Monday, August 22, 2016

A Letter to Mary Tisdale from Theresa Bienvenu

Carte de Visite by A. Constant

Theresa Bienvenu, New Orleans, Louisiana
circa 1870

This photo of Thérésa Bienvenu was in an album 
that belonged to Arabella Maria “Belle” Tisdale.
Identified by W. T. Booksh Sr.
Page 1 and 4 of letter

Page 2 and 3 of letter

Letter dated September 1, 1871 from Thérésa Bienvenu to Mary Tisdale, written in ink on 
8 3/4” x 7 ¼: paper folded in half to make four pages. Orignal in possession of writer. 
Good condition. Transcribed exactly as written.

[Page 1 - Embossed initial B top center of page]
New Orleans September 1st 1871.
My darling Mary.
You can scarcely imagine how glad I was when I received your letter, for to tell you the exact truth I thought already that you have forgotten me, and I am determined not to write you the first, I think I was perfectly right, I dont know if you do. Dear Mary, I cannot tell you how sorry I was the day you went away and to think that you have missed such a splendid party, I was thinking of you and Belle all the time, this was one of the finest

[Page 2]
party I went to, we had such a good music and delightful company. I had a very nice time, would you believe that I danced [illegible word crossed out] till half past three in the morning without missing once one dance, but I tell you I was very very tired the neset [next] day. If you was here I would have a heap to tell you about the beaux I met there, especially a certain one, but it is too long to write now. I went to see your mother last week, and there I had the pleasure to be introduce to your aunt, she told me that you have not been well lately, I was very sorry to hear it, and I think you ought to come back as soon as possible, as you seem not to enjoy yourself up there. Dear friend, you ask me for my likeness, but I cannot send it to you, I have not one for myself

[Page 3]
the last one I had was stolen by a gentleman who came home last week, but I will try to have it again, if I succeed you may be sure that I will give it to you. Ask Miss Laziness when does she intends to write to me, and tell her also that it would not hurt her much if she had said something to me at the end of your letter. I am very much afraid that I shall may not be able to come over to you this year, for we are expecting my sister-in-law to be sick, in the beginning of the month, and if this happens it will be impossible for me to go, but I hope that you will come back to us soon. I have forgotten to tell you that Mr. Scandrrell? is not in the city, he went to the country since three weeks, but we are expecting him every day. Richard Rowley is always asking

[Page 4]
for you, he send his best love to you and to Belle, also Mr Goat. Would you believe that Richard is over to Mobile since three weeks and has not come back yet, but this does not astonish me at all, when he is with Kate he does not know anything else. I hope you will excuse my writing, and spelling but you know that I scarcely write in English, French being my native tongue. But Mary, as it is getting late, I think I must close this already too long and bothering letter, so give my love to Miss Laziness, and for you my darling Mary, a sweet kiss from your
ever beloving friend
Thérésa Bienvenu
(Write soon dear)
(Dearest dont you show that letter to anyone will you?

Thérésa's letter gives us a snapshot of a young lady's life in New Orleans in 1871. Although New Orleans was still an occupied city, the social atmosphere seems to have improved. At least the young ladies are again enjoying dancing at parties. The political atmosphere was still in turmoil though. Joel Gray Taylor in “Louisiana: A History” says “The political maneuvering from 1870 to the election of 1872 was constant and almost Byzantine...”

Occupied New Orleans was still a dangerous place. It wasn't until April 24, 1877 that the last federal troops left New Orleans. In a comment on Louisiana politics, Taylor writes, “In every Louisiana election from 1868 through 1878 there was so much fraud, intimidation, and other skulduggery that it is impossible to say who won a majority of the votes actually cast or who would have won had an honest election been held. In passing, it might be noted that almost the same thing could be said for elections long after Reconstruction was over.”

It appears from Thérésa's writing that Belle has gone back to her grandparents house near Baton Rouge in August and September of 1871. It was not unusual for people in New Orleans to go “up the country” during the Yellow Fever season. There were 588 Yellow Fever deaths in 1870, which made it a moderate year. In 1869 there were only 3 deaths, but everyone still remembered that 3,107 Orleanians had died in the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1867. In the fall of 1871 there were only 54 deaths, but one never knew. (New Orleans Public Library web site:

Thérésa reports that Richard, mentioned in Kate's July 13 letter to Belle, is visiting Mobile and it appears that he and Kate have reconciled. Thérésa refers to Belle as Miss Laziness several times because she has not written.

Thérésa writes that French is her native tongue. The French and American communities had remained quite separate for many years after Louisiana became part of the United States. Belle's Uncle Nathan O. J. Tisdale was the first in his family to marry someone of French descent. His second wife's father was French and her mother was Irish. It is likely that Belle and Mary Tisdale became friends with Thérésa Bienvenu through their cousin Kate Tisdale and her mother Rosa Pailhes Roux Tisdale.

