The Assumption Parish Courthouse has rather enormous maps showing who the early landowners were. I thought I’d share. Please ignore my poor photographer skills. I am not a skilled photographer. Shocked, huh?
I’ve noticed something while looking through court records over the years. First, it’s amazing how few of my ancestors knew how to sign their name. Second, husbands always got the chore of going to the courthouse. Unless they were dead of course.
In 1853, Marie Melanie Gautreaux had to let the court know that she had given her children and stepson their share of their father’s estate. As an aside, I believe Louisiana law dictates the surviving spouse gets half and the children split the other half if no will is written. I’ve been told this is a holdover from French possession, but I have no idea if this is true.
Anyhoo, this document tells me a number of things, which is why I love succession (or probate) records.
- It lists the daughters alive at the time and their spouses.
- It lists the sons alive at the time.
- It mentions a deceased son but not all of the deceased children. That means Julien died after his father but before this document was filed.
This document isn’t in the succession record itself. It’s in what are called Original Acts that have been wonderfully translated from French to English (big thank you for that). Dig when you go to the courthouse. Look through all of the index books: successions/probate, marriage, conveyance, civil suits, etc. You never know what you might find.
If your last name is Fryou, then it probably was once Frioux or Frio or Ferio. But it was never Frillot. Make sense?
One of the maddening things about genealogy is the spellings of names change. There’s a good reason for that. Literacy was once a privilege of the upper class. Chances are, your Cajun ancestor didn’t read or write. He had no clue how to spell his last name.
Take the Frioux family. The line started in Louisiana with Francois Frioux, who arrived in Louisiana in 1785 with his son Francois. Francois Sr.’s wife, Susanne, must have died in France before the journey across the ocean. The Spaniards – who were in charge of the colony at the time – gave Francois Sr. an axe, a hatchet, a shovel a meat cleaver and two hoes to help with his new life along Bayou Lafourche.
Onboard the same ship as the Frioux father and son was Isabelle Bourg, who would soon become Francois Sr.’s second wife. They would have two sons: Francois Filbert (called Filbert to make things less confusing) and Joseph Elie.
The three boys had lots of children. Over the years, the name Frioux evolved – probably because no one was quite sure how to spell it. Fryou, Frioux, Frio, Ferio all were used. There were also a lot of Frillots over in Acadiana, but they don’t appear to be related to the Fryou/Frioux/Frio family.
I’m including the succession index from the Assumption Parish courthouse just to show how the name evolved in a single parish.
I’ve driven past this church for years. It’s off a state highway that runs through Napoleonville. That little archway has always beckoned me. This weekend I finally pulled over and explored the world behind it.
Long weekends are made for rambles. This is Christ Episcopal, which was designed by an NYC architect. For some reason, he wanted it to have the feel of an English country church even though it’s in a Louisiana country town. This church was an English-speaking oasis in French-speaking Napoleonville.
A cemetery is at the back of the church. This lovely statue holds watch over the graves, all of them magnificent even though some are crumbling.
The church dates to 1853 and was built at a cost of $9,500. Time hasn’t always been kind to it. During the Civil War, Union soldiers used it as a barracks and later a stable. The stained glass became a target for shooting practice.
The creation of the church was a true collaboration by the Episcopal members of a largely Catholic community. Napoleonville was very Cajun in the 1850s, but a few residents weren’t Catholic and they wanted their own church. New Hampshire native Ebeneezer Eaton Kittredge donated a corner of his plantation for the church and cemetery. Col. William Whitmell Pugh supplied the cypress and bricks. George Ament oversaw the construction and is buried in the church cemetery.
The original congregation numbered just 21 members. Not all were Episcopalian. Some were Catholics who wanted to participate in “so great a good.” Let’s face it: They were probably curious.
After the war, the congregation pulled together once again. They held church services in the courthouse down the road while rebuilding their ruin of a church.
The church would later be struck by lightning and ravaged by other acts of nature. Still, it endured.
