Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Property Taxes in the 19th Century

Get ready for a Pop Quiz. 

Please answer the following question:


[ A ] Number of Doors - that's why you go out to the porch through a window
[ B ] Number of Rooms - that's why there are no closets
[ C ] The Property's Width - that's why they're all long and narrow 
[ D ] The Property's Height - that's the reason for camel-back houses
[ E ] The Number of Columns/Poles/Posts/Pillars - that's why galleries became more popular than balconies - they were a show of wealth; the more poles in front of your house, the richer you were.
[ F ]  All of the Above
[ G ]  None of the Above



I was at a historic house recently and, to my surprise, the downstairs docent (tour guide) said that taxes were based on the number of doors.  Then we went to the second floor and the upstairs docent said taxes were based on the number of rooms. Then, out on the street, a tour guide was telling his visitors that taxes were on the width of the house.  And finally, a carriage driver told his passengers that taxes were based on the number of poles that held up the galleries in front of the house.

All of this on the same day! 

It never ceases to amaze me how much misinformation is out there and is passed on to the public by others who don't know how to research responsibly. This city kept detailed and scrupulous records and they are available in the easiest locations for all to see.  The tax records, for example, are in our Public Library and even the most casual perusal of them will reveal how property in New Orleans was taxed in the 19th century:

Property was taxed the same way it is today:
Taxes were based upon the assessed value of the property.  

It’s as simple as that.  The only architectural tax ever levied on houses was after the fires of 1788 and 1794, which destroyed 856 buildings out of 1100. In order to keep fires at a minimum, the Spanish government taxed chimneys, hence many houses shared a chimney to keep the taxes down.  Beyond that, houses were never taxed on architecture, be it width, height, windows, doors, rooms, posts, poles or columns.  Let’s take a stroll through 1836, shall we?

In 1836 New Orleans was the Queen of the South.  She was the 3rd largest seaport in the world (New York, Liverpool, New Orleans), the wealthiest city in the United States and 1836 was the pinnacle of Creole wealth and prosperity.  It was also a time of political upheaval; due to the animosity between Creoles and Americans 1836 was the year that the city divided into separate municipalities with separate city councils presided over by one bilingual mayor. The property tax base in 1836 was 0.2%.  Ok, yeah – let me say that again: zero point two percent.  I can hear the weeping and wailing of the people of 21st Century New Orleans over that one.  0.2%.  Sheesh!  An 1836 dollar in 2016 is roughly $21.75.  That said, let’s have a look at the property taxes of some of our most notable citizens.  These records are for the first municipality - the French Quarter - only.  Before we begin, let's take a moment to understand them.

First you see the record number - No. 680.  Then you see the property owner's name, in this case Veuve (Widow) Fce (Francoise - or Frances, in English) Juncadella.  Below that you see 1st District (Municipality - French Quarter) followed by Islet 53; each city square (bounded by four streets) was called an "islet." The exact address of the property being taxed was not recorded, only the number of the square in which the property is located.  Next you see the value of the property followed by the tax paid – in this case you see it as:  $10000$        20  - the second dollar sign is actually for the $20.00 – that’s just the way they wrote it.  You’ll see that in most of these records.  Finally you see the word Paye or, more usually, Payé – this is French for “Paid.”  This particular record is for the building that is now The Old Absinthe House at Bourbon & Bienville St.  Ok, got it?  Let's get started and we'll begin with the Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba:

In 1836 she owned all of the properties on either side of Jackson Square, but her famous buildings were not built until 1850.  Since she owned two entire city blocks, the entire blocks are assessed. Interesting that one block was assessed at $150,000 and the other at $160,000.  In 1850 her buildings cost her $150,000 and $140,000. Talk about increasing the value of a property!  Next, let's have a look at the publisher of the New Orleans Bee, Jerome Bayon. (Much of the Lalaurie story came from this newspaper's confusing, conflicting and not entirely accurate account.)

Please note he was also taxed for "2 esclaves" - slaves. Remembering that slaves were property, slave taxes in 1836 were $1.00 per slave.  

Here is Nicolas Girod, the man who gave us Napoleon House:

The first entry is most likely the house at St. Louis and Chartres that we know and love for the Pimm's cup and toasted muffulettas.  

Anyone recognize this name...?

This is our beloved Marie Laveau.  This would be her house on St. Ann St.  In today's money it would be valued at $62,250.00. Apparently, not all slaves were taxed; although Marie Laveau was a slave owner she did not own any taxable slave property in 1836. Also note the letters fcl - femme de couleur libre - Free Woman of Color. This next one is for J. B. Leprêtre - he eventually purchased and resided in the house that is now (erroneously) identified as "The Sultan's House" at the corner of Dauphine and Orleans.  This particular record is for the building on St. Louis St. which now houses Antoine's Hermes Bar.

Ok, time to have a look at that rascally Bernard deMarigny.