Gary Van Zante writes in New Orleans 1867: Photographs by Theodore Lilienthal that “New Orleans was still a polyglot though segregated city of French- and English-speaking cultures, each with its own hotel, theater, cafes, and law courts.” He quotes a visitor as writing, “New York and Paris are not so widely separated as the French and Yankee portions of New Orleans.”

I found Thérésa, age 18, on the 1870 U. S. Census living in the 7th Ward of New Orleans in the household of Alex Bienvenue [sic]. He is 45 years old and his occupation is Bill Broker. He has a personal estate of $4,500. He and the rest of the household members were born in Louisiana, but his father and mother are of foreign birth. He is old enough to be Thérésa's father, but his wife Emily is 28, too young to be her mother. Alex may be her brother and Emily may be her sister-in-law that she mentions in her letter. “...we are expecting my sister-in-law to be sick, in the beginning of the month...” This was the polite way to say that she was pregnant and her baby was due in the beginning of the month. Other members of the household are Celia Bienvenue, age 54, Ceres Bienvenue, age 27, Clerk, and Smité Bienvenue, age 78, a Domestic Servant.
(United States Census, 1870, database, FamilySearch ( citing p. 62, family 552, NARA microfilm M593; FHL microfilm 552.021)

The 7th Ward runs from the Mississippi river to Lake Pontchartrain, downriver or east of Esplanade Avenue to Elysian Fields. Rosa and Nathan Tisdale's last home before his death in 1870 was on Esplanade in the 7th Ward. Directions in New Orleans were never given as North-South-East or West, but as downriver and upriver, toward the river or toward the lake.

The only other record of Thérésa I have found is the December 9, 1877 report in the Daily Picayune of her death on December 3, 1877.

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Letter from Kate to Belle in July 1871
Kate Tisdale, circa 1860, by Chauncey Barnes, Mobile, Alabama

This Carte de Visite photo was in a photo album that belonged to Olivia "Lee" Tisdale, Belle's younger sister. Written on the back in pencil is "Either Marie or Kate Tisdale."

It was taken about 1860 at the Mobile studio of Chauncey Barnes. His occupation was described as "photographist" in the 1860 U. S. Census and he is listed in the Mobile City Directory in 1861 and 1866.  I believe the photo is of Kate based on the age of the sitter. Marie would have been 13 years old in 1860 and Kate would have been 7. Both girls were Belle's first cousins.

 In 1871 Kate Tisdale wrote this letter to her cousin Belle Tisdale in New Orleans:
     Kate's cousin, George Layet, added the note at the end of Kate's letter.

Letter dated July 13, 1871 from Kate [Tisdale] to Belle [Tisdale] with note from George A. Layet.
8” x 10” black bordered  paper, folded to make 4 pages, poor condition. Original in possession of writer. Transcribed exactly as written.

[Page 1]
Mobile July 13th 1871
My Dear Belle
            We went yesterday down to depot as you told us to do but we could find you no where, so I suppose we missed you, and I this write tell you I had been down, that you might not think that we did not want to tell you good bye. Georgie was very much disappointed indeed, for he wanted to tell you all good bye so much. He is looking forward with pleasure to next winter, when you both, if nothing happens, will come & spend sometime with us.
Belle, Richard answered my letter, but he was cold in it and did not seem glad that I had written to him, I want you to explain to him what my feelings were when I wrote that letter

[Page 2]
how lonesome I feel here without him Belle, he also misunderstood my letter he thinks I meant that I was caught & conquered by some gentleman here. I wish you would make it all straight and ask him if he is mad with me. Tell him I will not write any more letters I will not send any love to him until I know whether he is mad with me or not, for you know yourself that I love him dearly & that I would not give his little finger for any of the gentlemen I know here. Belle, please explain all to him & please Belle do not keep me in suspense. Let me know the result at once. Georgy says he had such a pleasant time when you and Mary were here he speaks of you both very often & wishes very much to see you again he sends his love and a kiss to you Belle & his regards to Mary. Tell Mary I

[Page 3]
have not heard from Johnnie yet. But will send her word when I do. Give my love to Uncle Frank Aunt Eliza and all the children (Mary included,) for me. Kiss my god-son every day for me, and make his god-father (if he is not mad with me mind you) kiss him for me too Belle do not show this letter to anyone, for I consider it as being strictly private – from people that it does not concern Write soon Belle & tell me everything about the matter.
I will have more news for you the next time. Good-by dear friend & cousin.
Your affectionate cousin     

P.S. Georgette sends you both her love I saw her yesterday evening.

[Page 4 in different hand]
Yes you have no idea how much I was disappointed. Why I havent slept a wink since you left.
You may know how badly I must look. Tell miss Mary to get a bottle of Houdees Eye wash & use it
till her Eyes get entirely well. And as for you if you dont answer Kates letter & Send me a smile (a ghastley smile) if you have one to spare why I will take a dose of Soothing Syrup or cut my throat whichever you please
Good bye. Keep Cool. (if you can). Laugh as much as you please & write often to Kate and note to
C P.
Ever Thine        
Geo A Layet   
Kiss Mary's Eye for me
& let her kiss yours  X
                      G A L

Kate Tisdale (1853-1935)

Catharina Margaretha “Kate” Tisdale was born 19 January 1853 in New Orleans, Louisiana, daughter of Nathan O. J. Tisdale and his second wife, Rosa Pailhes Roux. Kate was 18 years old when she wrote this letter.

