Who was Saint Tammany?

On the 22nd of December 1811, Governor William Claiborne declared by proclamation, opens a new window the formation of four new Louisiana parishes in the county of Feliciana in the former territory of the short-lived West Florida Republic that had been recently annexed to the United States.  Among the new divisions established was Saint Tammany Parish.  As to why Claiborne choose this name, Walker Percy suggested, “This name, thought up by the first American governor of Louisiana, was probably a joke or a jibe at the French practice of using saints’ names, like St. John the Baptist Parish” (see Signposts in a Strange Land, opens a new window, p. 6).  William Alexander Read, in Louisiana Place Names of Indian Origin, opens a new window, offered this explanation: 

Tammany is derived from Delaware Tamanend, “the affable,” the name of the noted Delaware chief of the seventeenth centuryOther forms of the name are Tamanee, Tamanen, Tamany, Tamened, Taminy,and TemaneDuring the Revolutionary War his admires adopted him as their patron saint, and celebrated his festival on the first of MayHis name was conferred on St. Tammany parish, in Louisiana, because of the large number of Indians who formerly resided thereNo white men settled in this parish before the middle of the eighteenth century.

Tammany or Tamanend finds its origin not in Louisiana but in Colonial Pennsylvania where, according to tradition, Chief Tamanend had welcomed William Penn to America when he arrived in 1682.  In 1684, the chief’s name appears on several documents bequeathing land to Penn and his fellow Quakers to settle onThat same year Tamanend and other Delaware leaders traveled to Philadelphia to meet the lieutenant governor, opens a new window of the colony to assert the friendship between their people and the newcomersHowever, written sources about Tamanend are generally sparse, but an oral tradition was maintained among the colonists about Tamanend’s good will, who referred to the chief as King Tammany and eventually as Saint Tammany.

You can read more about Chief Tamanend with Gale in Context: Biography, opens a new window — be sure to have your library card number handy!  You can also learn more about St. Tammany Parish’s native heritage in the books below: 

Louisiana Place-names of Indian Origin

Fleur De Lys and Calumet

The Choctaw of Bayou Lacomb, St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana

Chahta-Ima and St. Tammany's Choctaws