He owned beaucoup property in the French Quarter as well as in the outlying areas; these are the records on just three of his many, many properties.  Please note that in 1836 he was far from poor. In 2016 dollars these three properties alone would be valued at approximately $2,131,500.00. Marigny was also a large slave owner but none of his slaves are recorded on this record.  Despite the stories and the legends, Marigny was never destitute - the family has his records and they reveal a very different picture of his financial life.

Here we have John McDonough, (above) funder of our public school system. The fourth notation down has the note "nord ouest" - northwest - meaning a property on a corner.  Like Marigny, McDonough owned many slaves but none of them are recorded on this record.

Below is a very interesting one.  Nancy O'Hara.

She is remarkable in that she is, not only an Irish woman, but an extremely wealthy one. The three properties listed are for two at Dauphine and Barracks St. and one at 622 St. Peter St. (now M. S. Rau Antiques).  Please note that she was also taxed for 12 slaves. This is the largest record of taxable slave holding we have seen so far.  

Our city's Mayor was not above taxation:

Denis Prieur, mayor of New Orleans for several terms, probably made a bigger impact on our city than any other 19th century mayor.  This is a record for slave taxes for both he and his brother (together on one record) and his widowed mother.  

Financier and future bankruptee, Thomas Toby:

Two years after this was recorded Toby sold all of his city properties and moved out to the country. His house was on the Livaudais plantation; S. J. Peters subdivided the plantation into a city named Lafayette which, in turn, was swallowed up by the city of New Orleans and became our Garden District.  In the 1850's Toby went belly up and lost his Lafayette house at sheriff's auction.  That house, the oldest in the Garden District, still stands and is known as "Toby's Corner."  The gentleman in the next record is a stop on my St. Louis Cemetery #1 tour:

Seaman Field, a native of Westchester County, New York, came to New Orleans where he became a prosperous merchant and slave owner.  In this record we see that he was taxed for 6 slaves.  On his tomb is engraved -


Slowly being dissolved by the sun, Cinthy's name is very difficult to read on Seaman Fields' tomb.
I point out that Cinthy, with no last name, was a slave.  One wonders if Cinthy was one of the slaves in the tax record or if she was purchased at a later date. One is also left to question if Cinthy was either a.) in the family for a very long time or b.) had a "special" relationship with Seaman Field....if you know what I mean...and I think you do.....!

Finally, a record that many will find both enlightening and disturbing.  These are records for two Free People of Color.

The first is a record for Judith Mandeville, fcl (femme couleur libre - free woman of color) and the second is for Philippe Ross, hcl (homme couleur libre - free man of color).  M'sieur Ross, particularly, shows that many Free Africans were often people of considerable means - his property would be valued at $163,125.00 modern dollars.  M'me Mandeville, however, not so affluent; her propery clocks in at $54,375 in today's money.  Where these records often perplex (and frequently offend) people of today is that they reveal the cold, hard fact that Free Africans were slave owners, just like their white contemporaries.  Pointing this out does not justify or make anything right - it simply expands the story and makes it bigger.

History is complex and often discouraging.

These tax records are fascinating on many levels.  For one thing, they put to bed any erroneous notion that taxes were assessed by any means other than economic assessment. But also they are a glimpse into the personal lives of the people we often romanticize. We talk about Bernard Marigny and his exploits, Nicolas Girod offering asylum to Napoleon Bonaparte at his house, The Baroness Pontalba returning to New Orleans amidst cheers and fanfare to build two of our most famous structures.  But here they are human beings; here they have real lives.  Here we see the Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau, going down to City Hall to pay her taxes!  We see our Mayor, his mother and hundreds of others accounting for their slave property and we see the enormous wealth of some of our most famous citizens.  Here, in the records of their day-to-day existence, they are people - just like us - who had bills to pay, property to manage, business to conduct, season tickets to the Opera...

...and, of course, taxes.  I wonder what they would say if they could see their city today.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Madame Lalaurie - 1895

In 1892 a former attorney by the name of Henry Castillanos began a series of historical articles for The New Orleans Times-Democrat detailing life in Old New Orleans, "back in the day."  He was born in New Orleans in 1827 and many of his sketches are from personal memory and experience.  In three years time he had amassed enough material to have a book published.  The book is called "NEW ORLEANS AS IT WAS - EPISODES OF LOUISIANA LIFE" published in 1895.  Among the many vignettes in the book is a detailed account of the infamous Madame Lalaurie incident.

As a tour guide, one of my most difficult challenges is undoing the damage from stories told to entertain, versus stories told to inform.  Costumed tour guides have take the Lalaurie story to such extremes that the modern telling of it has spiraled out of control.  Broken bones, dead children, the "Crab Lady" and many other additions (many of which are positively stomach churning) are nothing more than embellishments added for the purpose of churning stomachs and are simply untrue.  I am often called upon to tell the story of Madame Lalaurie.  I dread doing it because the story we told thirty years ago is radically different from the inventions of current variations and people are often disappointed that I don't regale them spare us a case of nausea, I will refrain.

