the New World in 1708 to set the affairs of the colony in order. He toured the province from 1708 until 1712 and sent his recommendations back to France. Among his recommendations were that stable, middle class families be encouraged to migrate to Louisiana and that slaves be imported to provide labor to till the humid alluvial soils.
Martin was one of the foremost experts on Louisiana of his day. He played and important role in the leadership of the two companies that dealt with the French settlers moving to New Orleans in 1718, John Law's Company of the West and the Company of the Indies. Martin was the coordinator for all correspondence on colonists, land grants and troop movements. For the services he rendered to the French crown and to the new colony, Martin was granted land in Cannes Brulees.
An old Creole expression is "Ca date du temps d'Artaguiette" meaning "it goes all the way back to the days of d'Artaguiette." In other words, as far back as you can go in terms of Louisiana history.
The Count d'Artagnan, Joseph Montespuiou, had property which bordered on d'Artaguiette's. d'Artagnan was an accomplished musketeer. His family name, d'Artagnan, had come to be associated with loyalty and bravery and was borrowed by Alexander Dumas when he wrote The Three Musketeers.
In 1722 Father Pierre Charlevoix, a noted historian, visited Cannes Brulees a few days after New Years. He made note of a giant cypress cross overlooking the river at which the d'Artagnans sang vespers.
It was not long before the Mississippi was lined with plantations from Cannes Brulees to Carrollton, an area referred to as the Chapitoulas Coast (later spelled Tchoupitoulas). The Chemin des Chapitoulas, a crude roadway following Bayou Metairie, was used by French settlers traveling to and from New Orleans. Indigo was the staple crop in the area during the 1700's. Rice, beans, wheat, vegetables, corn and cotton were also grown. Tobacco became a crop in 1727.
Later in the 1700's the Jesuits introduced sugar cane. At first the cane was used for making syrup and for chewing. In 1793 a severe blight attacked the indigo crop. In 1795 Etienne de Bore found a process for refining granulated sugar, ushering in a new era in Louisiana agriculture.
William Kenner arrived at Cannes Brulees at the turn of the century. The population of New Orleans at that time was just a little over 8,000 people. But the city was on the verge of an economic boom. Kenner established a very successful mercantile and commission business.
In 1803 the Louisiana territory became part of the United States. William Kenner became a member of the legislative council and later helped organize a militia to repel the British in the Battle of New Orleans. The Governor of Louisiana, William C. C. Claiborne referred to Kenner as "An honest man, a respectable merchant, a man of sense and property." According to Kenner's descendants, the first steamboat to leave New Orleans carried a consignment from Kenner and Company.
Kenner played an important role in organizing a company which received a franchise from the United States Congress to dig a large canal across New Orleans. The canal was never started, but Canal Street received its name from the aborted project.
In 1810 Kenner purchased a sugar plantation in Ascension Parish. The growth of the sugar industry made this a very profitable investment, the income from which far exceeded Kenner's mercantile business.
Kenner had married Mary Minor, the 14 year old daughter of a an officer with the Spanish troops stationed at Natchez. She gave birth to four sons. Minor Kenner was born in 1808, William Butler Kenner in 1810, George R. Kenner in 1812 and Duncan F. Kenner in 1813.
Mary Minor Kenner died at the age 27 in 1814, a year after giving birth to Duncan. William Kenner's tragedies were made worse six years later when a trusted business partner absconded with most of his company's assets. William Kenner died three years later at the age of 47.
The Kenner Brothers
The Kenner brothers were orphaned at the ages of 10, 11, 13 and 15. A Creole lawyer and family friend, Etienne Masareau, salvaged enough of from the embezzlement disaster to provide each boy with an inheritance. These young men were destined to own all of Cannes Brulees.
Duncan Kenner, the youngest brother, eventually took over William's sugar plantation in Ascension. On this property he built a splendid mansion surrounded on all four sides by a magnificent white colonnade. The building was designed by James Gallier, the most famous Southern architect of the day. Duncan named it Ashland after the home of Henry Clay.
