This isn't nearly so formal as the title suggests; all it really amounts to are my working notes on a history of the Fleming Plantation. For the moment this will consist mostly of longish quotes from whatever works I can get my hands on. The process of converting that into a more traditional form will have to wait until I have something worth converting. Please note that the footnotes are mine added for clarification.
The first such 'borrowing' comes from "Historic Jefferson Parish" by Betsy Swanson. Published by Pelican Publishing Company, 1975, Gretna Louisiana. While the entire book is recommended for a useful history of Jefferson Parish, the pertinent part for the Fleming family begins on page 139.
In the deltaic regions of south Louisiana, Indian mounds and middens were utilized in historic times as burial grounds because the high-water table made burials in the swampy soil unsightly. Two of the best examples of this practice in Louisiana are located in Jefferson Parish. The Lafitte Cemetery, at Lafitte, is situated on an Indian shell mound at the southeast corner of the junction of Bayou des Oies and Bayou Barataria. Some of the tombs in this small nineteenth-century cemetery are of interesting shapes and the location on the bank of the bayou is picturesque. According to a baseless but amusing local legend, Jean Lafitte is buried here between John Paul Jones and Napoleon Bonaparte. The Lafitte Cemetery is also know as the Perrin Cemetery as it was owned by the Perrin Family, descendants of Manuel Perrin who is said to have been a relative of Jean Lafitte and one of his chief officers. Manuel Perrin was an early owner of the property in present day Lafitte south of Bayou des Oies.
Perhaps the most valuable landmark of its kind in Louisiana is the Berthoud, or Fleming, Cemetery located on a large Indian mound on the bank of Bayou Barataria in the community of Barataria. It is an archaeological, historic, and scenic site of multiple educational, scientific, and recreational value. Tombs and graves are located on the sides and around the base of a large Indian mound approximately 12 feet high and 50 feet in diameter. A gigantic moss hung oak tree grows from the side of the grassy mound. The cemetery was named after the Berthoud brothers, one of whom was a nineteenth century owner of the Mavis Grove Plantation, within which the mound was located and for which it probably served as a plantation burial ground. The brothers are buried at the top of the mound. An iron fence enclosed their graver markers which read: "William Bakewell Berthoud, born October 17, 1820, died 1888; James Berthoud, born December 18, 1818, died December 13, 1890." They were the sons of Nicholas Berthoud and Eliza Bakewell, sister of Lucy Bakewell Audubon, wife of John James Audubon, the naturalist-artist.
At some time after the death of the Berthouds, the Indian mound began to be used as a cemetery for the Barataria community. Until recent years some funeral processions made their way to the cemetery in boats on the bayou, the coffin, pallbearers, family, and priest in the first boat, followed by other boats containing relatives and friends. While the tombs in the Berthoud Cemetery are not of unusual architectural note, many graves are marked with quaint, traditionally local, memorials. Of particular interest are the homemade, glass-fronted, wooden boxes containing artificial wreaths and flowers, crucifixes, statues and pictures of saints, and mementos of the dead. While personal offerings for the dead are seldom seen in the boxes today, they originally served also as receptacles for trinkets beloved by the dead, children's toys, ornaments such as animal figurines, and jars, bottles and dishes of food or medicine. Some of the crosses and headstones are marble commercial products, but others are homemade varieties of wood or iron, with hand-painted inscriptions; they are interesting examples of folk art. Ground plots are heaped with white clam shells take from the Indian middens along the bank of the bayou. Several are covered with containers for a regional commodity: oil drums, cut in half lengthwise and whitewashed.
Nearly every tomb, cross, and glass-fronted box is whitewashed yearly in preparation for All Saints' Day on November first. In the days preceding the holiday, bayou families gather to paint the tombs, clear the plots of weeds and decorate them with flowers. By November first, the mound is an enchanting and brilliant floral display, the white tombs gleaming beneath prismatic arrays of both artificial and living flowers. Similar treatment is given to the Lafitte Cemetery, the St. Anthony Cemetery, located in Barataria on the west side of Bayou Barataria near the bridge and numerous other small cemeteries that line the bayou. On All Saints' Day, a priest visits each burial ground and blesses the graves. On the vigil of All Souls' Day, candlelight ceremonies are held at the cemeteries. Following an old custom, family groups arrive after dark to illuminate the tombs and graves with numerous candles, pay respects to their ancestors and deceased loved-ones and pray while keeping vigil over the candles that bayou breezes extinguish now and then. During the evening, some families "make the rounds" to a number of cemeteries in Lafitte and Barataria to visit the resting places of their relatives. The Berthoud Cemetery is the loveliest on All Saints' Night. As darkness falls it becomes a mound of flickering lights dimly illuminating multicolored flower arrangements and swaying streamers of Spanish moss.
Next we have some text that is a bit more germane to the plantation itself, not just it's most famous attribute. This begins on page 146.
By the nineteenth century highly productive sugar plantations were located along the bayous. On of the largest of these, know as Mavis Grove Plantation, originally stretched for several leagues1 along Bayou Barataria from the present community of Barataria to present-day Lafitte. A house assumed to be the main house of the plantation, still stands on the bayou near the junction of Bayous Barataria and Villars and near to the Berthoud Cemetery. The building probably dates from the early nineteenth century but it has not retained its original appearance. The gabled roof has the characteristic double pitch of early building in Louisiana, however a wing has been added to the house and the lower floor and front gallery have been enclosed. Its original form, one typically found on the bayous, was probably that of the Creole cottage type raised a full story from the round on brick piers and fronted by a two-level gallery. Across the highway from the house is a large one-story Creole cottage now greatly altered, but also having the double pitched roof with gabled ends, and this was undoubtedly also one of the early plantation buildings. Nearby is a tall brick chimney, the remains of the plantation sugar house. The chimney is now encased in vines presenting, from a distance, the curious aspect of a square tree. On the grounds and near the bayou are a number of large oak trees. The trees, houses, chimney, and Indian mound with the cemetery form together one of the unspoiled and most interesting areas along Bayou Barataria.
In 1812, Thomas Power registered his claim with the United States government to the land on the Mavis Grove side of the bayou, 40 arpents2 in depth and stretching northward for four leagues from Bayou des Oies. It had originally been part of the vast Barataria landholdings of Claude Joseph Villars Dubreuil, Sr., and had passed to his son Claude Joseph Villars Dubreuil, Jr., upon whose death in 1771, it was purchased by his son Joseph Villars. After the latter's death the property was purchased at auction by Jean Louis Trudeau who sold it to Power. The main plantation house, as well as the other cottage, may have been built about 1825 by Louis and Michel Commagere who purchased the plantation from Felicite R. Power and Robert O. Power in that year at a public sheriff's sale. Because of financial failures, the property was liquidated and sold by the Commagere creditors. It was purchased by the Commageres wives, Aimee Fortier and Josephine Power, with their separate funds, following their husbands' bankruptcy, from the syndic of the creditors, Andrew Hodge, in 1827 for $57,000. At this time the plantation was described as having a principal house, hospital, storehouses, negro cabins, sugarhouse, and other dependencies, 60 to 80 head of cattle, and 52 slaves. The portion of the property containing the plantation buildings and stretching 200 arpents on the bayou was auctioned at sheriff's sale in 1841 and Andrew Hodge bid the highest amount, $21,580. At this sale the plantation was described as containing three houses constructed of brick between posts, and infirmary, warehouse, stables, 17 negro cabins, and a "large sugar house built of brick and covered with tiles with two sets of kettles, the draining house can contain 500 hogsheads and a brick building with shingle roof containing the steam engine new and in fine order. The sugar mill and corn mill attached to it are good and of the best English Foundry and Forty Negroes, attached to said Plantation." There were also "eight horses, three mares and their young, twenty five mules, twelve cows, fifty eight head of cattle to sixty wild ones more or less...[and] all the necessary tools for cultivation."
Following the succession of Andrew Hodge in 1857, William Bakewell Berthoud, John Hiddleston, and Louis Volz acquired the 200-arpent plantation. A journal kept by the foreman of Mavis Grove during the year of this transferral of the property is preserved in the Louisiana State Museum. As may have been the case with former owners, Berthoud, Hiddleston, and Volz apparently did not dwell on the plantation. They occasionally traveled by boat from New Orleans, via the Harvey Canal and Bayou Barataria, to assess the state of their agricultural investment. Although many plantations were inhabited for generations by the families that operated them, some plantations were supervised for the absent owners by paid foremen or they were consigned to others to be cultivated on a rental basis. This fact may explain the presence of a rather small structure that has for many years been assumed to be the main house of the Mavis Grove Plantation.
The Mavis Grove journal lists 158 slaves on the plantation in 1857 and 75 mules, each with a name such as: Crowley, Kid, Annie, Maria, Jane, Grace, Frazier, Lady, John, Jimmy, Milly, Peggy, Polly, Nancy, Ben, Sambo, Barney, Elizah, Roxano, Lizzy, Jackson, Spencer, and Gilbert. There were also five horses. The most interesting pages of the journal, which generally deals with the daily activities of the planting and harvesting of crops, concern a flood caused by the Bell Crevasse4 on the Mississippi River. In April of 1858 the waters began to rise in the bayou and all hands on the plantation were engaged in raising the levees about the property and in the operation of a "draining wheel" and they worked until midnight. On 29 April it was recorded that it was a "very tight job to get the levees to the height as every inch of water gives more and more to do." by 3 May the levees were washing away as the water rose 23 1/2 inches above normal in the bayou. By 26 May the water had risen to 47 1/4 inches above normal, the drainage pump had broken, the levees had been breached and the fields were flooded. The journal entry of that day notes that the field hands were "beginning to fail very fast from sore feet and swelled legs being so constantly in the water as they have been for the last six weeks, with the hot sun it is not to be wondered at." On 29 May the hands were pulled back to build a levee around the house and kitchen, which they finished at three o'clock in the morning. On that day the water was 53 inches above the average tide and the next day the stock was put on the Indian mound with a supply of feed. The following day the hands were engaged in "gathering up all floating things." On 4 June the plantation was temporarily abandoned. Stock and people were loaded on a flat boat which was towed by a steamer to Grande Terre. Several such trips were made, the "women, children and old folks" going first. Some hands were left behind to care for the property and the stock that remained on the mound. On 25 June the journal recounts that "for the last 10 days or more there is not the least particle of ground to be seen on the highest levees on any part of the plantation." It was August before the waters began to fall, however the plantation hands that remained during this time were not idle. They cut 850 cypress logs and 100 ash trees. It was 15 October when the plantation was reoccupied and the work began of putting the property back in order, hauling out the trash, whitewashing fences, repairing bridges, making new levees, digging ditches, plowing fields, and repairing the buildings. The waters of the Bell Crevasse had caused total loss of the year's crops of the Mavis Grove Plantation, 613 acres planted in sugarcane and 249 acres planted in corn.
William Bakewell Berthoud later acquired full ownership of the 3,700 acre plantation. In 1860 he had 155 slaves on his establishment, which he housed in 31 dwellings; 10 horses, 50 asses and mules, 10 milch cows, and 60 head of cattle. In that year he produced 3,000 bushels of corn, 400 bushels of potatoes, 650 one thousand pound hogsheads of cane sugar and 42,000 gallons of molasses. The value of the property was then assessed at $60,000.
In 1880 there were still 14 plantations operating in Barataria including Pecan Grove, Christmas, Kenta, Ackbar, Ida, Unity, and Mavis Grove. The Fleming family has owned the Mavis Grove house and surrounding property since 1913
Editor's note: Priscilla Vayda said in a email on Fri 6/30/2006 4:45 PMThe Fleming men actually came to the plantation in 1910. Grandma Fleming, Lou and Winnie came in 1911, according to notes that I have from my father. Betsy Swanson used a couple of incorrect dates in her writing, but otherwise everything else seems correct.
It's interesting to note that some of the material found in one telling is explained in another from a different source. In this case the rest of the story concerning the graves of Lafitte, Bonaparte and Jones in the Perrin cemetery. This time we quote from Lafitte the Pirate by Lyle Saxon. Published in 1930 by the Century Company. The material begins on page 246.
Before leaving the legendary Lafitte, one more story must be considered. It was published in the New Orleans "States" in 1928, on August 19th, August 26th, September 2nd and September 9th. The articles were written by Meigs O. Frost5(father of Madeline Frost Fleming, Priscilla Vayda's mother), and were a series of interviews with Dr. Louis Julian Genella of New Orleans. Let me quote the introductory paragraphs:
Some twenty-five miles south of New Orleans is an ancient burial ground. It lies on the high point of land that juts out...where the Bayou of the Geese flows into Big Barataria Bayou. There, in a tangle of wild rose bushes and tall grass, stands and iron cross.... That cross marks an old, sunken grave. Two other ancient graves are nearby.
Now, for the first time, the story is given to the world that in one of those graves sleep the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte. That in another of those graves sleeps John Paul Jones, the great American admiral of the Revolution. An that in the third grave, beneath the iron cross, rests the man history knows as Jean Lafitte, the buccaneer of Barataria!
More than that. The considered statement is also made that Jean Lafitte, the dashing sea-raider who looted the ships of the Spanish Main, was the cousin of Napoleon Bonaparte; the nephew of John Paul Jones. That Lafitte really did rescue Napoleon from Saint Helena, leaving a substitute, almost a "double" of the conqueror in his place. That Jean Lafitte fought side by side with John Paul Jones in the immortal battle between the British frigate Serapis and America's little Bonhomme Richard, winning the battle with the first breech loading gun in naval history, his own invention.
That it was the same type of gun, planted on the west bank of the Mississippi, with which Jean Lafitte hurled destruction into the British ranks when the Baratarian buccaneer fought side by side with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans, and won from President Madison a pardon for himself and all his men. That Jean Lafitte went to the little Breton village where John Paul Jones died after his service under the Empress Catherine of Russia, and brought the body of his uncle back to Barataria.
Furthermore, that alien bones rest in the tomb of the Hotel des Invalides in Paris, which history gives as Napoleon's last resting place; and in the tomb at the United States Academy at Annapolis, where Admiral John Paul Jones is supposed to sleep…
Fantastic statements. A story that upsets the ordered tale on the pages of history. The historians can fight it out. They have a man to fight. For that astounding story is not fatherless. It is made public after long years of study by Dr. Louis Julian Genella, M.D. of New Orleans.
An interview with Dr. Genella follows; an interview so long that it is continued in newspaper stories for four Sundays. He first tells of his life-long interest in Lafitte, then of finding "an ancient chest of faded documents, written in ink, stored away in the attic of a very distinguished New Orleans family.… The name of that family, I regret, cannot be made public.… They are lineal descendants of a man I give the fictitious name of Anarb de Seville.… He was a leader of Jean Lafitte's buccaneers. The man was Homeric. Gigantic in stature. Always wore gold earrings in his ears and his head was covered with a bright crimson silken handkerchief.…"
Dr. Genella then goes on to tell his story with gusto. Here is a mass of detail; long conversations are quoted. He tells that Jean Lafitte was the illegitimate son of "Jessica Corsica Bonaparte" and "William Paul" brother of John Paul (Jones); that Lafitte was born in Louisiana, but went early in life to France, where he soon became famous as "Jean of St. Malo." That Pierre Lafitte was only his foster-brother, and that Jean took his name. That Joseph Lafitte, another foster-brother was secretary to Joseph Bonaparte. That there were other foster-brothers, Henri and Marc (or Antoine).… That on January 18, 1819, Jean Lafitte did actually reach St. Helena and rescue Napoleon, leaving an imposter in his place; but that Napoleon died at sea, off the coast of Yucatan. Dr. Genella says that Lafitte brought Napoleon's body to Louisiana and buried it beside Goose Bayou. The writer then goes on to tell of the invention of the breech loading cannon, and of how Lafitte really won John Paul Jones's battle for him. Here again we have long, quoted conversations, and we learn somewhat to our surprise, that Lafitte wore on shipboard "a gold band about his head." A crown.
Another installment of Dr. Genella's story deals with Andrew Jackson at New Orleans, and there is a dialogue between Lafitte and Jackson, giving a word-for-word account of the bargain they struck pertaining to the pardon for the Baratarians, and there is an account of Lafitte's part in the Battle of New Orleans, all different from familiar historic record.
The last chapter tells of the end of Jean Lafitte. He fought with a British ship in the Mexican Gulf, was wounded fatally, and before his death gave orders that he be buried on Goose Bayou beside his cousin Napoleon and his uncle Jones. And, concludes Dr. Genella, there he lies —or rather there all three of them lie—in unmarked graves. Above Lafitte's body there rises the iron cross. There is no name upon it.
Dr. Genella says that he cannot produce his proof now because the descendants of the man he calls Anarb de Seville do not wish to have their names linked with such disclosures. He cannot embarrass his friends.
The whole tale is so contrary to all know facts, that historians must demand sure proof before they can accept it. Nothing short of letters by Napoleon written after he left St. Helena, would be acceptable;as the facts of Napoleon's life and death have been so carefully studied by so many men. The John Paul Jones story, too, needs documentary proof.
One cannot help hoping that Dr. Genella can prove his statements. For how interesting they are, and what a swashbuckling fellow Lafitte appears to be. But until such proof is produced, the writer of history must regard Dr. Genella's story as legend, rather than as fact.
I suppose I should have said more of the story rather that the rest of the story! My apologies to Paul Harvey aside here is another version of the legend of Jean Lafitte's grave. This from The Land of Lafitte the Pirate by Ray M. Thompson, with forward by Lyle Saxon. Published by the Jefferson Parish Yearly Review; Copyright 1943. Taken from page 118.
The Legend That Disagrees with History
Some twenty miles south of New Orleans near the town of Lafitte (which until 1912, was known as the town of Barataria) is an ancient burial ground. It lies on a high point of land where the Bayou des Oies flows into Bayou Big Barataria. There, in a tangle of wild rose bushes and tall grass, is an old, sunken grave marked by and iron cross.
Step across the road to the home of Mary Perrin, in whose family plot the grave is located and she will tell you a fantastic story — that here, buried together are Jean Lafitte, John Paul Jones and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Everybody who visits New Orleans is familiar with the Napoleon House, supposedly built to shelter Bonaparte after Dominique You and friends of the Emperor should rescue him from St. Helena. Before the plan could be completed Napoleon died.
The tale of Mary Perrin states that Napoleon was actually rescued from St. Helena by Jean Lafitte who left a double to fool the English; that on the long voyage to New Orleans, Napoleon died at sea and was brought here to be buried in this lonely grave. We are forced to admit that history has never been able to convincingly prove that the actual Napoleon died at St. Helena, but neither does that prove this Louisiana legend.
The same legend also goes on to state that John Paul Jones, bored with peace after his naval career, joined Lafitte and finally died aboard his own privateer. He, too, was brought here to be buried.
Mary Perrin concludes by saying that Jean was actually killed in a fight with a British ship in the Gulf of Mexico. Before dying he had given orders that his body be sent home and placed with his two friends, Napoleon and John Paul Jones.
The grave is there. Mary Perrin is there. The town of Lafitte, just a short distance below on the bayou, is there. It is not hard to believe such a legend because, as you walk along the bayou, you slip back one hundred and fifty years without trying. Civilization has lightly touched this place. The present seems to stand still. The future never catches up. Only the past seems vital and alive. You'll enjoy a trip to the town of Lafitte and the home of Mary Perrin — to hear the legend first hand.
Strolling through this bayou town will, in itself, be an experience. There are no traffic lights — no stop signs — no worries finding a place to park for these people. Main Street is the bayou. Customers, coming to the general store, pull up to the dock instead of the curb.
Here is a part of the country as typically American as Cape Cod or the mountains of Kentucky. Here is a people with a tradition as American as the Puritans or the First Families of Virginia.
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