My solution to the problem is to tell the story as Henry Castellanos told it in 1895.  I bring the book with me and show it as my source and invite people to read the tale for themselves.  To make it easier I present it on this forum.  In his account he includes the deposition of one of the participants at the official inquest as well as his personal memories.  American Horror Story aside - here is one of the earliest tellings of what happened at the Lalaurie Mansion on April 10th, 1834.


It was on the morning of the l0th of April, 1834, that from the comer of Royal and Hospital streets, crepitating flames were seen to burst forth, threatening the entire destruction of a spacious brick mansion that adorned that locality. It was an imposing family residence, three stories in height, and the resort of the best society of New Orleans. Within its walls, European notabilities, including the Marquis of Lafayette, had been housed and entertained with that munificence, easy grace and cheerful hospitality peculiar to a Creole generation, now so rapidly disappearing. Its furniture and appointments—exquisite and costly gems of Parisian workmanship — were cited as  chefs - d'œuvres” [masterpieces] in a city where objects of “vertu” [virtue] and princely elegance were by no means rare. (It is a mistake to say that the Orleans princes were ever guests in that residence, as their visit to our city had occurred long before its construction. The Marignys were their hosts.)

Postcard, 1920's
Around this house were congregated a dense and excited throng, apparently feasting their eyes on the lambent and circling streams of fire that with forked tongues were rapidly enveloping the upper portions of the aristocratic abode. Their frowning brows and fiercely glistening eyes bespoke the terrible passions that raged within their breasts, for, that house, according to common tradition, was a hot-bed of cruelty and crime, and bore upon its frontispiece the curse of God.

The entire width of Hospital Street was literally wedged in by a compact, surging tide, overflowing even adjacent thoroughfares. The pent-up blaze had burst forth from the kitchen above the basement, and from thence was rapidly ascending the story occupied by the family. The firemen, with their inadequate hand engines and equipments, were manning their brakes with might and main against the devouring element with only partial success, and were finally compelled to cut their way through the roof. On penetrating into the attic, and while ranging through the apartments, their blood curdled by the horrid spectacle which struck their view — seven slaves, more or less mutilated, slowly perishing from hunger, deep lacerations and festering wounds. In describing this appalling sight, Jerome Bayon, the proprietor of the New Orleans “Bee,” wrote: “We saw where the collar and manacles had cut their way into their quivering flesh. For several months they had been confined in those dismal dungeons, with no other nutriment than a handful of gruel and an insufficient quantity of water, suffering the tortures of the damned and longingly awaiting death, as a relief to their sufferings. We saw Judge Canonge, Mr. Montreuil and others, making for some time fruitless efforts to rescue those poor unfortunates, whom the infamous woman, Lalaurie, had doomed to certain death and hoping that the devouring element might thus obliterate the last traces of her nefarious deeds.”

When every door had been forced open, the victims were carried off and escorted by an immense crowd to the Mayor's office, where their irons were immediately struck off. Among those piteous blacks, was an octogenarian whose tottering limbs barely supported his emaciated frame. Among them, a woman confessed to the Mayor that she had purposely set fire to the house, as the only means of putting an end to her sufferings and those of her fellow captives. From nine o'clock in the morning until six in the evening, the jail yard was a scene of unusual commotion. Two thousand persons, at least, convinced themselves during that eventful day by ocular inspection of the martyrdom to which those poor, degraded people had been subjected, while the ravenous appetite with which they devoured the food placed before them fully attested their sufferings from hunger. None of them, however, died from surfeit, as it has been erroneously alleged. Numberless instruments of torture, not the least noticeable of which were iron collars, “carcans,”[1] with sharp cutting edges, were spread out upon a long deal table, as evidences of guilt.

