Fortunes Lost and Stolen

By Kia Singleton

The Last Island Hurricane of 1856 is one of the worst storms to hit Louisiana with the impact destroying the whole island and causing over 200 deaths – the majority of the island’s population. Valuables remained scattered on the island, some still in the possession of the rich, powerful vacationers’ or their families’ corpses. Pirates looted anything leftover on the island.

The Times-Picayune article in 1856 stated “During Mr. Richard’s absence from his store, a negro, belonging to the Hon. J.C. Beatty, went to purchase some goods, when the clerk observing that the fellow had in his possession a new watch and chain, felt his curiosity- and perhaps his suspicions – excited, and asked the n- to tell him the time.” It was very uncommon for someone like him to flash valuable items during this time.

The man mentioned in the newspaper article was found and sent to jail where he confessed to having the watch and chain and that he possessed other valuables hidden away. The article did not mention how he originally got the items in his possession. These valuables were found on the people who had died on the island, according to the 1856 Times-Picayune article. He described where the jewelry was stashed – hidden when “on the way from Last Island up the Bayou Boeuf.”

The man had multiple belongings of Mr. Beatty and of others on the island, including: a diamond set, a mosaic set, a coral set, a gold cross and neck chain, a black jet necklace with gold mounting, three hair bracelets, a gold Geneva watch attached to a diamond belt pin, a gold thimble, a locket with hair in it, a breast pin, a small locket with hair, a gentleman’s breast pin, two hundred and ninety dollars in bank bills, and other small items.

A letter from Bayou Boeuf printed in The Picayune on August 21, 1856 said, “… They were seen to drag the corpses from the water, rob them, tearing studs from the shirt bosoms of men and ripping the earrings from the ears of ladies. One was actually seen to push the head of a person repeatedly down into the water, as if trying to take from him the speck of life remaining, previous to robbing him.”

A woman reported from the wreck of the Star that the pirates surrounded the island in tiny boats from their retreats along the bayous. She said one attempted to board the Star, but Captain Smith refused and prevented his entry.

Eight of the looters stood trial aboard the Texas by twelve prominent St. Mary Parish men on August 20th, 1856. The proceedings led to the recovery of Emma Mille’s sister-in-law’s corpse, Mrs. Althea Homer Mille, who they had robbed. Two of the pirates were found guilty and were executed on the western end of the island half an hour before sunrise that day.