Archive for the ‘Branch: Strong’ Category

Reverend Edward Taylor’s original manuscripts of unpublished poems and writings sat quietly on a shelf in the library of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The descendants of Edward Taylor were given strict instructions by Rev. Taylor himself not to publish his works.  His poems written in the late 1600′s and early 1700′s were personal spiritual meditations and were not written for the public eye.  His descendants respected his wishes, but eventually in 1883, they were given to Yale and placed in the library for safe keeping.  The manuscripts were so safely kept that they were forgotten for fifty-four years. They were discovered in 1937 and were soon edited and published by Thomas H. Johnson.

Almost from the first reading, Reverend Taylor was heralded as the greatest Puritan poet. His poetry has a flare not expected from a person with Puritan attitudes and beliefs.  His most common form of poetry sprang from his meditations before each celebration of communion at the Lord’s table with his congregants.  Considered a metaphysical poet his imagery is vibrant and lively. He was a very pious man so most of his writings are devotional in nature.  And that would stand to reason since these poems were for his own personal meditation and not intended for a public audience.

Rev. Edward Taylor came to Massachusetts Bay in 1668 and almost immediately enrolled in Harvard.  A couple of years later, he was encouraged to take a pastorate 100 miles away in Westfield, Massachusetts.  He became their pastor and for a time was their physician as well.  He met his wife Elizabeth Fitch in Westfield and they had eight children, three of whom lived to adulthood.  Elizabeth died in 1689 and he later married Ruth Willys and had six more children. He continued as pastor there until his death in 1729.

He was serious about his relationship with God and firm in his doctrinal beliefs. He corresponded with early Massachusetts pastor Increase Mather, son of Rev. Cotton Mather. At Harvard Rev. Taylor was classmates with Samuel Seward whose fame came later as the judge of the Salem Witch Trials for which he later apologized. He disagreed sharply in practice with Solomon Stoddard, a fellow pastor who was allowing non-church members to partake of communion.  Reverend Taylor vehemently opposed this idea partly because he saw it as just that, a sacred communion with Christ, which is evident in his many writings about the Lord’s Supper.

This is the part where I let the reader know that Rev. Edward Taylor is my eighth great-grandfather.  But that would be amiss. After spending many hours studying and researching this very interesting man, my efforts resulted in realizing that this is a case of mistaken identity.  Genealogists like me copy and paste people from other people’s family trees only later to discover that an entry was in error.  Many people connect Reverend Edward Taylor as the father of Sarah Taylor the wife of Deacon Samuel Bacon.  But this is not the case.  She is the daughter of Edward Taylor of Barnstable, MA who married Mary Wood, not the Rev. Edward Taylor of Westfield, MA who married Elizabeth Fitch. Both Edward Taylors lived in the same area at about the same time so confusion is expected.  This is another lesson in careful research while we are building our family trees.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.  I felt like a family member had died.  But even though I have lost him as a relative, I have been introduced to a very interesting friend. I can’t wait to read his book!

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The Armant Brothers were like other antebellum plantation owners along the Mississippi River. They loved a good bet. Endowed with the recent inheritance of their father, Jean Baptiste Armant’s plantation, in 1858, the Armant Brothers had money with which to gamble.  Their profitable 1150-acre sugarcane plantation was located on the Mississippi River between present-day Oak Alley and Laura Plantations in Vacherie, Louisiana.  Before the Civil War, it was the neighboring plantation to Valcour Aime’s plantation — La Petite Versailles.

All of the wealthy planters along the river had a variety of ways in which to compete and gain the monetary upper-hand of their peers.

A popular trick card game called “Boston” was often played in private clubs.  (One of these clubs in New Orleans occasionally had visitors from the city of Boston, Massechusetts attempt entry assuming it was a private club for Bostonians.)  In that club, one of the wealthiest planters on the River, Duncan Kenner, was said to have lost $20,000 ($485,000 today) on one game of Boston and was still not considered a plunger.

Horse racing was another exciting way to win money, or lose one’s money in the antebellum south.  The gaming Mr. Kenner also loved racing his thoroughbreds — so much so that he built a track and stables at his home Ashland Belle Helene near Darrow, LA.

John Burnside, the Sugar King of Houmas House plantation, was also passionate about racing horses.  Once he stabled a champion thoroughbred in his billiard room in order to keep it hidden until a race at Kenner’s track.  Did Burnside win?  Yes, he did.


Map of Armant Plantation in Houmas House

I learned of the latter story while on tour of Houmas House plantation. On this same tour, I noticed a map of the Armant Plantation hanging on the wall in the billiard room. This map was of particular interest to me since it is the plantation of one of my ancestors, my 5th great-grandfather Jean Baptiste Armant  who inherited it from his father.  I thought it was strange to have a map of a neighboring plantation in the home so I inquired about why it was there.  The tour guide told me that the Armant Brothers, who had inherited that plantation, wagered it in a bet and lost it to John Burnside in a horse race.  A whole plantation lost in a horse race? I had to know more.

