Sunday, July 5, 2020

Bernard De Marigny: The Man Who Was Mandeville

The story of Bernard de Marigny, the founder of Mandeville, has been told in numerous ways, but the following article, produced in 1977 by Lacombe writer Polly Morris, is one of the most intriguing. She tells of the man, his times, his ups and the downs, but mostly of his triumphs and sorrows.It's a great example of her individual style and flair for telling a complex story.

As published in the March 23, 1977, edition of the St. Tammany News Banner, here is "Bernard de Marigny: The Man Who Was Mandeville."

Bernard de Marigny: The Man Who Was Mandeville

By Polly Morris

The quaint Quartier de Mandeville was a dream which came true for a man of vision. Then it faded away, as dreams will.

Bernard de Marigny, creator of Mandeville, has been portrayed by historians as somewhat of a madman, laughingly tossing a thousand silver pesos into the molten metal for the bell of Fontainebleau. He also laughed as he threw coins on the gambling tables, and he Iaughed as he delicately balanced his rapier for yet another bloody duel.

Bernard de Marigny: Was he only a laughing libertine who lived a useless life with nothing better to do than squander the family fortune? Can Mandeville be proud of the founding father who gave his family title to a town on Lake Pontchartrain?

Historians, however well-intentioned, have not been kind De Marigny. Perhaps they have been too fascinated by flamboyant exaggerations of those who envied the handsome influential aristocrat of great wealth.

The man who was Mandeville, whose only monument in St. Tammany is the crumbling ruins of an old sugar mill, what manner of man was he? Perhaps he was only a lonely man behind a mask of merriment.

Poor Little Rich Boy

Bernard de Marigny enters the pages of history as a pampered and wayward heir to seven million dollars. He was so rebellious that his guardian sent him to wards in Pensacola and London, but they too failed. Perhaps he was only a broken-hearted boy of 15 who fought tears as the body of his father was carried from his retreat in Mandeville to the home of the Almonaster family.

Then to the Cathedral where he was entombed by his father and his father's father. Miserable and bereft, the boy needed compassion instead of the iron wills that sought to reshape him into a conservative mold. So he sought companionship away from his austere custodians.

Bernard was shipped home like contaminated cargo returned to its sender, and immediately he became a reproach to his reproachers. It was 1803 and the eve of the difficult double transfer of loyalties and Louisiana.

The territory was under three flags in less than 30 days, and the Spaniards, the Frenchmen, and the Creoles were hostile to the rule of a raw republic of the young United States. English-speaking Bernard harbored no prejudice for the newcomers, so he diplomatically offered his services to the Americans. At 18, he was Alderman and aide to the staff of General Wilkinson.

Family Man

A year later Bernard ended all escapades. He married the Creole-American daughter of the American counsul. He called her Pomponne, but her name was Mary Ann Jones. She presented him with two sons, and ecstatic happiness. For four years, Bernard was a truly happy man. Then Pomponne died and Bernard was desolate.

He buried her in the flower garden to keep her close to him, even in death. Friends took the two sons to their home, and he stayed alone in the great house on the Mississippi River, except for servants.

Bernard's anguish seemed to deepen as days passed, and concerned friends finally persuaded him to take a trip to Pensacola.

When he was there he met a beautiful young Spanish girl named Anna Mathilde Morales. Had he been less lonely, he would have taken time to learn of her disposition, and there would have been no rebound romance.

After a whirlwind courtship, the amiable Bernard realized his mistake. Anna Mathilde was arrogant, haughty, and given to violent temper tantrums. When she screamed and threw things, Bernard left the mansion and sought more pleasant companions.

Although there were five children born of this union, the marriage was unhappily as explosive as a Spanish musket.

Politics and Peccadillos

Bernard developed other interests, like politics, public activities... and peccadillos. In 1811 he was Alderman, Colonel, and a member of the Territorial Legislature. When Louisiana became a State, he was the youngest delegate to the first Constitutional Convention.

When the British threatened New Orleans, he had command of a post at Chalmette and was on the Legislative Committee for Defense. Later he would be several times State Representative and State Senator, in which latter position was President of that august body. These trusted positions would surely have not been given to an irresponsible man.

De Marigny ran for Governor twice, and although he was defeated, he made a good show, considering the powerful opposition.

Evan as a Lothario, Bernard can be defended, for he was not a libertine after his first marriage, and had he been happy with Anna Mathilda, he might not have ever strayed. But let it be said that he was neither a sly seducer nor was he a gay deceiver. He was handsome, rich, and gallant, a fatal combination that attracted women to him.

Not that he objected.

Moreover, he did not love them and leave them. He provided for his favorites in no miserly way, and at a time when keeping a mistress was no back street affair. Only a side street alliance that was discreetly ignored by everyone except Anna Mathilde.

Bernard never denied or defended his many amours. "When is it a crime to be a man?" he would ask with disarming guile.

Gambling was in Bernard's blood, which made him no worse than others of his time. Having an after-dinner game of chance was much like having an after-dinner drink. Instead of being a vice, gambling was a respectable way to support charitable institutions such as  hospitals and orphanages.

