Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Madisonville Cemetery

In 2012 Donald J. Sharp wrote an extensive history of the Madisonville Cemeteries. Here is a portion of that account. 

Madisonville originally had two cemeteries in the early part of the nineteen century. One, which today is called the Madisonville Municipal Cemetery, is still in existence and the 
other, the Baham family  cemetery was removed in 1917 when the Jahncke Shipyard was built. The first, which started as the Parent family cemetery in the late 1700s was located in the northern part of Madisonville near Bayou Desire. It is still in operation to this day. The 

Baham family cemetery, which originated with the death of Juan Baptiste Baham in 1807, was located in the southern boundary of Madisonville about a half mile away downriver. It was located on the bank of the Tchefuncte River on Pierre Baham's, a son of old Juan Baptiste, Spanish land grant. It was these two families, the Bahams and the Parent families that were the first to settle on the Tchefuncte River after the British settlers left in 1779.

The two families were previously living in the Mobile area when hostilities broke out between the Spanish and British during the American Revolution in August of 1779. Charles Parent had his plantation on the west bank of Mobile Bay, high on a hill, burned down when the British attacked the Village. The Village was a Spanish Outpost located next to the Parent and Rochon Plantations. After the attack, Charles Parent took his family and moved across the bay to Spanish controlled Mobile. 

Later, he moved with his family to New Orleans. The Biaham's were living north of Mobile on their plantation on the Tensaw River, a few miles above Mobile. In 1782, the Baham's were in Mobile when Francoise Guillory, wife of Juan Baptiste dit Gentil died. Shortly after Francoise demise, Juan Baptiste and his five sons moved to New Orleans.

The Bahams and Parents did not stay in New Orleans very long. Charles Parent did try to buy a house in Bayou St. John in 1782 but at the auction, his bid was low. The Bahams had a shorter stay in New Orleans than Parents. It appears that it wasn't long after the Bahams arrived in New Orleans that the father, dit Gentil, petitioned the Spanish Governor, Estevan Miro, for a grant across the lake on the Tchefuncte River. 

The land had been vacant since September of 1779 with the start of hostilities between the Spanish and British. Word had arrived on the north shore that Galvez and his army were attacking the fort at Baton Rouge and the few remaining settlers on the river scattered in all directions. They took what they could and left. It was a hasty departure.

When old Juan Baptiste Baham requested a land grant for his family on the north shore, the War between the British and Spanish was still on. Even so, some New Orleans residents were already getting Spanish approval to settle on the contested land. It appears that Juan Baptiste Baham and his sons had the Governor's approval for a grant. 

Morgan Edwards had settled on a British grant at Bayou Castein as early as 1782 and Louis Reggio even earlier, in 1781 at Bayou Lacombe. 

It wasn't until the Treaty of Paris on September 4, 1783 and word was reached in New Orleans, some month and a half later, that the Spanish officially took control. The Spanish Governor approved a grant of 1000 arpents, (800 acres), to Juan Baptiste Baham two miles up on the West bank of the Tchefuncte River. This land had previously belonged to British settlers Thomas Berwick and James Oliphant. 

Some of the land had been cleared and was well developed by the British settlers. We know from records that the Bahams were living on their grant as early as April 24, 1783, some six months before the treaty of Peace was signed in Paris. The Baham grant was some of the best high land on the west bank of the lower Tchefuncte River.

After word was received in New Orleans that the War was over and peace had been declared between the Spanish and British, the Spanish Governor realized that there was a 
need for some authority of control on the north shore of the lake. He then appointed Charles Parent as Commandant of the Tchefuncte River area. The date of the appointment is not known but it was likely in late December, 1783 or early 1784. 

The Commandant's duties would be in the role of Sheriff, Justice of the Peace, and Judge in small matters, all rolled into one. When the newly appointed Commandant moved across the lake and started looking for suitable land to build his house and conduct the official duties of his office, he found that the best high ground on both sides of the lower river were already taken. The Bahams had the choice spot on the west side and the Lorrein's family had what high ground was on the east bank. 