If this story is true, I am appalled that my ancestor cousins were so careless as to bet their inheritance on something as fleeting as a horse race.  If false, I wanted to clear the name and reputation of my Armant kin.  So I began my own investigation to determine the details of this story.

It is true that John Burnside began acquiring plantations soon after he bought Houmas House in 1857.  In fact, he purchased 12 more plantations before, during, and after the Civil War — sometimes for pennies on the dollar.  Could he have acquired some of them through bets?  The evidence of the gambling habits of the local planters did give credence to this possibility.

I first inquired of Dr. Kevin Kelly, present owner of Houmas House, to find out how he discovered this story. He said the story was told by a descendant of the Miles family — former owners of Houmas House.  The descendent, Dr. Henry Miles, who was born in Houmas House in 1901, died around 2005 and I was told that he was the lone historian of the Miles family.  Therefore I was not able to verify this story directly.

I decided to go to the St. James Parish courthouse to see if I could find any property records that had to do with the transfer of the plantation from the Armant Brothers to John Burnside.  The old documents I found were fascinating — some written in French,and others in English — with handwriting and signatures written with a flare seldom seen today.

Final page of the document of the purchase of Armant Plantation in January of 1860

Final page of the document of the purchase of Armant Plantation in January of 1860

I did find a document of the property transfer containing the signatures of one Armant brother, the signature of John Burnside, and others, but it was on a document of the purchase of Armant plantation, not a transfer of ownership without payment.

Most of the plantations that Burnside owned were acquired during or after the war, but this one was purchased before the war in January of 1860 — six years after the death of their father. Armant Plantation was ordered by the court in September of 1859 to be auctioned on January 12, 1860 to settle inheritance and succession issues.  The land was divided into 31 sections and sold individually.  John Burnside bought 29 of the sections including Armant’s French-style plantation home on the river. He purchased the homestead for $25,000 ($630,000 today) and the sections of land for $68,102.77 ($1,700,000 today).

Victor Armant, one of the brothers, bought two sections of land for $23,681.10 ($597,000 today) that held some of the plantation buildings, possibly used for sugar manufacturing.  The final section of land was purchased by another individual.Victor Armant Sig168

Stories, even those that can’t be proven true, often have a grain of truth to them.  So I wondered if possibly Victor may have lost his portion later by gambling it away — maybe in hopes of winning back his beloved home.  I went back to the St. James courthouse to see what I could find.  And once again I found another document stating that John Burnside bought Victor’s portion in 1866, a year after the war ended for $3500 ($54,000 today) – a fraction of what Victor paid for it.

I don’t know all of the possible nuggets of truth that have caused this story to survive, but as former U.S. President John Adams once said,”facts are stubborn things.” The facts I have discovered so far show that Armant Plantation was purchased by John Burnside. Could he have won another of his plantations in a horse race?  That could be an interesting investigation. But I am satisfied knowing that my ancestors were not the type of people who would needlessly squander their inheritance.  Jean Baptiste Armant’s family reputation can be held in high regard once again.

Jean Baptiste Armant, Sr. and Rose Carmelite Cantrelle Armant are my 5th great-grandparents.  They are also the grandparents of my 3rd great-grandmother whose story is told in “Of Plantations and Hurricanes.”

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She called him Ick…short for Ichabod Crane because he was so skinny.  He called her Jez…short for Jezebel, the evil queen from the Bible because, well, he would have to answer that.

Stamps, pen and paper, funny quips, warm fuzzies, and the occasional light jab all came together in over 400 letters written from 1948 to 1956 between Ray Hinson and Anna Claire Guice.

It was the summer of 1948 down at the old schoolhouse camp in Clermont Harbor, MS when Ray saw Anna Claire and her sister Carol Lee for the first time.  (She said he was staring at her.)



Ray lived in Lakeshore, a community a few miles down the beach road.  Anna Claire’s mother and step-father had just purchased the old schoolhouse in Clermont Harbor to use as a summer beach house.  The girls and their mom would stay all summer while their step-father would come to the camp after work on the weekends from Baton Rouge.

…from Anna Claire’s high school photo album

At first Anna Claire didn’t pay Ray any mind. At least she didn’t show it.  She was almost 15 and he was 17. But as the summer progressed they became good friends.  When the summer was over, they went back to their regular lives of high school for her and junior college for him.  They kept in touch by letter throughout the year and when summer came again, they picked up their relationship where they left off.  During each school year she dated other guys in Baton Rouge and he dated other girls at college in Poplarville, MS all the while keeping in touch by letter throughout the year.

But one year while she attended Louisiana State University, she met and dated a fellow who asked for her hand in marriage .  He offered her a ring, but she said no, that God had other plans for her.

The next summer Ray and Anna Claire’s relationship warmed up considerably.  But Ray entered the army for three years and was stationed in Germany.  He and Anna Claire continued as they always had…keeping in touch by letter.  When Ray was given leave to go home one Christmas, he brought with him an engagement ring wrapped in tissue that was slipped onto his dog tag chain for safe-keeping.  When he posed the question, she accepted his marriage proposal. (Anna Claire said that with everyone else she dated she would always compare them with Ray.)