The North Shore

It may well be that Mandeville and Fontainebleau owe their existence to the irritable Anna Mathilda. Bernard had always loved St. Tammany for he had frequented the north shore when his father had his modest place on the lakefront.

And Bernard was desperately in need of peace and quiet. His New Orleans home was being crowded by his Faubourg Marigny, a suburb he created for the Creoles who were in need of reasonably priced property outside the Vieux Carre.

Bernard began to buy tracts of land in Tammany. At first it was only for a retreat, but it was not entirely extravagance. There was a sugar mill, brickworks, and a profitable plantation. There were also winding roads, alleys of fine trees, and gardens that made it a showplace.

He invited guests to share in his sylvan Paradise, and his hospitality almost crowded him out of the plantation home called Fontainebleau... after his friend-king's country estate in France.

Bernard then began to dream of a town where everyone could live like a kingling without great wealth. Bernard, aristocrat-millionaire, had compassion for the working man, and determined that they, too, should have a chance to pursue happiness.

So he planned a model town called Mandeville and offered its lots at reasonable prices, for he was not interested in profit. Only people.

There was only one thing about Mandeville that Bernard did not like. Hot-bloods would come across the lake to settle their differences under the mighty oaks, and he had had no taste for duels since a fateful day in October of 1830...

Bernard had a reputation as being a daring and skillful dualist who had been the victor in at least 18 duels, all quite bloody, it was rumored. The truth was that he never killed a man in a duel. An expert with the rapier, he tried only to nick his opponent. A slight show of blood was sufficient to end a duel, and Bernard was an exceptionally mild-mannered man in this respect.

Duels to the death and a false honor seemed foolish. Later Bernard was the President of an anti-dueling society.

Bernard was a sensitive and emotional man, but no doubt his laughter often came close to tears. Few historians have written about the tragic death of young Mary Ann or the death of Prosper, her son, who also died young to Bernard's dismay.

There was Bernard's son-in-law who died before a firing squad. But the greatest sorrow of all came on October 26, 1830. Friends brought home the blood-soaked second son by Mary Ann. There was an ugly gaping wound in his chest. Gustave Adolph had lost a duel, and Bernard had to helplessly watch him die. He was the son so much like Bernard himself, and he was only 23 years of age.

Fortune Frowns

What of the vast family fortune he frittered away? Of the seven million dollars that he inherited in about 1804, and the 40 plus years it took to throw it away, during which there were two wives, seven children and two major depressions?

His acknowledged extravagances were only a part of the story.

Bernard never tried to make a great profit on either his Faubourg Marigny or his town of Mandeville. The only time he tried to profit from the former ended in humiliation.

The Americans offered him a handsome price for his property in New Orleans which might have become the beautiful Garden District. Bernard accepted the offer and set up an appointment for the signing of the necessary documents. It fact, he set up three different appointments.

Each time everyone but Anna Mathilde was present. To the Americans, it was a deliberate insult, and they bitterly blamed Bernard. But Anna Mathilde was his wife and he had to silently endure the burning shame of it all.

Bernard had made wise investments in plantations, sugar mills, brickworks, and stocks. He helped start a bank and a railroad. He weathered the depression of 1820. He weathered the panic of 1837 although 14 banks closed and 136 sugar plantations went broke.

No one was buying land, sugar prices had dropped, and bricks were not worth the making. Yet Bernard borrowed and schemed and planted. Somehow he kept going until 1830.

A flood that year broke the levee, and his crops were swept away. He replanted the next year and the same thing happened. He was fighting with his back to the wall.

He had to sell Fontainebleau and Mandeville, which was no longer his dream town. People had returned lots to him because they could not pay for them.

Little by little, he sold his New Orleans property until only the mansion on the river was left. When that too was sold, he moved the furnishing to a house on Frenchman Street. Only Mary Ann was left sleeping at the old family estate mercifully unaware of misfortune.

One by one, Bernard was forced to sell the things from the old home Anna Mathilda, nearing 70 and bed-ridden, sued him for her part of what was left. They had been separated for years, and she won the suit and died shortly thereafter.

Bernard was reduced to living in two rooms of the three story house on Frenchman Street. He lived alone, except for a servant. He had outlived all his old friends, and his children seldom saw him, except for his daily walk and at a distance.

He was taking his morning walk regardless of the cold February weather when he slipped and fell, striking his head on the pavement. The next day, those who had half-forgotten Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville followed his casket in the rain.

Contrary to his wishes, he was not buried next to Mary Ann. He was 83 years old.

He often said that he had all the vices of a gentleman.He never mentioned that he had many virtues, too.

Mandeville can have pride in her founding father because his life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that she may stand up and say to all the world, "This was a man."

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July! Here are some pictures and links to previous 4th of July blog articles:

4th of July Picnic At The Park

Happy Fourth of July

From 1976, the American Bicentennial, some 44 years ago

Friday, July 3, 2020

100 Years Ago July 3

What was going on 100 years ago this week? CLICK HERE for a link to the St. Tammany Farmer Issue of  July 3, 1920. The link is provided by the Library of Congress and its Chronicling America service.

Click on the sample images below to see larger versions.

