st. james parish

The 1924 tornado in St. James Parish

Thank you to the Bayou History Center for this picture of Laurel Ridge Plantation home.  Wasn’t it gorgeous? I may be mistaken in labeling this as the Haydels’ Laurel Plantation, but White Castle is very near St. James Parish.

Times-Picayune: Aug. 26, 1924

Vacherie, La., Aug. 25 – Realization of the full extent of the tragedy which fell upon their peaceful little parish Sunday afternoon slowly is forming in the minds of the residents of St. James Parish.

Grim death, riding rampant on the wings of a ‘twister’ left in his wake eight dead, several dying and many injured as a result of the destruction of St. Philip’s Hall, three miles from Vacherie on the river road and about 40 miles from New Orleans.

Five thousand persons this afternoon attended the joint funeral services at St. Patrick for seven of the eight victims. Rev. Father Fontaine of St. Philip’s Catholic Church and nearly a score of other priests from nearby points conducting the services. The church was far too small to accommodate the crowd, but as many as possible entered it and the others grouped themselves about the building.

Seven caskets containing the bodies offics. The body of Florence Fernandez, one of the victims, was taken to Gretna for burial.

Stephen Haydel and his wife (above) both died in the tornado. Their son also perished.

The list of dead follows:

Stephen A. Haydell Sr., 63 years old, part owner of Laurel plantation and the father of 10 children.

Mrs. Stephen A. Haydell Sr., 59.


Stephen Haydell Jr.

Stephan A. Haydell Jr., 34, member of the St. James Parish School Board, manager of Laurel plantation and one of the foremost young business men in St. James.

Arthur Hubbell, 40, clerk in the general plantation store and father of five children.

Arthur Hubbell and his sister Virginia died.

Virginia Hubbell, 29, sister of Arthur Hubbell.

Burchman Waguespack, 21, druggist, son of Dr. Lionel Waguespack and brother of Rene Waguespack, former United States district attorney at New Orleans.

Marie Louise Troxclair, 5, daughter of Fabian Troxclair of St. James.

Florence Fernandez, 7, daughter of Dr. J. R. Fernandez.

Little Florence Mary Fernandez was just 7.

Seriously, perhaps fatally wounded, are Mary Haydell, sister of Stephen Haydell, and Belphor Haydell, brother of Stephen Haydell Sr.


More than a dozen others were painfully hurt, among them being Albert Haydell, another son of Stephen Haydell Sr. Albert Haydell suffered a broken arm, internal injuries and surgeons say a possible fracture of the spine.

Miss Mary Haydell, whose injuries were so serious that she could not be moved far, was taken into the home of Father Fontaine, near the scene. Little hope is felt for her recovery, though she is still conscious. Her chief worry seems to be the well being of her mother and father.

‘Why don’t mama and dad come?’ she has asked many times.

They are not going to tell her why – for a while yet.

Tales of heroism of those who died, those who were injured and those who fought furiously for the lives of the stricken ones will go into the history of St. James Parish to be told and retold for generations to come.

Dr. Lionel Waguespack and his wife on their wedding day.

Of how some of the doomed met death and of how Father Fontaine, Drs. Lionel Waguespack and J.R. Fernandez and others battled for the lives of others in the face of irretrievable loss in their own families makes a story St. James can well be proud of.

This afternoon St. James, worn out from a night of vigil over the deceased and administering to the injured, buried its dead amid the deepest spell of mourning and despair this parish ever has known. One simple service comprised the obesquies of those whose lives, one minute joyous in anticipation of a gala evening at St. Phillip’s church fair, were the next minute blown out by the breath of death in the shape of a whirlwind.

It will be many days before the survivors of the awful calamity recover from the shock. Some of the stricken families never will. Indeed, two families were partially wiped out. Those two are the Haydell and Waguespack households.

Theirs had been the moving spirit in arrangements for the fair, and the hand of destiny had beckoned them to be early to see that everything was in order. Had the whirlwind struck two hours later than it did, it must have buried several hundred persons instead of the three score who were in the building at the time.

Many relatives and friends of the Haydell and Waguespack families were also early arrivals. In fact, most of the families in this section of St. James, through intermarriages or by blood, are related, and it is little wonder the St. Phillip’s hall disaster has bereaved the entire parish. The business and social partnership, which Stephen Haydell Sr. and Ramond Waguespack formed many years ago, under the firm name of Waguespack and Haydell they extablished Laurel plantation has grown so much that the two families are considered one.