Kate's half sister, Marie Eulalie Julie Roux, was born 24 January 1847. She was the daughter of Rosa and her deceased first husband, Monsieur Gonzague Etienne Roux, who died between 1847 and 1851. After Rosa's marriage to N. O. J. Tisdale on 31 July 1851, Marie was always referred to as Marie Roux Tisdale.

Belle and her family had evidently been to Mobile by train and Kate and George had missed seeing them off at the railway station on their return to New Orleans. The family had probably gone to visit B. F. Tisdale's oldest sister, Mary Eliza Tisdale and her husband Jacob Magee who lived in Kushla, Alabama, just north of Mobile, now swallowed up by Mobile's suburbs.

It was at the Magee farm where Kate's father had died on August 9, 1870. The black mourning band on the paper alludes to that death. Soon after Nathan O. J. Tisdale's death Rosa and the children moved from the big house at 193 Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans to Mobile. 

In the 1872 Mobile City Directory, Mrs. N. O. J. Tisdale is listed at 72 St. Michael Street. In the 1880 U. S. Federal Census the family is listed in Mobile at 205 Conti Street. Rosa is age 53, Marie is listed as 25, Kate as 23 (although Marie would have been 33 and Kate 27.) Brother Clarence, age 21, is a clerk for the railroad, Louis, age 16, is a messenger for the telegraph office, and nephew George Layet, age 27, is a book keeper for the railroad. Rosa's mother Mary Pailhes, age 83, is also living with them.

Kate is pining for her beaux Richard and asks Belle to talk to him for her. We know that Kate eventually married Louis Touart and that they had six sons. (More about them when we post Kate's next letter to Belle.)

Kate sends her love to Uncle Frank and Aunt Eliza. This is the only reference we have to Benjamin Franklin Tisdale being called Frank. We do know that his son, Benjamin Franklin Tisdale Jr., was called Frank. Kate also asks Belle to “kiss my god son for me.” This is very probably Belle's new baby brother, Marion Eugene Tisdale, who was born March 21, 1871.

George A. Layet (1849-1888)

George Layet was only 3 months old when the census enumerator visited his family in New Orleans on 28 February 1860. The family name is hard to decipher but may have been spelled Langet or Lanyet. Either would have been pronounced Layet in French and that is the way George spelled it. He had an older sister and two older brothers. The next record we find for George is the 1870 census when he is listed as an 11 year old student at St. Mary's Academy, a Roman Catholic boarding school for boys.

Caldwell Delaney, Director Emeritus, Museum of the City of Mobile, writes in the preface to the book “Gulf Stream” by George Layet's daughter, that George “had fled to Mobile from New Orleans at the age of seventeen to escape the attempts of his staunchly Catholic French family to force him into the priesthood.” (Gulf Stream, Marie Stanley [Marie Layet Sheip], University of Alabama Press, reprint, 1993. page vii)

This is evidently why we find George living with his Aunt Rosa Tisdale on Conti Street in Mobile in 1880. He was listed as her nephew so we can assume his mother was Rosa's sister. George is listed as 27 years old, but he would have been 31. He is working as a bookkeeper for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.

George appears to be quite the flirt in his note to Belle. He may be the George that she mentions in her poem “On Our Fishing Excursion” posted on this blog in October 2015.
Then all retired for the night,
Except Eugene and George,
They rowed down to their set lines,
And found they'd caught two gars.

She also mentions George in her February 1870 letter to her mother:
 George is comeing next Sunday, at least he said he would if he was not sick, he has been having fever of & on for the last two weeks.”

Whether it was flirtation or friendship, we can only guess. We do know that Belle married Sam Booksh in 1878 and George married Josephine Garner in 1882. They had one daughter, Marie Tilney Layet, who married Stanley Sheip. She used his first name as her nom de plume.

In 1888 George was comptroller of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad and was subpoenaed to appear before Congress to testify in the investigation of the Standard Oil Trust regarding “oil handled by the Mobile and Ohio Railroad Company from January 1, 1886 to April 18, 1888.”

George died November 22, 1888 and his wife died soon afterward, leaving Marie to be raised by her maternal grandmother.

In 1930 Marie Layet Steip, using the pen name Marie Stanley, wrote the historical novel Gulf Stream.  It was reprinted by the University of Alabama Press in 1993 as part of the Alabama Classics Series.Caldwell Delaney described it as “One of the earliest and best contemporary novels by a Mobilian...” If you would like to read more about this fascinating woman, see Gulf Stream on Google Books.