While these prison scenes were being enacted, supplying aliment to public curiosity, the excitement around the doomed building was increasing in intensity. As soon as the fact became generally known that Mrs. Lalaurie, with the connivance of the Mayor, had eluded arrest and effected her escape to a secure place of concealment, the howling mob, composed of every class, became ungovernable. They demanded justice in no uncertain tones, and had the hated woman fallen into their hands at that particular moment, it is impossible to say what would have been her fate. Actæon-like, she in all probability would have been torn to pieces, not by a pack of ravenous hounds, but by men whom rage had converted into tigers. During the whole of that exciting period, the populace awaited with anxiety, but without violence, the action of the authorities. It was the lull that precedes the coming storm. It was said that Etienne Mazureau, the Attorney General, had expressed his determination to wreak upon the guilty parties the extreme vengeance of the law. But when the shadows of night fell upon the city, and it was ascertained beyond a doubt that no steps in that direction had been taken and that powerful influences were at work to shield the culprits, their fury then knew no bounds and assumed at once an active form. At eight o'clock that night, the multitude having swollen to immense dimensions, a systematic attack upon the building was organized and begun. Their first act was the demolition of one of her carriages, which happened to be standing in front of Hospital street, and the same, it was said, that had borne her away. The sidewalk was literally strewn with its “débris.” Next came the onslaught on the main entrance on Royal street, the portals of which had been previously barred and fastened and seemed to bid defiance to the shower of stones and rocks hurled against it. Abandoning this attempt, they obtained axes and battered down the window shutters, through which a wild horde of humanity poured in. No earthly power at that moment could have restrained the phrenzy of the mob — people resolved on exercising their reserved rights. Their work was no child's play. Everything was demolished; nothing respected. Antique and rare furniture, valued at mote than ten thousand dollars, was mercilessly shivered to atoms. The cellars were emptied of their precious contents, and wines of choicest vintage flowed in copious streams, even into the gutters. Gilt panels, carved wainscots, floorings, carpets, oil paintings, objects of statuary, exquisite moldings, staircases with their mahogany banisters and even the iron balconies were detached from their fastenings and hurled upon the pavements. As crash succeeded crash, yells of delight rent the air. When Royal and Hospital streets became obstructed with the accumulating wrecks, the latter were heaped together in monticules and set on fire, which, together with the glare of the blazing torches, offered a sad and weird-like appearance. This first outburst of popular retribution, notwithstanding the efforts of our local magistrates, continued not only during the entire night — “noche triste” [“sad night”] — but long after sunrise on the following morning. Then came a calm, a deceitful calm. The fire had only partially destroyed the building, and to obliterate the last vestiges of this infamous haunt became now the object of the rabble. The work of demolition lasted four days, and only the charred partition walls remained standing, as a solemn memorial of a people's anger. Tacitus says:  Solitudinem faciunt, pacem vocant.” [“They make a desert, they call it peace”]  In the instant case, the work of destruction only ceased when there was nothing more to destroy. The story that human bones, and among others those of a child who had committed self-destruction to escape the merciless lash, had been found in a well, is not correct, for the papers of the day report that, acting under that belief, the mob had made diligent search, even to the extent of excavating the whole yard, and had found nothing. When, on the subsidence of this unwonted spirit of effervescence, reason had had time to resume her sway, the local troops, with U. S. Regulars to support them, were called out, headed by Sheriff John Holland, who proceeded to the scene of disturbance and read the “riot act” to the crowd of curiosity mongers who were loitering in the neighborhood.   Slowly and peaceably the people dispersed. Their anger was allayed and their verdict carried into effect. They now determined to wait and see what the constituted officers would do in furtherance of public justice.

In the meantime, thousands had been repairing to the police station to witness the condition of the slaves, and as the sickening sight only excited and increased their resentment, our denizens were not slow in expressing their contempt at the apathy and inaction of their municipal worthies. Judge Canonge, a man of strict integrity, and sound judgment, had not escaped the insults of the enraged populace on the night of the first attack, and while in the act of expostulating with them upon the impropriety of their course several pistols had been leveled at his head. Much, therefore, was yet to be feared from the general discontent, as it was reported that bodies of men had banded together for the purpose of looting several residences, where similar barbarities were said to have been commonly practiced. In fact, this report proved no idle rumor, for a gentleman's house in close proximity to Mrs. Lalaurie's was partially sacked, for which act the city subsequently was mulcted in damages.

To repeat what I have previously mentioned, nearly the entire edifice was demolished, the bare walls only standing to indicate the spot where the God accursed habitation had stood — walls upon which had been placarded inscriptions in different languages, conveying anathemas in words more forcible than elegant. The loss of property was estimated at nearly forty-thousand dollars. Says a contemporary:

“This is the first act of the kind that our people have ever engaged in, and although the provocation pleads much in favor of the excesses committed, yet we dread the consequences of the precedent. To say the least, it may be excused, but can't be justified. Summary punishment, the result of popular excitement in a government of laws, can never admit of justification, let the circumstances be ever so aggravated.”

At last the wheels of justice were set in motion and Judge Canonge proceeded to the office of Gallien Préval, a justice of the peace, and furnished under oath the following information. The facts therein stated may therefore, be relied upon as strictly true, and furnish data of a reliable character, of which some future historian of Louisiana may avail himself.

“Deponent (J. F. Canonge) declares that on the l0th inst. a fire having broken out at the residence of Mrs. Lalaurie, he repaired thither, as a citizen, to afford assistance. When he reached the place, he was informed that a number of manacled slaves were in the building and liable to perish in the flames. At first he felt disinclined to speak to Mr. Lalaurie on the subject and contented himself with imparting the fact only to several friends of the family. But when he became aware that this act of barbarity was becoming a subject of general comment, he made up his mind to speak himself to Mr. and Mrs. Lalaurie, who flatly answered that the charge was a base calumny. Thereupon, deponent asked the aid of the bystanders to make a thorough search and ascertain with certainty the truth or falsity of the rumor. As Messrs. Montreuil and Fernandez happened to be near him, he requested those gentlemen to climb to the garret and see for themselves, adding, that having attempted to do so himself, he had been almost blinded and smothered by the smoke. These gentlemen returned after a while and reported that they had looked around diligently and had failed to discover anything. A few moments after, someone, whom he thinks to be Mr. Felix Lefebvre, came to inform him that, having broken a pane of glass in a window of one of the rooms, he had perceived some slaves and could show the place. Deponent hurried on, in company with several others. Having found the door locked, he caused it to be forced open and entered with the citizens who had followed him. He found two negro women, whom he ordered to be taken out of the room. Then some one cried out that there were others in the kitchen. He went there, but found no one. One of the above negresses was wearing an iron collar, extremely wide and heavy, besides weighty chains attached to her feet. She walked only with the greatest difficulty; the other, he had no time to see, as she was standing behind some one whom he believes to be Mr. Guillotte. This latter person told him he could point out a place where another one could be found. Together they went into another apartment, at the moment when some one was raising a mosquito bar. Stretched out upon a bed, he perceived an old negro woman who had received a very deep wound on the head. She seemed too weak to be able to walk. Deponent begged the bystanders to lift her up with her mattress and to carry her in that position to the Mayor's office, whither the other women had been already conveyed. At the time that he asked Mr. Lalaurie if it were true that he had some slaves in his garret, the latter replied in an insolent manner that some people had better stay at home rather than come to others' houses to dictate laws and meddle with other people's business.”

