Well Louise DAvezac Moreau Livingston is a woman with a history of her own! She was the wife of the rather dashing youngest son of Margaret Beekman Livingston, Edward. As an adult, she was a New Orleans belle, known as a vibrant woman and an engaging story teller, which is probably how we wound up with the Memoir of Mrs. Edward Livingston (published in 1886 by her grand nephew) in existence.
But her childhood and youth make for a harrowing story, and that is the subject of todays blog.
Many years before her life as a Livingston, Louise was a little girl in the 1780s practicing her dancing steps at a marble estate and plantation in Haiti, then known as St. Domingo. According to the Memoir "A large veranda surrounded the sides, built around a square court or garden, shaded by stately palms. Delicious sea-breezes blew in freely through the commodious apartments." Its stepped terraces lead down to the ocean and looked out over an assortment of kitchen buildings, wash houses, store rooms, and quarters for some 800 slaves.
"She learned to read no one knew how...One day when her mother was at her toilet-table having her hair dressed and powdered, as was then the fashion, the little girl took up a gilt pomatum jar and read aloud the label on it."
She got married. At thirteen, Louise settled down with a retired French military officer. This was young for the time so whatever possessed her family to rush things, I dont know. An eager and precocious child? An anxious father? A lucky chance at a very good marriage? Or did the shaky position of plantation owners in Haiti at that time make it seem safer to send your daughters away early?
But Haiti was already embroiled in what the Memoir refers to as "the horrible tragedy of servile revolt in St. Domingo." In 1791, Toussaint LOuverture had begun what became the most successful slave revolt in the New World, one whose fighting lasted for about ten years. Caribbean slavery has gone down in history as being particularly brutal, with high death rates necessitating a continual import of fresh African workers. Sugar cane in particular required--in addition to the back-breaking work of agriculture--a refining process that was difficult, smelly, and dangerous. As a result, African and mulatto slaves far outnumbered their masters in Haiti, and they used that strength to their advantage. In 1803 and 1804, things came to another violent head.
Very soon, the danger increased beyond the teenager's expectations, and the next piece of the story we hear puts Louise hiding by the seaside in a storm with her grandmother, an aunt, two cousins, and her sister little Anglaé, all of them looking hopefully out at a British frigate, which had offered its help. They waited out the night there, in the dense tropical forest...with breathless anxiety for the ships boat, to come out and rescue them.
This little group of women, probably soaking wet, and toting a very young child were huddled in absolute terror in the dark, while angry slaves from both their and the surrounding plantations were out there killing their former masters. And then they heard footsteps and rattling brush coming towards them. I can imagine everyones heart stopping as they waited to see. Out of dark bounded a joyful dog and one of their former slaves, bringing food to help them through the night.
The slave waited with them through the night, and even boarded the boat with them to go out to the English frigate. A group of rebel slaves caught site of them, vulnerable in the water, and began shoot then. Both Louises grandmother and their enslaved savior were shot and killed. Little Anglaé was shielded from harm by her own grandmother's body.
Who was this enslaved man or woman who died alongside the grandmother? The Memoir didnt even see fit to record this slave's name, in spite of the amazing risk they took to save the D'Avezac women. Perhaps it was a house servant, someone who was personally familiar with the family instead of an agricultural slave who was banished to the heat of the fields or refiniries.
Louise and her aunt and cousins were rowed by the English sailors to the frigate, along with the dead bodies, and hoisted aboard. As the boat picked up speed and sailed for Jamaica, did she turn her back on the destruction of her childhood home? Or did she watch the coastline recede and worry about her mother who still remained there?
The D'Avezac women were headed, along with a wave of St. Domingo refugees, for Jamaica. The island had been her home for three years of Louises life while she was married, and one imagines she would have friends to turn to there. At least she hoped so.
Perched on the deck of the English frigate in the midst of a turquoise Caribbean Sea, Louise had had more life already than many other girls her age. But of course, there was more ahead...