The Penissons are legendary in my family for two reasons. First, they weren’t Cajuns (they emigrated from France long after the Cajuns arrived). Second, they had a little money.
Here’s my great-great-great grandfather, Jean Baptiste Etienne Penisson. He married Henriette Nina Boudreaux and had 11 children. Their daughter, Marie Rosalie, was my great-great grandmother.
This is supposedly a portrait of Jean Baptiste Etienne’s parents, Etienne Benjamin and Rosalie Trahan Penisson. I say supposedly because Etienne Benjamin died in 1856. I am not an expert on the history of photography in America. However, you have to remember that the Penissons lived in Bayou L’Ourse, a small community between Morgan City and Thibodaux. I’m not certain how they would have gotten their picture taken in the early, early days of photography. It’s possible, though. Maybe they managed to get to New Orleans.
Etienne Benjamin paid cash for 303 acres of land in 1844. The land was in Assumption Parish. At this point, I have to rely on oral history courtesy of my late grandmother. According to her, my great-great grandparents, Jean Severin Hebert and Marie Rosalie Penisson, got a section of this land. They lived in the Big House, which eventually went to my great-grandfather, Jean Jules Hebert. I don’t know if Jean Severin and Marie Rosalie built this house or inherited it. I don’t even know how many rooms it had – although I’m sure it was a standard bayou house, built on pilings with one room flowing directly into the next. Regardless, it burned when my great-grandfather was married and living in it. He moved across the bayou and rented a house. Eventually (after my great-grandmother died), he moved back across the bayou to the family land and lived in what amounted to a shack until he moved into a nursing home.
The family money had run out, probably after the Civil War. However, the family held onto the land. I don’t know who owns it today. I can tell you where it is because we visited it often when I was a child. At one point, my mother’s childhood home shared the land with her uncle’s house. My mother’s home is long gone, but Uncle Howard’s home was still there last I visited.