True Democrat

West Feliciana Parish

In 1925, the Woodville (MS) Republican hailed the True Democrat of St. Francisville, Louisiana, as one of the state’s “most ably edited and most influential newspapers as well as… one of the cleanest--mechanically and otherwise.” Founded in 1892, the paper was originally published in Bayou Sara, a busy port located on the Mississippi River between Natchez and New Orleans and, at that time, the commercial hub of rural West Feliciana Parish. Settled in the late eighteenth century as part of the colony of British West Florida and then governed by Spain (1783-1810), West Feliciana Parish in the early nineteenth century attracted predominantly Anglo-American settlers and was one of the few areas in south Louisiana where French culture never took root.

The True Democrat’s founder, William Walter Leake, Jr. (1865-1901), co-edited the paper with his wife, May Edna Leake (1864-1925). Its initial purpose was to “make war” on the Louisiana Lottery, a private corporation that provided revenue for Louisiana but was widely regarded as a corrupting influence on state government. When the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the Lottery in 1893, the True Democrat turned its attention to promoting the agricultural and industrial interests of West Feliciana Parish. Accordingly, in 1895, it moved its office from Bayou Sara to the adjacent town of St. Francisville, a railroad-shipping center that was rapidly surpassing Bayou Sara as a place of business on account of declining river traffic.

The True Democrat combined state and local news briefs with foreign and domestic reporting. Many issues feature poetry and serial fiction and more closely resemble a magazine than a newspaper. Local history was a major focus. In 1909, for example, the paper ran a series of biographical sketches of local Civil War veterans. Other articles trace the history of St. Francisville’s prominent families, including its small but significant Jewish community.

The four-page illustrated weekly carried relatively few advertisements but is rich in marriage notices, obituaries, and news of churches and local organizations. As the official journal of West Feliciana Parish, the True Democrat published the minutes of the police jury, the governing body of the parish. It was also the official journal of the parish school board.
Upon W. W. Leake’s death in 1901, May Leake served as the paper’s sole editor until 1906, when Elrie Robinson (1883-1955), a Texas printer, was hired as associate editor and publisher. Leake and Robinson married two years later and worked together in the newspaper business--publishing, in addition to the True Democrat, the Feliciana Record in neighboring East Feliciana Parish--until Leake’s death in 1925. Robinson worked as editor and publisher of the True Democrat for the remainder of his life and gained some notoriety as an expert on the reproduction of old typefaces and as author of several pamphlets on early West Feliciana history. In November 1928, he changed the True Democrat’s title to the St. Francisville Democrat. It is still in publication today.