Julien de Lallande Poydras

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Julien de Lallande Poydras (April 3, 1740 – June 14, 1824) was a French-American merchant, planter, financier, poet, educator and political leader who served as Delegate from the Territory of Orleans to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was a catalyst in the promotion of Louisiana statehood and helped draft the state's first constitution.

He was born in Rezé (near Nantes), Pays-de-la-Loire, France. He served in the French Navy, and was captured by the British in 1760 and taken to England. He escaped on board a West Indian merchantman to Saint-Domingue, from which he emigrated to Louisiana in 1768.

Poydras was a pioneer businessman of Louisiana, trading first as an itinerant merchant before establishing stores in his domicile of Pointe Coupee. He invested in real estate, buying and selling plantations, and retaining some major properties for the cultivation of cotton and sugar cane. He built a number of structures in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including North Bend plantation home on False River.

Poydras wrote the first poetry published in Louisiana in 1779, in honor of Don Bernardo de Galvez' victory over British troops at the Battle of Baton Rouge, popularly said to be the only battle of the American Revolution fought outside the Thirteen Colonies.

Poydras' reputation was that of an especially indulgent slaveholder. Yet, while on business in Philadelphia in 1795, a major slave revolt began on his principal plantation on the Mississippi River, spreading to several other area plantations. The conspirators, who evidence shows to have been urged on by white Jacobin-minded immigrants, were quickly apprehended and several were executed. Ever magnanimous, Poydras willed that his slaves and their offspring be freed 25 years after his death, and all to be provided with annuities in the meantime. Though his heirs supported his wishes, the time of the anticipated emancipation coincided with the growing Abolitionist Movement. Fearful of its consequences, the Louisiana legislature ruled against any manumission, and Poydras' slaves remained enslaved until Federal troops entered Pointe Coupee Parish in connection with the Siege of Port Hudson in 1863 -- an additional 14 years.

Poydras served Louisiana first in the U.S. House of Representatives and subsequently in the state Senate. He served in a number of community offices in Pointe Coupee, including the post of civil commandant, justice of the peace, and church warden.[1]

Among his philanthropic works during his lifetime, Julien Poydras endowed founded the Poydras Asylum in New Orleans, originally a home for elderly and indigent females but now accommodating persons of both sexes.

After a long and active life, Julien Poydras died on his residence plantation in Pointe Coupee, Louisiana. He was originally interred in Old St. Francis Cemetery. Then his remains were reinterred on the grounds of the Poydras School in New Roads, Louisiana in 1891, when the old cemetery caved into the Mississippi River.

OBITUARY of Julien Poydras 1824 , on the 25th of June, at Point Coupee, Louisiana; JULIEN POYDRAS, esq. Mr. P. was a man of very large fortune, and magnificent disposition. He was the first Delegate in Congress, from the territory of Orleans. The act, which no doubt will do most honour to his memory, is the foundation of the Female Orphan Asylum, to which he devoted £100,000. Long after many celebrated names shall have been sunk in oblivion, the name of Julien Poydras will be remembered by the innocent creatures who, by his wise providence and humanity, shall have been sheltered against the misfortune and danger which result from misery, for a weak defenseless sex. By his will he left for a college at Pointe Coupee, 20,000 dollars. For marriage portions to poor girls of said parish, 30,000 dollars. To each of his god-sons and goddaughters, 5,000 dollars. For marriage portions to poor girls of the parish of West Baton Rouge, 30,000 dollars. To the Charity Hospital of New Orleans, his house on the Levee, between St. Louis and Conti streets, and his house in Bourbon street. To the Poydras Female Asylum, all his houses in Poydras street, and on the Batture. The remainder of his fortune goes to his family with the exception of some legacies to his friends.[2] In Pointe Coupee the legacy has been diverted to educational purposes, but in West Baton Rouge it continues in its original use. Poydras himself was a bachelor. It is said that, when he came to Louisiana, he owned little more than the pack on his back and, as the girl he loved was too poor to furnish a dowry, it was impossible for them to marry.[3]

One of Julien Poydras' most unusual bequests was that of dowries for indigent brides in Point Coupee and West Baton Rouge Parishes. Legend attributes his lifelong single status to the inability of his fiancée's family to provide the usual dowry in order for them to marry. Though the dowry fund in Pointe Coupee Parish was combined with the educational fund of that parish, the dowries continue to be issued on annual basis in West Baton Rouge Parish, each year's brides receiving an equal share of the interest accrued on the principal during the year.

One of the main streets of the New Orleans Central Business District is named Poydras Street in honor of Julien Poydras, as is an elegant residential thoroughfare in New Roads, Louisiana. A succession of New Roads Schools were named for the philanthropist: Poydras College, Poydras School of New Roads, Poydras Academy and Poydras High School. The latter, built in 1924, is now home to the Julien Poydras Museum and Cultural Center,. a project of the Pointe Coupee Parish Historical Society.[4] There is also a town in St. Bernard Parish called Poydras.

As is the case with many famous persons, much of what was printed concerning Julien Poydras for nearly two centuries has proven, upon scholarly examination, to be legendary at best. An exhaustive search of primary source materials by one of Louisiana's most prolific historians and authors, Brian J. Costello, resulted in the publication of The Life Family and Legacy of Julien Poydras in 2001. It remains the principal scholarly work on Poydras in the 21st century.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Costello, Brian J. The Life, Family and Legacy of Julien Poydras. Baton Rouge: Franklin Press, 2001.
  2. ^ History of Louisiana.
  3. ^ Louisiana Writers Project. Louisiana: a Guide to the State. New York: Hastings House, 1941.
  4. ^ Costello, Brian J. The Life, Family and Legacy of Julien Poydras. Baton Rouge: Franklin Press, 2001.

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Daniel Clark
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Orleans Territory

March 4, 1809 - March 3, 1811
Succeeded by
None