I'm a Louisiana girl who's lived all over our beautiful state. My grandmother got me hooked on genealogy. Since she'd taken care of my father's side of the family tree, I tackled my mother's side. My mother's family came to Louisiana via France via Acadia.
Born in Scotland, he crossed an ocean and settled in Massachusetts only to die in a steamboat explosion near the village of St. Francisville. The local priest kindly buried him and 10 other victims in Pointe Coupee Parish, which is across the river from St. Francisville.
I came across the burials in the Diocese of Baton Rouge’s published records, and they reminded me of reading long ago about the perils of steamboat traveling. Sometimes captains would recklessly push a steamboat boiler beyond its limits by racing another steamboat. It was drag racing on the river.
The passengers aboard the Constitution were at breakfast in 1817 when the crew tried to outsail another steamboat from the same company. The race didn’t end well. The Constitution’s boiler burst, scalding to death 11 people.
Besides Mr. Brown, who was just 27, the dead were:
James Carpenter, 36.
Eliphaler Frazer, 41, who was born in New Jersey but had a wife and family in Franklin, Ohio.
Peter Hebert, a 27-year-old engineer from Mantz, France.
John Larkin, a Natchez silversmith.
A Mr. McFarland, 26, of Pittsburgh.
Alexander Phillpot, 22, of Henry County, Va.
Robert Robinson, 18.
William Steel, a 25-year-old Montana merchant.
George Wilson, 28, who was born in Virginia.
William Yowell, 30, who was born in Virginia but lived in Washington County, Ky.
Sometimes you stumble across something funny when you dust off court records from more than 100 years ago. Case in point: A century-old squabble over the cost of postage.
Severin Dupuis died in 1879 from yellow fever. The disease also claimed his 19-year-old daughter, Amelia, for whom the town of Amelia was named. Because Severin left behind children and property, his widow filed a succession to divvy up the possessions.
Two years after Severin’s death, the estate still was being wrapped up. And someone – presumably a clerk with a sense of humor – stuck a rather pointed note about how much postage the case was consuming in the court record.
“Don’t talk to me any more about postage stamps,” the widow’s attorney, S. Lanaux, wrote someone named Placide (I would assume this was another attorney). “I only follow your good example.”
I didn’t quite understand what the argument was. I turned to the U.S. Postal Museum for help and learned that Congress authorized “postage due stamps” in 1879. Basically, the authorization allowed the Post Office to collect the cost of postage from the recipient of mail.
Whenever Lanaux picked up correspondence from Placide at the Post Office, he had to pay the postage due on it before he was allowed to take the letter. The same went for Placide.
Like any good attorney, Lanaux offered a compromise.
“If you promise me not to get mad and curse and beat your head against the court house pillars, I will send you in a day or so one dollars worth of postage stamps to stamp my letters with hereafter,” Mr. Lanaux wrote.
The listing of “hospital cemetery” as the place of burial is a major clue to where she died. Ordinary hospitals don’t have a hospital – as convenient as that would be. Edna died in Jackson, Louisiana, which is home to the East Louisiana State Hospital. To this day, it tends to the mentally ill.
I don’t know when the decision was made to create a cemetery for the hospital. It probably didn’t take long to decide one was needed. The dead have to be buried, even if their family doesn’t have the resources or the care to do it.
Edna died of tuberculosis just three days after Christmas 1913. She did indeed die at the mental hospital in Jackson, Louisiana. If the scant information on her death certificate is to be believed, she’d been there two years and no one knew much about her other than her name.
I came across her death certificate while researching the Vining family. Vining is an unusual name that came into my family tree when Evy Vining married my granny’s aunt.
Edna Vining likely wasn’t related to Evy Vining, but her death certificate pulled me in.
Being sick over Christmas is bad enough. Dying of tuberculosis is even worse. And the person filling out Edna’s death certificate didn’t know her age, her parents’ names or even her usual place of residence other than a vague reference to East Feliciana Parish.
The day after her death, Edna was buried in the hospital cemetery.
In Edna’s time, it was called the insane asylum although I don’t believe it was unusual to be placed there because of a tuberculosis diagnosis.
The census taker recorded Edna at the insane asylum in 1910. She was 35 at the time and married. She would’ve been around 38 when she died a few years later. Curiously, the census taker recorded her name as Etna – not Edna.