After he returned from his service in the Army he began LSU and she began planning a wedding.  They married on August 17, 1956 at North Highlands Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, LA.  This union brought forth four children — two daughters and two sons, who in turn gave them fourteen grand-children and five great-grandchildren. Nearly all of them spent many summer days on the beach in Clermont Harbor and more memories were made at the old schoolhouse camp where Ray and Anna Claire met.  (The camp had been dubbed by their children as the “Choo-Choo Train House” because it was so near the railroad tracks).

The courtship and 53-year marriage of Ray and Anna Claire was unique and blessed.  Until their last Christmas together in 2009, their gifts to each other were still signed “Ick” and “Jez.”

Ray and Anna Claire are my parents.

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Rosalie Prejean Pecot

Rosalie shifted her weight on the stiff barge seat next to her sister Nathalie as they floated up the bayou.  The two grey-haired ladies were looking around each bend with anticipation as the boat made its way up Bayou Teche.  The sun had set on this beautiful fall evening and the trees on either side of them appeared as dark silhouettes against the deep orange sky.  The banks of the little river blended with the water into one dark mass ahead of them.  The lantern at the front of the barge was able to light only what was directly ahead.

The two sisters’ excitement was almost more than they could contain. Here they were with their families making their way to a reunion that they never dreamed would occur. It had been almost 50 years since they had last seen their other two sisters.

They had been separated in the Grand Dérangement of 1755 when the French were expelled from Acadia in Canada by the British.  Families were separated from each other as they were herded onto ships that would take them to places they did not choose to go.

Many of the banished Acadians eventually found themselves in Saint-Domingue which is present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic.  Some made their way to France which one might think would be a welcome destination for the exiles, since Acadians were of French origin. But the French settled Acadia more than one hundred forty years before the Derangement.  The only thing the Acadians had in common with the people of France was their language.

Still other exiled Acadians were taken to Louisiana to settle in the lowland marsh and fertile plain areas of the south central area.  All would face hardships trying to recreate life in places so far away and so culturally different from where they had lived for generations.

For Rosalie and Nathalie the dream of ever seeing the rest of their family had been unimaginable.  Would they even recognize their sisters after so many years had passed? The amazing series of events that occurred only months earlier set into motion this incredible reunion.

Rosalie’s family had recently arrived in New Orleans coming from Jamaica.  They had moved to Jamaica to escape the French Revolution-inspired slave revolt in Saint-Domingue in the 1790′s.  After several years there they had to leave their home again and were able to get passage on a ship to New Orleans. Once in New Orleans, Rosalie’s son began preparations to become a schoolmaster. During that time he by chance met Mr. Alexandre Frere who was himself a schoolmaster.

Alexandre Frere

Mr. Frere was a private tutor for the household of the Pellerin family in Charenton, Louisiana, which is located on Bayou Teche in St. Mary Parish west of New Orleans. Gregoire Pellerin and his wife Cecile Prejean Pellerin were themselves exiled from Acadia in 1755. Mrs. Pellerin’s sister Marguerite Prejean Duhon, also resided at the Pellerin plantation.

As Rosalie’s son related his experiences and family stories to the older schoolmaster, Mr. Frere began to realize that the young man’s mother and aunt were in fact the sisters of his employer’s wife, Cecile Pellerin and her sister Maguerite Duhon!  Mr. Frere was immediately compelled to arrange for all of them to be reunited as soon as possible.

But nothing could have prepared the sisters for the dramatic spectacle that lay ahead. As Rosalie and Nathalie rounded a bend on Bayou Teche they could see up ahead bonfires lining each bank.  The glow of the fires lit up the sky! And people — throngs of people — were lining the bayou displaying as much excitement as the sisters possessed themselves!

As the barge drew near the dock, Mr. Pellerin was there to greet them and take them up to the plantation home where the reunion of the sisters would take place.  Mr. Frere and Mr. Pellerin helped Rosalie and Nathalie and their families into caleches – small, hooded, two-wheeled carriages — and off they went.

Once at the home, as the sisters finally saw one another, they fell into each others arms shedding tears of joy and exclaiming cries of elation. Nearly everyone from the lower Teche region witnessed the touching reunion of the four sisters who had endured incredible suffering and injustices over their long lives, but now were able to behold each other once again.

Among those in the joyful assembly were members of the local Chitimacha tribe and their chief.  It was they who built the large bonfires that lit the skies on that very special night. (To find out more about the Chitimachas go to http://www.chitimacha.gov/tribal_about_history.htm )

One of the sisters, Rosalie Prejean Pecot, is my fifth great-grandmother. Several years after her death in 1813, her daughter Marie Louise Pecot married Alexandre Frere — the man responsible for bringing the four sisters together. They are my fourth great-grandparents.  It is their son, Adrien Frere, my great, great, great-grandfather who was later killed in the Last Island Hurricane of 1856. (See “Of Plantations and Hurricanes” on this blog.)

