Saturday, March 21, 2015

Leopold "Leo Paul" Dumas (1884-1966)

This week I chose to write about my paternal great-grandfather Leopold Dumas. He is such a fascinating man because he is born on the cusp of tremendous change.

1. First, Leo is sandwiched between people born into American slavery and those who would never know those particular horrors. Pierre, Leo's father was born into slavery. Leo was not. Whew!

2. Secondly, Leo is also caught between the linguistic turn from Louisiana French to American English. He grew up in a bilingual household. The dual language culture is evident in his name. At times it is the French "Leopold", then other times it is written in English as "Leo Paul".

3. Finally, he is the last ancestor on this line who I have found documentation with the Catholic Church. After Leo, most of the family became Protestant. This was a shock because I never knew this side of my family had Catholic roots.

Leo's Childhood:

Leo was born in the summer of 1884. The exact date has been yet to be determined. I am not sure if he actually knew it because it changed so often in documentation. We can confirm, he was baptized 31 Aug 1884 at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Vacherie, Saint James Parish, Louisiana. 

He was the fourth child of seven, born to Pierre Dumas and Marie Henriette Brown. Similar to my grandmother Julia Jones, by age 16 he is orphaned. The elder two children were young adults and lived on their own. Marie Anastasia, the oldest daughter, took on the responsibility of raising the two youngest children: Jean and Roselius.

Aunt Lise and husband with Leo and Noelie
in 1900 US Census

My great-grandfather and his sister younger Noelie went to the care of their paternal aunt and godmother Lise Dumas and her husband Julien Jefferson. Their roles were reversed as Aunt Lise aged. Lise lived with Leo after she became widowed.

Leopold and family in the 1910 US Census
with Aunt Lise Dumas Jefferson

Making a living:

Leo's WWI draft card
I find it interesting our last name is spelled phonetically without the "s". 

Leo worked on the neighboring sugar plantation. He lived close enough to walk to work from his small home. He worked at the well-known Whitney Plantation in Wallace, Saint John the Baptist, Louisiana. Laboring on a sugar farm was extremely hard work. There were not many options for black men in the rural South.

Marriage Certificate in French of
Leopold Dumas and Laurence Morris
Courtesy of S. Jefferson

Leo's family:

At age 22, Leopold married a 19-year old beauty named Laurence Morris. Though Leopold converted to Protestantism, Laurence remained faithful to the Catholic Church.

They had six children: 


Some of the children became Protestant like their father. Others remained Catholic, like their mother. Laurence passed away on 12 Apr 1936. Shortly thereafter, Leo remarried a younger woman named Mary Smith. Together, they had one child. Leo would bury two wives. Mary would pass away in 1944, leaving him a single father of a little girl who would barely know her mother.

Leopold Dumas I
Grave at Willow Grove Cemetery
Wallace, Saint John the Baptist, Louisiana

Leo's Legacy:

Researching my Pop Leo has been a beautiful experience. He has taught me so much. Despite the struggles and difficulties of his life, he remained strong for his family. He continued to work hard and provide them with the love and support they needed.

He left the Earth richer with his love and generosity. He was a landowner; he was astute regarding the legal matters of owning property, ensuring his heirs were able to inherit. The property he inherited remains within our family to this day. 

Pop Leo taught me to leave something for the next generation. Be a blessing, not a burden. Prayerfully, I will follow in his footsteps.

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