Gayarré, Charles, 1805-1895Variant names
Charles-Étienne Arthur Gayarré (January 9, 1805 – February 11, 1895) was an American historian, attorney, slaveowner and politician born to a Spanish and French Creole planter family in New Orleans, Louisiana. A Confederate sympathizer and a writer of plays, essays, and novels, Gayarré is chiefly remembered for his histories of Louisiana and his exposé of US Army general James Wilkinson as a Spanish spy.
Born on his grandfather's plantation just outside the city limits of New Orleans (now Audobon Park), Gayarré inherited slaves from this grandfather and remained a slaveholder until emancipation; he believed in the inferiority of African Americans all his life. He was educated at the College d'Orléans and admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1828 and the Louisiana bar in 1829. Gayarré’s first publication, Discours adressé à Législature, en réfutation du rapport de M. Livingston sur l’abolition de la peine de mort (Address to the Legislature in Refutation of the Report of Mr. [Edward] Livingston on the Abolition of the Death Penalty), was issued in pamphlet form by New Orleans printer Benjamin Levy in 1826, and launched Gayarré’s literary career. Essai historique sur la Louisiane, published in 1830, was Gayarré’s first attempt to write Louisiana history; he followed this with Histoire de la Louisiane in 1846–47 and Romance of the History of Louisiana (1848). His publications established him as part of the literary fabric of Louisiana, yet there was a strong political undertone to his writings.
Gayarré’s personal life was dominated by his public service. Before the Civil War he held the following offices: representative of the City of New Orleans to the state legislature in 1830, assistant state attorney general in 1831, and presiding judge of the City Court of New Orleans in 1832. In 1835, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, but was forced to resign before assuming his seat because of chronic bronchial asthma. Governor Isaac Johnson appointed Gayarré secretary of state in 1846, and Governor Joseph Walker reappointed him in 1850. As secretary of state, Gayarré recognized the importance of collecting and preserving Louisiana colonial records, and was instrumental in developing the colonial records collection with the Louisiana Historical Society and the Louisiana State Library.
In 1853 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Like many Americans frustrated with the leading political parties, Gayarré joined the Know-Nothing Party, a nativist party whose anti-immigrant and racial beliefs appealed to him. But Gayarré was a loyal Catholic and, although elected as a delegate to the 1855 national Know-Nothing Party convention, he was refused admission because of his religious beliefs. Gayarré strongly supported slavery and Louisiana’s secession from the Union in 1861. In 1863, at an assembly held at Osyka, Mississippi, he proposed arming slaves for the defense of the Confederacy. Gayarré served as a delegate from Louisiana’s Union Democratic party to the national unity convention at Philadelphia in 1866, and ran unsuccessfully for the U. S. Senate in 1867. From 1873 to 1877, he was a reporter of decisions for the Supreme Court of Louisiana. During the latter legislative term, state voters ratified a new constitution that accelerated the Americanization of the state, destroying a way of life that Gayarré cherished.
In 1859, he and his wife acquired 533 acres in Tangipahoa Parish, ninety miles north of New Orleans. They named it Roncal after the Spanish region that was home to Gayarré’s ancestors. They resided there or in New Orleans until Roncal was sold in 1881, making them permanent residents of New Orleans for the rest of their lives. Gayarré died in New Orleans and is buried at St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans.
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|Acquisition of manuscripts|
|Authors and publishers|
|Lectures and lecturing|
|New Orleans (La.)|
|State Government Official|