(For more information about the Acadians’ heritage and culture visit http://www.acadianmemorial.org/.  The two paintings by Ms. De Boisblanc are found in the book String of Pearls and are used by permission from the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, LA.)

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Dressed in his formal evening attire complete with top hat and cane, Jasper Strong stepped out of the carriage and offered his hand to his wife Eliza Julia who was elaborately dressed in her evening gown.  It shimmered in the lamp light as she descended from the carriage. Tonight they were attending a performance in Florence, Italy on the last evening of their European vacation. They had thoroughly enjoyed their time together and this was a perfect highlight with which to complete their holiday. The theater was a beautiful example of historic architecture for which Florence is famous.

The Strongs made their way through the ornate lobby and soon found their theater box entrance. As Eliza Julia and Jasper entered, a man rose to greet them as his wife remained seated.

“Good evening,” said the gentleman extending his gloved hand.

“Good evening,” replied Jasper shaking the gentleman’s hand.

“This is my wife Elizabeth Browning and I am Robert Browning.”

“How do you do?” responded Jasper. “This is my wife Eliza Julia Strong and I am Jasper Strong.”

The couple in the theater box was none other than Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning — two of the most acclaimed poets of the Victorian era.  Although they were British subjects, the Brownings made their home in Florence, Italy due to the fragile health of Elizabeth. Mrs. Browning was at the height of her fame at the time of the Strong’s meeting. She was in the process of writing one of her most ambitious works, Aurora Leigh — a nine-part poetic novel.  It would be completed and published in 1857.  Her poetry was critically acclaimed in both England and the United States.  Robert Browning at this time was not as widely read as his wife, but his acclaim would come later.  They had only been married a few years at the Strong’s meeting and their son, Robert Barrett Browning, was just a few years old.

Before the performance, the two couples conversed about the Strong’s holiday in Europe and how they were from the balmy state of Florida.  They also discussed the tumultuous political rumblings going on in the United States indicating the possiblity of the southern states seceding from the Union. If this happened Jasper interjected, then they would plan to move back to Jasper’s home state of Vermont. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was also inclined to an interest in political “rumblings.”  Her poem Casa Guidi Windows was itself an ode to Florence and its vie for independence.  The Strongs inquired about her poetry and how wonderful it must be to live in Florence.

Many of Elizabeth’s works are beloved, but perhaps her most famous work was the poem, Sonnett 43 (How Do I Love Thee?)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

As their conversation continued, Mr. Browning became fascinated with the resemblance of his wife Elizabeth and Eliza Julia.  Through this chance meeting the two couples evidently became friends, for a few years later in 1861, Mr. Browning would write to the Strongs back in New England letting them know of the death of Elizabeth.  He also wrote that he and his son would be moving from their beloved Florence back to London.

Eliza Julia Strong

This letter from Robert Browning was given to Charles Matthew Strong by his father Jasper. Charles would relate this “vignette” to his children many times over showing them the letter each time.  The vague address on the letter always amused Charles –

 “Esq. & Mrs. J. Strong, Quechee, New England, America”

But the address was evidently accurate enough to reach the Strongs at their home in Quechee, Vermont.  It was always a cherished possession of the family, but the location of the letter today has not been determined.  Since the successive generations of the Strong family lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it is feared that it washed away in one of the devastating storms of the last one hundred years. 

Jasper and Eliza Strong are my third great-grandparents.

(This story was discovered in a written oral history of Louise Christine Frere Strong, wife of Charles Matthew Strong.  The oral history was transcribed by her daughter, Eliza Julia Strong Hymel (Bessie) and compiled by Louise and Charles’ grandaughter, Beatrice Elizabeth Hymel.  A copy of this handwritten transcription is found at the Hancock County Historical Society in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.)

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“I’ve got to go topside to fill my lungs with some fresh air,” thought agitated John Howland to himself as he began to climb the ship’s ladder up to the main deck. Water sloshed around his ankles and storm tossed waves splashed down on him from the hatch above. The Mayflower rocked back and forth and pitched side to side bobbing like a cork in the storm.  The fierce October tempest would eventually throw the ship far off course from its intended destination in the Virginia colony.

The other passengers shouted at John over the loud creaking of the Mayflower’s wooden frame as the ship rocked with every passing wave. “Don’t go up there, John!  We’ve been ordered to stay below until this terrible storm has passed!” The ship’s hold was filled with passengers as well as the stench that permeated everything in their close quarters.

“This storm has been raging for weeks! I’m going to take a look,” his shouts drowned out by the roar of the waves crashing above. “Don’t worry!”

John and most of the other passengers were en route from England to America to start a new life where they would not be persecuted for practicing Christianity the way they believed they should.  England and all of Europe had been going through tumultuous times since the beginning of the Reformation.  Catholic or Protestant?  The decision for England to embrace one or the other swayed back and forth almost as much as the Mayflower did during this storm.  Even when England was Protestant, as it was at the time of the Pilgrims in 1620, it was not Protestant enough for this group of Christians.

