Elmwood, which stood at 900 North Beach Blvd. prior to Hurricane Katrina, was the manor house of the Cowand-Fields plantation. Its history began in 1768 when the French and Indian War ended. At that time a peace agreement was signed between France and England, giving all French territory to Spain.
During her time of governance of the territory, Spain gave grants of land to whoever would cultivate the ground and make their homes in the territory. Many men of French and Spanish extraction availed themselves of the government’s offer and became the owners of extensive tracts of land. One such person was Louis Alexis La Sassier (Lassassier or Saucier), who received an extensive parcel of land on the western shore of the Bay of St. Louis, dating from 1786. However, after Spain returned this territory to France, it was necessary for all these Spanish land tracts to be confirmed by the French government.
In the early part of 1794, the Baron de Carondelet, then governor of these provinces, had the Spanish grant of La Sassier made good by the French government. Later this same year as he was returning from France, La Sassier was shipwrecked and lost his papers, including his grant to his lands along the western boundary of the Bay of St. Louis.
In 1798 La Sassier applied to Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, Brigadier of the Royal Army and Governor General of those provinces. At the request of the Baron de Carondelet, General Gayoso de Lemos directed his secretary, Don Andrew Lopez Armesto, to search for a record of the La Sassier claim. Copies were found and Louis Alexis La Sassier again gained possession of his lands, and in 1823 a grant was made to his widow, Melite La Sassier . [This grant is recorded in Deed Book A, pp. 298—303 in the Hancock County Courthouse according to Helene Cowand Price.]
Here is where the histories differ. According to several accounts, the land on which Elmwood stood and surrounding lands were purchased by Jesse Cowand in the early 1800’s from Melite La Sassier. Mr. Cowand was a native of Virginia who had migrated to New Orleans in the early 1800’s. One account says that he was a sea captain. In a WPA interview in 1937 with the grandson and namesake of the original Jesse Cowand, Mr. Cowand said that his grandfather began work on his home, Elmwood Manor, but left to fight in the War of 1812. Upon his return he completed construction. If this account is correct, then Cowand must have left New Orleans and purchased the property from the widow La Sassier in the early 1800’s to begin construction of the house c. 1804.
However, the great granddaughter of the original Jesse Cowand, Helene Cowand Price, gave a different account in January 1980.
In Mrs. Price’s account Jesse Cowand migrated from Virginia to New Orleans in the early 1800’s. When the War of 1812 came along, he participated in the Battle of New Orleans and was ultimately captured. After the war he established himself in the city as a cooper, making and repairing wooden casks and tubs. As further proof of Cowand’s later arrival in Bay St. Louis, she also claimed to have in her possession an old ledger used in this business, the last entry being dated January 15, 1825.
According to Mrs. Price the land on which Elmwood stood and the surrounding lands were purchased by Jesse Cowand in 1826-1829 from Melite La Sassier. She also said it is believed that construction of Elmwood was begun in the early 1800’s, prior to the War of 1812, and completed by Jesse Cowand about 1830. She said that he and his family occupied what was called “The Cottage” while Elmwood Manor was being completed.
Is it not possible that both accounts are true and that each family member has given a different thread of the same story to weave a fuller, richer history of Elmwood Manor? In his book Louisiana’s Loss, Mississippi’s Gain, Robert Scharff presents information from an article in the Sea Coast Echo from 1978 which refers to Mr. Cowand as “one of those newly enriched absentee cotton planters” and also states that Elmwood was built as “a summer estate.”