While this next story is not our own, having been told us by a society honoring The Beloved Margaret Haughery of New Orleans, it is certainly a story that we are proud to be able to share with You here!
Meet Mary Palmyre Emmanuella Robinson, one of Margaret's orphans.
Little has been written about any of the thousands of orphans who benefited from Margaret's golden heart. Some carried only a given name and approximate age when they were given up. Others, not even that. Orphans were to be found wandering the streets after the latest Yellow Fever epidemic or left on the doorsteps of churches, true "foundlings" in every respect.
As you will learn from Palmyre's story, fate and circumstance are intertwined with history. Even in the best and most privileged of families, when tragedy compounds tragedy, the unthinkable can happen. This is one orphan’s story, pieced together from family history, census records, and court documents. Certainly, it is not the classic orphan story because of her privileged background and numerous relatives. Yet it is the story of abandonment set against the chaos of the Civil War and during a time when the city’s orphanages were overflowing with children left behind.
You would never know from the handsome picture in the rosewood frame that Palmyre Robinson grew up in an orphanage. She wears a sophisticated, if daring, dress that appears almost like a robe with bold stripes and the fashionably intricate sleeves of the day. Around her neck is a velvet ribbon with a lavalier attached. Her left hand is folded over her right to better display the large band on her ring finger. The young woman in the photo appears poised and pensive. Though no hint of a smile can be found on her face, it is believed that this picture was taken at about the time of her wedding in 1881 when Palmyre was 28 years old.
The family history recounts the story of a female ancestor who grew up in an orphanage and entered the novitiate before she changed her mind and decided to marry. The Ursuline nuns were mentioned as part of the story but that was the extent of the information passed down to Palmyre’s descendents. The photograph in the rosewood frame did not survive Hurricane Katrina but fortunately this picture of the photo did.
Palmyre Robinson was born at sea about 1853, coming or going to who knows where. That information, gleaned from a census record, and provided by her daughter Clementine in the 1930's gives some indication of the star-crossed life Palmyre was to lead. Her mother Merced died in May of 1860, her grandfather Carlo Mansoni only a month later.
Merced Mansoni Robinson had been born in Mobile, AL, the daughter of Merced De Soto and Carlo Mansoni of Livorno, Italy. Merced married Joseph K. Robinson of Baltimore about 1846; his father was a General in the Maryland Militia and started the first lending library in Baltimore.
While in Mobile, the politically-connected Mansoni had been appointed Consul for Tuscany for the Port of Mobile. He owned land and engaged in farming as well as commerce. Sometime in the late 1840's Mansoni moved his family to New Orleans where he was appointed Consul of Tuscany for the Port of New Orleans in 1846 and became Secretary of the Crescent Mutual Insurance Company as well as Secretary and Treasurer of the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce. With Albino Barelli, also an Italian immigrant from Como, Italy and Consul to the Two Sicilies, Mansoni founded the first Italian Benevolent Society in New Orleans and built the stunning Society tomb of marble shipped from Italy and constructed at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in 1857 with 24 vaults.
The marriage between Merced Mansoni and J. K. Robinson was not a happy one. Court papers from December 1853 show a petition for the appointment of Carlo Mansoni as under Tudor (or guardian) for his grand daughter. At that time Palmyre was about 10 months old. An earlier court document sought a legal separation between Merced and Joseph Robinson and details mental and physical abuse on the part of Joseph Robinson toward his wife.
For most of her married life Merced lived with her parents where occasional visits from her estranged husband were marked by violent altercations and detailed in her request for Separation.
In May 1860 Merced died of “general debility,” leaving the seven-year-old Palmyre in the care of her father, brothers and sister Odiele. Carlo Mansoni quickly went back to court seeking to be appointed Tudor to his grand daughter and named Robert Jump, a family friend, as under Tudor. Less than two months after Merced’s death, Carlo Mansoni was dead and buried in the Italian Benevolent Society Tomb he had helped build. His eldest son Charles applied for tutorship of Palmyre with Robert Jump named under Tudor.