As John climbed the ladder and opened the hatch, water poured down on him and drenched every stitch of clothing on his body.  The wind and spray of the sea swirled around him as he came on deck.  The rocking of the ship caused him to stumble, slip, and slide.  He quickly grabbed a sail that had been furled because of the storm.

Illustration by H.B. Vestal - 1966

Pilgrim John Howland overboard – Illustration by H.B. Vestal – 1966

A crew member barked out an order for him to get below deck, but just as John turned around to look at him a monstrous wave crashed onto the deck.  The force of the water swept John overboard out into the watery depths.  As he slipped under the water he felt something next to him. He latched on to it as his head came above the surface and then dunked back underneath.  He had grabbed hold of the ship’s halyard!  He was hanging on for dear life!  The crewmen quickly grabbed the rope and pulled him back into the boat.  Wet, water-logged, and shaken, John Howland went back below deck, but he was thankful that he had been miraculously rescued!

William Bradford, in the only primary source account of the Mayflower voyage, writes of the experience:

“In sundry of these storms the winds were so fierce, and the seas so high, as they could not bear a knot of sail, but were forced to hull, for divers days together. And in one of them, as they thus lay at hull, in a mighty storm, a lusty young man (called John Howland) coming upon some occasion above the gratings, was, with a seele of the ship thrown into the sea; but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards, which hung overboard, and ran out at length; yet he held his hold (though he was sundry fathoms under water) till he was hauled up by the same rope to the brim of the water, and then with a boat hook and other means got into the ship again, and his life saved; and though he was something ill with it, yet he lived many years after, and became a profitable member both in church and commonwealth.”

This Thanksgiving I have one more reason to be thankful — thankful that John Howland caught hold of that topsail halyard!  John Howland is my 10th great-grandfather, a Plymouth Pilgrim, and a signer of the Mayflower Compact.   (www.pilgrimhall.org/compact.htm)

John Howland’s signature on the Mayflower Compact

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Second Lieutenent Jasper Strong stood nearby as the mid-summer sun blazed down on the dark, uniformed backs of the soldiers. They hauled bricks from the stockpile across the sandy, swampy ground to the site of the new fort being built at the Rigolets pass near New Orleans, LA. The fort was one of a string of forts that were being built along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.

The former wooden fort at the site was known as La Petite Coquille. It was used briefly during the War of 1812 by Andrew Jackson’s troops in the Battle of New Orleans to defend the narrow inlet leading from the Gulf into Lake Ponchartrain thus preventing the British from making a backdoor attack on New Orleans.  But the fort was being replaced by a stronger, more formidable brick structure to prevent re-invasion by the British or any other foe.

The year was 1819. Three years earlier President Madison and Congress had appropriated funds for a seacoast defense system that would organize the planning, design, and construction of a string of brick fortresses at as many as 50 sites to help the country be less vulnerable to attack than it had been with the British only a few years earlier.

Jasper Strong and his friend Frederick Underhill, two recent graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, were beginning their military careers in the humid and swampy coastal south far from their homes in Vermont and New York. Strong and Underhill were 16 years old when they entered the Academy in 1814 while the War of 1812 was still being fought.

Underhill, graduating second in his class, received his commission as an Assistant Engineer with the Corps of Engineers.  He began his duties in Pass Christian on the Gulf Coast to help with the repair and construction of the southern defenses. Strong was garrisoned at the New Orleans’ fort (later renamed Fort Pike) during its construction, but recognizing  he had a knack for business and salesmanship, the army sent him away on recruiting service.  But within several months he was transferred to Baton Rouge to serve in the headquarters of the 1st Infantry.  The Pentagon Barracks that are still in use today were being constructed while he was stationed there.

Jasper stayed in touch with his engineer friend Frederick in Pass Christian while stationed at Baton Rouge. After a couple of years and much discussion, they decided that with Frederick’s engineering ability and Jasper’s penchant for business they could help the effort more and do better for themselves if they privately contracted to build forts. So in 1823 Strong and Underhill resigned their commissions with the Army and went to work contracting for the Army as a company called Underhill and Firm.  They soon went to work for the Corp of Engineers Superintending Engineer William  H. Chase who was also a former West Point classmate.  Their firm contracted to supply labor that would work on Fort Pike at the Rigolets and Fort Jackson on the Mississippi River below New Orleans.

In 1828, William Chase was transferred to Pensacola to supervise the construction of a new fort on Santa Rosa Island that would defend the new Navy Yard being constructed on Pensacola Bay. Chase made the decision to contract with Underhill and Strong because of the large labor force of black mechanics they had at their disposal.  Most of the mechanics were middle-aged slaves, yet they were paid $1.50 a day for their work.

