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Edmund Pendleton Gaines

GAINES, Edmund Pendleton, soldier, born in Culpepper County, Virginia, 20 March, 1777" died in New Orleans, Louisiana, 6 June, 1849. James Gaines, his father, commanded a company in the Revolutionary war, was a member of the North Carolina legislature, and took part in the convention that ratified the Federal constitution. Edmund early showed a preference for a military life. Having joined the United States army, he was appointed 2d lieutenant of the 6th infantry on 10 January 1799, and in April, 1802, was promoted to 1st lieutenant. He was for many years actively employed on the frontier, and was instrumental in procuring the arrest of Aaron Burr. He was collector of the port of Mobile in 1805, and was promoted to captain in 1807. About 1811 he resigned from the army: intending to become a lawyer, but at the beginning of the war of 1812 returned, and became major on 24 March. He became colonel in 1813, and at Chrysler's Field, on 11 November, covered with his regiment the retreat of the American forces. Later in the same year he was made adjutant general, with the rank of colonel. He was promoted to brigadier-general, 9 March. 1814, and, for gallant conduct in the defence of Fort Erie, in August, 1814, when he was severely wounded, "repelling with great slaughter the attack of a British veteran army superior in number," he was brevetted major-general, and received the thanks of congress, with a gold medal. Similar honor was done him by the states of Virginia, of Tennessee, and of New York. He was appointed, in 1816, one of the commissioners to treat with the Creek Indians. He was in command of the southern military district in 1817, when the Creeks and Seminoles began to commit depredations on the frontiers of Georgia and Alabama, and, having moved against them, was in desperate straits when he was joined by General Jackson, a circumstance which may be regarded as the initiative of those measures which in 1820 added Florida to the United States. In the troubles which arose with the Seminoles in 1836, and which cost General Thompson his life, he was again engaged, and was severely wounded at Ouithlacoochie. When the Mexican war began, some ten years later, he made himself trouble with the government by assuming the liberty of calling out a number of the southern militia without orders, and was tried by court-martial, but not censured. He was a man of simplicity and integrity of character.--His wife, Myra Clark, heiress, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1805; died there, 9 January 1885, is known from the extraordinary lawsuit with which her name is associated. Her father, Daniel Clark, born in Sligo, Ireland, about 1766, emigrated to New Orleans, where he inherited his unele's property in 1799. He was United States consul there before the acquisition of Louisiana, and represented the territory in congress in 1806-'8. He died in New Orleans, 16 August, 1813, and his estate was disposed of under the provisions of a will dated 20 May, 1811, which gave the property to his mother, Mary Clark, who had followed him to the United States, and was living at Germantown, Pennsylvania His business partners, Relf and Chew, were the executors. Clark was reputed a bachelor, but was known to have had a liaison with a young French woman of remarkable beauty, Zulime des Granges, during the absence of her reputed husband in Europe. Two daughters were born of this connection, one at Philadelphia in April, 1802, the other (Myra) in New Orleans in 1805. The latter was taken to the house of Colonel Davis, a friend of Clark's, nursed by a Mrs. Harper, and in 1812 went with Davis's family to reside in Philadelphia, where she passed by the name of Myra Davis. In 1830, Davis, being then in the legislature, sent home for certain papers, and Myra, in searching for them, discovered letters that partially revealed the circumstances of her birth. In 1832 she married W. W. Whitney, of New York, who, in following up the discovery, received from Davis an old letter that contained an account of a will made by Clark in 1813, just before his death, giving all his large estate to Myra and acknowledging her as his legitimate daughter. Whitney and his Wife went to Matanzas, Cuba, saw the writer of the letter, and, after collecting other evidence, instituted suits to recover the estate, which included some of the most valuable property in New Orleans. On the trial of one of these causes, Mrs. Harper testified that, four weeks before his death, Clark showed her the will he had just made in favor of Myra, permitting her to read it from beginning to end, and acknowledged the child's legitimacy. Baron Boisfontaine testified that Clark told him the contents of the will and acknowledged the child. On this and other similar evidence the lost or destroyed will was received by the Supreme Court of Louisiana (18 February, 1856) as the last will of Daniel Clark, though of the document itself no vestige had ever appeared. But by the law of Louisiana a testator cannot make devises to his illegitimate child. It was proved by the testimony of two sisters of Myra's mother, one of whom swore she was present at the ceremony, that Clark privately married her in Philadelphia in 1803, a Catholic priest officiating; she having previously learned that Des Granges, her supposed husband, had a prior wife living, and was therefore not legally her husband. Clark's contemplated acknowledgment of the marriage was said to have been frustrated by suspicions of her fidelity; and, deserted by him, she contracted a third marriage. In another suit the United States Supreme Court decided that the fact of the marriage and legitimacy was established. Mrs. Whitney survived her husband, married General Gaines in 1839, and survived him also. In 1856 she filed in the Supreme Court of the United States a bill in equity to recover valuable real estate then in the possession of the City of New Orleans, and a decision in her favor was rendered at the December term of 1867. The value of the property claimed was estimated in 1861 at $35,000,000, of which Mrs. Gaines had up to 1874 obtained possession of $6,000,000, and numerous actions for ejectment were still in progress. Only a small part of this came into the possession of the claimant, the rest having been swallowed up in the interminable legal proceedings that preceded the final victory. In April, 1877, Judge Billings, of the United States circuit court at New Orleans, rendered a decision in which he recognized the probate of the will of Daniel Clark of 1813. The decree commanded the City of New Orleans and other defendants to account to a master in chancery for all the income from the property during their possession, and deprived them of their titles and of all accumulation there from. The master made a report from which an appeal was taken, and in May, 1883, judgment was again given in favor of Mrs. Gaines for $1,925,667, with $566,707 as interest. From this decision a fresh appeal was taken to the United States Supreme Court in the month of June following, and thus the matter stood at her death. Under a previous decision, Mrs. Gaines could have turned out of their homes over 400 families occupying land and holding titles from the city; but, although greatly in need of money, she preferred obtaining judgment against the City to taking harsh measures. With this view she steadily declined several tempting offers of money from those who would have shown little mercy to the innocent holders of the disputed property. Although wealthy at the time of General Gaines's death, his widow spent her entire fortune in the effort to free her mother's name from stain and secure the millions that were finally decided to be rightfully hers. See Wallace's "Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Supreme Court of the United States," vol. vi.

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