Charles Parent did the next best thing to secure a spot on the lower Tchefuncte River. He purchased the Sarpy grant that was adjacent to the northeast boundary line of the Baham grant and on the river. Sarpy had purchased the land from Louis Allard, son-in-law of Jacques Lorreins II. Louis Allard had obtained the land as a Spanish grant in early 1784. It wasn't the best spot, but at least it was on the river and as close to the mouth that could be obtained.

At first, Commandant Parent's location on the river did not create a problem as traffic across Lake Pontchartrain from Bayou St. John to the Tchefuncte River was minimal. It was after 1787 when General James Wilkinson came down from Kentucky and reached an agreement with the Spanish authorities to allow flatboat traffic from Kentucky to deposit its farm produce at New Orleans. After that, the Tchefuncte River landing became increasingly important. 

As more and more flat boatmen arrived in New Orleans from upriver and deposited their cargos at New Orleans, the traffic from Bayou St. John to the Tchefuncte River increased dramatically! It was part of Parent's job to check the passports of travelers passing through and not to allow anyone to settle without official permission. Also, another aspect of his job was to welcome various Indian Chiefs and their delegations and to assist them in getting across the lake. 

It became increasingly difficult to carry out these duties from his location on the river. Just to the south of his southern boundary line was a strategic bend in the river, but it was on Baham's land. He asked the Spanish Intendant Juan Morales in New Orleans to adjust his southern boundary lines southward, along the river and adjacent to the Baham grant, to include a portion of this strategic bend. This was granted and Morales ordered Surveyor General Carlos Trudeau to make the adjustment. 

Needless to say, Trudeau got the two parties together and it was done, but it was not agreeable to old Juan Baptiste Baham and his sons. It would create a controversy between the two families that would last a long time.

When was each cemetery started? It is not known for sure when the first death occurred in the Parent family but when it did happen, a burial site was needed. It also could even have been a traveler from New Orleans that died on the north shore and needed to be buried quickly in Louisiana's climate. We do know from the records that Commandant Charles Parent and wife Jeanne Rochon had a young son named Joseph that died in 1790. Where to bury him? 

Much of their land was partially surrounded by low marshy ground. No, that would not be a suitable place. Should they pick out a spot far out in the woods? No, that seems to be rejected also. A few hundred steps from their home on the bend in the river was this beautiful ancient live oak on high ground. It was right below the drainage canal later  
called Bayou Desire, and also a short distance to the river. The large live oak is still standing today. In the mid-19th century it was given the name of "bathing oak" by the local inhabitants.

We do not know for sure if young Joseph Parent was the first to be buried and his burial was the start of the cemetery. We do know its location as Charles Parent Jr. stated in his will, written in 1858, that both his parents are buried in the cemetery and he describes the boundary lines of his property quite clearly. This description is very precise and it can be traced on a Tobin Map. When did his father, Charles Parent Sr. die? He died in 1804 and we can state with certainty that he is indeed buried in the cemetery. So we do know that the cemetery was in existence soon after the Louisiana Purchase occurred. 

How do we know that the original cemetery was the same one that was on the Parent property? There are several documents and maps that are undeniable evidence to this conclusion. The first and most convincing is the Will of Charles Parent Jr. of 1858. He states in his Will that it is indeed the Parent Family cemetery, that his father and mother are buried there, and that he plans to be buried there also. He then gives a description of the boundary lines of his property of 1854 which includes 406 acres and the cemetery. 

Charles also stated that he had Paris Childress, a surveyor from Covington survey his west bank land and it should be attached to his will. A copy of this survey, after an extensive search both in Covington and New Orleans, could not be located at this time. The key marker to Charles's boundary description in his will is the large live oak that he states that is call the "bathing oak" by local residents. It is still standing today in close proximity to the cemetery. 

It should be noted that Charles Jr., his sisters Josephine and Francoise Amiee were born on the Tchefuncte River. In September of 1804 Commandant Charles Parent Sr. died. 

