COL. FELIX LABAUVE
[The original article was published in 1903 in Vol. VII, Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, 131-140.]
November 16, 1809, in the little village of Vouziers, France, in the Department of the Ardennes, there was born to Capt. Felix Labauve and Anne Francoise Mengy a son, to whom his father’s name was given.
The father, Felix Labauve, born in 1741, was a retired captain of the French army, who had served his country with distinction in Algiers and in America, being present with Rochambeau at the surrender at Yorktown. He likewise took an active part in the French Revolution and was given a commission as captain by the Directorate, October 1, 1793. In 1806, when captain in the 28th regiment, he was presented with a saber of honor for distinguished services against the Russian general, Suwaroff, at Saint Gotthard’s Pass. An imperial decree making him an officer in the Legion of Honor, signed by the first Napoleon, was among the most cherished possessions of his son, the subject of this sketch, which decree was willed by him to Col. T. W. White, of Hernando, Miss., and is still owned by his family. Among other papers, which were preserved by Col. Felix Labauve, are his father’s commission as captain of Company C in the army of the Directorate, the marriage certificate of his parents, an application of his widowed mother for a pension, in which his father’s services to his country are set forth, and a recommendation for the same signed by various officers, the will of his mother, his own naturalization papers, his license to practice law and letters from his cousin, Bertha Ponsin.
Little is known of his childhood in France. His father died March 11, 1815, and two years later he was sent by his mother, then in straitened circumstances, to her brothers, who were prosperous merchants in Camden, South Carolina. He was reared by these uncles and from them received the clerkly accomplishments which distinguished him through life.
The extent of his scholastic training is not known, but while he probably did not have a collegiate education his conversation and writing showed him to be fairly well grounded in the usages and laws of his adopted language.
In 1835, moved by the desire to carve out his own fortunes in the then undeveloped West, and having received some property from his uncles, he emigrated to Noxubee county, Mississippi, and purchased a farm near Macon. Finding that planting was not to his taste, he sold his property in 1836 and moved to the eastern part of DeSoto county, near the present location of the town of Cockrum. Here he carried on a mercantile business, trading chiefly with the Indians and traveling at times with his goods from village to village. In 1838 he came to Hernando, which was first called Jefferson, the county site of DeSoto county, organized in 1836 by a bill introduced by Senator A. G. McNutt, of Warren county. This town was built on land contributed in part by Edward Orne, and a court house at a cost of $18,000 and a jail at $12,000 was built from the proceeds of the sale of town lots. Hernando became the home of many of the wealthiest and most aristocratic families in North Mississippi, and the remains of many handsome residences tell of its ante-bellum glory. Felix Labauve read law while carrying on his mercantile business and was admitted to the bar, but he was never very actively engaged in the practice. He was an ardent Democrat and took an important part in the political excitement of the time.
He first appeared before the people as a candidate for the State Senate in 1839, but was defeated. In 1843, he was elected to the Lower House from DeSoto County. The following extract from The Phoenix, of which paper he was, in 1841 and 1842, joint owner and editor with John Levins, gives a graphic picture of his stand on the political questions of the day and the esteem in which he was held by his fellow-citizens:
Oct. 14, 1843.
“Oct. 1, 1843.
“Daniel Boone and C. Kyle also decline.
It will be observed that he is here addressed as “Colonel Felix Labauve,” which title he held to his death. how he won this distinction is not know to the writer or any of his acquaintances in Hernando. It was probably given causa honoris by the lavish spirit of republicanism, which scorns to confine her honors to doughty deeds with the sword, but has all worthy sons in every walk of life to kneel before her and dubs them “Captain,” “Colonel,” “General,” “Judge,” by right of freedom of speech and freedom of press, thus vindicating the sovereignty of the people. The following resolutions, introduced February 22, in this session of the Legislature by Felix Labauve and reproduced in the Hernando Free Press, give a fair idea of his position on the subjects of repudiation and Congressional districts:
“Resolved, That it is the natural and constitutional right of the people to dictate, direct, and control through their representatives the expenditures of their government; and that their representatives have not a right to pecuniarily involve the State for baking, bonding or any other gambling speculation.
In 1844 he visited his old home in Camden, South Carolina. The following notes made by Col. Labauve with reference to his trip give some idea of the time required for travel:
“Left DeSoto in July, arrived in Camden in August. Left Camden sometime in September, arrived in New York, October 14.”
There appeared in The Phoenix of April 26, 1845, the following call...:
“Sir, it is the wish of many old and tried Democrats that Col. Felix Labauve will permit his name to go before the people as a candidate for the Legislature at the November election.
“We cheerfully endorse the request of ‘Many Democrats.’ During the past legislative session Col. Labauve as one of the representatives of this county was always to be found at his post. He is, as every many who is acquainted with him knows, a Democrat, true as steel, and clear of alloy as virgin gold.
Col. Labauve accepted the call and announced his candidacy for re-election to the Legislature, but at Samuel Johnson’s mill on June 25 he changed his candidacy from the lower to the upper branch of the Legislature for the district composed of Washington, Bolivar, Sunflower, Issequena, Coahoma, Tunica and DeSoto counties. In commenting on this in an editorial John Lavine says:
“The faithful service he has rendered to the community, his sterling worth, and unwavering adherence to the doctrines promulgated by Jefferson and successfully carried out by Jackson endear him to the Democrats of DeSoto.”
