…home of poet Pearl Rivers
Russell Guerin, for HCHS
Though never really a fort, this site in Waveland deserves recognition on two different counts, which are taken up separately below. It is in order, however, to explain at the outset why “Fort” Nicholson was called a fort.
However formidable, this edifice, like so many others, did not survive hurricane Katrina.
This was a very substantial house, located on Waveland’s beach near what is now Nicholson Avenue. The Sea Coast Echo, in an article about Mrs. Nicholson’s visit to the paper in 1892, explains the origins of the term. “This name was suggested by a retaining wall…built down the beach, in front of the premises….A seawall of this type of construction in contrast to the many timber and piling make-shift retaining walls that had been built and failed of purpose, would hold out against the many invading elements of wind and wave. The high wall was so constructed that it did resemble a fort.” The wall would have predated the present beach road; at the time of its construction, it is probable that only a shell road existed between the natural beach front and the house.
The Poetry of Pearl Rivers
Fort Nicholson was for many years the summer home of Eliza Jane Poitevent Nicholson, who from an early age became a noted poet.
Born in 1849, Miss Poitevent was a daughter of William James Poitevent. He had come from North Carolina in the early 19th century, settling at Pearl River. Her mother was Mary Amelia Russ, who had come to Pearl River in 1836, and was a member of another family which became prominent in the area. Her journey, believed to be by wagon train, is well described in a journal she kept, recording daily events along the way. According to a document in the Hancock County Historical Society, William Poitevent became “one of the largest planters and most influential politicians of the County.” From this early beginning came the prominent family long established in the historic communities of Hancock County like Logtown and Gainesville.
Though young Eliza was one of eight children, she was raised by an uncle and aunt because of her mother’s poor health. Their home was in Hobolochitto, now called Picayune. Living near Pearl River in the beautiful Piney Woods might have been a lonely existence for a single child, but the environment must have had an effect on her sensitive nature. At 14, she was already writing delicate poetry, and by 18 she was being
Her early poems exhibit a certain simplicity. In one of her pieces, she writes, “But bear it tenderly to those/Who loved the simple thing,/Because of simple joys and woes/ The singer used to sing.” Writing under the nom de plume of Pearl Rivers, her work was published in newspapers in New Orleans and New York, including the New York Home Journal, and in a book called simply Lyrics, published in 1873 in Philadelphia, PA. Copy of title page and Preface of the original book are attached.
In the Louisville and Nashville publication “Along the Gulf,” Pearl Rivers was said to be “the poet Laureate of the birds and flowers of the South.”
Later, in her senior years, she turned to serious poetry and published two major poems, called “Hagar” and “Leah,” published in Cosmopolitan in 1893 and1894. The former is considered her masterwork. Borrowing from the biblical story of Hagar, the poet described an Egyptian slave who rises from captivity and achieves against all odds. It is evident that her story is analogous to Eliza Nicholson’s own journey through life, not only considering her poetry, but also her business success as told below.
Success as Publisher
Against the advice of family, she accepted an invitation to be the literary critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. It must be considered that in the mid-19th century, women for whom work was not a necessity, did not leave the family home. Even more remarkable, Miss Poitevent was only twenty at the time. Several years later, she married the owner, and upon his death inherited the paper with an enormous amount of debt, said to be $80,000. Though advised to fold the enterprise, she kept it active and eventually paid off all obligations and made it a financial success.
This newspaper continues to this day to be an important daily, read not only in New Orleans, but all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Ahead of her time, she was certainly an inspiration to other women, becoming the first female publisher of a major newspaper in the United States. She employed imaginative changes in the paper’s style in order to increase circulation. For example, a society page was introduced, much to the consternation of some New Orleans families. Other new departments included columns of interest to women and children, medical advice, science and agriculture, comics, and fashion. In addition, she was an advocate of humane treatment of animals and campaigned for “a release from the tyranny of Reconstruction and a return to good government.”
In time, her management and innovative approach to publishing made the newspaper one of the foremost in the entire South.
Mrs. Nicholson published the Time-Picayune from 1876 until her death in 1896. Following her death, her estate was then the publisher until 1914. Subsequently, one of her sons ran the paper in the same capacity from 1918 to 1952.