Villemont (Chicot County)
Villemont, one of the earliest settlements in the Arkansas Territory, was the first county seat of Chicot County, which was created on October 25, 1823. Located on the Mississippi River, it was a thriving river port town until the river itself swept away the town in 1847.
The land upon which the settlement was founded was part of an original Spanish land grant issued to Don Carlos de Villemont, commandant of Arkansas Post, by the governor of Louisiana in 1795. The grant measured two leagues wide by one league deep. It is believed that de Villemont owned approximately 14,000 arpens, with each arpen equating to eighty-five percent of a modern acre.
Though Villemont never occupied his land grant, it did attract early settlers. Even though these early settlers did not have legal title to the land, a small settlement is believed to have been established as early as 1822, almost twenty years after the land was acquired by the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.
The settlement grew slowly, in part due to area Native Americans’ displeasure with white settlement and the concern by some over legal title to the land. When Chicot County was created in 1823, an appointed board of commissioners selected the growing settlement as the site for the seat of government. Since no courthouse was ever constructed, county business was conducted in local residences.
Villemont was an important shipping point for southeastern Arkansas. By 1830, a post office was established, and a commission was appointed to promote the construction of a road connecting the settlement with other parts of the county and territory. Shipments came into and out of the local docks on a regular basis. Soon, several businesses were established, one of which was a large hotel opened by John C. Jones, who is said to have invested $5,000 in the hotel and an impressive home. Sources show the population to have been anywhere from 150 to 500.
While it was the reason for the settlement’s existence, the Mississippi River was also a serious concern. Each year, more of the town site crumbled into the river, threatening the town’s survival. In 1837, legal trouble also erupted when heirs of de Villemont petitioned the U.S. Congress to confirm the family’s claim to the now-occupied land. Local leaders H. F. Walworth and B. L. Miles, who were early settlers, contested the petition. Ultimately, the petition was dismissed due in part to the fact that the claim had never been occupied by or improved by the family. A questionable legal description of the physical land grant boundaries further confused the issue.
As the boundaries of Chicot County began to change with the creation of new counties, there was a movement to relocate the county seat to a more central location. In 1833, it was moved a few miles up the Mississippi River to Columbia. While losing the county government was a blow to its survival, the settlement retained its importance as a river port for a few more years. In 1847, what remained of the town was swept into the river.
For additional information:
Brannon, Sheila Farrell, ed. Tribute to Chicot County, Arkansas. Dermott, AR: 2000.
Yarborough, Anna Nash. “A New Day in the Bayou County.” Arkansas Democrat Magazine, February 2, 1958, p. 12.
CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
Last Updated: 02/11/2016