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.
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