Friday, January 22, 2010

Myra Clark Gaines & The Longest Court Case

The Famous Case of Myra Clark Gaines by Nolan B. Harmon, 1946, Louisiana State University Press (a review here) which I read a few years ago was brought to mind with the posting of her late husband's (Edmund P. Gaines') gravestone on my blog.

Myra's "famous case" referred to her long, arduous journey through the court system in a quest to inherit her father's estate. Why was her inheritance in dispute? In Louisiana, a state with "forced heirship," Myra Clark had to prove that she was a legitimate child of Daniel Clark and she, by law, would be an heir. Turned out it wasn't quite that simple. There were many complications and obstacles, thus launching the "longest court case."

Myra was raised by Samuel Davis and his wife and did not know that she was Mr. Clark's daughter until she was an adult. Was her mother, Zulime Carriere, still married to Jerome DesGrange when she "married" Daniel Clark? Was Jerome DesGrange already married when he "married" Zulime? Did Clark destroy all evidence of his marriage to Zulime while he was courting Miss Caton? Was Daniel Clark's "Last Will & Testament of 20 May 1811 really the last will or did the 13 July 1813 version really exist? Mr. Clark owned prime New Orleans real estate and greed may have trumped principles when it came to doing the right thing.

Myra Clark, the widow of William W. Whitney, was married to an American hero (General Edmund P. Gaines) and was acquainted with many more. Francis Scott Key played a role in her court case as did Daniel Webster.

Myra's mother, Zulime Carriere, married 1st Jerome DesGrange and later found that her marriage to the "aristocrat" (actually a confectionery owner) was not valid since he was already married to Barbara Orci. Zulime then married Daniel Clark, according to her sister, Sophie Carriere Despau; whether or not that marriage took place was at the crux of Myra's court case. It was thought that the marriage was kept secret for the sake of Mr. Clark's political career. When Zulime learned of Daniel Clark's plan to marry Miss Caton, Zulime felt free to marry James Gardette. Daniel Clark & Zulime Carriere had another daughter, Caroline, though they were not married at the time of her birth.

"A Full Report of The Great Gaines Case," published in 1850 -- full report?! She died in 1885 and the court case was not completed until 1891.

The chronological outline of the case and also some of the involved parties listed here.

See a picture of Myra here and here.

Myra's own estate was contested. Her son, William Whitney, was shot to death by her widower son-in-law, James T. Christmas, in a dispute on 27 June 1881. Her daughter, Rhoda (Whitney) Strother Christmas died in 1878.

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