In support of the above statement, which is merely the recital of the discoveries made by the Judge personally and does not purport to include the result of the investigations of others, the names of Messrs. Gottschalk and Fouché were appended as witnesses.

What was the final issue of the affair ? the reader will naturally ask. Nothing, absolutely nothing. From the l0th to the 15th of April, the day on which the riot was finally quelled by the intervention of the Sheriff, the inactivity of the government officials had been glaring.  The criminals, wife and husband, had been deftly smuggled through the unsuspecting throng, driven up Chartres street in a close carriage which I saw speeding at a furious gait and, after remaining in concealment some time hurriedly departed for New York. From that point they had continued their flight to Paris, which they made their permanent residence. There I shall not follow them, nor relate the effects of the ban under which refined society placed them, nor of the hissing and hooting with which the “parterre”[2] assailed her once at the theatre when their misdeeds became known. The woman, it was currently reported in New Orleans circles, finding every door closed against her, had subsequently adopted a strictly pious life and, spending her time in works of practical charity, was fast relieving her character from the odium that attached to it. A characteristic trait in this singular woman's history is, I am positively assured by persons who lived in her intimacy, that, at the very time when she was engaged in those atrocious acts, her religious duties, in external forms at least, were never neglected and her purse was ever open to the hungry, the afflicted and the sick, like Doctor Jekyl's, her nature was duplex, her heart at one time softening to excess at the sight of human suffering, while at another it turned obdurate and hard as adamant. In manners, language and ideas, she was refined — a thorough society woman. Her reunions were recherché affairs, and during the lifetime of her former husband, Mr. Jean Blanque, who figures so conspicuously in Louisiana’s legislative history, and whose important services to the State during a long series of years should be gratefully remembered, her home was the resort of every dignitary in the infancy of our state. There the politicians of the period met on neutral ground, eschewing for the nonce their petty jealousies, cabals and intrigues, to join in scenes of enjoyment and refinement; among whom I may cite Claiborne, the Governor; Wilkinson, the military commander ; Trudeau, the Surveyor General ; Bosque, Marigny, Destrehan, Sauvé, Derbigny, Macarty, de la Ronde, Villeré and others, all representatives of the “ancien regime;” Daniel Clarke, our first delegate to Congress; Judge Hall, Gravier, Girod, Milne and McDonough, destined to become millionaires, and hundreds of others whose names now escape my memory.

But “revenons á nos moutons.” [“Let’s go back to the point.”] There is a class of females, few in numbers it is true, the idiosyncrasies of whose natures are at times so strange and illogical as to defy the test of close analyzation, and to that class Mrs. Lalaurie, with her sudden contrasts of levity and sternness, melting love and ferocity, formed no exception. Whence proceeded this morbid spirit of cruelty? we ask ourselves. Was it a general detestation of the African race? No, for, of her large retinue of familiar servants, many were devotedly attached to her, and the affection seems to have been as warmly returned. All the theories, therefore, that have been built upon this particular case, from which deductions have been drawn ascribing exclusively the wrongs which I have just narrated to the baneful and pernicious influence of the institution of slavery, as some writers will have it, rest upon no better foundation than mere speculation. Slavery was a social device, replete, it is true, with inherent defects, but by no means conducive to crime. The system was patriarchal in its character, not essentially tyrannical. The master was not unlike the “pater familias” [“head of the family”] of the Roman Commonwealth, but more restricted in power and dominion. Hence, it is more rational to suppose, and such is the belief of many, that looking into the nature or “indoles,” as the Latins had it, of the woman from its different points of view, she was undoubtedly insane upon one peculiar subject — a morbid, insatiate thirst for revenge on those who had incurred her enmity. Our lunatic asylums, it is said, are filled with similar cases, all traceable to similar causes. 
Circa 1880's before the third story was added.
Upon the site of the old building, a fine structure, entirely new, was erected, noticeable in its design and architectural proportions. A belvedere was added to it. It has been named by some the “Haunted House.”  There is no reason for the appellation, and if several of its occupants, with whom I have often conversed, are to be believed, there is nothing therein to haunt its inhabitants save ghastly memories of a by-gone generation. No spirits wander through its wide halls and open corridors, but in lieu thereof there rests a curse — a malediction — that follows every one who has ever attempted to make it a permanent habitation. As a school house for young ladies; as a private boarding house; as a private residence; as a factory; as a commercial house and place of traffic, all these have been tried, but every venture has proved a ruinous failure. A year or two ago, it was the receptacle of the scum of Sicilian immigrants, and the fumes of the malodorous filth which emanated from its interior proclaimed it what it really is, 


[1] An iron collar and chain, placed around the neck and attached to a wall or post.
[2] The part of the ground floor of an auditorium in the rear and on the sides, especially the part beneath the balcony.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Charles Gayarré...and son.