And few sadder blows ever visited one household.

Nearly half a century ago Stephen Haydel, an ambitious farmer boy, begun his career in St. James Parish.

He had seen his parish prosper, had worked hard, managed well, saved and himself had prospered.

He had seen his few acres grow into hundreds of acres; then had seen them become more important when he merged with his friend Ramond Waguespack, himself on of St. James’ most energetic builders.

Life had treated Stephen Haydell kindly in return for his faithful work and he was kind to his fellow man, showing his appreciation for his success in business, his stalwart sons, beloved wife and beautiful daughters. Though he continued active in the administration of many features of the plantation business, he gradually was turning over his part of the work to his sons and he and his wife devoted much of their time to community work.

It was with pride they had seen a tiny chapel grow into the original St. Phillip’s church and with added pride they had seen the new church recently erected and the old church converted into a hall.

Then, came the time for the holding of the church fair, which provided the last fair to be held in St. Phillip’s Hall.

Stephen Haydel Sr. had seen his wife and daughter and other womenfolk of the parish preparing days ahead for the fair. He had helped them and his sons and all his relatives had helped, and the anticipated success of the fair was only another of the many good things he was to get from life.

So there was an early gathering of those most interested in the success of the project. They wanted to arrange the ice cream, candy and pop booths, fix the beaches, prepare a stage for the little play, which was to be held Sunday night and complete all details. Father Fontaine, rector of St. Philip’s church, was here, there and everywhere, working like a beaver with his friends toward the same end. It was his flocking giving the fair and, therefore, was his fair.

Scant attention was paid to the black, ominous-looking cloud which was seen hovering low on the horizon across the Mississippi river.

Big drops of rain which predicated the approach of a heavy downpour fell and created only additional joy, even though the threat prompted the removal into the hall of benches, booths and chairs, which were outside on the lawn in front. St. James had seen little rain in three months, and almost any inconvenience was to be put up with if the soil could be drenched.

Stephen Haydell had walked hurriedly into the hall when the first sheet of rain fell and there was a smile on his face as he addressed Albert Haydell, one of his sons.

“I hope we will get a little of this down at the plantation,” he said. Laurel plantation is about a mile nearer Vacherie than St. Philip’s.

Just then Father Fontaine, whose home is a hundred feet in the rear of the hall and about the same distance to the side of the new St. Philip’s church, noticed one of the windows in his home and blown open and he scurried across to close it.

At the same time, Albert Haydell, who was helping to close some of the doors and windows of the hall, remarked how the sky suddenly was becoming overcast and that black clouds suddenly had taken on a fringe of dirty yellow, which spread an unnatural light over the vicinity.

Then the rain fell in blinding sheets, driving down the road before a strong, but apparently not dangerous wind.

And then, as if dropping with the weight of a stone, that black cloud hurtled downward, whirling wind and rain around in a literal maelstrom of destruction.

Directly over St. Philip’s Hall it settled and its first blow staggered the gigantic wooden structure.

“I was returning from my home just as I saw the whirlwind strike,” said Father Fontaine “and the next second it seemed the roof split asunder and, caught in the irresistable eddy of the whirlwind, both sides of the building collapsed and in another few moments the whole thing was levelled.”

Crumbling walls, falling timbers and avalanching debris hurled the threescore persons who had been huddled in the shelter of the hall. Some were smothered to death; others suffered broken backs or broken necks.

All happened in much less time than it takes to tell. According to those who escaped unscratched from the falling building, it hardly seemed ten seconds between the first shock and the time when shrieks of the crushed and dying mingled with the dreadfu roar of the whirlwind which, within another few seconds, seemed to list as if to survey its work of devastation, gave one last demonical cry and circled off into space. Several unroofed houses, fallen fences and mangled trees were left as mute evidence of where the whirlwind now and then dipped back earthwards after leaving the ruins of St. Philip’s behind.

For a few seconds, then, the ones who were fortunate enough to have been unhurt, and the few who had not been in the building were stunned. But only for a few seconds. Then, desperately they sent out calls for help and more desperately fell to work, in the driving rain, to tear the timber and ruins off those pinned beneath the wreckage.

Within a few minutes men came from every point and they worked until blood poured from their torn hands.

Dr. Lionel Waguespack, who, in some miraculous way had escaped unhurt, rushed to the side of his won, Burchman, just as the latter was pulled from beneath a timber.