At times, the church has been a bit of a hotbed for controversy. One clergyman, Quincy Ewing, embraced women’s suffrage and the equality of black people during the early 1900s. Enraged by a sermon on women’s suffrage, U.S. Sen. Walter Guion stormed out and quit the church. Ewing survived the controversy, largely because his family donated the land for the church.
Today, Christ Episcopal is one of the oldest Episcopal churches west of the Mississippi River. The grounds were quiet when we visited. We ignored the “private property” sign, kept to the pathways and respected the serene beauty. Hopefully, we didn’t offend.
I tumbled down a rabbit hole today in search of a Louisiana newspaper that existed for just a few years in the 1840s. What I found was a “vituperative” Irish newspaperman in 1840s Napoleonville.
Word of the day: Vituperative means bitter and aggressive. More on that in a minute.
“The Star of Assumption” – such an ambitious name for such a short-lived publication – was published by John Keays. Keays lived in Louisiana for nearly 30 years after immigrating from Ireland. He edited several newspapers before publishing “The Star.” He died of a fever in 1844.
As far as I know, no issues of “The Star of Assumption” survive. They were swept into the dustbin of history.
Other newspapers, however, dutifully read the competition and reported on the contents to their own readers.
In April 1843, “the Times-Picayune” reported the launch of the “Star of Assumption” with a writeup by Keays on the state of things in Napoleonville. Apparently, the town boasted a modest number of dwelling houses, a courthouse, a jail, a fire proof brick office, a store, two coffee houses, one billiard table and a religious meeting house. There was no doctor or resident lawyer, but fresh oysters were in abundant supply on a daily basis.
Soon, the newspaper was immersing itself in local politics and sparring with rival publications. Apparently, there was quite a dustup later that year over the removal of a land office from Donaldsonville. “The Baton-Rouge Gazette” sniffed that “the Star of Assumption’s” take on the matter was spirited because of its length – not its import on the matter.
A dispute between “The Baton-Rouge Gazette” and “the Star of Assumption” apparently went beyond reporting on a land office. Also in 1843, the Baton Rouge newspaper took John Keays to task for his “vituperative language against the late editor of this paper.” I don’t know what that language was, but the “Gazette” told Keays “you may foam and rant, friend, but your end will never be like his.”
“The Gazette” was kind in reporting on the “Star’s” demise less than a year later.
What did the “Star” in was a new state law involving the advertisement of sheriff’s sales. I don’t know what the law was – only that it killed rural papers.
Keays removed himself to Texas only to die the same year his newspaper met its demise. Let’s hope he got a glorious end despite the ill wishes of “The Baton-Rouge Gazette.”
According to the internet – and we all know everything we read there is true – Kate Middleton and Prince William are distant cousins. More specifically, they’re fourteenth cousins, once removed.
Reading that inspired me to find the most famous branch of my family tree.
Here it is:
I am distantly related to the late Congressman Numa Francois Montet. His grandfather and my great-great-great-great grandfather were brothers. It’s amazing we never met with close ties like that!
I don’t know much about Numa other than that his tomb in the Plattenville cemetery is very grand compared to my poorer relations’ crumbling tomb. Apparently his Montets were more prosperous than my Montets.
Isn’t genealogy fun?
Marie Josephe Montet Boudreaux died in 1844, requiring her widower, Jean Joseph Boudreaux, to inventory her property. From what I can gather, standard practice in the 1800s was for the court to appoint a few men to go out to the house and tally up the household goods.
She wasn’t fabulously wealthy. But the appraisers counted every single kitchen utensil.
Here’s what she left behind:
A mantlepiece clock
Demijohns and lard pots
Yoke of oxen
2 milk cows
A negro man named George
A tract of land on Bayou Boeuf
$199 in cash
The inventory also lists the surviving children who were present when the appraisers repaired to the Boudreaux homestead “on the Bayou Boeuf”:
- Henriette Adelina, wife of Jean Baptiste Penisson, and her husband (since wives weren’t allowed to authorize anything in those days).
