The Questionable End of Armant Plantation

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.”

© 2013 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved


Bonfires on the Bayou – An Acadian Reunion

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 )

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  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

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

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.)

The Fort Builder

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. Two years earlier President Monroe 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.”

Fugitive, Fighter, and Founder – Frederick Stump (Part 2)

Description Frederick Stump

Description in a local paper of Frederick Stump and John Ironcutter after their rescue by the “Paxton Boys” from the Carlisle, Pennsylvania jail where they were held after being arrested for the murder of several Indian natives in the area.

Frederick Stump was on the run.  Tagged as an “Indian killer” and a fugitive in Pennsylvania, he eventually made his way down through the colonies to Georgia.  There he settled with his family in the back-country on the Savannah River north of Augusta, once again building a home, a grist and saw mill and establishing a prosperous farm.

Not long after moving to the area, talk of revolution was in the air.  But Stump wanted no part of it.  He signed his name to a document that declared he and other colonists were not in alliance with the disgruntled citizens who met in Savannah in August of 1774.  Stump and other colonists felt the meeting was dishonoring to the British King, Lords and Commons and they wanted to make sure the British knew they had no part in it.  Stump didn’t want to jeopardize the protection the British provided him against the Creek and Cherokee tribes in the region.

But as the years of revolution wore on, Frederick Stump eventually found himself against the King and on the side of the patriots.  In the South Carolina and Georgia areas, the British began enlisting the support of Creek and Cherokee tribes against the colonists. Therefore Stump took up arms against the British and likely fought in the Battle of Kettle Creek in February of 1779 in which the Americans were victorious, and in the Battle of Brier Creek in March of 1779 in which the British routed the patriots and took many of them captive. Legend says that as the Americans were retreating from one of the battles Frederick Stump came upon a group of British officers playing cards.  In his audacious manner he killed five of the officers. Stump was captured.  He was then sent to the British fortress prison in St. Augustine, Florida where his life was taking yet another turn — again, not in a positive direction.Castillo de San Marcos 2

castillo de san marcosStump spent four months in the Castillo de San Marcos, the Spanish-built coquina-stone fortress.  The British had gained control of it from the Spanish in 1763 and were using it as a prison for revolutionary fighters. Legend says that the reason Stump only spent four months in the impenetrable prison was that he bribed the jailer with ten guineas — gold British coins equivalent to about $2000 today.

After his escape, he made his way through hostile back-country to his home in Georgia.  Upon his arrival he found that the British had burned his grist and saw mills and had confiscated his property with his 20 slaves.  In addition to this horror, the British had a bounty on his head, dead or alive.  Once again, his life in shambles, Frederick Stump, 55, set out with his family for a better life…somewhere.

Heading north toward the Appalachians he joined with one of several groups heading to the frontier of Kentucky and middle Tennessee (then part of western North Carolina).  He came alongside Amos Eaton’s group who followed a week behind the famed founders of Nashville, James Robertson and John Donelson. These teams led settlers from the Watauga settlement in North Carolina to the French Lick area of middle Tennessee — Robertson over land and Donelson by way of a water route.

In November of 1779, the Robertson party consisting of men, boys and animals left the Watauga settlement and headed west. The Donelson Party would follow later by boat with the women, children, and other men. The Robertson Party reached French Lick on Christmas Day 1779.  The Eaton party along with several other groups from the south and east arrived around January 1, 1780. They all made their way to French Lick during one of the coldest winters on record.  It was so cold that they were able to cross the Cumberland River easily from bank to bank due to it being completely frozen.

Frederick Stump, Amos Eaton and the others in his party built a “station” or fort for protection. They would settle on the northeast side of the river and Robertson’s party settled where Nashville, TN now stands on the west side of the Cumberland. The Donelson party had much trouble on their journey.  They would eventually make it to French Lick by February of 1780.

Frederick Stump House

Frederick Stump’s log cabin home across Whites .  Creek and south of his tavern on Buena Vista Pike. This log home was built c. 1780.

