If you belong to a lineage society, such as the Daughters of the American Revolution or the Society of Mayflower Descendants, you have proved your direct descent from a soldier or patriot on the one hand, or a Pilgrim passenger on the other. Other groups celebrate your French or Irish heritage, or perhaps even your ancestor’s occupation.
Here in Maine, both the DAR and Mayflower have annual meetings where guest speakers sometimes broaden our northern view of historic events.
Enter Bonnie Pepper Cook, state regent of the DAR in Louisiana and recent guest of the Maine DAR fall meeting in Saco. She might have talked about losing her home to Hurricane Katrina, but she didn’t. She could have related her experiences as the first woman lieutenant, and then captain, in the St. Bernard’s Parish Sheriff’s Office, but she didn’t.
Rather, Cook held us spellbound about what brings her to help commemorate a certain historic event every Jan. 8, the day in 1815 when Andrew Jackson’s forces including sharpshooters, Indians and free men of color conquered the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
It’s true that the truce for the War of 1812 already had been signed in December, but word had not yet reached either side at the Plains of Chalmette, less than seven miles from New Orleans. Indians in a nearby village convinced the British that the Americans waiting to fight them were far more numerous than they actually were, so many turned back.
Jackson urged his troops to wait for the fog to lift that they might better see those they must vanquish, and so they did. Those playing a part in the historic action included Cook’s own soldier ancestors; Gov. C.C. Claiborne, forefather to former U.S. Sen. Lindy Boggs; even pirate Jean Lafitte.
The British, Cook reminded us, did not recognize the Louisiana Purchase, so the battle did more than end the war.
“At the Battle of New Orleans, we won a nation,” said Cook, a former state president of the National Society United States Daughters of 1812.
Only a handful of soldiers from 1812 are buried at Chalmette National Cemetery, but the burial listings are well worth a look at http://www.nps.gov/jela/upload/Chalmette-National-Cemetery-headstone-and-burial-listings-by-War.pdf.
The 15,000 headstones there represent Union soldiers who died in the Civil War, veterans of the Spanish-American War, veterans of World War I and World War II, and veterans of the Vietnam War.
Mainers know well that in 1755 the British deported many Acadians, people of French descent who lived in what is now Nova Scotia. Their descendants can be found in many Southern states, including Louisiana. Among their names are Theriault, Cyr and Leblanc.
French-Canadians, with roots in Quebec, may have found other reasons to take up residence along the Mississippi. These include a branch of the Sauciers. The Chalmette burial listings list Civil War soldier Randolph Saucier, who died on April 17, 1865. He was a member of the New Orleans Volunteers.
Maine Maritime Museum in Bath has an exhibit open through Oct. 12, “Subdue, Cease, Take,” Maritime Maine in the Unwelcome Interruption of the War of 1812. The John Paul Jones House in Portsmouth, N.H., has an exhibit through Oct. 31 on the War of 1812.
Maine DAR Regent Virginia Spiller of York reminds us that Mainer Alan Taylor is the author of “The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels & Indian Allies.” More books can be found at ursus.maine.edu.
This year is the bicentennial of the War of 1812, but commemorations will continue through 2015. Bonnie Pepper Cook already has invited representatives of Great Britain to attend the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans at Chalmette in 2015.
Cook has received many honors through the years, from the American Red Cross to numerous community organizations. She spearheaded the raising of $100,000 for a Veterans Monument in St. Bernard Parish.
What a treat it was to meet one of Louisiana’s outstanding assets.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.