Charles Gayarré

Charles-Étienne Arthur Gayarré (January 9, 1805 – February 11, 1895) was an American historian, attorney, slaveowner and politician born to a Spanish and French Creole planter family in New Orleans, Louisiana. A Confederate sympathizer and a writer of plays, essays, and novels, Gayarré is chiefly remembered for his histories of Louisiana.[1] and his exposé of US Army general James Wilkinson as a Spanish spy.

Charles Gayarré
Charles Gayarré by Jules Lion.png
Secretary of State of Louisiana
In office
GovernorAlexandre Mouton
Isaac Johnson
Joseph M. Walker
Preceded byZenon Ledoux
Succeeded byAndrew Herron
Member of the Louisiana House of Representatives
In office
1830–1831; 1844–1846; 1856–1857
Personal details
Born(1805-01-09)January 9, 1805
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
DiedFebruary 11, 1895(1895-02-11) (aged 90)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Political partyJacksonian (1834–1844)
Democratic (1844–1895)
Spouse(s)Sarah Sullivan
EducationCollege d'Orléans

Early and family lifeEdit

The grandson of Étienne de Boré, New Orlean's first mayor who introduced cultivation of indigo and sugarcane to the area, Charles Gayarré was born at the Boré plantation, which was then outside the city limits of New Orleans. (It has long been incorporated into the city as Audubon Park.) His paternal grandfather, Don Esteban de Gayarre, arrived in the area with Spanish Governor Antonio de Ulloa after France ceded it to Spain, and had been comptroller of the province of Louisiana. His other maternal grandfather was the former colonial treasurer under the French and master of Destrehan Plantation, which was involved in a suppressed slave revolt when Charles was a boy. After studying at the College d'Orléans Gayarré began in 1826 legal studies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

On January 28, 1856, Gayarré married Sarah Anne (Shadie) Sullivan (1820-1914) in Lowndes County, Mississippi. In the 1860 census, he owned about a dozen slaves.[2]


In 1825, Gayarré published a pamphlet criticizing changes that Edward Livingston proposed in the Louisiana Criminal Code, particularly with respect to capital punishment (the fate of nearly 100 recaptured slaves during the 1811 German Coast revolt when he was a child).[3] He then traveled to Philadelphia for his legal studies, and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1829.

In 1830 upon returning to New Orleans, Gayarré was elected a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives, and the leadership asked him to draft an address complimenting the French legislators during the Revolution of 1830. In 1831, after admission to the Louisiana bar, Gayarré became his state's Deputy Attorney General. In 1833 he became presiding judge of the city court of New Orleans. In 1834 he was elected as a Jackson Democrat to the United States Senate. However, he resigned citing health reasons before taking his seat. For the next eight years, Gayarré traveled in Europe and collected historical material from France and Spain. Some of the historical documents that he used were written by his ancestor, Esteban de Gayarré,

In 1844-1845 and in 1856-1857 he was elected again as a Democratic Party member of the state House of Representatives, and from 1845 to 1853 was appointed as Secretary of State of Louisiana. In 1853 he failed to win election to the U.S. Congress as an Independent, but remained active in Louisiana politics as an ally of John Slidell in the "Regular Democratic" movement.

In 1854, following extensive research of the Spanish government archives in Madrid, Gayarré exposed US Army general James Wilkinson as having been "Agent 13", a highly paid spy in the service of the Spanish Empire from 1787 until his death in 1825.

Gayarre lost his fortune of $400,000[4] by supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War.[citation needed] In 1863 Gayarré proposed that slaves be emancipated and armed, provided that France and England recognized the Confederacy (no foreign country recognized it).

After the war, Gayarré published his 3-volume History of Louisiana (with an introduction by George Bancroft) and a biography of Philip II of Spain, but was never elected to any office. He became a reporter of decisions for the Louisiana Supreme Court, but he lived chiefly by his pen. He had a long-standing association with the Louisiana Historical Society, of which he was unpaid President from 1860 to 1888,[5] thus working with former Confederate President Jefferson Davis after his release from federal custody.

Gayarré wrote Histoire de la Louisiane (1847); Romance of the History of Louisiana (1848); Louisiana: its Colonial History and Romance (1851), reprinted in A History of Louisiana; History of Louisiana: the Spanish Domination (1854); Philip II of Spain (1866); and A History of Louisiana (4 vols., 1866), the last collecting and adding to his earlier works in this field. The whole covered the history of Louisiana from its earliest discovery by Europeans to 1861. He wrote also several dramas and romances, the best[why?] of the latter being Fernando de Lemos (1872).

Death and legacyEdit

Gayarre died in New Orleans on February 11, 1895, survived by his widow, and is buried at St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans.[6]


In French:

  • Histoire de la Louisiane (1846)

In English:

  • History
    • Romance of the History of Louisiana (1848)
    • Louisiana: its Colonial History and Romance (1851)
    • Louisiana: its History as a French Colony (1852)
    • History of the Spanish Domination in Louisiana from 1769 to December 1803 (185)
    • The History of Louisiana, reprinting the prior volumes and additional material to 1861 as a final comprehensive edition in 1866 (online here)
    • Philip II of Spain (1866)
  • Novels
    • Fernando de Lemos, Truth and Fiction (1872)
    • Aubert Dubayet (1882)
  • Plays
    • The School for Politics: A Dramatic Novel (1854)
    • Dr. Bluff, a comedy in two acts


  1. ^ Appleton's Cyclopedia vol.III p.619
  2. ^ 1860 U.S. Federal Census, slave schedules for St. Helena, Louisiana show Charles Gayarre as owning six slaves, and the same census results for New Orleans Ward 5 show him owning seven slaves, of whom five were children.
  3. ^ Appleton's cyclopedia
  4. ^ Bush, Robert (Fall 1974). "Charles Gayarre and Grace King: Letters of a Louisiana Friendship". Southern Literary Journal. 7 (1). Retrieved March 22, 2018.
  5. ^ "» LHS Presidents Louisiana Historical Society".
  6. ^ "Charles Etienne Arthur Gayarre (1805-1895) - Find..."

Further readingEdit

  • Klugewicz, Stephen M. "'Unfit for the Age': Charles Gayarré, the Conservative as Satirist", The Imaginative Conservative, 2013.
  • Lang, Herbert H. "Charles Gayarre and the Philosophy of Progress," Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 3, No. 3, Summer, 1962.
  • Phillips, Faye. "To 'Build upon the Foundation': Charles Gayarré's Vision for the Louisiana State Library," Libraries & the Cultural Record, Volume 43, Number 1, 2008.
  • Phillips, Faye. "Writing Louisiana Colonial History in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: Charles Gayarré, Benjamin Franklin French, and the Louisiana Historical Society," Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 49, No. 2, Spring, 2008.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by Secretary of State of Louisiana
Succeeded by