JACKSON — Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne surveyed the crowd gathered at Centenary State Historic site and told a story 3,500 years in the making.
His story was a brief history of Louisiana, and an important part of it happened 200 years ago on Jan. 31, 1815, when a law was signed making Jackson the parish seat of Feliciana parish. It was named in honor of Gen. Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, who would one day be the seventh president of the United States.
Dardenne was the keynote speaker during the Founder’s Day celebration in Jackson. Acknowledging the budget challenges the state is facing, Dardenne reminded the audience surrounding the porch of the restored Professor’s Cottage that Louisiana’s culture and history are unique and worth protecting.
“I encourage you to recognize and remember and preserve the great history we have,” Dardenne said.
His history lesson began with the settlement of Poverty Point by Native Americans in North Louisiana and followed with mention of DeSoto’s discovery of the Mississippi River, LaSalle’s naming of Louisiana after King Louis the 14th, and Bienville and Iberville’s journeys’.
Dardenne explained the French and Spanish influence in New Orleans and the confluence of those cultures with Africans that created the uniqueness of the Creole influence.
The Louisiana Purchase from France for $16 million — $6 million more than was authorized by Congress and President Thomas Jefferson — turned out to be a great bargain that amounted to three cents per acre and forever changed our young country, he said. In 1812, Louisiana became the 18th state.
And later the Battle of New Orleans in 1814, when Gen. Jackson led a rag-tag army against the vaunted British, and on a battlefield in Chalmette, within 45 minutes, the invaders were decimated, he said.
“We were different in 1812, and we remain different today,” explained Dardenne, calling the state a “human gumbo.”
“We are a state that has preserved our history,” Dardenne said. “It’s important to be proud of Jackson’s history, and it’s important to be preserved.”
He explained that like Gen. Jackson, Louisiana brought people from different backgrounds together and compared it to the town that was named in his honor.
“Louisiana is a wonderfully unique state, and that diverse background is what gives us our personality and our interesting politics,” Dardenne said. “If we don’t learn from our past, we’ll never be able to build for the future.”
State Rep. Kenny Havard, who represents District 62 in the Legislature, was raised in Jackson.
Speaking to the crowd, Havard looked around the Centenary State Historic Site grounds and said, “I used to play on these grounds right here. It’s something we should all be proud of. I live in St. Francisville now, but Jackson will always be my home.”
The day was full of fun activities around Jackson and was organized by town officials and the Bicentennial Bash Commission.