Magnolia Cemetery wouldn’t have been possible without the DeLaigle family. It used to be spelled De L’Aigle and you will see it on some of their family monuments. But much of the current family has Anglicized it to DeLaigle, so that’s how I’ll spell it for this blog post.
Born in Attancourt, Haute Marne, France in 1766, Nicolas DeLaigle fled in 1792 during the French Revolution and headed to St. Dominique (Haiti) in the Caribbean. By 1794, he was living in Savannah. Around 1800, Nicolas married widow Marie Marguerite Roullet LaGarde. A native of St. Dominque and of French ancestry, her first husband was Pierre Antoine Jacques LeGarde. Marguerite and Jacques had escaped from St. Dominque with their two daughters on the same ship as Nicolas.
After moving to Augusta and becoming an American citizen in 1803, Nicolas built a sizable fortune as a planter with a 14,000-acre plantation along the Savannah River. in 1808, he established brick yards that furnished Augusta with building bricks for 75 years. In March 1825, Nicolas was among the delegation that welcomed the Marquis de LaFayette to the city, greeting him in French. My own hometown of Fayetteville (in Fayette County, Ga.) was named after the Marquis.
Before Magnolia was established, Augustans were interred in church yards or family plots. The city fathers saw the need for a public cemetery, purchasing a tract of land in 1817, between present day 2nd Street in the cemetery and the North boundary wall, from the Academy of Richmond County for $800.
With this purchase, the cemetery of St. Paul’s Church was closed and City Cemetery burials were begun in 1818. Nicolas donated part of his plantation and brick yard to the city making a total of 60 acres for the cemetery that we know today.
Nicolas died in 1853 and Marguerite died in 1849. Both were buried in the family plot at Magnolia. Their only son, Charles, inherited the family lands and business. Many of his holdings were lost due to the Civil War and three years after he died in 1866, the brickyards were sold.
In researching the DeLaigle family, I discovered that the last legal duel in Augusta took place in 1875. It was fought between Irishman Charles Dawson Tilley and George Radcliffe. The woman they were dueling over was a widow, Mary Clarke DeLaigle.
Mary was the wife of Charles and Martha DeLaigle’s eldest son, attorney Major Louis Nicolas DeLaigle. After Louis died in 1868 at the age of 38, Mary turned their large home on Green Street that she shared with her children into a boarding house. At 34, she was a young widow. One of the boarders was young, handsome Charles Tilley. Rumors stirred by George Ratcliffe were that Charles was having an improper relationship with Mary.
In response, Charles challenged George to a duel at Sand Bar Ferry (a popular dueling site) to defend Mary’s honor on Dec. 16, 1875. A wounded Charles was brought back to the Green Street House where he died the next day. He was only 30 years old. George walked away but was not heard from again. Mary never remarried. After that, duels were declared illegal in Georgia, although a number continued to take place.
In another DeLaigle plot, Mary is buried with her first husband, Louis. But in appreciation for his actions, the family provided a plot for Charles Dawson Tilley.
While roaming about, I found a monument I couldn’t stop circling. The intricacy of the carving was different. The stones, the flowers, all were done with great detail. Whomever had done it went beyond what the average monument maker might do. My photos don’t do it justice.
To my delight, I found a signature on the base indicating it had been carved by Muldoon & Co. of Louisville, Ky. It’s rare to find such markings on a monument most of the time. I later learned Muldoon & Co. was one of the most prominent monument makers in the country at that time.
Michael Muldoon left Ireland around 1850 and came to America to learn the marble-cutting trade. He came to Louisville, Ky. in 1857 and opened his M. Muldoon and Company with George Doyle and French sculptor Charles Bullet. In 1863, they opened a studio and workshop in Carrara, Italy where much of the sculpting was done.
According to a Kentucky Educational Television (KET) program, Michael obtained much of his stone from quarries in Vermont and Tate, Ga. (still a major marble producer today). The firm also had offices in Chicago and Memphis, a rare thing for a monument company at that time.
After the Civil War, Muldoon & Co. made many of the Confederate monuments erected in cities across the South. Created in 1895 and funded by the local United Daughters of the Confederacy, the 70-foot Confederate Monument located on the University of Louisville’s Bellknap campus is one of the best known. In light of recent criticism that such monuments promote racism (I’m not going to weigh in on that here), the monument was dismantled in November 2016 for relocation 40 miles away in Brandenburg, Ky.
I had noticed another monument with similarly noticeable attention to detail and again found the Muldoon mark at its base.
You can find several symbols connected to death on this monument. Fern fronds indicate humility and sincerity. Lilies signify resurrection and majesty. Ivy often means friendship or faithfulness. But the most prominent symbol is at the top, the giant wheat sheaf and sickle represent the harvest when Christians are separated from the chaff. This is taken from Christ’s p\Parable of the wheat field in Matthew 13:25.
Now known as Muldoon Memorials, the company is going strong today. But the memory of Michael Muldoon’s skill can still be seen in the massive Celtic cross he erected at Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery for his beloved wife, Alice, after she died in 1899. You can also find Muldoon monuments in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery and Macon’s Rose Hill Cemetery.
My last story is about the curse of the dead gambler. It starts with Wylly Barron, who managed the gambling at an Augusta hotel. In the 1860s, Wylly was cursed by a losing gambler who reportedly told him, “You have taken everything I have. When you die, may you not have even a grave to shelter you.”
The curse led Wylly to construct (in 1870) a granite mausoleum at Magnolia. His will specified that after his body was placed in the vault, the door be sealed and the key thrown into the Savannah River. When he died 24 years later at age 88, his remains were bricked over inside the vault, the keyhole was sealed, and the key was thrown away.
To this series, I’m featuring some more of the monuments I saw and examples of the wrought iron work gently decaying around the cemetery.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on Augusta’s Magnolia Cemetery. I wanted to write much more but that wouldn’t leave much for you to discover on your own when you visit someday. Because while Augusta will always be known as the home of the Master’s, it should also be remembered because of this beautiful cemetery.