History of Morgan City
Spirit of Morgan City: stock image
Tiger Island, the land on which Morgan City now stands, was once inhabited by coastal Indians who survived by fishing, trapping, and hunting in the local bayous and bays. Situated in eastern St. Mary Parish, at the junction of Berwick's Bay and today's Intercoastal Canal, the region was part of the Attakapas District of French and Spanish Colonial Louisiana later described by the poet, Longfellow, as the "Eden" of North America.
Before the American Revolution, English-speaking pioneers arrived in the Bay area via the Mississippi River and the Atchafalaya Basin. In the 1790’s, Pennsylvanian Thomas Berwick, a surveyor in the adjoining Opelousas District, navigated Bayou Teche and located the bay which was named in his honor. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the banks of local waterways were dotted with small sugar cane plantations. The construction of the NOO & GW Railroad from New Orleans to Berwick’s Bay in 1857 gave birth to the town of Brashear. The community was incorporated in 1860 and named for its founder, Dr. Walter Brashear, a famed Kentucky surgeon and noted Whig legislator from St. Mary Parish.
The first half of the nineteenth century also
witnessed much local marine commerce including
shipments to the Port of New Orleans from
Berwick’s Bay and Bayou Teche. The waterways of
South Louisiana were truly the “highways” of the
Because of its obviously strategic location
commanding the entrance to the Atchafalaya basin,
Federal forces occupied Brashear during the War
Between the States. From 1862 through early 1865,
the town was utilized as their base of operations
during repeated attempts to conquer Confederate
western Louisiana. Following the war, the
steamship and railroad enterprises of business
magnate Charles Morgan, and the first dredging
of the Atchafalaya Bay Channel in 1872, contributed to an era of major economic development. In Morgan’s honor, Brashear was re-named Morgan City in 1876.
The late 1800s and early 1900s saw Morgan City emerge as a center of the oyster and cypress lumbering industries. After the discovery of jumbo shrimp offshore in the 1930s, Morgan City earned the title of “Shrimp Capital of the World”. Discovery of oil in the Gulf of Mexico south of Morgan City in 1947 led to the establishment of a vigorous petroleum industry as the town also became know as the “Gateway to the Tidelands”, and later as the “Hub of the Inland Waterways”.
Today, Morgan City is the home of the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival which is the oldest charted harvest Festival in the state. The city boasts a scenic tourist center, and many great attractions. Morgan City possesses an impressive history. The dreams of its first settlers as well as more recent arrivals have produced a community with special character, and a unique environment where yesterday co-exists with tomorrow.
-Morgan City Archives