The start of the Civil War in 1861 found Charles enlisting in the Zouvres and Odiele marrying Ernest Vidal that September. After her sister’s death, Odiele would have been the primary caretaker for Palmyre, as is mentioned in the court papers, and it can be assumed that the child lived with the Vidal’s after Odiele’s marriage.
No doubt Ernest Vidal also went off to war but there are no records found that explain what happened to Odiele. Robert Jump, a native of Liverpool and Palmyre’s under Tudor, joined the British Guard Battalion of the Confederate Army. He can be found in the 1870 census, age 42, living in Mobile, AL with his wife and four children and working as a bookkeeper.
After the war Charles Mansoni quickly married and resumed life in Virginia. He had spent much of the war in hospitals and his health declined; he died in 1872 leaving a wife and several children.
Palmyre’s father Joseph Robinson joined the war effort too. The alcoholism that fueled his rages no doubt had profound consequences on every aspect of his life. His name rarely appears in the City Directories and he cannot be found in census records for 1860 or 1870. His obituary appeared in the Times Picayune November 20, 1878, noting he was the second son of the late General Robinson of Baltimore.
Palmyre’s aunt and caretaker Odile Mansoni Vidal probably died during the Civil War. It is believed that during this time of turmoil Palmyre was turned over to one of Margaret’s orphanages. Her guardians Charles Mansoni and Robert Jump were away at war and her father had been out of the picture since she was an infant. Yet there was the Robinson family in Baltimore and relatives in Italy.
At least three times during her young life, the family had gone to court to secure guardianship for Palmyre. But the subsequent deaths of her mother, grandfather and aunt changed the course of Palmyre’s life forever.
Her uncle Charles Mansoni never returned for Palmyre; nor did he send for her to live with him and his family in Virginia. Robert Jump, the family friend and another guardian according to court records, moved to Mobile and perhaps forgot about his duty to the young girl. The Robinson family in New Orleans and Baltimore also did nothing to help this motherless child.
Palmyre was to grow up in an orphanage. It is not until the 1870 census that we find her again, living at St. Elizabeth’s House of Industry on Napoleon Avenue. She was then 17 years old and would soon leave there to make her way in the world. Run by the Sisters of Charity and supported by Margaret, St. Elizabeth’s was a place for older orphan girls, a place where young ladies could learn to sew and keep house in preparation for finding a job when they reached 18.
A year before her marriage, we find Palmyre again in the 1880 census. She is living with the Willet family and working as a servant. Of the family’s oral history which recalls the Ursulines and Palmyre entering the novitiate, there are no records thus far found. But it is entirely likely that Palmyre could have chosen this path only to be dissuaded by the appearance of one Francois Faucheux whom she married in 1881. Whether Francois spirited Palmyre away from the convent, as the family history tells it, is unknown but everything else passed down about this ancestor has been verified.
Palmyre married Francois Faucheux in October 1881 at the Church of the Annunciation and settled in St. John the Baptist Parish. A year later, her daughter Clementine Mary Palmyre Faucheux was born in Wallace, LA. It is believed Palmyre died shortly after the birth of Clementine though no records of her death have been found. Clementine was not raised by her father; she was sent to New Orleans to live with a Faucheux cousin’s family. There she grew up, another motherless daughter, whose father was not a part of her everyday life.
On his deathbed, Clementine’s father wrote her a letter in French apologizing for giving her up and asking for forgiveness. Though she never knew her mother, one wonders if Clementine could relate to the parallels between her own life and that of her mother’s. What she knew of her mother Palmyre’s life – the Consul General, the Orphanage, and a stay at the Novitiate—would have been told to her by her father.
There was a photograph, relatives remember, of Clementine holding the framed picture of her mother. It was all she had of this woman who became lost during the Civil War and grew up one of Margaret’s Orphans.
Mary Palmyre Emmanuella Robinson, the serious, elegantly-dressed young woman staring out of the rosewood frame, had been abandoned by her father, relatives and guardians during a time of turmoil and upheaval. The city’s orphanages became crowded again during those Civil War years and perhaps there are many stories like this one.
Palmyre was one of those left behind. Fate, circumstance, and the golden heart of Margaret Haughery would be her legacy.