The Sugar Planter, founded in 1856, was a four-page weekly newspaper published in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana, seat of the parish of the same name. Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River across from Baton Rouge, the town was renamed Port Allen when it was incorporated in 1916. Now an industrial and residential suburb of the state capital, in the 19th century West Baton Rouge Parish was known for its sugar plantations.
Henry J. Hyams (ca. 1828-1883), the Sugar Planter’s founding editor, advocated for the commercial and political interests of planters. Most early issues of the paper carried news related to planter meetings and the state sugar crop. In 1856-57, Hyams supported the American or Know-Nothing Party and reported on nativist activities in the vicinity of Baton Rouge. Although a staunch supporter of slavery, Hyams spoke out against Southern “fire-eaters” such as William Lowndes Yancey and John C. Breckinridge, and in the presidential election of 1860, he endorsed Constitutional Union Party candidate John Bell, who sought to avoid disunion over the issue of slavery. However, after Louisiana seceded from the Union in 1861, Hyams fully embraced it. Wartime issues of the Sugar Planter contain miscellaneous news related to military affairs and the formation of the Confederate government. Publication was suspended in 1862 when paper became unavailable. Shortly after the occupation of Baton Rouge by Federal forces, Hyams was arrested on charges of disloyalty.
Publication resumed in January 1866. For the remainder of the decade, the Sugar Planter focused on criticizing Radical Republican leaders and promoting the economic development of West Baton Rouge Parish. Few issues survive from after 1870, but the paper appears to have become a mainstream “home” journal during this period. Upon Hyams’ death in 1883, his son, Joseph W. Hyams (1864-1912), took his place. The younger Hyams was elected to the state legislature in 1888, and in 1906, the same year that he began a two-year term as speaker of the Louisiana House of Representatives, he moved to New Orleans to work as an immigration agent for the Southern Pacific Railroad. From 1908 to 1923, the paper was edited by Francis J. Whitehead (1888-1951), a lawyer and civic leader who contributed to the development of Greater Baton Rouge as an inland port.
The Sugar Planter was renamed the Port Allen Observer in 1926.