But within the first year of construction of the new Fort Pickens, Frederick Underhill died.  This left Jasper Strong in a precarious situation.  He decided to go into business with John Hunt as J. Hunt and Firm.  They bought property for a brick-making business near Pensacola to help provide the millions of bricks needed for the fort’s construction. Other companies joined in competition and soon there was a surplus of three million bricks in the navy yard.

William Chase then requested more funds to build another fort across the mouth of Pensacola Bay from Fort Pickens called Fort McRee. Soon after the completion of that fort, Chase wanted additional funds to construct a new fort near the navy yard on the site of an old Spanish fort called Fort Barrancas. Chase would continue to use Strong’s workforce to help build other forts from New Orleans to Key West during the years leading up to the Civil War.

Some time after the death of Jasper’s friend Frederick Underhill, Jasper married Underhill’s widow, Mentoria Nixon, daughter of Gen. George Henry Nixon of Pearlington, MS, and they made their home in Pensacola.  But not long after their marriage, the former Mrs. Underhill died. In time, Jasper began courting her sister Eliza Julia Nixon, 24 years his junior, and soon they were married.  They would have six children together.

As the Civil War commenced in 1861, Jasper and Eliza moved north to his boyhood home in Hartford, Vermont to escape the scourge of war that would surely come to the South. But Jasper would never make it back down to Pensacola.  He died shortly after the close of the war in November of 1865. Eliza, being from the coastal south, moved back there after Jasper’s death. She is buried in Pearlington, MS near the graves of her parents, Gen. George Henry Nixon and Rebecca Bracey Nixon.

Jasper and Eliza are my great-great-great grandparents. Their son, Charles Matthew Strong is my great-great grandfather from Bay St. Louis, MS whose story is told in the post “Two Worlds Meet On Stage.”

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I have had innumerable “oh wow” discoveries in my genealogical explorations over the years.  Many of those moments resulted in some pretty incredible stories. But not many of them resulted in the “Oh wow, you’ve got to be kidding me!” moment like I had recently.

I was gathering items for a story I was writing for this blog.  The branch of the family on which I was working had come to America very early on and had landed in Plymouth colony.  But these family members came at least 15 years later than the Pilgrims.  I was content knowing that the members of this branch of my family were “almost” Pilgrims.

Yet while I was collecting illustrations for my story, I came across photos I had taken of an old 18th century Vermont cemetery that I had visited several years ago.  The photos reminded me that I had never tried to research that side of the family’s grandmother who was buried there — Mary “Polly” Bacon who married Benajah Strong.  (Genealogists, don’t forget your grandmothers.  If you tend to get focused on family surnames,don’t forget to research the grandmother’s surname. Some of my most interesting stories have been found by turning down the path of my grandmothers.)

I researched her and my grandfather’s names and found a genealogical record that took her line back five generations!  That was awesome enough in itself — until I began working my way backward through the generations.

Each successive generation gave me more clues about my family.  As expected they all lived in the New England area.   But then I came across town names in which I was unfamiliar —  Barnstable and Yarmouth in Massachusetts.  I looked them up on a current map and found both towns were located on Cape Cod. The families were living in these towns in the mid 1600′s. That’s even a closer connection to Pilgrims than the family members about whom I already knew.

Then I went back to my research.  I looked at the fifth generation back from my grandmother and my heart gave a jolt! The word “Mayflower” jumped off the page at me.  I looked again to double check. Yes, that’s what it said! I looked further and the amount of information on this man was boggling — in genealogical terms when all one may normally uncover is a death date!

Did my eyes deceive me?  Was one of my grandfathers really a Pilgrim?  Yes, he was.  His name was John Howland.  He was not just any Pilgrim, but the one who fell overboard during a storm and was miraculously recovered.  (More about him in a future post.)

I sat there in my chair dumbfounded.  I felt like I had just opened a treasure chest and found it full of gold.   A Pilgrim.   A Mayflower Compact-signing, Thanksgiving Day Pilgrim.  The same Pilgrims everyone reads about in elementary school history.

I can’t believe it.  What a find!  I am not “almost” a Pilgrim.  I AM a Pilgrim!

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“Veronica! VERONICA!” shouted the coarse, angry voice.  “What are you still doing asleep?  Don’t you know it’s time to get out on the porch? Now get out there and drum us up some business!”

Twelve-year-old Veronica Strong, or Sis as she was called by her younger siblings, got up quickly and rushed to the bathroom, splashed water on her face, put on her wispy dress, quickly brushed her bleached-blonde hair and ran outside.

She hated her hair. It was really jet black just like her mother’s, but her grandmother Agnes made her bleach it. Agnes said black hair didn’t lure men in to buy moonshine whiskey.  To act as a “come on” Veronica’s hair had to be blonde.

It was 1926 and prohibition was in full swing in Bay St. Louis with secret stills operating for profit all around Mississippi — especially on the coast. Mississippians consumed large amounts of alcohol and they had plenty of suppliers.

