Dr. Thomas Bryan Pugh
1853 – 1952
born at Woodlawn Plantation, Napoleonville, Louisiana
Dr. Thomas Bryan Pugh was born and raised on Woodlawn plantation.
His parents, Colonel William Whitmel (W.W.) Pugh (1811 – 1906) and his wife Josephine Nicholls (1820 – 1868), lived at Woodlawn Plantation, “a classical columned, three-stories palace on the bayou,” near Napoleonville, “with 14 lavishly furnished bedrooms,” according to a profile of famous Assumption Parish people.
Dr. Thomas Bryan Pugh was a long-time doctor in Napoleonville. After graduating from the University of Virginia he attended Washington & Lee University, then graduated with a medical degree from Tulane University.
Dr. Pugh practiced medicine in Assumption Parish where he served as health officer and was coroner for two terms. He also served as the mayor of Napoleonville for two terms where he was a vestryman of the Episcopal Church and on the directing board of the Bank of Napoleonville.
Pugh’s father, Col. W.W. Pugh, speaker of the LA House of Representatives, was on the island the weekend of the storm. He recounted that Friday night the water was angry with very high waves and Saturday the marshes were submerged and cattle on the island were pacing and lowering.
Col. Pugh, his wife, and children were washed away from their shelter behind what remained of the Muggah Hotel dining room. They were able to grab the remains of a large cistern.
W.W. Pugh wrote, “A ferocious gust of wind was followed by a tremendous cry of agony. Then darkness and lashing of winds. To the risk of being washed off was added the danger of immediate death from planks hurled through the air in all directions. I witnessed one of the Muggah brothers, who owned the hotel, meet his end in this manner. My wife, Josephine, lifted Thomas, our three-year-old son, over her head. The nurse held up Loula, our baby daughter. Finding the nurse frantic with fear, Josephine took Loula in her arms, charging the nurse to get a firm grip on Thomas’s little hand. We were startled to hear a childish voice ring out over the violent crack of thunder and lightning and the roar of the wind [Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…] It was the last thing we heard before an avalanche of water overtook us. You see, it was the only prayer the little lad knew. Just then a terrific wave rushed over us bearing Loula from Josphine’s arms, while Thomas and his nurse vanished into the sea.”
Thomas Ellis found Col. Pugh, Josephine, and their four children hopeless over the fate of Thomas, whom they had not seen since the incident by the cistern.
After the storm, the Pughs found one of Dr. Beatty’s slaves on the Star who was at the Muggah Hotel when it began to shutter in the storm, who had saved one of Dr. Beatty’s children and Dr. Thomas Bryan Pugh, who was three years old at the time.
The slave had pleaded with Dr. Beatty to follow him to higher ground, and when Beatty refused, he pleaded to take at least one child to safety. Beatty adamantly refused demanding his child to be put down, and that’s when the slave fled the hotel. The entire Beatty family perished, but the slave was able to save a child. During this escape, he had also managed to “pluck Pugh’s three-year-old son, Thomas, from the waves.”
W.W. Pugh reveals that he gave the slave a gold watch, which he later proudly exhibited serving as a Reconstruction Era politician.
“The Pugh family’s status as ‘the best people’ was so well known that there was a popular riddle making the round of the Gulf South – ‘Why is Bayou LaFourche like the aisle of a church?’ Answer: ‘Because there are Pughs on both sides.’
“W.W. Pugh was part of the family consortium who owned ‘Allied Plantations,’ eighteen plantations each with close to 1,000 acres, sprawling across the parishes of Assumption, Terrebonne, and Lafourche. By 1860, the ‘Allied Plantations’ annual income is estimated to have been more than six million dollars annually (in today’s dollars).”