Who's ready for a little Créole dirt?  Here are a few interesting tidbits about Charles Gayarré.  
Charles Gayarré

Ok, for those of you who don't know, Charles Gayarré was the grandson of Etienne DeBoré, sugar pioneer and first American Mayor.  Gayarré wrote a History of Louisiana (very detailed and a total snooze) and he is buried in the Boré tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1 along with his wife, Sarah Anne Sullivan Gayarré whose “tribulations were her glory.”  (The Boré tomb is a stop on pretty much every cemetery tour.)  The marriage of Charles Gayarré and Anne Sullivan is quite an interesting love story.  He was a confirmed bachelor until he was 51 years old.  She was a wealthy widow from Mississippi.  She moved to New Orleans with her husband and 2 children and lived next door to Grace King.  In 1851 their son fell off the balcony and died (it made the papers) and later that same year her husband died.  According to Grace (whose romantic view of history is far from trustworthy) Gayarré saw Anne at the opera and he fell in love with her at first sight.  “Who is that enchanting woman?  Present me to her."

The ever moonstruck Grace King
The story goes (as told by the poetic Grace King) he had been told by a fortune teller in Paris that he would marry a wealthy widow.  Opera, fortune tellers, tragic deaths – La!  Histoire!  Here are few things Mrs. King leaves out.  Although they married in Mississippi, their marriage contract dated January 28, 1856 stipulates that their marriage will fall under Louisiana law.  It also contains a very interesting note:  “the following terms and conditions and stipulations, (shall) be forever binding on themselves, their heirs, successors and all other persons whatsoever who may pretend to derive any claims or rights from said parties.”

Gayarré's Marriage Contract*
Did you get that?  “...all other persons whatsoever who may pretend to derive any claims or rights from said parties.”  What is up with THAT?  Well, you see – Charles Gayarré had a natural (read: illegitimate) son.

With a slave.

Her name was Delphine LeMaitre, she was an octoroon and she was owned by Gayarré.  Together they had a son named Charles Nicolas Arthur Gayarré.  He was born August 3, 1825 and baptized March 5, 1826 in St. Louis Cathedral by Pere Antoine.  Apparently, Delphine had a violent temper and was sold to a planter in Mississippi by the name of Cerf where she allegedly set fire to the plantation house and burned it to the ground.  (What is it with women named Delphine and house fires?)  By 1850, however, she is listed as a Free Woman of Color (how that happened is anyone’s guess) living in New Orleans with an Edward Marc, F.M.C. (presumably married, since she took his name) and her son, Charles Gayarré, age 25.

As for Charles, fils, a couple of interesting little bits of info – according to Gayarré biographer, Earl Saucier, there was a letter written in 1844 by some unknown person in Paris to Gayarré stating that "pauvre Charles" (poor Charles) is very ill.  If this is true then Gayarré sent the kid to Paris and he was 19 at the time of the letter.  There is no known response from Gayarré.  We do know that the son was alive and well and living in New Orleans with his mom and stepdad by 1850.  Ok, ready for this? There is a letter in the Louisiana State Museum written in 1859 from Gayarré, the father, to Gayarré, the son, in which he acknowledges Junior as his natural son but (take a deep breath – here it is...) he challenges the lad's attempt to passé blanc.  (Pass for white.)  Let's keep in mind that Mama, as an octoroon, was probably very Caucasian in appearance, therefore little Charlie would have been even more so.

Hmmmm....  this brings us back to that 1856 marriage contract and concerns over “pretenders.”

One can only wonder about the relationship Gayarré had with his son.  He cared enough to send him to Paris (to be educated or to get him out of the way?) but when it came to the young man's passin' for white  – well – as a white natural son he may have tried to claim more of his legal share of Daddy’s estate than he would have been entitled to as a Free Man Of Color.  This is interesting considering that Charles Gayarré Jr. was Charles Gayarré Sr.’s one and only child.