This state had been dry since 1906 and the bootleggers liked it that way.  It kept competition at bay.  Each time a vote came up in Mississippi, the “dry” people would vote to stay “dry” and the “wet” people would vote to stay “dry” as well. It was good for business.  Even many of the local law officers were looking the other way and taking bribes from bootleggers to stay quiet. Mississippi stayed dry until 1966.

When Tennessee voted to repeal prohibition in 1933 with blue laws still intact for the prohibition of selling liquor on Sunday, it was said that after that vote Mississippi and Tennessee were no different except that Mississippians could still buy liquor on Sunday!

Willie Strong

Veronica’s father Willie Strong, and her grandparents Agnes and Oscar Luc, ran competing bootleg operations in Bay St. Louis, MS.  There was also an operation on Cat Island off the coast of Long Beach, MS and one in Kiln, MS. In addition to these and other stills, ships carrying whiskey would anchor just outside U.S. waters off the coast and smaller boats would load up with liquor.  They would make the twelve-mile haul to the coast to distribute it.  These smaller boats were called “rum runners” and many of the fishermen in the area could run whiskey more profitably than hauling fish.

Cora Agnes Luc

Cora Agnes Luc

Earlier in 1926 Veronica’s mother, Cora Agnes Luc Strong, died suddenly at the age of 32. Cora had been a good mother to her children — even while living in a tumultuous marriage with Willie Strong.  Before she died, she was taken away on a train to a hospital in New Orleans. Cora’s last words to her husband were to keep their eight kids together.  But that didn’t happen.

Some of the children’s aunts took them in for a while, but Willie eventually put the girls in St. Mary’s orphanage up in Natchez, MS and the boys in another orphanage near Natchez — except Veronica and her older brother Harold. He was put to work on the boats and Veronica was sent to live with her grandparents, the bootleggers. Her other more upstanding grandparents had died years earlier.

The children had terrible memories of their life in the orphanage.  For punishment they would have to kneel on wood chips, or the nuns would beat their palms with a long ruler until the children’s hands bled. If they wet their bed, the Sisters would make them hold their sheets out the window until they dried.  In stark contrast to Cora’s wishes, the younger sisters were only able to see their brothers one Sunday each month.

Agnes Rhodes Luc

Agnes Luc, Veronica’s grandmother, is remembered by her grandchildren as a hateful and selfish woman.  She seemed to live up to her reputation with an act like sacrificing the innocence of her grandchild to sell her own whiskey.  It seems that when the other children were not in the orphanage, Agnes used them for her benefit as well.

Recollections of one grandchild, Pearl, was that her grandparents stored their moonshine in a spot accessible through a trap door hidden by a rug on the floor. When they needed a bottle they would send her down to get one. One time she had to haul a jug of whiskey down a ditch that led to the beach for her grandfather to drink.  Another time during the depression when the kids were nearly starving, Oscar gave Sis a bag of red beans and a bag of rice for her and her siblings, but Agnes saw her with them and poured them back into her larger sacks.  “I’m not feeding Willie Strong’s kids,” she said.

Another tale was told of Willie Strong.  Because of an altercation with another bootlegging operation on Cat Island, Willie reported them to the “revenuers.” At one point in the events that followed, shots rang out and Willie was caught in the crossfire.  It is said that he went to his grave in 1969 with buckshot still in his neck.

Rufus Hinson

Veronica Strong

But by 1931, at age 17, Veronica was rescued from her miserable life.  She met a gentle man, Rufus Hinson, from the piney woods of southeast Louisiana who had come to the Mississippi Coast to find work during the depression.   They soon married and he took her back to his family’s home place near Holden, LA where they set up housekeeping in a cabin he built.  The next year Veronica gave birth to their first child, Marion Ray Hinson.

They would eventually move back to the Mississippi Coast. Twelve years after their son was born, they had another child, Sandra Gail Hinson. Rufus and Veronica would live in coastal Mississippi for the rest of their 50 year marriage.

Whatever may have happened to Veronica as a child, she did not let it make her bitter later in life. She was a gentle woman, a wonderful cook, and a devoted Christian.

Veronica was my grandmother.  Her son, Marion Ray Hinson, is my father.

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Newlyweds Marguerite and Pierre Le Houx loaded their personal belongings on board the boat docked in La Nouvelle-Orleans (New Orleans). Yesterday, the 12th of March 1725, they were married in the little wooden church, on the site of where St. Louis Cathedral would one day stand. But today 29-year-old Pierre would be taking his new bride back with him to the Arkansas Post on the Arkansas River where he was keeper of the Post warehouse.

Marguerite was leaving her family behind in New Orleans where her father, Jean Baptiste Larmusiau, was the surgeon to the colonial Louisiana governor Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville. It seemed like only yesterday that her family arrived  in New Orleans from France on the ship L’Elephant. But that was in 1720 when she was only eight years old. Now she was thirteen and newly married!

The trip upriver was slow against the strong Mississippi River current.  After a couple of weeks of travel they arrived at the Arkansas Post settlement.  Pierre and Marguerite lived at the Post for a short while when they decided to move with some other settlers down the Mississippi to the Terre Blanche (White Earth) settlement at Fort Rosalie near the Natchez Grand Village.

