Last week, I introduced you to Shreveport, La.’s Oakland Cemetery. I’ve got more stories to share with you about some of its more notable residents.
A Wife and Her Two Husbands (Again)
I found yet another “wife and two husbands” set of markers. But this time, the wife is joined by her mother. Take a look at the four monument below. We have, from left to right, Mary Jane DeCarteret Howell Furman, her second husband, Samuel Furman, her first husband, John Howell, and at the end, Mary’s mother, Eliza Scott Davis.
Note that the two markers on the left are made of stone, while the two on the right are made of white bronze, better known as zinc.
The common denominator of this foursome is Mary Jane DeCarteret Howell Furman. Born in 1822 to Eliza Scott DeCarteret (later to become Davis) and Francis DeCarteret in Louisiana, Mary Jane married John Nelson Howell in May 1837 at age 15. Howell was twice her age and served as mayor of Shreveport in 1844. They had only one child that I am aware of, Francis, in 1841 who appears only on the 1850 U.S. Census then vanishes.
Mary’s mother, Eliza, married Michael Edward Davis sometime after 1822. I’m not sure what became of Francis DeCarteret. Eliza and Michael Davis must have divorced at some point because he remarried to someone else in 1853 in Texas.
John Howell was a landowner who operated a successful grocery business in Shreveport for several years, retiring in the 1870s. He was also president of the board of trustees for Shreveport University, established in 1867.
“We Shall Meet Again”
John Howell died on June 24, 1882 at age 75. His obituary was very short, noting he was one of Shreveport’s oldest residents and one of its wealthiest. His marker is the tallest of the four and made of white bronze. I hope you don’t mind if I indulge my examination of it because what it shares gives you an idea of what Mary Jane, his widow, wanted people to remember about him. I think she certainly wanted his piety to be the focus.
The great thing about white bronze markers is that you could get quite detailed with what you put on the plates. The possibilities were endless.
Then there’s this Bible verse, Psalm 37:23, further highlighting Howell’s faith.
“A Friend to the Friendless”
Mary Jane’s mother, Eliza, died on Aug. 10, 1886 at age 83. She had lived next door to her daughter and son-in-law during the 1870s and with them in the 1880s. Her marker, also of white bronze, is on the far right of the four. While it is smaller than John Howell’s, it also conveys religious themes.
But on the side, we get a glimpse of one of my favorite motifs, the hand of God’s emerging from a cloud and pointing upward. We’re also informed that Eliza was “A Friend To The Friendless” and that she is now facing “A Happier Lot Than Ours”.
Mary Jane married local physician Dr. Samuel Kirkwhite Furman on May 19, 1887. Mary Jane would be Dr. Furman’s fourth wife since the previous three had all passed away. Dr. Furman was the grandson of the Rev. Richard Furman, who founded Furman University in Greenville, S.C.
I found an article about their wedding, which was held at Mary Jane’s Shreveport home. Apparently, the couple had known each other long ago and “had not met for 17 years” before they crossed paths again. The article indicates they would reside in Kentucky, where Dr. Furman was living.
Dr. Furman died on June 13, 1896 in Shreveport after a “long and painful illness” at age 77. His marker is made of stone, not white bronze.
Mary Jane died four years later on Feb. 2, 1900 at age 77. Her marker is probably the least ornate of the four but has some nice draping on the left side. Her obituary reveals what I had already suspected. Mary Jane was a faithful member of Shreveport’s Baptist church and had done a great deal of work to help the community.
The Levy Brothers
As I noted last week, Oakland Cemetery has a Jewish section. It isn’t set apart but blends seemlessly with the other graves. There are 24 Levy memorials for Oakland on Find a Grave. One of them belongs to Capt. Simon Levy, Jr., a native of Niedersbach, Alsace in France born in 1839. He came to America sometime before the 1860s because Simon served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. I don’t know if he actually attained the rank of captain but he was regarded as “Captain Levy” in the community. Such honorary titles (especially “colonel”) were common back in the day.
Simon’s brother, Samuel, was five years older than him. He arrived in Shreveport in 1853 before Simon, and he eventually became mayor. But I’ll get to him shortly.
Simon married Harriette Bodenheimer in 1866 and they settled in Shreveport. They would have three children together. Simon did well. He served as co-founder and president of the Commercial National Bank. He helped found the Shreveport and Gulf divisions of the Kansas City Railroad. In Shreveport, he was proprietor of a liquor distributorship. He was active in civic affairs, holding the rank of president of the Columbia Club and serving as a city trustee.
Simon’s success got my attention because he was of the Jewish faith, something not always welcomed in large cities in those days. But I learned that Shreveport had an established community of 50 to 60 Jewish families by the time the Civil War began. Many owned successful businesses and were active in community affairs like the Levys were. Shreveport would have four Jewish mayors in its history.
“The Grim Reaper Crept In…”
Harriette Levy died suddenly in 1878, only 27 at the time. Simon was left to raise his little ones on his own and did not remarry. He died on March 27, 1898 at age 59. His lengthy obituary, which spoke of him in glowing terms, described how after an illness of several weeks “the grim reaper crept in during the dark hours of night and claimed his own”.
Mayor Samuel Levy
Samuel Levy arrived in Shreveport some years before his brother. He, too, fought in the Confederate Army. His main profession was that of butcher. He and his wife, Louisa, had seven children together.
Like his brother, Samuel had a way with people and belonged to many fraternal organizations. He belonged to the Masons, the Odd Fellows, the A.O.U.W. (Ancient Order of United Workmen), I.O.B.B. (Independent Order of B’nai B’rith), K.S.B. (Kesher Shel Barzel), and the I.O.F.S. (Independent Order of the Free Sons of Judah). It’s a wonder Louisa ever saw him, he was so busy.
In the early 1870s, Samuel was serving Shreveport as the administrator of finance. I’m going to share this bit of history about how he became mayor from the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities:
When the “carpetbagger” Louisiana governor William Pitt Kellogg appointed Dr. Joseph Taylor to the position of Mayor. Levy was allowed to continue in his same position under the new leadership. Taylor and his self appointed leaders of other city departments commenced to operate a notoriously corrupt administration that siphoned funds from city services and left the city in dire financial straits. Local resentment simmered, and reached a breaking point in the summer of 1873.
In August, a controversy erupted over the arrest of a local citizen on dubious charges. Following a violent courtroom debacle in which a friend of the accused threw a large Bible at the mayor’s head, citizens openly demanded Taylor’s resignation, which he tendered on August 8. Governor Kellogg decided to appoint Samuel Levy as the Mayor Pro Tempore until the time of the next election.
The yellow fever epidemic of 1873 descended on the city in the fall of that year. Shreveport would lose 25 percent of its population as over 800 people died from the disease while others left, never to be seen again. Since the Taylor administration had drained Shreveport’s funds, Samuel Levy took the extraordinary step of paying municipal bills out of his own pocket. He held onto his post through December, when elections brought a new mayor to power.
Samuel died on March 4, 1883 at age 47. His obituary was not as long as his younger brother’s but it was effusive with praise for his generosity and kindness to the poor. I’m sure many Shreveport residents remembered his efforts to help the city survive during the 1873 epidemic.
Stay with me for more stories from Shreveport’s Oakland Cemetery in Part III.