And that’s all I know about Edna or Etna. Her road ended at an insane asylum in a small town.
I have a confession. Most people think my name is Ava because I started this blog using a junk email address that bore my cat’s name. My name is actually Michelle. Nice to meet you!
Why Michelle, you ask? There was a popular Beatles song with the name Michelle in it many years before I was born. It was so popular that here I am along with thousands of other Michelles.
I often wish I had a more unusual name. But I also often wish I didn’t have freckles, which do make me unusual. There’s no pleasing me.
My family tree is riddled with names no longer in fashion: Anaise, Florentin, Cordelier. Well, I could go on and on.
It’s interesting how names are decided. My great grandfather was named for a rich, childless uncle. It didn’t work. The money became an educational trust. My aunt was named for a pretty girl who worked the drugstore counter. For years, we’ve debated why my father-in-law was named Baker. We can’t come up with an explanation. Maybe his mother – who died young – read it in a book.
I encountered an entirely new name this past weekend when we visited my in laws’ graves in Jefferson Davis Parish (yes, we’re aware that name should be changed).
My in laws are buried on part of the family farm near Kinder. Buried near them is Poley Hebert. When was the last time you met a Poley? A Pokey, sure. But Poley? Was his name Napoleon?
I don’t know much about Poley other than that he was a tall farmer of medium build. One of his sisters was named Ariese.
We were bumping along New Orleans streets near the Fairgrounds this weekend (the city is sinking, taking the asphalt with it) when we stumbled across a mansion.
That’s not to say the Esplanade area of New Orleans lacks for mansions. There are plenty of columned beauties presiding over Bayou St. John near City Park. The Luling Mansion is different because it’s not on the water – at least not any longer.
In 1865, when the Lulings built their mansion, they set it on 30 acres that stretched all the way to the bayou. That bayou would supposedly be the scene of a great tragedy that caused them to lose interest in the city and their home. Now more modest, gingerbread-trimmed houses in all hues block the bayou view, hiding the mansion from those who don’t accidentally stumble across it while dodging potholes on Leda Court.
I thought the house was abandoned when I hopped onto the sidewalk to look at it. An impressive secure entrance – you enter through a cage and punch in a code to step onto the grounds – convinced me otherwise. As of a few years ago, the house was an apartment building. I assume it still is.
The house’s unique appearance intrigued me. I had to learn more because every house has a story. This house’s story is a sad one that teaches us there often is a seed of truth in stories passed down through the decades. I’ll explain.
Newspaper articles tell me that a wealthy businessman named Florenz Luling had the mansion built as his family home soon after marrying Georgine Hermann. Florenz was a German immigrant who moved to the U.S. and became a successful merchant. Georgine was a New Orleans native with an impressive pedigree. Her ancestral home is an impressive mansion in the Vieux Carre. The young couple lived on Bourbon Street while their Esplanade mansion was constructed. They would live in their mansion for exactly six years.
Why they left seems to be a source of confusion and speculation. From the New Orleans newspaper:
“According to a multitude of unsourced accounts, soon after the family moved in, Luling’s son — or, according to some accounts, both of his sons — drowned in nearby Bayou St. John. Heartbroken, the story goes, the Lulings sold the property and left New Orleans.
Newspaper accounts of the drowning(s) couldn’t be found. Neither is the event mentioned in F.A. Luling’s 1906 Times-Picayune obituary (which, incidentally, gives his first name as “Frederick” instead of Florenz for reasons unclear).
Regardless, whether because of the supposed drownings, some sort of financial reversal or another reason altogether, the Lulings did, indeed, move out of the mansion just six years after its completion.”
The Lulings had five children. Only one, Alice, would live into adulthood. Alice married into the English nobility and died a titled lady in London, where she’s buried along with her parents.
But back to the mansion … It was an opulent, 22-room concoction of Italian marble, frescos, cupids and imported carpet. There was a bowling alley, an observatory and cedar closets. The Lulings were the Spellings of their day. And they wouldn’t last 10 years in the house.
Here’s where legend creeps into the story. Like the newspaper published, legend has it that the Lulings left because they were distraught after two of their children drowned in Bayou St. John. And here’s where legend is like a game of Telephone. Something gets twisted in each retelling, but there’s still a bit of the original message. It’s just garbled.