Fort Rosalie had been built by Bienville as a French outpost in 1716 to thwart any designs on this area by the British. More settlers were needed to establish this region as a strong French colony in La Louisiane and Pierre and Marguerite were adding to their number. Pierre would be an excellent interpreter for them since he had experience living with tribal people at the Post.

Fort Rosalie, named after the wife of Count Ponchartrain, sat high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.  The fort itself was small, and from what Marguerite could tell, did not look very defendable. In fact it did not appear to have been fully completed. Not one of the palisades was connected to another — so anyone could walk into the fort at will. But everyone seemed to be satisfied with the way of life at Fort Rosalie. Marguerite did worry a little about living there because of the attack on the fort made by the Natchez tribe a few years earlier, but the soldiers and the large number of settlers made her feel more secure.  From her observations, the settlement was becoming a full-fledged town.  There were merchants, craftsmen, farmers, a priest, soldiers for peacekeeping and defense, and children running around everywhere.

Over the following weeks, Pierre and the men at the fort helped him and Marguerite build a small cabin that they could call their own and he also set up a store selling supplies near the fort.  Marguerite was making friends with the women there too.  They showed her how to cook on an open fire and how to forage for the proper berries in the woods. She enjoyed her friendship with Marie Francienne Minquetz Cantrelle, a midwife, and helped her from time to time to deliver babies.  Francienne had also lived at the Arkansas Post with her husband Jacques.  In fact they arrived in New Orleans the same year as Marguerite and her family.

Marguerite and Pierre thrived in their new life at Terre Blanche and it wasn’t long before they had their first child.  Soon afterward, they were expecting again. Francienne had been such a help to her during her pregnancies and deliveries. Everyone had a job in the new settlement and it took everyone’s skills to make the colony successful, but everyone was relying on the French government for military defense and a system of justice.

The Terre Blanche settlement was governed by the French Commandant.  He was in charge of peace-keeping and defense of the colony.  He and the soldiers were to defend the fort against the  British who were wanting to lay claim to this area on the Mississippi and also against the ever-present threat of native tribes in the area.  The nearby Natchez tribe generally had good relations with the French ever since La Salle explored the region in 1682, but animosities increased with the building of Fort Rosalie.

The British and French were in constant conflict over land in North America during this time, so the British were continually instigating some factions of the Natchez against the French. However the Great Sun, who was the leader of the Natchez, was loyal to the French. So diplomacy was a necessary attribute of any commandant of Fort Rosalie.

But a new commandant named Monsieur Chepart was sent to the Fort in 1728. Chepart was not known for his tact, especially with the Natchez people.  He decided that the Natchez people would have to move from their land so that he could build a plantation where some of their village was located. Chepart was quite adamant about it.  Obviously tensions increased and old animosities were revived.  To add to the precarious nature of the situation, the Great Sun, the most loyal French ally, died that year. The British were said to have seized this opportunity to encourage the Natchez to make a full-scale attack on the Fort and the Terre Blanche settlement.

On November 28, 1729, the Natchez entered the Fort and approached each home in the settlement under the guise of conducting business with the townspeople.  At a given signal, the Natchez attacked them, catching the settlers unaware.  Men, women, and children were cut down and massacred. Most of the men were killed and many women and children were killed.  Those who were not able to escape into the woods and get downriver to New Orleans were taken captive by the Natchez and treated harshly.  Monsieur Chepart was beheaded and his head taken back to the Natchez village. In all, 150 men were killed, as well as 36 women and 56 children.

Among the dead were Marguerite’s husband Pierre and oldest child.  Also killed was her friend Francienne.  Jacques, Francienne’s husband, escaped. He was hunting in the woods nearby when the massacre occurred. Marguerite escaped with her baby and made her way back to New Orleans to be with her family.

A man, possibly Jacques Cantrelle, stumbled into New Orleans several days after the attack to alert the French soldiers of the massacre.  They retaliated against the Natchez, rescuing most of the captured settlers and eventually killing or selling into slavery nearly every member of the Natchez tribe.  Some escaped and were assimilated into other tribes.

Marguerite now 18, and Jacques, 33, married six months later in New Orleans. They were already good friends and both shared similar tragedy and heartache. It seemed only natural that they would decide to marry.  They made their home on a plantation in what is now Kenner, LA.  In addition to her daughter, little Marguerite Le Houx, she and Jacques would have seven children.  Michael Bernard Cantrelle, their sixth child, is my ancestor.

Marguerite Larmusiau and Jacques Cantrelle are my seventh great grandparents.

*Note: Marguerite is my father’s ancestor and her brother Thomas Joseph Larmusiau is my mother’s ancestor.

** For a list of those killed in the Fort Rosalie massacre, visit  http://www.natchezbelle.org/adams-ind/massacre.htm. The list was compiled by a Capuchin priest and missionary, Fr. Filbert on the 9th of June, 1730, aboard the Duc de Bourbon.

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