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Mrs. Mary Anne Pecot DeBoisblanc

“I am the only Primitive Naive Acadian Artist,” she would always tell me.  Mrs. Mary Anne Pecot De Boisblanc was indeed the only known Primitive Naive Acadian Artist designated as such. Her art is classified as “primitive” because of its simplistic ethnic content. It is noted as “naive” due to the style in which this simple ethnicity is painted.  Naive painting is childlike to the beholder, but is often a style used by very accomplished artists.  In this case the ethnic group portrayed in her paintings was her personal people group, the Acadians, or “Cajuns.”

But it is with great saddness that I share that she passed away in December of 2015 at the age of 90. What a wonderful, authentic individual she was!

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I learned of Mrs. Mary Anne after I saw her paintings in a book at the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, LA several years ago.  I saw that her paintings depicted the lifestyle and customs of my Acadian ancestors, so I sought permission to post some of the paintings in a family story I was writing for this blog, “Bonfires on the Bayou .”

After I posted that article, I received a message from her granddaughter that encouraged me to contact Mrs. Mary Anne. Little did I know at the time, but she and I were distant cousins. We share the same grandmother who was one of the original Acadians to settle in Louisiana.

I decided to call her. We had a delightful conversation and talked for most of an hour — all the while she was drawing a new pencil sketch.

It just so happened that I was planning to go to St. Martinville the next day for the annual Acadian Festival.  I thought I should ask Mrs. Mary Anne if she would like to go with me even though we had just met. Through our conversation, she seemed to know that she could trust me and told me that she could tell I was “good people.” So she decided to go. Having difficulty getting around, she made arrangements for her home care person to go with us.

I visited with her for a while the next morning at her home in Metairie. She showed me stacks of history books, drawings, paintings and a curious tall can of assortedphoto walking canes.  And much to my surprise, she gave me the pencil drawing that she had been drawing during our phone conversation the day before!  I was thrilled!

I drove and she talked.  It was mid-March in south Louisiana so azaleas were in full bloom everywhere and the weather was gorgeous! As we drove through swamps and lowlands and passed near Raceland, Houma, and Morgan City, she told me all about her childhood growing up in Labadieville and all of her Acadian ancestors. I then told her about my ancestors from the area.  At one point she began searching through papers in her lap and pulled out a printed story about her Acadian grandmother, the one that we discovered we shared. She said the story was very good, but she didn’t know who wrote it.  When she started reading it to me, I realized it was the “Bonfires on the Bayou” story I had written.  I told her that the author was me.  She looked so surprised and excited to find that out! From that point on, we were forging a beautiful friendship.

I call that first meeting my DeBoisblanc Day.  We visited the Acadian Memorial, which included her being able to see some old friends, and then we went around the countryside seeing old ancestral homes of mine and some of hers.

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Mrs. Mary Anne walking to the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, LA

Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, LA

Friends at the Acadian Memorial (Mrs. DeBoisblanc is seated second from right, I am standing in the back with the purple shirt.)

Walking through the courtyard of the Acadian Memorial and on to the Evangeline Oak.

When we visited Charenton, LA, she showed me where the old drug store used to be and the family’s old home place. We visited a couple of cemeteries and then we stopped by a friend of hers to visit for a little while.  As we walked through the home, paintings of hers could be seen hanging on the walls. She was obviously generous and wanted to share her work with those she considered friends.

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Viewing one of my ancestor’s homes.  She told me that my branch of the family was the “rich cousins” and that she was from the side of the “poor cousins.”

After seeing many sights and visiting with treasured friends our day ended, but our friendship did not.

During our many conversations that day, she told me that many of her paintings and drawings were on display at the Louisiana State Archives in Baton Rouge. I told her that I would love to go see them, to which she replied, “Let’s make plans to do that soon!”  So we did.

The next week, we met in Baton Rouge and this time my daughter and my father who are also her cousins, came with me to meet this charming lady and to see her unique artwork.

