Don Juan Filhiol (1740–1821)
aka: Jean de Filhiol
aka: Baptiste Filhiol
aka: Jean Baptiste Filhiol
Present-day Camden (Ouachita County) has its origins in a 1782 settlement established by Don Juan Filhiol, a Frenchman who served the Spanish colony of Louisiana. Ecore a Fabri, as Camden was originally known, was Filhiol’s first established settlement in the Ouachita District, which encompassed today’s southern Arkansas and northeastern Louisiana. Filhiol is credited with introducing the rule of law to the Ouachita River area in Arkansas and Louisiana.
Don Juan Filhiol was born Jean Baptiste Filhiol on September 21, 1740, in Eymet, France, to François Filhiol and Anne Marie Teyssonniere, who were cloth merchants and Calvinists. In 1763, at the age of twenty-three, Filhiol left France to seek his fortune in Santo Domingo, a French colony (present-day Haiti). He decided to return to France in 1779, traveling through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Missing his boat to France, he instead traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana. Once there, he assisted Don Bernardo de Galvez’s military ventures in West Florida and Baton Rouge against the English during the American Revolution. As a result of his service, he was commissioned as a captain in the Opelousas Post militia. While at the post, Filhiol married François Poiret Berqueville in 1782. They had three children.
Spanish leaders determined that placing a settlement as far north up the Ouachita River as possible would help the Spanish better control the area. Filhiol was recommended by provisional governor Esteban (or Estevan) Miro to establish a post on the Ouachita River, serving as its commandant. He was given a detailed set of directives to follow, including organizing the scattered inhabitants into settlements; prohibiting the Americans, the English, and any other “undesirables” from the region controlled by the Spanish; and establishing harmony with the Native Americans. His success in accomplishing these directives was mixed.
Leaving New Orleans in 1783 with a few soldiers and slaves, along with his wife, Filhiol and the group traveled north. The area of his first settlement, Ecore a Fabri, was in the sparsely inhabited Ouachita District. The bluff on the right side of the Ouachita River that Filhiol chose for his settlement was named after André Fabri (or Fabry) de La Bruyère, who had visited the area in 1741 while on an expedition to New Mexico. While here, Filhiol unsuccessfully attempted to supplement his salary by trading with the Native Americans. Following instructions, Filhiol also unsuccessfully attempted to entice other settlers in the area to move to his settlement on the Ouachita.
In 1785, in part due to his failed attempt to attract settlers, Filhiol decided to relocate downstream at Prairie des Canots, in present-day northeastern Louisiana. There, he established a successful plantation where he lived the remainder of his life. Eventually, he would oversee construction of a fort on his property to serve as a safe haven for families against Indian attacks. The fort was named Fort Miro (Monroe, Louisiana) in honor of Governor Miro. Filhiol’s actions in the district were not always popular, but he did introduce some degree of law and order to its inhabitants. He is especially noted for his diligent work to maintain peace with the Indians in the Ouachita River valley.
By 1795, government leadership had changed, and the new governor of Louisiana put more emphasis on settlement. Two large land grants were issued to two promoters with a requirement to promote settlement. Filhiol remained in command of the area until he retired in 1800. He had served for fifteen years as commandant of the Poste d’Ouachita.
Filhiol died on September 28, 1821, at the age of eighty-one; he is buried on his plantation near the Ouachita River in present-day West Monroe, Louisiana.
For additional information:
Arnold, Morris S. “The Significance of Arkansas Colonial Experience.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 51 (Spring 1992): 69–82.
———. Unequal Laws unto a Savage Race: European Legal Traditions in Arkansas, 1686–1836. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1985.
Dickinson, Samuel Dorris. “Don Juan Filhiol at Encore a Fabri.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 46 (Summer 1987): 132–155.
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