*Special Collections, LSU Library, Baton Rouge; the quoted passage is at the end of the first paragraph.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Cemetery Ordinances, 1822

Prior to Walter Reed’s discovery in 1900 that the Ædis Egypti mosquito was the vector for yellow fever, the prevailing medical theory taught that yellow fever (and, in fact, diseases in general) were spread by the foul odors from decaying matter, be it rotting vegetation, human and animal waste lying in the streets and gutters or decomposing corpses.  The cemeteries, in particular, were help up to intense scrutiny because the “miasma,” often referred to as “noxious fumes,” emanating from the soft soil of in-ground burial as well as from tombs, was particularly severe.   Add to the mix the fact that the cemeteries were breeding grounds for flies and mosquitos which, unbeknownst to the city, were the real culprits in the spread of disease, over and above the smells.  In 1816 there was a "crevasse" - a break in the levees.  The rear of the city, including St. Louis Cemetery, was inundated with water.  Much of the emphasis on the role of water and burial began at this time, as people from outside came, saw the flood, saw the cemetery and published accounts of floating coffins.  Did coffins float?  Yes.  Was it an annual occurrence?  No.  (Nor has water ever been mentioned in any official capacity as an obstacle to burial.)  The effect of the crevasse was not the floating coffins but the months of standing water.  Because of it, there was a high mosquito population the following year and in 1817 the City of New Orleans suffered a terrible yellow fever epidemic.  In 1819 came a second yellow fever epidemic.  At that time, several city appointed committees (The Board of Sanitation, The Board of Health, and others) demanded that the city take action against the "outrageous nuisance...of such loathesome sights and disgusting smells.”[1]  Demanding that the City fathers take action to clean up the cemeteries, the city – in true New Orleans fashion – responded by doing…


In 1822 came a second yellow-fever epidemic which was nearly as severe and now the demand could no longer be ignored.  So, the State appointed board of health made the following recommendations to the New Orleans City Council:


   At a meeting of the Board of Health on Thursday the 10th of May, 1822, C. CARRABY, esq., Vice-President, pro tem. the following resolutions was adopted and ordered to be published;
   That the Board of Health consider the deposit of filth in the back parts of the city, as well as the saturated and infected wood of the banquettes and gutters of the city, as most prejudicial to public salubrity.[2]  In order to prevent their putrid emanations, so destructive to the health of the citizens, the Board are of the opinion that it is indispensable – First, to throw hereafter all the filth into the current of the river – Second, between the months of November and January next, to cut away and replace with stone all the wooden gutters throughout the city, giving the banquettes the same breadth as in Chartres street – Third, that it would be dangerous at this season of the year, to have earth dug up in any of the streets, in order to carry on the paving.
   Also, that the present resolution be submitted to the city council.
   I certify the foregoing to be a true copy from the minutes.

                                                                        H. K. GORDON, Sec’ry.
New Orleans, June 12th, 1822                                                   

To the Physicians of the City
   To enable the Sextons, when reporting the interments, to give at the same time a correct account of the diseases of which the subjects die, the Physicians are respectfully solicited to leave with the friends of the deceased, a memorandum in writing, to accompany the corpse, of the disease of which the patient died.

June 12.                                                            H. K. GORDON, Sec’ry
Extract from the Code of Health
   “Art. 7  It shall be the duty of the Board of Health to publish in at least two of the gazettes printed in the city of New Orleans, every day during the months of May, June, July, August, September and October, and once every week during the rest of the year, a detailed account of the deaths in the said city and its suburbs, designating the name, age, place of nativity and mode of the deceased, the time of his residence in the city, and nature of his sickness, and, if possible (in cases of the fever which my be supposed infectious,) the place at which the infection is supposed by his attendants to have been taken.”
                                                                                                 June 14.


   The season has recurred when it becomes the duty of the Board of Health to execute with rigor the provisions of the “Code of Public Health,” intended to prevent the introductions of pestilential disease from abroad, and to guard against its cosmetic occurrence by strict attention to the removal or correction of local causes within the city.  Referring with pleasure to the happy issue of their labors during the last year, they call with increased confidence upon the inhabitants of every description to co-operate with the Board in their efforts to effect a similar result.  While a rigid quarantine will be enforced where danger is apprehended from a foreign source, a system of police measures for the cleanliness of the city has been digested, which the Board, with the enlarged means placed at their disposal, are determined to carry into operation.


   AT a meeting of the Board on Tuesday, the 2d of July, 1822, the following resolutions were adopted: –

   Resolved, That the Board of Health consider the burying ground of the Roman Catholics a hot bed of infection, injurious to the health of the inhabitants of this city, in consequence of the digging of graves too often repeated, on a space of ground too small, and infected by the putrefaction of bodies buried thereon, and that said burying ground is quite too near the city.
   The Board of Health are of opinion, that in order to remove the nuisance occasioned by the said burying ground to the said inhabitants, it would be proper to discontinue as soon as possible the interments therein – and, pending the execution of the measures which the City Council may deem proper to this effect, that the ground be dug in the parts least infected of the said burying ground.
   Resolved, That the Board of Health consider the method pursued by the negroes employed to clean out the gutters of the city, is extremely dangerous to the health of the inhabitants of this city – that this method tends to develop and spread with more force the emanations of the putrid and infecting water of the gutters of this city.  The Board of Health are of opinion, that instead of permitting the said infected waters to be thrown into the streets from the gutters, it would be more proper to order, that the said water should be pushed on to the draining canals behind the city, and that the said gutters should be swept and washed every day by the means of fresh water taken from the river, or from the wells of the citizens.
   Resolved, That the present resolutions shall be transmitted immediately to the city council of New Orleans.
   Resolved, That hereafter it shall be the duty of the health wardens, to mention in the report which they are required to make every day, the names and sirnames (sic), the name of the street, and the number of the house of every person contravening the law entitled “An act to provide against the introduction of infectious diseases,” and the titles established by the Board of Health.  It shall also be the duty of the said wardens to hand in personally their reports at the Assembly Room in the Custom House, and at the hour of the meetings of the Board of Health.
   I certify the foregoing to be a true copy from the Minutes.
                                                                            H. K. GORDON
   New Orleans, July 5, 1822

