Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mrs. Livingston, I Presume: part 2


So there was Louise D’Avezac de Castera Moreau, 17 or 18 years old, and a sodden refugee on an English Frigate and headed towards Jamaica with a handful of other displaced wealthy women from her family at her side.  

It appears that whatever friends she had made in Jamaica during her three years there were unable or unwilling to help her, because very soon the whole group piled onto a schooner bound for New Orleans. 

The ship was badly over-booked, probably with other refugees, and “the passengers lay in heaps upon the deck” to escape the crushing heat and stench below.  These conditions would have been barely tolerable for the few days the trip should have taken, but unfavorable winds slowed their journey, and Louise and her family found themselves trapped there for much longer—for how long, the Memoir doesn’t say.  Deadly fevers broke out among some of the passengers, and then storms blustered in.  Everyone would have been shoved below decks together, the smell of unwashed bodies, sick passengers, and human waste would have blended together.  Anglaé and the other children crying, the howling of the winds, and the wild creaking and moaning of their vessel would have filled the air as the helpless passengers waited to see whether they would survive their journey. 

For Louise, it had been out of the frying pan and into the fire.


She arrived in New Orleans around 1803 with a sizable collection of "jewels of value"--presumably family and inherited pieces that would now serve as start-up in her new life.  The city had been through Spanish and French hands repeatedly and was now suddenly part of the new United States of America, much to the chagrin of its population.  Ambitious Americans came flooding in, looking to make some money.  

Haitian refugees were also flooding in, and Louise was surrounded by fellow French-speakers, many of whom had toted along their "loyal slaves."  Louise used her jewels to secure a "small and humble dwelling" for she and her sister (what denoted "humble" to Louise after the marble estate of her youth is still in question), complete with "several devoted slaves [that] had followed their broken fortunes."  (Was her old nurse among them?)  And Louise began attending society balls with orange-flower syrup and looking the best she could with no jewels to ornament her slender figure.  

One might be tempted to paint Louise as frivolous for attending the balls, but it is possible she a plan.  As a woman, her earning potential was poor at best.  At one point she ran out of money and worked as a seamstress.  Her best chance to elevate her standard of living was to use her society upbringing to find herself a good (and wealthy) husband.  Without any fortune of her own to offer, it was going to take considerable charm and grace to win one.  At least she still had her youth and beauty at her side (there she is at left, pictured at the age of 42--still looking good!).

And a fortuitous meeting finally presented itself in 1805.  Edward Livingston was a lawyer making a good name for himself at the New Orleans Bar.  Edward came from extremely good breeding in the Livingstons of the New York but he had lost much of his fortune in a scandal during his term as mayor of the city.  Although he had been innocent in the affair, he took responsibility for the misdeeds of his subordinates and sold off much of his property to bay back the city before striking out for New Orleans, where his name was not so tarnished and where he hoped to make a new future for himself.

You could say that the two were in a similar situation.  Both had lost a fortune and were using New Orleans to reinvent themselves.  Of course, Edward still had the support of the well-connected Livingston family behind him and a good earning potential to look forward to--which would have made him quite a juicy catch for Louise.

According to her Memoir, the two shared an instant interest in one another.  Some 21 years Louise's senior, Edward had lost his first wife four years before, and his first two children were ensconced in the Hudson Valley with an elder brother (who had married their aunt).  He was a dashing and probably adventurous youngest child, known to many as "Beau Ned" for his good looks.  Louise was a dazzling 19 year old who had done a lot of living her short life, and she needed someone in a hurry.

The two were married on June 3rd of 1805--supposedly at midnight because Louise's aunt (the one who had accompanied her from Haiti) had just died.  She and her cousin were both getting married that night and "The altar shone with tall-lighted candles; the windows of the chapel were thrown wide open, to admit the soft breezes laden with the perfume of June flowers."

In no time, Louise, her baby sister, her brother Auguste, and even her mother all moved in with Edward in New Orleans and began a new American chronicle in their lives.  Life was looking up.

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