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Joseph Bonne

Joseph Bonne, the first settler in Pine Bluff, established the Jefferson County seat of justice from his tavern home.

Image Credit: www.hmdb.org


Joseph Bonne was born on April 15, 1793 along the Arkansas River to Michel Bonne, a French trader and Marie Loiuse, a Quapaw Indian woman. He was baptized by a visiting priest at Arkansas Post, the first settlement established by French in 1686 at the mouth of the Arkansas River.


On August 21, 1818, Bonne was an interpreter employed by the United States government at the signing of the first treaty between the U.S. and the Quapaw Nation at St. Louis, Missouri. In the Quapaw Cession treaty, the Quapaw agreed to give up 30 million acres south of the Arkansas River to the U.S. in exchange for 1 million acres between the Arkansas and Ouachita Rivers, in addition to a payment in annual goods.


After floodwaters threatened his home site at the Arkansas Post, Bonne moved upstream. Bonne landed on the south bank of the Arkansas River near what is now the Jefferson County Courthouse with his dog and rifle. He made his camp in a forest of giant pines. After the water receded, he found himself perched on a bluff above a southward bending curve of the river. His wife, Mary Imbeau and small children later joined him. Bonne soon erected a cabin, becoming one of the first settlers in the region. Bonne also established a trading post and built and operated the settlement’s first tavern.


In 1824, many more settlers joined Bonne after the Quapaw signed a treaty with the United States relinquishing their title to all the lands, which they claimed in Arkansas. On October 16, 1832, the settlement was officially named ‘The Town of Pine Bluff’ by the county court.


On November 2, 1829, Jefferson county was created from Arkansas and Pulaski counties during a legislature session. During that same session, a committee was appointed to select a site for the Jefferson County seat. Bonnes’ cabin, two blocks west of Main Street and north Barraque Street, was selected as the temporary seat of justice. For a number of years, Bonne’s tavern was the only one in town. Visitors would enjoy a meal of bear meat, corn bread, and black coffee at the table. Bonne’s tavern was located on Bonne Street, now known as Chestnut Street. Today Bonne's tavern is now underneath Lake Saracen.


During the next 30 years, Pine Bluff flourished because of its location on the river. Steamboats brought new settlers and goods. They also transported cotton from Pine Bluff’s cotton bale production center.


Bonne died around 1860, leaving behind a thriving city.





Sources:

DuVal, K. (2008). Indian Intermarriage and Métissage in Colonial Louisiana. The William and Mary Quarterly, 65(2), 267–304. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25096786

Jefferson County Historical Quarterly. (2009). Vol. 37, #1, page 31.








Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard



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