Houma, the seat of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, was founded in 1834 near a former settlement of the Houma Indians. The surrounding area was first settled in the mid 18th century by French and Spanish colonists and then in the early 19th century by Anglo-Americans. By the time of the Civil War, it had become a leader in the cultivation of sugar cane and was at the heart of one of the most prosperous districts in the United States.
Taking its name from the Roman goddess of agriculture, the first issue of the Houma Ceres appeared on July 19, 1855. The paper was founded by 27-year-old Eugene William Blake (1827-1890) in partnership with Jonathan Church White and Louis F. Anderson, proprietors of the Thibodaux Minerva in the neighboring town of Thibodaux. The earliest issues of the Ceres may have been printed on the Minerva’s press. Blake, a lawyer by training, announced that he would be independent in matters of politics, later adopting the motto “Independent in All Things, Neutral in None.” However, his affiliation with the Know-Nothing or American Party was apparently well known, and in 1855, the paper carried news of nativist meetings in and around Houma.
In addition to politics, editorials discussed civic improvements and the impact of the newly constructed New Orleans and Opelousas Railroad, which passed through Houma. The growing sectional crisis impacted discussions of topics such as education, with Blake advising Southern families not to send their children to school in the North, believing they would be indoctrinated “with principles at war with Southern institutions.” The Ceres also reported on slave rebellions, slavery in the western territories, and what it saw as the dangers of a free black population (see, for example, the article “Free Nigger Insolence”). Additionally, it covered some of the activities of William Walker, an American adventurer and one-time editor of the New Orleans Daily Crescent who led several private military expeditions to Central America in the 1850s in an attempt to establish an English-speaking, slaveholding empire.
The Ceres originally doubled as an agricultural newspaper and ran articles on topics such as sugar cultivation in Asia, the introduction of new plants, and the study of natural history. Announcements and minutes of planters’ meetings were also printed. Within a few years, however, agricultural reporting had dwindled.
Blake acquired full ownership of the Ceres in December 1855, but in June of the following year, he returned it to Louis F. Anderson and left the newspaper business. Two months later, Anderson reported on the famous Last Island Hurricane, which destroyed a nearby seaside resort, killing more than 200 people, including members of the plantation elite.
Few copies of the Ceres survive from after 1857. In the presidential election of 1860, it endorsed secessionist candidate John C. Breckinridge and criticized the Thibodaux Gazette, a supporter of John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party, which sought to avoid disunion over the issue of slavery. The paper also published a letter by Dr. Stephen Duncan, a prominent planter of Natchez, Mississippi, in support of Bell, followed by a letter attacking Duncan’s position written by Terrebonne Parish planter Robert Ruffin Barrow. The Ceres probably went out of publication in 1862. In May of that year, Editor Thomas Albert Woods (1833-1889) is thought to have led an ambush of Union soldiers near Houma. In retaliation, federal troops burned the Ceres office.