Blackfish Lake Ferry Site
Surveyors hired to lay out a route for the proposed Memphis to Little Rock Road noted that Blackfish Lake was among the obstacles to be overcome in rugged eastern Arkansas. When they reported to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun on February 12, 1825, that they had selected the best possible route through eastern Arkansas, they included a description of Blackfish Lake east of Crowley’s Ridge and a recommendation that a ferry be established to cross it:
“Blackfish—this stream has been considered the great obstacle in the forming of this road, and we believe in any other way than that on which we have conducted it would render it impracticable—This stream takes its rise in a large number of Cypress lakes, Ponds &c in the high lands bordering on an outlet to the Mississippi into the Saint Francis—It drains a large portion of this insulated Country—In wet seasons it contains a vast quantity of water, which owing to the flatness of the Country, inundates a large Space at Such times rendering it almost impassible. Where we desire the road to cross, it forms itself into an immence [sic] lake with high banks, Sufficient to Contain all the Surplus water of wet Seasons without inundation—Thus, by establishing a ferry across Blackfish lake the great obstacle to this road vanishes.”
As contracts were signed for construction of segments of the road, Lieutenant Charles Thomas, the second U.S. Army officer assigned to oversee the project, also reported on the necessity of a ferry across Blackfish Lake, writing to Quartermaster General Thomas S. Jesup on November 23, 1826:
“[T]he third contract and part of the fourth runs through a complete wilderness entirely uninhabited, crosses Blackfish, Shell and Bevans lakes at St. Francis River, at all of which ferrys [sic] must be established previous to the road’s being traveled as they are wide and entirely too deep to be forded, or bridged except by floating bridges. Ferries will not be established before that time, the land is the property of the United States and will be offered for sale in December next at which time the sites will no doubt be purchased and ferrys [sic] established and until such sale & purchase no one will engage in it.”
William D. Ferguson, a veteran of the War of 1812 and one of early Crittenden County’s leading citizens, apparently received the license to establish a ferry at Blackfish Lake and held the license for some time. Crittenden County records show that the county court voted on July 12, 1830, “that a Ferry License be Granted William D. Ferguson to keep a Ferry across Blackfish at the Same rates of Tunage as heretofore allowed at his Ferry.”
Ferguson in 1829 acquired one of the first land grants for property in Crittenden County and had been appointed the county’s first sheriff in 1825. He also served as postmaster at Greenock, a county seat established on land donated by his brother, Horatio N. Ferguson, in 1827. Court was held there until the seat was moved to Marion ten years later. He also served as a representative in the 1829 territorial legislature and as a representative in the First, Second, and Third General Assemblies after statehood. Ferguson later sought permission to build a toll bridge across Blackfish Lake but was rebuffed by the Arkansas General Assembly in 1836 and 1837. It is not known when the ferry across Blackfish Lake was discontinued.
The lake was still crossed by the ferry when traversed during the Chickasaw and Cherokee removals of the 1830s, and it is because of its association with the Trail of Tears that the Blackfish Lake Ferry Site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 10, 2003. Parties of Chickasaw crossed Blackfish Lake in July and December 1837, and the Bell Detachment of Cherokee crossed on the ferry on November 28, 1838.
For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890.
Carter, Clarence E., comp. and ed. Territorial Papers of the United States, XIX, Arkansas Territory, 1825–1829. Washington DC: 1954.
Christ, Mark K. “Blackfish Lake Ferry Site.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Crittenden County Records, County, Circuit and Probate Court Records Book “B,” 1826–1845. Microfilm copy, Arkansas State Archives, Little Rock, Arkansas.
J. M. Millard Journal. Sequoyah Research Center. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Woolfolk, Margaret Elizabeth. A History of Crittenden County, Arkansas. Greenville, SC: Southern Historical Press, 1991.
Mark K. Christ
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program
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