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. (Grace King was another Louisiana historian who was not as snoozy as Gayarré but whose views are extremely magnolia scented.)  In 1851 Sarah Sullivan's 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.

A natural son whom he fathered with a slave.

Her name was Delphine LeMaitre, she was an octoroon (one-eighth African, seven-eighths European) 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, Free Man of Color (they were presumably married, since she took his name) and her son, Charles Gayarré, age 25.

As for Charles Jr., 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.

Gayarre's history of Louisiana contains the first reference to the Sultan's Tree story told ad nauseum on many ghost tours.
** Special Collections, LSU Library, Baton Rouge; the quoted passage is at the end of the first paragraph.