Facts from My Fiction: Bernard Marigny

One of the most colorful characters in New Orleans history appears briefly in Bayou Fire.  At the time my story takes place, Bernard Marigny (1785-1868) is 49 years old and has already parted out the family plantation to create the Faubourg Marigny.  His age doesn’t prevent him from stepping away from a game of dice to sign 18-year-old Evangeline DuPre’s dance card.

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This portrait of Antoine de Marigny hangs in the Cabildo Museum

So, who is this guy? Well, his grandfather was Antoine Jacques Philippe de Marigny, a French nobleman and geographer. His father, Pierre, was a wealthy planter. He passed when Bernard  was 15 years old, leaving him a fortune of some $7 million.  Consider that this was in 1800s dollars; Bernard would have been a billionaire today.

Anyway, Bernard goes off to Paris to finish his education and comes back to New Orleans.  He promptly starts parting out his family plantation to create the Faubourg Marigny, a Creole suburb that was chartered as its own city in 1836 (it was incorporated into New Orleans in 1852).  He gave the streets names of things he liked, such as Frenchmen, Good Children, Desire, and yes, Craps (that street is now called Burgundy) after the dice game (le crapaud) of which he was so fond.

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Portrait of Bernard Marigny

The primary purpose of subdividing the family holdings was to pay off Bernard’s gambling debts.  One could say that Bernard was something of an urban planner; he also had visions of creating a park at Elysian Fields, although that never came to fruition. He also established the Louisiana Jockey Club, with the first horse race run there in 1839.

Bernard was quite a character.  He was twice elected to the New Orleans City Council, and served as President of the Louisiana State Senate.  He mounted an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign as well.  He remained fond of gambling, and eventually lost what was left of the family fortune at cards. He died impoverished and is interred in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.

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