Two Worlds Meet On Stage

Charles gazed into Louise’s eyes as he leaned towards her —

“Cut!” yelled the director of the Pensacola resort’s stock theater company.

Charles and Louise paused and turned toward him to listen for more stage direction.  They picked up the scene again where they left off and worked on it more before finishing for the evening.

This was the first rehearsal for the summer season’s new play at the resort.  After the rehearsal, enamored with Louise’s exotic French accent, beautiful black hair, and dark onyx eyes, Charles asked Louise if he could call on her later and take her for a carriage ride around the town square.

Pensacola was his hometown.  His father, Jasper Strong, an 1819 West Point graduate from Vermont , had moved there before Charles was born to help construct the three forts at the mouth of Pensacola Bay. (Jasper Strong’s story is told in the post, “The Fort Builder.”)  This town had become the grandest resort town on the Gulf , especially since the destruction of Last Island in Louisiana 15 years earlier in 1856.

Charles, a recent Harvard graduate, had been in several of the theater company’s productions since the end of the war.  Theater was such a wonderful distraction from the emotional devastation and physical destruction the war had brought to the South.  But things were looking especially well now since this lovely new actress had joined their company. Louise’s friends had encouraged her to audition for the play since she would be in Pensacola with them for the entire summer. She had studied dramatics and voice several years ago after she had been given her share of her parents’ estate on turning 21.  She also studied Higher English to curb her strong French accent. Louise admired Shakespeare and read all of his works.  She was also an accomplished equestrian and taught horse-back riding.  But dramatics had become her favorite pastime and this production would be her stage debut as a leading lady!

Theater was also a diversion for Louise, as it was for Charles.  The war had taken its toll on her.  The terror of the war had just added to the grief and sadness she and her brother and sisters felt since the death of their parents and brother in the hurricane at Last Island.  These summer retreats to Pensacola were a nice escape from the massive destruction she saw everyday.

Even her beloved plantation home at Charenton, Louisiana had been burned to the ground. She remembered the event well.  Union soldiers had made their quarters on the lower floor of their home. She and her orphaned sisters and their French guardian that had been sent from Paris, Monsieur Peconte’, were living in the upstairs rooms.  (Louise’s older brother was not at the home since he had become a Confederate soldier.  He was wounded severely at the Battle of Seven Pines.)  One of the Union soldiers had become enamored with her younger 15-year-old sister Euphemie Marie.  She refused his overtures so he went outside, tore down their French flag and started a fire with it in the main hall of their home.  She ran downstairs and stomped out the fire with her feet then looked at the soldier and said, “I speet on you!”  The spurned soldier found other quarters, but soon after, the house was burned.

Charles and Louise went on that carriage ride after rehearsal that night and courted the rest of the summer.  They later decided to marry in 1872.  Enjoying a lavish and expansive honeymoon, they spent some time in Italy, then went to France and England visiting the home of their ancestors.

They lived in New Orleans for several years where he operated a shipping business.  Charles began to miss life on the Gulf Coast so he sought a position as Deputy of Customs in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Front Street, Bay Saint Louis 2

Front Street, Bay Saint Louis (cir. 1900) – Hancock County Historical Society

There he and Louise made their home.  Charles was also justice-of-the-peace for many years and became Chief of Census -1900 for the Deep South States.  Louise was a devoted wife and mother and was very active in the Catholic Church there.  Together, Charles and Louise had nine children and both lived in Bay St. Louis until their deaths.  They are buried in the old Bay St. Louis cemetery- Cedar Rest Cemetery.

Charles Matthew Strong and Marie Louise Christine Frere Strong are my great-great grandparents.  Their youngest son, William Dewey Strong is my great-grandfather.

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

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