These were the board’s recommendations.  The City responded with a complete cemetery overhaul and passed a series of ordinances and resolution governing funerals, cemeteries and burial – none of which involve water as an obstacle to in-ground burial.  (NOTE: I have only included the ordinances that specifically address interment.) 

City Council of New Orleans
An ORDINANCE respecting the Burial Grounds.
The City Council decrees as follows : –
  ARTICLE 1st. – From the 1st of September next no interment shall take place in the present Burial Ground situated between Conti and St. Louis Street but under a penalty of one hundred dollars to be imposed on the sexton of the said Burial Ground.
   ART. 2d. – From the above date all persons, dying in the city of New Orleans and its environs, shall be buried either in the burial ground of the fauxbourg[3] St. Mary, or in the new burial ground formed by the reunion of the islets marked upon the plan of the City Surveyor, No. 38, 39, 40 and 41 – two thirds of the said burial ground being apportioned for Roman Catholics, and the remaining third for the burying of Protestants and other persons not profession the Catholic religion.
   ART 3d. – Persons dying after the 1st September, next, shall be carried to their respective burial grounds, and deposited in graves which shall not be less than four feet deep[4], and dug three feet apart, following the line which will be designated by the City Surveyor.
   The Sextons shall have the authority upon application of the proper owners or heirs of graves to open the same, but no graves shall be opened before one (1) year for an adult and six months for a child, where human bodies were interred, unless by a special permission from the Board of Health; provided that grave shall be opened by any sexton where death has resulted from any contagious disease, until two (2) years shall have elapsed from the date of such death and burial.[5]
   It shall be the duty of the Sextons to obey the orders given them from time to time by the Mayor, and they shall keep for their respective burial grounds a register, in which shall be inserted the proper and Christian names, ages, and professions, of all person who shall be buried or placed in tombs;  to watch that no injury or damage be committed on the tombs or graves entrusted to their care; to prevent cattle from entering the said burial grounds[6]; to render every day to the Commissary General of Police a certified copy of the interments borne upon their registers; to produce at all times their registers when they shall be demanded by the Mayor or City Council; and to hand over the said registers to such persons as shall be appointed to succeed them in case of their dismissal; and every Sexton who shall neglect to conform with the above dispositions, shall pay a fine of twenty dollars, and shall be dismissed from his office.
   ART. 5th. – It shall be the duty of the City Surveyor to visit the burial grounds once every week, to mark out the lines for the formation of the graves and tombs[7], reserving all round the said enclosure places sufficient for the construction of tombs.  It shall be the duty of the Commissary of Police to visit the burial grounds every day, to insure the execution of the present Ordinance; to receive from the Sextons their respective certificates of interments, and to cause the same to be given into the office of the Mayor, together with his report of the Police of the said burial grounds.
   ART. 6th – The tombs which shall be hereafter constructed, must be of brick, the walls twelve inches thinks, cemented with good mortar in all their joints, within and without; – and all persons constructing tombs and neglecting to comply with the present regulations, shall cause said tomb to be demolished at their own expense, and shall besides pay a fine of fifty dollars, one half being for the benefit of the informer, and the other for that of the corporation.
   ART. 7th – All free persons who shall destroy or damage the tombs or fences of the burial grounds of the said city, or the places hitherto used as such, shall pay a fine not exceeding fifty dollars, nor less than twenty; and all slaves so offending, shall receive twenty-five lashes, without prejudice to the claims of the persons injured, on their respective proprietors or owners.
  All the Ordinances contrary to the regulations of the present, are, and remain repealed.
   A. Peychaud, Recorder.
Approved the 5th Aug. 1822
                                                                   J. Roffignac, Mayor
               [Certified]                                        Jules Davreac. (?)
Aug. 16.                                                     Secretary to the Mayor

[1] Report of the Board Of Sanitation, 1819.
[2] Salubrity – Public health and sanitary conditions.
[3] Also spelled “faubourg,” meaning suburb or outlying neighborhood. The Faubourg St. Mary was across Canal Street in the American Sector.
[4] In 1854 this was amended to three feet deep.
[5] This disproves the “Year And A Day” claim.  In 1854 the ordinance was amended to include “tombs, vaults and grave.
[6] CATTLE!!!!!!!
[7] Graves = in-ground burials, Tombs = above-ground interment.