A Tale of Adventure - Rourks Gave Lismore Name
By: Bea Nathanson, April 16, 1975
In 1812, when Joseph O’Rourke was 16 years old, he left his home in Armagh County, Ireland, with two companions, one of whom is believed to have been his brother. The men were young and adventurous, but perhaps not quite ready for the experience that fate had waiting for them.
What they really intended to do was to see England and then return to Ireland to settle down in the shadow of beautiful Lismore Castle for the remainder of their lives. None of them was ever destined to see Armagh County or Lismore castle again--but because of this trip there are and Armagh and a Lismore in Concordia Parish.
While Joseph and his companions were strolling around the wharfs at Liverpool, they were accosted by British officers and carried away. Their protests were of no avail. The men were hustled aboard an English man-of-war that was being outfitted for service against the United States in the War of 1812.
On board the boat, the three men became friendly with three others conscripted under similar circumstances. The six carried with them into the New world an intense hatred for the British.
They Jumped Ship
Weeks later, at the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico enlarged before their eyes, they made a secret plan. And in the dark of night the six men jumped overboard in an attempt to swim ashore and escape.
Four, including Joseph’s brother, are said to have drowned. But Joseph and a companion clambered out of the waters and became lost in the wilderness surrounding them.
Other accounts say that by the time the ship arrived in New Orleans, the War of 1812 was over, and the men simply remained in the New World. Whichever account is correct, Joseph O’Rourke was to have adventure enough before he finally was to settle down to raising a family.
We next find him in Fort Adams, Miss. And then in Woodville, where he had been drawn by a colony of Irish families. By now he had dropped the “o” at the beginning of his name, and some say the “e” at the end, but early records in Concordia Parish still show the “e” being used. He was engaged in the timber business.
Married in Woodville
Meanwhile, Barbara Woods Prater, a member of the family for whom the town of Woodville was name, had come from Jefferson County in Miss., to live in Woodville, and there met Joseph Rourke. He wooded her and they were married in 1826. She was very young, and 12 years younger than her husband.
The couple moved back to Fort Adams to go into the hotel business. Meanwhile, Joseph Rourke had written his family back in Ireland and some of his brothers had migrated to Mississippi.
The Rourkes had eight children, but only five lived to adulthood--Mary Jane, Kate, the twins who were Joseph and Barbara Ellen, and Nancy.
Surveyors in Concordia
While the Rourkes were busy with their life in the hills of Mississippi, across the river and a little to the north, the United States Surveyors were laying out a portion of the land that had been acquired by the nation in the Louisiana Purchase of 1802. This area was Concordia Parish.
The job was not easy. There were many conflicting claims not only in the original Spanish grants but also in the land where the pioneers had moved, and had cut down the heavy canes and put up rude abodes.
It is safe to assume that Joseph Rourke had never heard of the name, Bringier, and certainly Bringier had never heard of Joseph Rourke, but it was on or near the Bringier grant that the settlement that was to become Lismore was established.
The Bringier Grant of nearly 34,000 acres dated from the old Spanish rule and was the largest Spanish land grant in concordia Parish.
Calhoun’s history says it comprised all the territory from the east line of Moro Plantation with he Tensas River; then down the Tensas to the Black; then down the Black to a quarter to a half mile below the residence of Joseph Wilson at Lismore, then east to the west side of Horse Shoe Lake and around the lake to within a quarter mile of Cross Cocodrie Bayou, then due east for a short distance and north to the beginning.
Several plantations within this grant had been settled and were not included in the final adjustment--Achilles, Athlone and all the land in the Chevy Chase Bend.
But included in the tract was part of the loosely defined area know today as Lismore.
It was not until the 1840s and 1850s that the Bringier Grand and the land on Black River south of it had been legally straightened out, and by that time the Bringier property was owned by Thomas Curry a resident of St. Landry Parish, and associate justice of the Supreme Court, and Rice Garland, onetime Supreme Court reporter, but at the time of the settlement of the property claim, a district judge in Concordia Parish.
Joseph Rourke Died
By 1844, pioneer families were moving into the Black River area. That year Joseph Rourke died, leaving his widow with small children.
In the years before his death, Joseph Rourke had been instrumental in bringing other member of his family from Ireland to the United States; and Joseph’s young widow decided to take her family and go with Joseph’s brothers to make a new home on Black River.
Their plan was to cross the Miss. River by flatboat, then moved up the Red River to the Black and on the Black to their new home. It is not known why they chose early spring for this expedition because the waters were very high. Perhaps they were eager to settle on the land before others found their way into this fertile section.
They loaded their slaves, household goods and animals on the flatboats and tried to propel themselves across the Mississippi and up the Black. But they had not considered the strong current of the Red River with its violent rush of flood waters.
Down the Atchafalaya
For all the might of the slaves, the young Rourkes and the mother, the flatboats were washed down the Atchafalaya, and the swirling current made it impossible to get back upriver.
Tired and discouraged, the travelers pulled their flatboats to the banks of the Atchafalaya and then Barbara Rourk rented some nearby land, unloaded her possessions and planted a crop.
In the fall of that year, when the rivers were low and the crops were gathered, the flatboats were loaded once again, and this time they journeyed to their Black River land. This was about 1845.
The Calhoun history lists the Rourke family as having acquired land south of the Bringier tract some time between 1838 and 1857.
It was not easy to prepare the wilderness for the coming of civilization. The tall canes which covered the virgin land had to be ut down and burned. The Rourkes, along with the other settlers, had to make a hole in the earth with a pointed stick and plant the corn among the cane roots.
Early accounts say that cotton was first raised on Black River in 1838, and that B.F. Glasscock, one of the first to move in, raised a crop of sugar cane and made it into sugar as early as 1847, or shortly after the Rourkes arrived.
Mrs. Belle Beard, who lives at Lismore, lists some of the old family names of that section--Glasscock, Rourke, Burrill, Wilson, Oswalt, Donnelly, Beard, Aiken, Warren, Barker, Schneider, Holmes, and Hooper.
Concordia Parish is a long way from Lismore Castle and Armagh County, Ireland, but the memory of the old country was transported here in the recollections of the family of Joseph O’Rourke, who never forgot the land he was taken from by force.