After surviving the terrible winter and trying to build homes while under attack by native American tribes, that spring in May, the settlers officially founded Fort Nashborough and its government by signing of the Cumberland Compact. Frederick Stump was one of 100 signers of the document.

Frederick Stump Historical Marker Nashville, TN

Historical marker near Frederick Stump’s  tavern north of Nashville, Tennessee on Buena Vista Pike

He would rebuild his life once more and become financially successful one more time through farming, running a inn and tavern in his large log home, and by distilling and selling whiskey.  In fact he was the first to begin distilling whiskey in the region. In October of 1792, his distillery was burned by one of the area tribes, but by 1795 he was producing up to 600 gallons of whiskey a year.

His wife Ann who faithfully followed him through all of his ups and downs was herself an astute business woman.  I am sure that he gained much more in his life due to her strength and wisdom.

There are many more tales to tell of Frederick Stump — most I am sure are based in fact, but they have taken on a legendary feel. One story tells of his close call with a tomahawk; another of his son being killed by native Americans. It was also said that even though he would offer his tavern for use by local Christian congregations on Sundays and some week days, only to the Moravians did he serve free dinners.

He knew Andrew Jackson, but thought Jackson was an upstart. Still Stump served under his command as a captain in the Tennessee Volunteer Riflemen and Cavalry in the war of 1812 — when Stump was 90 years old.

One of the best stories of all is that at age 93, after his wife of many years had passed on, he married again…to Catherine Gingery — the 25 year-old bar maid who worked in his tavern.

Frederick Stump died at age 99 after living a full and adventurous life. The log home that he built on White’s Creek north of Nashville still stands.  Over 230 years-old it is a monument to his determination, bold and incorrigible nature, and enterprising spirit.

Frederick Stump and Ann Snavely Stump are my fifth great-grandparents.

The Grave of the “General”

My mother and my family gathered around the “General’s” gravestone – 11/03

As we barreled down the narrow logging trail through tree branches and sloshed in and out of mud holes in our big green van, we finally saw it.  The tall grey spire peaked out above the high grass in a sun-lit clearing.  According to Mr. Henry Bryant who led us through the woods to the little cemetery, it was the grave of a “General.” Mr. Bryant had remembered the gravestone in the woods since he was a little boy. The stone did not mark the grave of a general, but the grave of a captain who served in the War of 1812.  The man was Capt. Jacob Guice, my great-great-great grandfather.

This was a particularly special find for me. Jacob Guice was from my mother’s side of the family. She had always felt somewhat disconnected from her Guice family because her father, C.L. Guice had died when she was seven and her grandfather Guice had died before her parents were married.  She had vague knowledge of  the name of her great grandfather Guice, but that is as far back in her family tree as she knew.  I began researching for her and I not only found more facts about Jacob Guice and generations before him, but I found out where he was buried — the Guice Cemetery in McNair, Mississippi not far from Natchez.

Shortly after this discovery my husband and I drove to McNair on our way home from a trip. McNair is a quaint little community of a crossroad, a store, a couple of churches and a few homes. Once there we found a church cemetery and a community cemetery, but neither fit the description of the Guice cemetery which we were trying to find.  We stopped at the little store and asked the clerk if she knew of another cemetery in the area.  She didn’t know of one, but she said if anybody would know it would be Henry Bryant, a lifelong resident of McNair. We soon found Mr. Bryant and after telling him my story and what I wanted to find, he said he would be glad to show me where the cemetery was.  All we needed to do was follow him.  Okay.

We followed his Jeep down a small paved road, then turned onto a gravel road and continued to follow him for a mile or so. We then veered onto a smaller gravel road until this “road” turned into a trail.  Mr. Bryant’s jeep hadn’t slowed down a bit.  He kept going farther.  The trail got narrower and muddier.  The branches of the small trees raked down the sides of our van and the mud holes got bigger and deeper.  I can be adventurous, but by now I was having second thoughts! Where was he taking us?

