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Southern Love Stories

Romance is not lost in the South, as these
legends will prove.

Romance is part of the South’s cultural fabric. So are legends, as most Southerners can appreciate a well-told story. As Valentine’s Day approaches, we thought it might be appropriate to look at Southern love stories. Here are three for you to enjoy. You’ll have to supply the Kleenex®.

State Park

Above: Views, similar to this one, in Petit Jean State Park are inspiring, as is the legend of Petit Jean. Arkansas Parks and Tourism photo

Below: The parlor at Rosaline Mansion. Rosalie Mansion photo


I will follow you anywhere

The Legend of Petit Jean and how the mountain in Arkansas received its name begins in the 1700s with the story of a young French nobleman, Chavet, who lived during the period of the French exploration of the New World. He requested permission to explore a part of the Louisiana Territory and for a grant to claim part of the land.

Chavet was engaged to be married to a beautiful young girl from Paris, Adrienne Dumont. When told of his plans, she asked that they be married right away so she could accompany him. Thinking of the hardship and danger on the journey, Chavet refused her request, telling her upon his return–if the country was good and safe–they would be married and go to the New World.

Adrienne refused to accept his answer, disguised herself as a cabin boy, and applied to the captain of Chavet’s ship for employment. The sailors called her Petit Jean, which is French for Little John.

The ocean was crossed in early spring; the vessel ascended the Mississippi River to the Arkansas River, to the foot of the mountain. Chavet, Petit Jean, and the sailors spent the summer atop Petit Jean Mountain until fall approached and they began preparations for their voyage back to France. The ship was readied and boarded the evening before departure.

That night, Petit Jean became ill with a sickness that was strange to Chavet and his sailors. It was marked with fever, convulsions, and delirium, until finally, she slipped into a coma. Her condition was so grave at daylight that the departure was delayed. During the illness, Petit Jean’s identity was, of course, discovered. The girl confessed her deception to Chavet and begged his forgiveness. Her final request was to be carried back to the mountaintop and be buried at a spot overlooking the river below. Native Americans made a stretcher out of deerskins and bore her up the mountain. At sundown, she died.

Many years later, a low mound of earth at Petit Jean State Park was found at the point now called Petit Jean’s Grave. Her death, and the legend that followed, is said to give the mountain and the overlook an enchanting quality that draws visitors back.


If it takes forever

In 1847, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote Evangeline as a tragic but fictional account of two lovers, Evangeline and Gabriel, who were separated on their wedding day during the expulsion of the Acadians from Acadie (present-day Nova Scotia, Canada). In 1755, the English Governor of Canada issued an ultimatum to the Acadians to swear allegiance to the British Crown and forsake their Catholic faith or be exiled. They refused and were forced to leave behind everything and be herded onto ships without any regard to family ties.

Upon her arrival in Louisiana, Evangeline learned that Gabriel was in the Attakapas district. She began her journey there, but soon found that Gabriel, in a grief-stricken state, had left the region. It was here that she began a lifelong search for her lost love as she wandered through the American frontier. She eventually gave up her search and joined the Sisters of Mercy in Philadelphia, dedicating her life to the service of others. Years later, she found Gabriel who was on his deathbed and died in her arms. She died soon after.

Longfellow apparently heard the story of Evangeline and Gabriel from Rev. Horace Lorenzo Conolly at a dinner party with Longfellow’s friend Nathaniel Hawthorne. Though Longfellow consulted Thomas C. Haliburton’s Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia, he did not want his poem to be a documentation of historical events. It has become one of the South’s best-known love stories.


Take my daughter–please

Rosalie Mansion in Natchez, Miss., has a connection to a touching love story that involves a mother’s concern and a man’s honor.

Peter and Eliza Little, were a couple thrown together by fate. It seems a dying widow begged Peter, a well-connected man who had befriended her late husband, to care for her daughter, Eliza, who was then only 14 years old and would soon be orphaned.

Peter married Eliza to become her guardian and sent her to school in Europe. Over the years, they developed a deep love for each other, and remained married when Eliza returned to America an educated, sophisticated young lady. Though the couple never had children of their own, Eliza helped found the Natchez Children’s Home, and many of its young charges found a home at Rosalie. Peter and Eliza also raised Peter’s niece after his sister’s death.

By all accounts, Peter and Eliza remained deeply devoted to each other throughout their 45-year marriage. In 1853 at the age of 60, Eliza died of yellow fever. Three years later Peter died, at the age of 74.


Jan/Feb 2014 Issue


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