While on his sick bed, his neighbor to the north, Robert Badon, came down and stayed with the Commandant. The Spanish Governor, with his armed armada, passing through the lakes on their way to Baton Rouge, stopped at the Tchefuncte River home and visited the sick Commandant. 

The Priest with the expedition gave the Commandant the last rites of the Catholic Church. The Commandant was buried the next day in this cemetery after he died. The next important resident to die on the lower Tchefuncte River was old Juan Baptiste Baham dit Gentil himself. He died three years later in 1807. He was not buried in the cemetery  
with Parent. His sons buried him on the bank of the Tchefuncte River about a half mile further south down river. It was on the land of son Pierre Baham.

Getting back to the Parent family, after Charles Parent Sr., the Commandant, died in 1804, his widow Jeanne Rochon continued to live on the Tchefuncte plantation. She died sometime before 1816 and was also buried in the cemetery. This was clearly stated in Charles Jr.'s Will of 1858. In 1816 there was a double wedding in the Parent family. 

Charles Jr. would marry Helwig Roman of St. James Parish and his sister Francoise Amiee would marry Helwig's brother, A.B. Roman, who would be elected twice as Governor of Louisiana.

Quick Burials Necessary

It was the custom in the late eighteen and early nineteenth century to bury a family member on one's property, usually several hundred feet from the house. In Louisiana, with the hot and humid climate most of the year, it was imperative to bury the deceased as soon as possible, usually the next day. The only places that had a municipal cemetery were the large towns or cities. New Orleans had a large cemetery but it was a long journey across the lake by boat. 

When Juan Baptiste Baham died in 1807 his sons decided to bury their father on their own property and certainly not close to the cemetery started by the Parents. They decided to bury their father about one half mile downstream, the same west bank, on Pierre Baham's Spanish grant. They selected a site of high ground on the river bank for the cemetery's site. 

As the years unfolded and Juan Baptiste Baham's sons died, it appears a pact was made to be buried together. The cemetery appears to be only for the five sons and their father. This is appears to be in the glass negatives taken of the cemetery when the Jahncke Shipyard was constructed in 1917. The bodies of the Bahams were disinterred and moved to a cemetery in Tangipahoa Parish.

When Commandant Charles Parent died in 1804, West Florida was still under the control of the Spanish and the adjusted boundaries between the Bahams and Parents was still in force. The West Florida Rebellion in the fall of 1810 started a chain of events that would return the boundary lines of qualified settlers to their original boundary lines. 

After West Florida became under the control of the United States Congress was concerned about the confirmation of land titles and began passing a series of laws. They appointed Land commissioners to carry out these laws. 

From the Pearl River to the Mississippi River it was first James 0. Crosby in 1813, as the United States Land Commissioner in West Florida, and then Charles C. Crosby in 1819. Charles C. Crosby is the one who adjusted the boundary lines of the Baham's claim to its original 1783 Spanish land grant. This was done under the Congressional laws of 1819 and 1822. He was given the authority by Congress to adjust the boundary lines in certain claims, when proof of original ownership was presented. 

The petition of the Bahams, taken by the Land Commissioner in 1819, appeared to be sufficient proof to have their boundary lines adjusted for the full 640 acres allowed by the law. If one is wondering what motivated the Bahams, especially Renez and John Baptiste, to petition the Land Comissioners in Greensburg to adjust the boundary lines between the Parents and their fathers original grant of 1783? 

The answer appears to be obvious! It was David Bannister Morgan who certainly was advising them of their rights under the new land laws as he was now part of their family. 

He had married Mary Constance Baham, daughter of Renez, in 1819 and now was living next to his-father-in law. He was a surveyor with knowledge and experience in surveying both Spanish and American land grants and he most likely kept up with the newly passed Congressional land laws. 