He was elected after considerable opposition by the Know-Nothings, based on his being a Frenchman, as is shown by the following editorial of November 8, 1845:
“Col. Labauve, this long tried and consistent advocate of Democratic principles, is elected beyond doubt State Senator from this district. All the machination of party management and Nativism were used against him, but availed not. The few F.F.V’s that are in this country cannot prevail over the hightened feeling and spirit that animate the hearts of the majority of both contending political parties. We are proud to record the fact that the Whigs of this county repudiated the odious doctrines of Nativism.”
Col. Labauve served in the Senate for four years. In 1853 he was elected clerk of the Circuit Court of DeSoto County. In 1856 he was re-elected and held the office for five years.
Col. Labauve was a pronounced Southern man and took decided grounds for the secession of Mississippi. Though too old for active service, his ardent and warlike spirit would not permit him to remain idle at home. He was frequently with the army and acted as a member of the staffs of the generals of the armies he visited. On one occasion he captured single handed four of the enemy, an account of which is given in these extracts from a Hernando paper:
“DeSoto in the Fight! The following we copy from the Memphis Appeal of Sunday, it speaks for itself: ‘Memphis, July 27, 1861. Editors of the Appeal; will you please give the following a place in your popular and valuable journal? I was attached as an independent skirmisher to the 17th Regiment, Mississippi Volunteers, commanded by Col. W.S. Featherston. The document explains itself and it needs no additonal remarks from me. F. Labauve:
This incident aptly illustrates his fearless and impetuous nature.
Col. Labauve was for some time during this trying period employed as an accountant to bring up the books of the Auditor of the State while Macon was the seat of government, a duty for which he was eminently fit and which he performed with fidelity and efficiency.
After the war he was a member of the Lower House of the Legislature, which met in 1866. Later, though he used all his influence and power for the re-establishment of white supremacy and the overthrow of the carpetbag government, he held no public office except that of Commissioner of the State of Mississippi to the Exposition at Paris in 1877, to which he was appointed by Gov. J. M. Stone. Col. Labauve on his return to his native land found himself a stranger. His mother, Anne Francoise Mengy, had died in 1849; his sister, Marie Antoinette, in 1855. Col. Labauve left the following memoranda with reference to other relations:
“Gustave Ponsin, son of my mother’s half sister died in Paris in 1875; his widow has since married. Bertha Ponsin is living with her at Fere in Ardennes, Aisne, France. She is the only relative that I know at present, May 1, 1877.”
To this he adds with pathetic loneliness, “very remote.” June 12, 1879, he died in his home in Hernando, Miss., surrounded by the friends of his manhood and old age, and now lies just without the cemetery in Hernando on the spot of his own choosing. In death as in life—alone.
In personal appearance Col. Labauve was a typical Frenchman, as is shown by the handsome oil painting of him which hangs in the chancellor’s office of the University of Mississippi. He was medium in stature, erect in carriage, scrupulously neat in dress, a veritable Beau Brummel, with linen ever immaculate, and his blue broadcloth spotless. he was quick in motion, animated in conversation, given to gesticulation and forceful expression, of undoubted courage, every ready to defend his own or his friend’s honor. His life-long friend and the executor of his will, Col. T.W. White, of Hernando, Miss., gives the following estimate of his character:
“Col. Labauve was a man of very pronounced individuality. No one was more tenacious of the right or more ardent in the cause he once espoused. Friendship was to him the pledge of a loyalty to its object which never stopped to count what such loyalty might cost. To his enemies he was unyielding, but just, and in his later years he could count among his firmest friends and warmest admirers those who had once been his political opponents and often his foes. He was brave, he was honest, he was charitable and full of gratitude to all who had ever done him a favor. A foreigner without relatives, he had never married, but he always looked upon the people of DeSoto county where he lived so long as his family. By patient industry, economy, and thrift he had acquired a handsome competency, and after his death it was found that he had made a handsome bequest to a young female relative in France, several gifts to the families of persons who had been his friends when he first came to the county and the remainder to endow scholarships for orphans of the county to which he had been an honor and which had advanced and honored him.”
The will of Col. Labauve, written by his own hand, reads as follows:
FELIX LAVAUVE’S LAST WILL.
I, Felix Labauve, knowing the uncertainty of life do make and publish this my last will and Testament, in the manner following. That is to say:
Its provisions were faithfully carried out by his able executor, Col. T. W. White, one of Mississippi’s more brilliant lawyers and successful men, who was appointed a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Mississippi in 1880, and served until his death in 1889. Up to his death this fund was entirely under his control, and to him honor is due by the University and the State of Mississippi for his wise and able management of this trust fund, as well as his deep interest in the development and betterment of the University. This fund has since then been managed by the chancellor of the University, with the advice and assistance of the trustee from DeSoto county, which county is for this reason continually represented on the board. The following gentlemen have served in this capacity: Thos. W. White, Jr., 1889-1892; Hon. Donald McKenzie, 1892-1895; Hon. E. W. Smith, 1895-1902; Hon. F. C. Holmes, 1902.
[The Felix Labauve Scholarship is still available at the University of Mississippi to male orphans or a son of a widow from DeSoto County and/or other deserving students in Desoto County. It has been codified in the Mississippi Code of 1872, section 37-101-4.]
DeSoto County Coordinator: Tim Harrison
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