According to a family tree on Ancestry, the Lulings had two sons: Carl and Hermann. Carl died age 1 in 1863, before the house was built. Hermann died age 11 in 1871, making his death coincide with the family’s departure from their mansion. Their deaths are recorded in the city’s records.
And, wouldn’t you know it? Poor Hermann did drown. Not in Bayou St. John in front of the palatial mansion, but in Mississippi, where, no doubt, the family was vacationing.
Hermann didn’t die alone. Another member of the household died with him that day.
A big house requires lots of servants. Certainly, the Luling Mansion had room for them. The 1870 census shows the Lulings were outnumbered by paid staff: There was a gardener, a watchman and four domestic servants for a family that numbered four.
See Margaret Egan on the census record? She was with little Hermann while he fished from a Mississippi wharf in April 1871. When Hermann fell into the water, Margaret jumped in after him despite not knowing how to swim. Little Hermann clung to the maid and drowned with her. The Lulings brought Hermann’s body back to New Orleans and put their mansion on the market just two months later.
And, there you have it: Two drownings in the same household followed by a family’s abrupt departure. We’ll probably never know if the Lulings left New Orleans because of what happened in Mississippi, but the timing lends weight to the story that they did.
One of my favorite books as a child was “George Washington’s Breakfast.” The main character was a modern day little boy with an insatiable curiosity about what George Washington ate for breakfast. I was like that little boy. Actually, I’m still like that little boy. I’m endlessly curious about inane things.
That brings me to this question: How did Martha Washington’s great-great granddaughter end up in a Shreveport cemetery? It’s long hike from Mount Vernon to the Deep South. Join me, won’t you?
The great-great granddaughter in question was Eleanor Angela Isabella Butler Williamson. She died in 1866 at the young age of 34 and was buried at Oakland Cemetery in Shreveport. A marker for her exists to this day.
Isabella– as she was known – was descended from Martha through her mother, Frances Parke Lewis Butler. Her father was Edward George Washington Butler. You’ve probably heard of Edward Butler’s adopted parents: Andrew and Rachel Jackson. Yep. That’s two ties to the White House in one family tree that ends in Shreveport.
But back to Frances. She was born at Mount Vernon to Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis, who was Martha’s granddaughter. Supposedly, the night before George Washington died, Martha took time away from his deathbed to visit the new baby. Frances’ parents are buried at Mount Vernon, but Frances is buried in Pass Christian, Miss., which seems an odd place for a Martha Washington descendant to be buried. Then I remembered who reared her husband.
Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel, never had children of their own, but they opened their home to children who needed shelter. The most permanent additions included 1. Rachel’s nephew, 2. a young Indian boy orphaned by war and sent home to Rachel by Andrew, and 3. Rachel’s great nephew. However, the children of Captain Edward Butler and Rachel’s brother also stayed with the Jacksons for spells.
The Butlers were known for their military service. Captain Edward Butler and his four brothers fought in the Revolutionary War. Their descendants also served in the military and fought in wars. In fact, they coined a phrase – “Die like a Butler” – which means to die in battle.
Captain Edward Butler left four young children when he died at age 40. Andrew Jackson took them all in. Edward George Washington Butler may have been present when Andrew Jackson triumphed at the Battle of New Orleans. You have to wonder if Jackson’s family joined him in Louisiana for the ensuing celebration and fell in love with the culture. From his birth in Tennessee, Edward would grow up to graduate from West Point, meet his wife in Washington, D.C., own a plantation in Louisiana, winter in Pass Christian through the generosity of friends and die in St. Louis. Something drew him to Louisiana.
It was Edward George Washington Butler who brought Martha’s descendants to Louisiana. His wife spent her life in the D.C. area, growing up at Mount Vernon and circulating in Washington society, until meeting her husband and moving to Iberville Parish in south Louisiana, where she would rear her children, outlive a son who died on the battlefield (where else) and move to Mississippi after her husband’s finances were destroyed.
Their daughter Isabella, who is buried in Shreveport, married an attorney who was a South Carolina transplant. They settled in Shreveport, where they lived amongst farmers and stagecoach drivers.
So, I guess, love and Andrew Jackson brought Martha’s descendants to Shreveport.