Conscious to the last, Burchman intimated there was no hope for him and begged his father to forget him and attend to those whom help would mean much. The young man had been standing by the side of his sweetheart, and at the crash had pushed her aside just as a heavy timber bore him down. The girl suffered only a slight scratch, a table and some benches saving her from the weight of the other timbers.

Dr. Fernandez, whose family was there, for a second was speechless and numb with sorrow as his little daughter Florence as pulled out of the wreckage and it was seen there was no hope for her. Then another younger daughter was rescued from beneath some timbers and when Dr. Fernandez saw she was only slightly injured, he forgot his own terrible misfortune and, with Dr. Waguespack, heroically bent to the task of administering to the injured ones who most needed it.

It took more than an hour of frantic work to make a thorough search, recover the dead bodies and rescue those who were pinned beneath the ruins.

The exception was Miss Mary Haydell who, with others was rushed into Father Fontaine’s home.

The body of Miss Florence Mary Fernandez was sent to Gretna and will be buried there Tuesday morning from the home of her uncle C. E. Thomassie.

Newspaper articles, st. james parish, yellow fever

The death of seven children in 12 months

The 1800s were a tough time to have children in Louisiana. Many children died during childhood. For the Green family, death came especially frequently.

The New Orleans daily Democrat, October 21, 1878

The following are the names of the persons who have died of yellow fever on the Armant plantation in St. James Parish: John Humble, Germany; Emma L. Green, Geo. G. Green and Johnnie Green, children of J. C. Green, manager of the Armant plantation; Luke W. Conerly Jr. and Emma Eloise Conerly, children of Luke W. Conerly from Pike County, Miss.; and young Mr. Compton, assistant overseer from Rapides parish.

All of Mr. Green’s family have had the fever and all of Mr. Conerly’s family except his wife and child – four months old – in all, 18 cases and seven deaths. Those who died had black vomit.

In addition to the above there have been a large number of cases among the negroes, with some 12 or 15 deaths, principally among the children. There are a few cases yet prevailing on the plantation. The fever is gradually spreading in the parish, particularly on the east side of the river. It has also broken out on the Carroll plantation in St. John parish.
Pioneer of Assumption – Nov. 8, 1879

Our former parishioner and friend J.C. Green, Esq., visited his plantation here on a sad errand.

The object of his visit was to see his promising son committed to the grave in Christ Episcopal Church cemetery. Mavor C. Green died suddenly of heart disease at the early age of 19 years and 7 months, regretted by all who ever knew him.

He is the seventh child lost by Mr. Green within the past twelve months. Only one child is left to the deeply afflicted father. If ever a parent deserved the sympathy of his friends, Mr. Green does and he has it from them all.

House History, Murder and mayhem, st. james parish

A triple execution in St. James

welham plantation.jpg
The murder happened near this grand house, which no longer stands.  It was the Welham Plantation near Convent. 

Donaldsonville Chief — Sept. 30, 1871

St. James: The triple execution of John Williams, Alfred Decaraux and Noel, alias Madison Hampton, convicted of the murder of Francis S. Menteath, on the night of the 10th of May last, took place today, and was witnessed by over one thousand persons, both men and women.

As your readers may not be familiar with the particulars, I will give a
short account of the fiendish deed and the subsequent trial and conviction of
the perpetrators.
On the night aforementioned, four men–James Parker, John Williams, Alfred Decaranx and Noel-started from the vicinity of Judge Beauvais‘ residence with the intention of committing a robbery. It seems that after trudging a distance of about ten miles up the river, as far as the St. Michael’s Church, and not having come to any determination as to which store they should rob, they halted and held a consultation which ended in the selection of Choppin’s store, situated upon the batture fronting the Welham place.
Arrived at this store, John Williams made an attempt to wrench the back door open, which was at first unsuccessful, but he immediately made a second trial, and being a powerful man, succeeded in wrenching the door entirely from its fastenings.
Parker immediately rushed in and seized young Menteath by the throat, holding him thus until John Williams produced a rope and adjusted it securely around the neck of the victim, when each of the villians took an end of the rope and pulled it until Menteath was strangled to death.
The arms and legs of the young man were then tied, and John Williams took the body upon his back and threw it into the river. The store was then pillaged and the fiends started away, but had proceeded but a short distance when Williams proposed to return and burn the store in order to destroy all vestige of their crime. Acting upon the suggestion of their leader, they returned and set fire to the store which burned to the
The foregoing facts were elicited from Parker, who was accepted as State’s evidence, and gave his testimony in a remarkably clear and straightforward manner. Williams attempted to prove an alibi by his wife, but she stated that he was not at home the night of the murder, There was no rebutting testimony; Parker’s statement being corroborated by other witnesses, and also by the confessions of Decaraux and Noel, consequently the three men John Williams, Alfred Decaraux and Noel, alias Madison Hampton, were found guilty of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death.