Then we saw something up ahead in a clearing .  A tall spire was the first thing we saw of the cemetery. I was so excited to see it — especially after that harrowing experience! As we got closer, I could see other smaller gravestones that made up the little Guice cemetery in the woods.  Mr. Bryant was so proud to be able to show us this treasure.

He pulled back the tall grass and showed me the inscription on the spire and the star at the bottom.  I told him the story about my great-great-great grandfather, Captain (not General) Jacob Guice, and how he had led a company of Mississippi militia to Baton Rouge during the War of 1812. Mr. Bryant’s confusion about his rank was because of the star that had been placed on the base of the grave’s spire commemorating Capt. Guice’s service in the war. It read, “General Society of the War of 1812, War of 1812 Veteran.”  When Mr. Bryant was a boy hunting in these woods, he thought the “general” on the star denoted a general’s grave. The memorial spire not only had the inscription of Jacob Guice, but also the inscription for his wife, Susanna.

Inscription for Susanna

Susanna Grantham Guice

I also told him that Jacob’s father and the Guice clan had traveled down the Natchez Trace from Nashborough (Nashville, TN)  to become some of the early settlers in the Natchez area following the Revolutionary War.  Jacob’s father Jonathan and the family’s next two generations would become established in the area as cotton planters.

Mr. Bryant then lead us over to where the old Guice house had been located. He said the remains of the old home were still there when he was a little boy.  I couldn’t wait to tell my mother what I had found so that she could come to see it.  Mr. Bryant told me to let him know when we would be back and he would clean up the little cemetery so we wouldn’t have to wade through the tall grass. It wasn’t very long before we were back up there with my mother.  And true to his word, Mr. Bryant had mowed the entire cemetery!  My mother was so thrilled to finally see where her family had once lived and to see the graves of her Guice grandfather.

I often wonder that if I had waited too many more years before searching for this gravesite, I may never have found it.  No one seemed to know it existed except Mr. Henry Bryant.  Thank you Mr. Bryant for not only your knowledge, but your hospitality and generosity in helping us connect with a valuable piece of family history.

After this visit, my mother was able to connect with other Guices in the area and even attended a Guice family reunion before she passed away a couple of years later. I was so glad to be able to help her find the connection she had always longed for.

Jacob Guice is the grandson of Frederick Stump who is the subject of three posts on this blog site:  “Savagery in the Susquehanna,”  “*a footnote to Savagery in the Susquehanna,” and “Fugitive, Fighter, and Founder.”  Jacob’s son is Elbert Guice who is remembered in the post:  “A Pile of Cotton and A Lighted Pine Knot.”  Jacob’s great grandson is my mother’s father and is featured in the post: “Poor boy, he had just got ready to live.” All of these posts are located in the category “Branch: Guice”.

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved

Of Plantations and Hurricanes

Aspasie Fuselier de la Claire Frere   (1822 – 1856)

The air was thick and sultry around the plantation on this hot August day — usual weather for a south Louisiana summer.  And this day in 1856 was no different.  Aspasie Frere, a youthful lady of society, had just given birth, three months earlier, to her seventh child.  At 34, she was feeling weak and feeble since Marie Felicite was born and thought that finding a respite from the oppressive heat would help win back her strength.  Her physician believed that “salt water air” would be amenable to her condition.

Using her doctor’s advice, she convinced her husband, Adrien, that it would be best for her to spend time down at the luxurious resort on Isle Derniere, a long slender island off the coast of Louisiana.   She wanted to bring along her seven-year-old son,  Joseph Adrien, since he was at the perfect age to enjoy the sand and the waves. He would also have a chance to spend some playful time with his father.  Her other children were in good hands staying behind with the servants at the plantation in Charenton.  After all, she wanted to be able to rest during her stay on the island.

Frederic Adrien Frere (1819 – 1856)

Adrien, Aspasie, Joseph and a servant boarded a steam vessel on Bayou Teche in St. Mary Parish.  As the boat made its way down the bayou and then into the meandering  passages of the marsh, the air from the Gulf was noticeably lighter and breezier.

