June 16

The history that surrounds us: Bayou St. Malo


Louisiana is rich with histories of people who have since come and gone. Their struggles, victories, their hopes and aspirations still manifest in my imagination every time I go fishing.

The History of Bayou St. Malo, Freedom Fighters and Manila Men

America used to be a very different place. Fishing communities were more at-large, and people didn't live in the comfortable suburbia they do today.

People lived out in the marsh, and one of those places used to be the village of St. Malo.

Bayou St Malo Hopedale, Louisiana

Looking down Bayou St Malo

Bayou St. Malo is named after this small town.

Situated on the shore of Lake Borgne near it's namesake bayou, this hamlet used to be populated by Filipinos as early as the late 1700s. It was largely kept secret from mainstream society until a journalist visited in 1883.

Today, all that remains is a high ridge of land and a shell pile.

But where did St. Malo get it's name?

This was a topic of discussion, but the best reference I have found explains that it was named after a runaway slave. In 1784, a man by the name of Jean Saint Malo escaped Spanish slave traders and fled to the marshes outside New Orleans, where he waged guerrilla warfare against his would-be captors.

St. Malo Fishing Village

Illustration first published in Harper's Weekly, March 31, 1883.

A man after my own heart, freedom-loving and willing to fight for it! I admire Jean Saint Malo for this. Every time I roll down Bayou St. Malo, I think of him ambushing Spaniards from the tactical advantage of the ridge line there.

I wonder just how he lived and how different the marsh was then. It had to have been, as I have seen enormous cypress trees laid down in the ponds surrounding the area.

It's something that adds to the magical aspect of fishing Louisiana's estuaries. I wonder if their ghosts watch us as we catch a lot of fish and smile as they remember when they used to do the same?



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