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Mrs. Mary Anne describing the scenes in her paintings for my father and me

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Gallery at the Louisiana State Archives in Baton Rouge  

Later, we went upstairs and visited with State Archivist and Director, Florent “Pon” Hardy, Jr.  He was instrumental in having her art displayed for the public at the Archives.

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Visiting with State Archivist Florent Hardy, Jr.

Many times that I was down in the New Orleans area, I would go by for a visit and we would talk history and genealogy, share family stories, and look at more of her art work.

One time, soon after our Archives visit, she called me and told me I needed to come down when I could, that she had something for me. I made my way down there in the next day or so and when I got there, she handed me a painting very similar to the drawing she gave me.  But it was special because on this one she painted parts of it metallic gold — the umbrella, the road, and a group of eggs at the man’s feet.  To her the gold symbolized new life, family, and  happiness. The thought of her wanting to give me that painting is so precious to me, because she was accepting me as part of her family.

I have framed both of them and they hang together in my home along with one of her canes from her collection. She had told me to choose whichever cane I wanted.  Many were colorful and fancy, but I chose one that is simple, sleek, and to me looks like one she probably used many times.

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Painting and Drawing by Mary Anne Pecot DeBoisblanc in the home of Melinda Holloway

She and her art are beloved by many.  At one time even a regional college was interested in possibly displaying her art in a permanent display. They traveled down to New Orleans just to visit with her and discuss this proposal.  In the end, it wasn’t to be, but they recognized the value of her art and the contribution it has made to the understanding of this iconic culture of Louisiana.

Mrs. Mary Anne DeBoisblanc conferring with officials from Louisiana College

Much love to you, Mrs. Mary Anne. You will be sorely missed. Your art and your memory will live on and bring joy to many!

Melinda Holloway and Mary Anne Pecot DeBoisblanc in New Orleans - Dec 2013

Melinda Holloway and Mary Anne Pecot DeBoisblanc in New Orleans – Dec 2013

 

 

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American cannon at the Chalmette Battlefield near New Orleans, Louisiana where the Battle of New Orleans took place.

 

Down in south Louisiana, Andrew Jackson is a big deal. Nearly everything there is named after him — Jackson Square in the New Orleans French Quarter sports a large equestrian statue of its namesake, Fort Jackson once guarded the mouth of the Mississippi River, Jackson Barracks houses the headquarters of the Louisiana National Guard, and Jax Brewery (now defunct), and others — and rightly so.  It was because of his panache and leadership that New Orleans was spared during the War of 1812.

Considered one of the greatest upsets in military history, Jackson and his outnumbered ragtag troops defeated the greatest fighting force of that time.  He gathered troops from every corner of the city, surrounding swamp, neighboring towns and even other states to fortify his defenses against the approaching British.  His troops consisted of militias from states as far away as Kentucky, local citizens of assorted nationalities, free blacks, and even a few pirates. With numbers, weather and lack of training against them, these “dirty shirts” surmounted the odds that day and achieved victory over the “red coats” in the last major battle of the War of 1812.   Thursday, January 8, 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans.

I have a vested interest in this battle since one of my ancestors fought in it, Jean Baptist Armant, a sugar planter, then 35 years old, a private in the 6th Regiment, Landry’s Militia, and another ancestor was in a support role in Mobile and Mississippi, Lt. Col. George Henry Nixon, who led the 13th Regiment Mississippi Militia.

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

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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!

© 2013 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

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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.

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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.”

© 2013 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

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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, Mississippi when Ray saw Anna Claire and her sister Carol Lee for the first time.  (She said he was staring at her.)

“Ick”

“Jez”

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 proposed, she said yes. (Anna Claire said that with everyone else she dated, she always compared them to 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 every member of their family spent many summer days on the beach in Clermont Harbor and more memories were made at the same 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 fifty-three year marriage of Ray and Anna Claire was unique and blessed.  And as always, 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.)

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

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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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