Some time after the trial the Governor signed a death warrant. Alfred Decaraux and Noel were visited by their mothers, who bade them a last farewell. Noel’s mother reproached him with deserting the Catholic religion-in which faith he had been born and
raised–and joining the Baptist sect. She told him that this change of religious views had cost him his life, as they were Baptists who had induced him to become a party to the crime for which lie was to pay the penalty with his life. Williams was visited
by his wife. with whom he had been on very bad terms. He forgave her for having testified against him at the trial, and expressed the hope that she had forgiven him for his great crime.
At sunrise, this morning, the prisoners were baptized by the Rev. Samuel Cook. The unfortunate men remarked that, last night was the longest they had experienced during their confinement, and expressed a desire for the our of execution to arrive.
A few minutes before nine o’clock, everything being in readiness, a wagon containing three coffins drove up to the jail door to receive the prisoners.
Decaraux was the first to make his appearance. He came down the stairs looking pale and haggard; he mounted slowly into the wagon, and took his seat upon the coffin which
bore his name, gazing around at the assembled crowd, expectantly, then dropping his head upon his breast and swinging himself to and fro.

Noel came out next with buoyant step, and sprang lightly into the wagon, seating himself near Decaraux, and nodded to some friends in the crowd.

John Williams was the last of the condemned men to come forth from the jail. His step was slow and faltering, and he was evidently weak and depressed by mental suffering. He shook hands with several friends, then jumped into the wagon with the others. Parker, the accomplice to the deed who had turned State’s evidence and saved his own neck, mounted the driver’s seat and took the reins.
Randall Coleman, a prisoner who was under charge of murdering a man, was brought forth securely bound, and placed in the cart with the condemned murderers, he having expressed a desire to witness the execution.
At nine o’clock the Sheriff gave orders for the start, when a numerous
guard immediately formed around the prisoners, and proceeded towards the place of execution. The wagon containing the condemned was followed by the executioner in a buggy covered with the colors of death-white and black. The scene was a solemn one.
Three men condemned to die, dressed in white, with white caps on their heads, and the executioner following behind their wake.
The place where the murder was committed being too small for the execution, a spot, one mile above, on the batture in front of the upper portion of the Welham plantation, was selected. A circle was formed with a rope, in the centre of which was the gallows. Guards were stationed around this circle and none of the spectators were admitted within it. The prisoners were now ordered to descend from the wagon.

Decaraux came first and mounted to the platform of the gallows, seating himself upon the right. Williams and Noel followed; the former taking-the middle seat, the latter the one upon the left. The Sheriff then notified the condemned that if they wished to say anything, now was the last opportunity that could be given them.

Decaraux was the first to speak. He said:

“Here I am before you, and you know what brought me here. I am glad my time has come, I shall soon be with my Heavenly Father.” On the rope being adjusted around his neck he exclaimed ” Good-bye, old world, good-bye.”

Williams then arose and commenced singing a psalm. He essayed several times to speak, but got no further than “Don’t be alarmed, my friends,” then broke down.

Noel spoke last, in a cool and indifferent manner: “You see we are before you; you know what brought us here. Let it be a warning to you all not to follow in our tracks.”

The time allotted them for speaking having expired, the executioner was summoned. Mounting the scaffold he pulled the caps over the faces of all three of the men,. and adjusted the ropes around their necks, and bound their hands atop feet. The Sheriff ordered the executioner to do his duty. Like a thunder clap the three criminals were suspended in mid-air.

Noel was killed immediately. Decarax showed signs of suffering, raised himself convulsively, then fell with a lurch. Williams also showed some signs of pain, but they were not as perceptible as Decaranuxs.

At five minutes to twelve the bodies were cut down, after having hung fifty-five minutes. When the rope holding Williams was cut, the body fell with great velocity and rebounded from the earth like an elastic ball.

Deputy Coroner Gray empaneled a jury, and held an examination upon the bodies, declaring them lifeless. Williams was buried three yards from the gallows; while the mortal remains of Decaraux and Noel were delivered to their friends for interment elsewhere.

And thus ended a scene which will be remembered for a long time to come in this community.

A very large number of people witnessed the execution, and were visibly affected.