- Azelie, wife of Jean Baptiste Giroir
- Marie, wife of Robert Love
- Pierre Lucien
- Felicite, wife of Valgrant Verret
Reading through War of 1812 pension records, I came across an interesting saga.
Rosalie Euphrosine Naquin applied for a pension after her husband, Louis Oncal died. The problem with her application was that she had no idea how to spell her maiden name much less her married surname. She was illiterate.
This was a problem for Rosalie because the war office in Washington, D.C., insisted on a precise spelling of her late husband’s name in order to check the war rolls. The name in the marriage record she sent apparently didn’t match any of the names on the war rolls.
The Ascension Parish clerk of court tried to explain to D.C. just how things worked in Louisiana. In a nutshell, the priest decided what the spelling of your name was – and it would be recorded different ways depending on who the priest was. Thus, Rosalie’s husband went by one spelling and his sister went by a totally different spelling.
D.C. wasn’t swayed. At this point, the clerk got a bit exasperated and wrote another letter. It’s faded so I’ve transcribed it:
In the pension claim of Rosalie Oncal, the claimant has not yet obtained her Bounty Land. There is no evidence to show that said claimant and her deceased husband did ever know how to write or spell their names; on the contrary, the records of this case show that the claimant can not write her name though I know personally that she is as strong and healthy as a person of her age can be. At the time of the War of 1812, there was not one soldier out of ten in the country parishes who could sign or spell his name.
The name of Oncal being of French of Spanish origin can be written with the same pronunciation in many different ways as follows: Uncal, Uncale, Uncalle, Oncalle, Oncale, Unkal, Unkall, Oungcal, Honcal, Huncal, Huncalle, Ouchal, all sounding as Ongkal would do in English.
Got that? Not one soldier in 10 from the Louisiana countryside could sign or spell his name.
Rosalie never did get her pension or bounty land. From reading her file, it appears that D.C. didn’t have rolls for every Louisiana company. So Louis might indeed have fought under Uncal/Uncale/Uncalle/Huncalle/Ouchal/Oncal, and his commander neglected to file the mandatory paperwork.
Adrien Pothier was the uncle of my great-great grandmother Elizabeth Montet Giroir. Elizabeth’s mother was a Pothier.
Uncle Adrien was a successful man in Assumption Parish. He was a war veteran, an overseer and a judge. He never married. With his death, the Pothier name died in Assumption Parish.
The Pothiers weren’t marrying people. Of Adrien’s six siblings, only one married. It was the same story with Adrien’s aunts and uncles. His father was one of 10 children. Only two of those children married.
What Uncle Adrien did have in abundance were nieces and nephews. His sister Marie made sure of that. His other sisters lived with him and took care of the cooking and cleaning. So Uncle Adrien really didn’t need to marry.
Adrien died in 1911 at age 81. His heirs were his sister Marie’s children: Rene, Augustin, Azelie, Mary, Clairville and Elizabeth. Henry Montet inherited through his deceased father Joseph, who also was Marie’s child. Each received $143.15 ($3,850 in today’s dollars).
I’ve read mention of the distinctive colored roof on Adrien’s home in newspapers so I wondered just what he left. Succession records filled in the details. Adrien owned a lot of land.
He owned land in Assumption Parish next door to my great-great grandmother, a house lived in by Clairville Montet, 100 acres on the east side of Grand Bayou, land on Bayou Olivier, land between Grand Bayou and Bayou Corne, land on Bayou Sec, land on Bayou St. Vincent, land on Bayou Des Olivier, land on Bayou Lafourche, $6,208.14 in cash at the Bank of Napoleonville, $350 in cash at the Bank of Paincourtville, beds, armoirs, tables, chairs, three cows, a calf, a horse, two mules, wagons, a buggy, plows and a silver coin watch.
It appears that after the land was sold, the heirs got another distribution. This time, each received $1,141.81 ($30,000 in today’s dollars).
I reached out to the Sisters of Mt. Carmel in an attempt to sort out the story that my great-grandmother was taught by the nuns in Plattenville. This is confusing to me since the Catholic school in that area is in Paincourtville.
Here’s what I got: