The Gordy Family
The Gordy Family
The Stories

A New Beginning in Louisiana
Charlie L. Gordy

 With the passing of time, we lose the life stories of our ancestors.  Without the aides of saved family bibles, stories that are passed down from each generation, or the pages of diaries, we soon are left alone with our own world, and our own time.  This is an attempt to piece the missing genealogical links of past lives together with history as we know it to create a story of how people possibly lived.  Maybe we can get a glimpse of times long past that affected the Gordy family and their settlement in Louisiana in the early 1800’s.

Tenacity of spirit combined with a sturdy constitution were probably the primary characteristics of the first pioneers to establish a settlement on the banks of Bayou Teche near the turn of the Nineteenth Century.  Known as Carlins’ Settlement to early historians, it was destined to become the first incorporated town in the Parish of St. Mary as well as its governing seat.  It was to become the town of Franklin, Louisiana.
                The primitive splendor of the wilderness must certainly have excited the imaginations of the early settlers of this region in luring them past the security of established cities such as New Orleans to an uncharted country ripe for the molding of a culture all its own.  The challenge was met, and met adequately, by men who persevered during the hardships of travel by land and water, a journey that often compelled them to pull their boats through marshy land when the water level fell too low for navigation.  If the scenery was enchanting, the constant companionship of mosquitoes during certain seasons was not.
                Five years after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the earliest conveyance records show that lots were planned and laid out in 1808 from Wilson to Jackson Streets in Franklin. (1)   It was during this same time period that three unmarried Gordy brothers, Michael, Peter W., and Benjamin, must have come to this area to settle.  The records show that about 1810, Michael, Peter, and Benjamin Gordy were said to have begun the settlement and cultivation of sugar cane on public land on lower Bayou Sale.(2)  This settlement and cultivation gave them a preemption claim to the land.  In 1811, there were only two cabins where the town of Franklin now stands, so the Gordy brothers were some of the earliest settlers in the area.  Like most early settlers, Peter and Michael belonged to the Louisiana Militia during the war of 1812.  Both were listed as privates in Baker’s Regiment, however, there is no mention that they ever saw any action during the war and there was no mention of their brother, Benjamin.(8)
                Michael was more than likely the appointed head of the Gordy brother’s partnership as he was the only member of the family listed as a taxpayer and slave  holder in St. Mary Parish in 1813.  He was listed as head owner of the plantation and four slaves on Bayou Sale.(4)   Other families with plantations and slaves on Bayou Sale at this period of time was Samuel E. Scott and P. W. Roberts (probably Peter William Roberts, the future father-in-law of Michael).  There is also evidence that at some point during this time period, Archibald Smith had land on Bayou Sale.  Records show that on July 11, 1815, Archibald Smith and wife Elizabeth Smith gave consent for their daughter Harriet Smith to marry Peter W. Gordy.3  And on September 2, 1815, Archibald Smith sold to Peter William Roberts a tract of land on both sides of Bayou Sale together with his home and crop of sugar cane at a price of $400.(4)  He moved to St. Landry Parish on Calcasieu Lake.  His land claim was Number 253, Section 36, Township T9S, R9W.  His home on the lake was rumored to have been a place of secret rendezvous for pirates.  Within a few years, Archibald Smith, his wife and some of his family members would embark on a journey to Texas and meet up with Jane Long on Point Bolivar.(10)  Michael Gordy was the next of the three brothers to marry.  He married Sarah Adlie Roberts on April 3, 1816.  She was the daughter of Peter Roberts and  his first wife, Elizabeth Jordan of Bayou Sale.(3)
                        In 1819, Franklin contained fifteen or twenty houses and 120 to 150 inhabitants.  There were about as many plantations as houses within a ten-mile radius around Franklin.  The three Gordy brothers were among the first sugar cane planters in the area that farmed the crop with a very small force of workers.  Down to this time, it was the general impression that a large force was required to make sugar, and the attempt of the Gordy brothers was considered to be doomed a failure.  It led however to a very important result, for the Gordy brothers proved it successful, and several persons of limited means were induced to embark in the business.(7) (12)  The sugar works were of the crudest construction.  The cane was crushed with wooden mills, and the juice was boiled in common salt kettles.  The sugar was very dark colored and badly granulated.  Still the business was profitable.  Many of the plantations were very productive and were making their owners rich, although there is no evidence that the Gordy’s considered themselves in the rich category.  They worked their crops, and reinvested their profits in more land, equipment, cattle, and slaves.  More reasons to suspect that Michael was clearly the manager of the Gordy plantation is that throughout the years, records show that Michael attended various estate auctions and secured in his name, land, equipment, furnishings and tools for the plantation.  He was also mentioned in a number of court records as being the plaintiff in lawsuits representing the collection of debts or accounts in dispute, and in at least one case, he was listed as the respondent of a suit.
                In 1818, Peter Roberts sold Michael Gordy the following slaves:  Sarah (31) and her two children Stephen (4) and Same (2), and Cato.  The price for all was $2,500.85 paid in cash.  Peter Roberts also sold Peter W. Gordy the following slaves:  Pana (male) and Rose (27).  Price was $1,900 paid $600 cash and $1,300 to be paid in three annual installments.(4)   For all the plantations located on Bayou Sale, the bayou was the main route of transportation for the harvested sugar cane crops out to market and for goods coming to the plantations from the Bayou Teche port of Centerville.  The Gordy’s took it a step further and dug a canal from the Gordy Plantation direct to the bay using slave labor.  (Today, the locals still refer to it as the Peter Gordy canal although it is mostly filled in now).  There were two most widely used methods of marketing the cane or molasses.  One method was the planter would sell from his plantation wharf on Bayou Sale to a sugar merchant who bought for northern markets.  Another way was the crop might be sold in the planters sugar  house to a speculator who removed it from the plantation and marketed it at his own expense and risk.  These methods would save the planter the charges for drayage, freight, and commission. 
                Bayou Teche was the very lifeblood of St. Mary Parish for both trade and transportation.  Much travel was done by horseback before the railroad made its appearance, which was not until 1857. then only from New Orleans to Brashear City.  Roads were not good in the parish until the Twentieth Century, therefore, most travel in the parish was by waterway.  By 1820, Franklin was officially declared the parish seat and the first census of St. Mary Parish was conducted.  On December 26, 1820, the last of the Gordy brothers, Benjamin, was given consent by Julius Smith to marry his minor (under age 21) daughter, Phoebe Smith and the marriage took place on January 10, 1821.  Phoebe’s father, Julius, was the lighthouse keeper at the Pointe de Fer lighthouse until he drowned during a storm the summer of 1832.
                In 1822, Benjamin registered their cattle brand. (5)   It was also that year that the three Gordy brothers were joined by two other members of the Gordy family from Worcester County, Maryland.  Peter, Michael, and Benjamin had another brother named William who did not come to Louisiana, but two of his sons followed in the footsteps of their three uncles.  John Collins Gordy and his brother William Quinton Gordy   decided to settle in the Franklin area with their uncles and build a new life patterned after their success.  Now there would be five Gordy families in the area and, over the years, their descendants would eventually migrate to other parts of Louisiana and into Texas.
                For the next several years, the Gordy brothers would continue to prosper with their sugar cane operations, add to their plantation holdings and add to their families.  Their hard work was tempered with recreational activities from time to time.  It was typical that on Sundays, there was the gathering of local planters at the plantation house where discussions of crops, weather, and markets was intermingled with games of cards and dominoes.  Another activity was hunting and fishing which not only served as recreation, but also was a means of putting food on the table.  The shell bank at the mouth of Bayou Sale was a favorite fishing spot and one might see large numbers of buggies, wagons and carts drawn up near it on Saturday afternoons.  If ladies were present on the outing, it was generally the custom to have a fish dinner followed by dancing on the lawn of the nearby picnic grounds.  A good description of such an outing on Bayou Sale was written in the Planters’ Banner, Franklin, La., Thursday, August 9, 1849.
                Another newspaper account tells of the hunting experience of Archibald’s brother, William Smith Gordy.  The Franklin Planters’ Banner article states;
                                                “Mr. William Smith Gordy told us this account of the
                                                perilous situation in which he was placed by an alligator
                                                a few days ago.  Apart from the veracity of Mr. Gordy,
                                                he bears ample evidence on his thigh that the reptile,
                                                though aged, was not destitute of teeth.  While riding
                                                over the plantation with his gun, Mr. Gordy discovered
                                                a fine deer and gave it both barrels, without bringing it
                                                to the ground.  The animal, severely wounded, made for
                                                the swamp.  Leaving his gun and horse on high land, he
                                                pursued the deer, his dog preceding him in the chase,
                                                over took the deer and held it at bay until his masters
                                                arrival.  Mr. Gordy found it standing in two to three
                                                feet of water and quickened his speed with the design of
                                                dispatching it with his knife.  While in the act of bounding
                                                over a log, Mr. Gordy seized the deer by the ear endeavoring
                                                to give it a thrust with his knife.  At this juncture, a hugh
                                                alligator (no doubt disputing to whom the prize belonged)
                                                grasped him by the thigh.  Still maintaining his hold on the
                `                               deer, he instantly made two or three well directed thrusts
                                                at the desperate reptile, which induced it to abandon its
                                                hold and seek safety in retreat.  Mr. Gordy then secured his
                                                venison without further molestation.”

                All of the Gordy’s achievements were gained by a lot of hard work and marred by pain and suffering which were common to those times.  There were the normal hardships of bad weather, economic downturns, and death causing diseases.  Yellow fever was a major cause of disease related death throughout the Gulf Coast from the late 1700’s to the middle 1800’s, before it began to be controlled.  It was probably the “fever” that took the life of Benjamin Gordy on March 13, 1829, then about one year later on March 6, 1830, Peter died.  Burials took place in family plots on the plantation grounds.  Peter’s wife, Harriet had already predeceased him, so Peter’s three sons, William Smith Gordy, Archibald C. Gordy, age 11, and Peter W. Gordy, Jr., all minor children, were now orphans.  The courts appointed Michael Gordy as tutor or guardian to his three nephews.(6) 
                The remainder of the Gordy family continued to work the plantation and to prosper modestly.  By 1842, Michael Gordy and his nephew John C. Gordy (son of Michael’s brother William) and William S. Gordy (son of Michael’s brother Peter W. and  thus the brother of Archibald C), joined other plantation owners in the parish in signing a petition to the United States Congress.  The petition was in regards to protesting tariffs imposed on sugar.(7) 
                Within the next ten years or so, we find that many changes were made within the Gordy family and the plantation life.  John C. Gordy had expanded his interest to include opening one of the earliest hotels in Franklin and becoming active in civic and parish affairs. (11)  By 1847, he had both enlarged and improved his hotel in order to accommodate ladies and families in such a manner to “ensure every comfort”.  John had previously purchased an adjoining lot so that he could construct an addition to the main hotel building and enlarge the dining hall.  He enjoyed a reputation for having one of the finest gardens in the parish, good cows, and excellent stables.  By 1848, a bath  house had been installed and he offered baths of pure cistern water.  Hot baths were priced at Fifty Cents, cold baths were priced at Thirty Seven and One-Half Cents, and showers were Twenty Five Cents.  Other services available at the hotel often included portrait painting and the taking of daguerreotypes, for the itinerant artist and photographers passing through the parish usually set up their businesses at Franklin.(1,9)  He later became a very reputable doctor (12) of the times, and many of his descendants continued to live in the Franklin area well into the Twentieth Century.
                Peter W. Gordy’s son, Archibald C., apparently decided to strike out on his own and start a life in a new area.  He married Esther Ann Callihan in 1846, and traveled as far north as Rapides Parish before the first of his children was born, Mary C. on September 8, 1847.  Archibald C., Jr. was born on August 6, 1849.  By that time, deed records indicate he bought his first piece of land in St. Landry Parish on March 1, 1848, consisting of 162 acres.  On January 11, 1847, Archibald’s uncle Michael who helped raise him and the last of the original Gordy brother’s plantation family died.  Five more children were born to Archibald and Esther Ann, those being Charles Edward, born 17 August 1851; Sarah E., born 17 February 1854; James M., born 5 July 1856; John Peter, born 1 July 1859 and Joseph Callihan, born 3 July 1862.
                There is no indication that Archibald C., ever went back to Franklin unless it was to visit family or attend the funeral of his uncle Michael and that of his brother, William Smith Gordy, who died March 9, 1853.  He either sold out or abandoned whatever interest he had in the old family plantation, and started his own plantation in St. Landry and surrounding parishes consisting of several hundred acres.
                The family plantation at Bayou Sale did continue to operate under the management of William Smith Gordy (apparently a cousin of Archibald), as he is listed in the Louisiana Sugar Censuses 1850-1860.  Several factors caused a decline in the sugar cane business in general and it must have affected the Gordy plantation as well.  The hurricane of August 1856 was most severe and the destruction most complete in the Parish of St. Mary.  It flattened the cane, a number of homes, outbuildings, and sugarhouses.  Just as recovery was being made, the Civil War came to Louisiana.  Early in the war the Confederate State Congress passed an act conscripting white men, with certain exceptions, between the ages of 18 and 35.  Not wishing to strip the black belts of all whites, Congress permitted one white man to remain on each plantation of twenty slaves.  Violent protest against this “Twenty-Negro Law” compelled Congress to revise it to the point that few overseers were exempt, and frequently landowners had to supervise estates in person.  Not only did this leave the Gordy plantation short of overseers, it also meant that some of the young Gordy boys would be called to serve in the Confederate Army.  However, the supreme economic impact of war in the cane country was the disruption of the labor supply.  Although some of the Negroes continued to work the plantations for the owners, many left.  And many of the ones that stayed were not dependable during critical times and left the fields unattended.
                The war also caused a critical shortage of mules.  Mules were lost to both the Union Army and the Confederate Army when they confiscated them for wartime usage.  The planter needed those mules to work their fields and transport their crops.  The shortage of mules plagued sugar planters until the end of the war and beyond.  Also, the severe shortage of seed cane during 1864-1865, crippled the cane industry in the assurance of continuous new crops.  Then there was the aftermath of the war, the recovery from destruction, the re-supply of more costly labor, the acquiring of stock and farm machinery, and finally the dealing with carpetbaggers and political turmoil.  Many plantation owners were forced to sell off their land in smaller plots and to sharecrop their land holdings.  It would be a question as to how long the Gordy plantation could survive.


(1)  Franklin…Through The Years

(2)  Louisiana Historical Quarterly,  Vol 28 #3, July 1945

(8)  War Of 1812: Index of Veterans, compiled by Marion John Bennet & Mrs. Thomas M. McDaniel

(4)  Land records of the Attakapas Districts;    Volume II, Part I

(10)  Historical Vignettes Of Galveston Bay, by   Jean L. Epperson;  pgs. 29-33

(3)   Selected Annotated Abstracts Of St. Mary Parish, LS. ; Marriage Book I, 1811-1829

(7)  Louisiana State Courier, 1984: “Sugar Planters & Manufacturers: 1842 Saint Mary & Saint Martin Parishes, Louisiana.

(12)  Planters’ banner; Franklin, La., Thursday, July 1, 1847.

(4) Land records of the Attakapas Districts;    Volume II, Part I

(5)   Brand Book For Opelousas And Attakapas Districts, 1739-1888. pg. 71

(6)  Annotated Abstracts Of The Successions Of St. Mary Parish, LA. 1811-1834, by Mary Elizabeth Sanders, 1972.

(7)  Louisiana State Courier, 1984:  “Sugar Planters & Manufacturers: 1842 Saint Mary & Saint Martin Parishes, Louisiana. 

(11)  Planters’ Banner; Franklin, La., Thursday, May 27, 1847.

(1,9)  Franklin…Through The Years and Louisiana Historical Quarterly,  Vol 32, #1, Jan 1949.

(12)  Planters’ Banner, Franklin, La.

 

 

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