The J.B.V. Jourdain tomb in St. Louis Cemetery #1
Guests on my walking tours often ask me to recommend books about New Orleans history, and this is a subject I can surely address. One of the great books about New Orleans is The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case by Michael A. Ross. Not only an account of the 1870 kidnapping of a toddler and the investigation and trial that followed, it is an absolutely captivating look at life in New Orleans during the “Radical Reconstruction” era after the Civil War, when Louisiana was still occupied by the Union. It was an incredibly interesting time, when the victorious North found themselves occupying a formerly wealthy city that had a long history of racial mixing, free people of color, and a relatively less crippled economy than the rest of the conquered South. Louisiana was forced to have integrated schools, police departments, and a state legislature, when these concepts of social change had not yet been realized even in northern states. I find this era (between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the end of Reconstruction in 1877) to be a fascinating subject and I hope to one day offer it as one of Lucky Bean Tours’ unique walking tours.
Readers of Ross’s book will be treated to the author’s in-depth research on the Afro-creole lead detective on the kidnapping case, John Baptiste Jourdain. Jourdain, a New Orleans Creole of mixed racial heritage, was a member of the large New Orleans community of free people of color (gens de couleur libres) before the Civil war, and during the post-war reconstruction era rose to the rank of detective in the New Orleans Police Department. The assignment of a black lead detective on such a prominent case drew international attention and after the case was over, Jourdain went on to be a member of the Louisiana Unification Movement and to serve on the Louisiana Legislature. After Reconstruction, Jourdain’s life changed quite a bit, and in 1888 he died in a startling manner that you will have to read the book to learn.
On a recent walking tour in St. Louis Cemetery #1, my fellow explorers and I came upon the recently-renovated tomb of J.B.V. Jourdain. J.B.V. was John Baptiste’s father, and, as is the tradition in our endlessly interesting “cities of the dead,” several members of the Jourdain family are interred in the same tomb. I do not wish to give away any surprises from The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case, but I will tell you that the tomb itself is at the center of one of the many twists and coincidences in the story.
What a delight to find the tomb and be able to include the story of John Baptiste Jourdain! Further research indicates that the tomb may have been restored by the Baquet family of New Orleans musical and culinary fame, who holds the title to the tomb.
Intriguing? I hope so. So here is your task: read The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case by Michael A. Ross, then contact us to take you on a St. Louis Cemetery #1 tour, and be sure to ask to see the Jourdain tomb. Afterwards, eat at Lil’ Dizzy’s, Wayne Baquet’s fantastic restaurant on Esplanade avenue (one of my favorite gumbos in the city). In the back of the restaurant hangs an enlarged copy of a petition presented to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, urging him to grant black men the right to vote. Among the signatures of New Orleans most forward-thinking men are those of John Baptiste Jourdain and his white father, J.B.V.