I spent Easter weekend in Shreveport, where I saw the Oscar-winning Coda, visited the auditorium where a young Elvis Presley forged his musical career, met my youngest nephew (he screamed every time I tried to hold him), drove through a historic cemetery and ate pastries, ham, turkey, fish and chips, a shrimpbuster (it’s a Shreveport thing), salmon, loaded potatoes, hot cross buns and God’s knows what else. I’m never eating again as soon as I finish this bag of Skinny Pop.
But back to the cemetery … I love visiting cemeteries, and Oakland Cemetery in downtown Shreveport is a must for history buffs. It’s the oldest, existing cemetery in Shreveport and sits on the outskirts of downtown. It’s not in the best part of town -although it’s directly across from Municipal Auditorium – so it’s best to bring a friend with you and visit during broad daylight. Just be aware of your surroundings.
Oakland is the final resting place of multiple mayors, at least four congressmen, an ambassador, yellow fever victims, a madam, Martha Washington’s great-great granddaughter and the first Shreveport police officer killed in the line of duty. You’ll also find members of Shreveport’s founding families here. The cemetery is no longer in the business of burying people so it’s very much a tribute to the past.
The Smith family’s plot caught my eye on a recent visit. I decided to find out who they were.
The patriarch of this plot was Joseph B. Smith, who died in 1889 at age 58. Known as J.B. Smith, he was born in Kentucky but moved to Shreveport as a young man. He went into the pharmacy business under his brother. Eventually, he and a partner opened their own hardware store in downtown Shreveport.
Smith prospered in Shreveport. The business flourished and he built a handsome home to accommodate his wife and their five sons. His death was sudden and relatively unexpected. He’d been feeling poorly for a few weeks but had seemed to rally until he suddenly came down with congestion and died minutes later. This is according to The Shreveport Times, which described him as clear-headed, cautious and painstaking.
It appears that Smith’s wife, Mary, took over the family business. She hastened to assure the good people of Shreveport that the hardware business would continue.
Mary, who was 15 years younger than J.B., would outlive him by more than three decades. She is also buried at Oakland although her marker is much more modest. Instead of a monument reaching toward the sky, she’s remembered with a simple marker set in the ground. It seems fitting that the headline for her news obit simply summarized her as the widow of a prominent businessman (who had been dead for 43 years).
Near Mary is her son Leon Rutherford, who was just 14 when his father died. Leon got a grand marker with a wreath and tribute in stone, perhaps because he died rather tragically.
Remember on Downton Abbey when Lavinia rather conveniently died from the Spanish flu, paving the way for Mary to wed her true love and stay in her childhood home? There was nothing convenient about Leon’s death, but he did die from the Spanish flu that was sweeping Shreveport at the time. In fact, the flu was so feared that the family skipped a church funeral and just did services at the grave.
Like I said, Leon was just 14 when his father died. He’d been away at school but he came home to help with the family business. Leon explored a lot of interests before landing on a career. He worked for a jeweler and a bank and ultimately decided to go to law school. He went into practice with a former governor.
From the law, it was a natural move into politics. Leon first served on the School Board before winning election to the Louisiana Legislature. It was at a speech that he likely caught the Spanish flu. He developed pneumonia and died two weeks later at his home on Fairfield Avenue.
Leon is one of two of J.B. and Mary Smith’s children who is buried at Oakland (the rest of their sons are at another Shreveport cemetery). The other is Joseph Bruce Smith, who died in 1942. It appears that Joseph, who was a real estate agent, never married.
When I saw this grave at St. Patrick’s in Gibson last weekend, the vase was empty. I studied the name on the marker – Father Tayler Clement – and thought he must have been a priest. I imagined he’d come to this little bayou town from a far-flung place, ministered to the largely Catholic population, died and was buried here goodness only knows how many miles from home. So I gifted his grave with a bouquet of Dollar Tree flowers.
Someone tell me to stop making assumptions.
It turns out that “Father” Clement was a married man whose news obit focused more heavily on his widow’s insurance payment than on his actual death. Still, the newspaper characterized him as popular.
Mr. Clement married Orsena Faucheux in 1895, just five years before his death. They had a summer wedding.
And that’s all I know about Mr. Clement. At least I now know that he wasn’t a priest.
Get out your poodle skirts and hula hoops! The 1950 Census is here!!!
I’ve yet to find my Hebert grandparents on the bayou in Assumption Parish, but I did find my Texas-born grandfather at Tarleton State College in Erath, Texas. They even spelled his last name right, which is a small miracle.