As they crossed Caillou Bay and came nearer to the island, the shape of the hotel was beginning to form on the horizon.  It was quite a spectacle!  She could not wait to take in all that the resort had to offer.

Built several years earlier, the hotel on the island had become the playground of wealthy, aristocratic southerners.  And this was the height of the season.  The hotel would be packed with other socialites, like herself.  With the anticipation of cooler weather and the prospect of stimulating conversation with friends, this week would certainly be the perfect medicine for her weakened condition.

The Trade Winds Hotel was to be built on Isle Dernier in 1857

The boat arrived at the hotel dock late in the evening.  The Frere’s saw the hotel teeming with hundreds of friends and acquaintances from Louisiana’s southern parishes’ society and New Orleans’ social elite.

The following day the family went out to enjoy the white sandy beaches.  The waves were rolling onto the shore as Joseph and Adrien swam out in the blue-green water of the Gulf.  The breezes were cool — blowing out of the northeast.  It was a beautiful day!  As she watched them play in the water, Aspasie was thinking about how grateful she was that the weather was so nice while they were there.   She was feeling much better already.

Each day was full of activity.  They went to the beach each morning and then again, later in the evening, when the heat was not as intense.  But some of her friends had been chatting about how high and rough the surf  had been getting for the past few days and that it was getting harder and harder to stand out in the pounding waves.  The clouds in the once clear sky were now passing overhead in rows as if in a panic.  By the next morning, the partly cloudy skies had turned grey and raining and the surf was too tumultuous to allow even the most adventurous bathers to enter.

As the morning wore on, the rain came with bursts of intensity. The wind grew more and more strange. It drove the back bay waters up onto the north shore of the island.  As the water rose higher and higher pushing up onto the island, the wind became more and more intense.  Adrien, Aspasie, their son and servant gathered with everyone else into the hotel as the day grew darker and louder.  The wind was now ripping at roofs and tearing at shutters, but the hotel stood firm.

In fact, music was heard coming from the hotel dance hall. Every night there was a dance in the Great Hall of the hotel and this evening was no exception.  Adrien and Asapasie decided to distract themselves from the storm by going to pass away the time with their friends.  When they got to the dance hall, nearly everyone from the island was there — trying to distract their minds that were filled with nervous excitement.

The wind roared outside and seeped through every crack and crevice in the hotel walls with howls that blended with the harmonies being played inside. Then Aspasie shrieked.  Water began swirling around her ankles! Then suddenly the wind shifted and the building began to rock and sway.  For a moment everyone hushed.  In the midst of the roar came an unfamiliar sound like that of cannons booming.  People grabbed doors, tables, sofas, billiard tables — anything they could hold onto.  And then it came.  The enormous tidal surge washed up the beach and crashed into the packed hotel, lifting her up, spinning her around and crumbling her to pieces.

Most of the 400 vacationers and island inhabitants were washed out to sea.  A few survivors floated to land or marsh on logs or they survived by miraculously holding on to trees or poles buried deep in the ground.  But Adrien, Aspasie, Joseph, and their servant were not among the survivors.  A body believed to have been Aspasie’s was found near Bayou Du Large several miles inland.  Adrien, Joseph, nor Aspasie’s servant were ever found.

Back at the Charenton plantation their six surviving children, Alexandre Gabriel, 15, Marie Louise Christine, 13, Philomene Aimee, 9, Euphemie Marie, 8, Elizabeth Aspasie, 3 and Marie Felicite, 3 months, were left with a tremendous physical and emotional void — both parents and a brother lost in one day.  But also the children faced an uncertain future alone as the dark days of civil war loomed on the horizon.

A monument to the Freres stands in the Charenton Cemetery in Charenton, LA.  The Last Island Hurricane was one of the top ten hurricanes ever to hit the coast of the United States.

Adrien and Aspasie Frere are my great, great, great grandparents.  Their surviving daughter, Marie Louise Christine Frere, my great, great grandmother married Charles Matthew Strong.

© 2011 Melinda Holloway All Rights Reserved