In my opinion it was Davis Bannister Morgan, giving advice to the Bahams that encouraged them to have their boundary lines adjusted in 1819. It could be a coincidence, but starting in 1819, there were burials in the cemetery that were relatives of the new purchasers of lots in the Town of Madisonville and not directly related to the Parent family. 

The Bahams were selling lots in Madisonville and the availability of a cemetery could have influenced their sales. The oldest recorded burial site in the cemetery today is Elizabeth Aydelotte, infant daughter of Joshua Aydelotte and Elizabeth Tabitha Beale Edwards. Joshua was a business man and had purchased quite a few lots in the new town. He opened a store, was a money lender, and built a hotel near the main crossing at the river. 

After 1819, there were burials of Lt. George Merrill and Joshua Aydelotte himself. Many more burials were to take place in the cemetery for the next twenty-five years of various residents of Madisonville, until Charles Parent Jr. would re-gain ownership in 1848. It appears that after John Baptiste Baham Jr. obtained ownership of the land that the cemetery was located on, by the adjustment of the boundary lines through the Congressional act of 1819, that burials  not related to the Parent family soon began. 

The land was now owned by the Bahams, John Baptiste Jr., the son of old Juan Baham dit Gentil himself, to be exact. He or other members of the Baham family  would have given permission for burials. How do we know this? John Baptiste Jr., after gaining  ownership of the land that the cemetery was on, in a roundabout way, to circumvent Louisiana laws, sold the land to a friend, a Captain Prieto in New Orleans. 

Captain Prieto was living next to the Raby family in Fabroug Marigny at the time. He then, two days, later leased it to Baham's lady friend  companion, (common law wife) Marianne Raby. Marianne in a short time, not satisfied with just a lease agreement, purchased the land outright from Captain Prieto. (Was this planned? This was likely done) So  thereafter, she then sold thirteen acres, which included the cemetery, to Eugene Marchand, a friend of  Marianne's brother Antoine. Eugene was also the younger brother of Felicite Marchand, the widow of  Basil Krebs.

Basil Krebs, son of Marianna Chauvin dit Joyeuse, who was widow of Hugo Ernest Krebs and the owner of the Spanish land grant at the mouth of the Tchefuncte River, had married Felicite Marchand of New Orleans in 1799. Felicite's father was a wig maker and she belonged to a very interesting New Orleans family, the Marchands. Her younger brother Eugene, (John Eugene Marchand, born 1768) married Maria Beluche. Marie's brother was none other than Renato Beluche , the pirate and freedom fighter of some  

Renato was a Lieutenant of Jean Laffite, the New Orleans pirate and was with Laffite on many of raids in the Gulf of Mexico. Later, Renato joined the fight for freedom in South America and was one of Simon Bolivar's favorite Admirals. Marianna Chauvin, Widow Krebs, and Felicite's mother-in-law, died December 12, 1811. At the time of their marriage Basil was 35 and Felicite was 38. They never had any children. 

When was the cemetery consecrated? The exact date has not been found, but we know in about a five year period span of time when this occurred. Before 1840 only an occasional Catholic priest would stop in Madisonville to say Mass and baptize. In 1841 Renez Baham and wife Isabelle Milon built a small chapel on the corner of Pine and St. Mary's Street, square 11 lot 6. The visiting priest would use this chapel. 

In September, 1841 the Bahams gave the land and building to Bishop Antoine Blanc of New Orleans. It was shortly thereafter that Renez Baham died on January 23, 1842 in Madisonville. It was sometime between Renez death and when his son John Baptiste bought the land from John Spencer  that the Cemetery was consecrated. In the act of sale the cemetery was referred to as consecrated. 

There is no doubt that the Madisonville Municipal Cemetery is significantly historically important, not  only to Louisiana but nationally. It is not the purpose of this essay to list all the important persons known to be buried in the cemetery, but in fact, there were many, some of local renown and some of  national importance. It should be preserved and placed on The National Register of Historic Places in Louisiana as soon as possible. 

Iris Lulu-Simoneaux Vacante at one of the cemetery's many historic gravesites.

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