The area now called Kenner consisted of three large plantation properties known by the names Oakland, Belle Grove and Pasture. Farthest upriver, bordering St. Charles Parish, was the Oakland tract, owned by Louis Trudeau. After a decade of persistent effort the Kenner brothers acquired the entire Trudeau property. The Oakland Plantation was acquired by William Butler Kenner in 1841.
Down river from Oakland was Belle Grove Plantation, located about where the modern Williams Boulevard meets Jefferson Highway. Minor Kennedy acquired this property from through his wife, Eliza, who was heir to the property through her widowed mother Maria Holliday.
The Kenners acquired Pasture Plantation in parcels. By 1845 the Pasture Plantation property was owned entirely by Minor Kenner.
The Founding of Kenner
By 1845 New Orleans had a population of about 110,000, making it the nation's fourth largest city. New Orleans had become a major economic hub with dozens of steamboats departing daily carrying sugar, cotton, grain and other goods.
Norbert Rillieux had perfected the "multiple effect" process for refining sugar, revolutionizing the industry and providing for significant financial rewards to those who held lands able to grow the cane. Duncan Kenner prospered, listing sales of 1.5 million pounds of sugar in 1850.
Despite New Orleans economic and cultural success, it was not a healthy city to live in. Much of the sewer system was open and provided a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Yellow fever outbreaks were common. Flooding was frequent and the threat of hurricanes hung over the city for six months out of the year. On May 3, 1849 a 100 foot breach in the levee near Little Farms in Jefferson Parish sent flood waters six feet deep surging from the Mississippi toward the lake. Metairie Ridge deflected the water and steered it into New Orleans. Streets became rivers and 12,000 people were left homeless.
As a cultural and economic hub New Orleans had earned the nickname "Queen City of the South." Living conditions in the city had earned it another nickname: "The Watery Grave." Many residents of New Orleans were making an effort to spend as much time away from the "Queen City" as possible. The north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, the Gulf Coast and the northern parts of the state provided temporary escape. But these areas were too far from the city's commercial operations to provided a permanent residence. Cannes Brulees was not.
By this time tragedy had again visited the Kenner family. William Butler Kenner had become involved in a failed business venture which left him in such debt that he had to heavily mortage the Oakland Plantation. In 1953 a Yellow Fever epidemic struck New Orleans and the surrounding area. 11,000 died, including William Butler and his 12 year old son. Minor Kenner became the executor of William Butler's estate.
It was around this time that Railroad Fever had struck the Delta reagion. A coalition of New Orleans business owners had put up 3 million dollars toward a railroad that would run to Jackson, Mississippi. They purchased some of the Kenner's property and began laying trackbed from Manchac to Osyka.
Minor Kenner was possessed by the idea that Cannes Brulees could become a city. First, there was the proximity to New Orleans. Second, was the presence of the railroad. He hired a surveyor, W.T. Thompason to lay out a plan for the development of Oakland and Belle Grove. The plan was completed on March 2 of 1855, a date generally condidered the city's birthday. Kenner and Thompson's vision would take time to develop, but today the basic layout of Old Kenner is very similar to the plan layed out in 1855.
The Secret Mission of Duncan Kenner
In late December of 1864, President Davis summoned Duncan Kenner, a wealthy New Orleans businessman and confederate congressman, to his office in Richmond. There, Kenner was informed that the President had a secret mission for him. Kenner was to visit France and England and negotiate recognition of the Confederacy in exchange for emancipation of the slaves. In fact, Kenner had brought this idea to President Davis' attention two years earlier. At that time, the Confederate President was not willing to take such a risk, still believing the South could win the war without emancipating the slaves.
By the end of 1864, the South was clearly faltering, Davis sought to bolster Confederacy morale as best he could. Using the codename A. B. Kinglake or Philadelphia, Kenner embarked on his secret mission. Traveling through enemy territory, he took care to avoid recognition and capture by Union troops. In England, he failed in negotiations with the European diplomats. When word came that the war was over and the South had lost, Kenner remained temporarily in Europe.