Palace Theater Opens in Abita Springs

History of M.C.B. Library Told

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Land Grants Researched

Sometimes researching land ownership through centuries old land grants can reveal some interesting information, as historians have discovered over the years. Pouring over old state land office documents can tell the story of tract acquisitions through a variety of means, whether land grants, squatting or outright purchases.

In 1977, the Northlake-Mandeville Rotary Club heard a talk by a geography instructor from UNO that gave a glimpse into the world of land ownership research. Here's an article from the March 7, 1977, issue of the St. Tammany News Banner detailing that presentation.

Florida Parish Land History Explored by Rotarians

Carolyn French, Instructor in geography at the University of New Orleans, addressed the Northlake-Mandeville Rotary Club at its recent meeting at Covington Country Club.

Ms. French told the Rotarians that she is currently researching the acquisition of land in the Florida parishes by government grants. She has been compiling material him old maps, survey reports, and other documents found at the State land office in Baton Rouge.

"These old maps, survey reports and documents don't supplant, but rather supplement more traditional sources," says Ms. French, "though often, our ideas of a bygone era have been given to us by the records and journals of the more prosperous, literate persons of that era.

"But the little known records at the State Land Office serve as the voice of the uneducated small landholders, even the squatters  of the late 18th and early 19th century. The mark on our landscape left by these common people is both far reaching and too little studied, yet, these are the people from whom most of us are descended."

Ms. French showed the Rotarians a slide presentation in which she demonstrated how she analyzed data from more than 2000 land grants from 50 townships in the Florida parishes. From these maps, Mrs. French is able to locate many now forgotten farm homes, rural hospitals, ferries, mills, graveyards, relic roads, Indiana mounds, and villages, and squatters fields, many of which have returned to forest.

"No doubt," said Ms. French, "some of these farm homes are still standing, although the present owners may not be aware of the structure's age and history - and, when located and studied, they could provide insights into the folk culture of less prosperous settlers.

"If located, by use of these old maps, surviving structures may be of interest to anthropologists, historians, ecologists and planners who are interested in studying and preserving remnants of our past "

Mrs. French is attempting to analyze 2,000 of the 6,000 original land grants in the Florida parishes.  To do this, she is using a computer program to correlate the many variables related to each grant - the type of grant (for example, whether it was a royal grant, be it from the king of France, or the king of Spain, or an American grant from the U. S. Government), the date the grant was settled, its proximity to a waterway or a road, the presence of fields, and the location of old buildings, roads, ferries and bridges.

Ms. French said that the computer is correlating more than 40 variables for each of the 2000 grants.

Her studies of these land grants has reached only a portion of St. Tammany Parish at the present time, and Ms. French said she was familiar with those grants in the Slidell area owned by Francis Cousins, Joseph Laurent and John Guzman.

Ms. French, a native of Crowville, La., attended Northeast Louisiana University at Monroe, where she obtained an undergraduate and a graduate degree in history and has taught at L.S.U.In Baton Rouge where she began working on her PhD in geography.

March 7, 1977

In 1978, Ms. French wrote her LSU Thesis on "Cadastral Patterns in Louisiana: a Colonial Legacy." It contained a considerable amount of information on early land grants in the Florida Parishes. To read the entire historical dissertation, CLICK HERE to view a PDF file.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Lacombe Garden Club 1977

Here's a News Banner news item from January of 1977. Click on the image to make it larger.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

SSA Sweetheart Court - 1977

The Sweetheart Court for St. Scholastica Academy in Covington was announced in the February 14,1977,edition of the St. Tammany News Banner newspaper. Click on the image to make it larger.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Madisonville Restaurant Opens

The old Madisonville riverfront location of the long-gone Friends Restaurant is once again busy with activity as The Anchor opened Friday to a packed house, at least as packed as social distancing rules would allow. Billed as a "casual riverfront dock dining experience and a bar," the establishment offers the following description on its website:

"Rooted in classic Louisiana cooking, The Anchor highlights the region’s oysters, shellfish and seasonal catches. Only the best meats and produce—sourced from nearby farms—are on the menu. Hand craft cocktails, house baked breads and homemade desserts round out a memorable meal.

"All about local character, The Anchor embodies a coastal lifestyle founded in gracious hospitality. Here, it’s about more than good food and good views. In addition to a fun, vibrant atmosphere, The Anchor offers an outdoor game area for all ages, live music, TVs to watch the game at the bar, and dockside boat parking for spontaneous visits or grabbing orders to go. Daytime or dinner, enjoy the Northshore’s best life at The Anchor."

Here are some photographs of the Saturday afternoon scene at The Anchor, where some of the patrons arrived by boat at the Tchefuncte River dock.

See also: article

Thursday, June 18, 2020

When the Jail Flooded the Courtroom

When architects decided that the new courthouse being built in 1959 should have a courtroom on the second floor and a jail on the third floor, apparently no one thought about this. This article and photos from early 1977 were produced by Mike Dowty, St. Tammany News Banner newspaper.  Click on the image to make it larger.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

CHS Yearbook 1981 - Seniors

Here are the photographs of the senior class members as pictured in the 1981 yearbook for Covington High School. Click on the images to make them larger.