Woman of the Century/Myra Clark Gaines

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

GAINES, Mrs. Myra Clark, heiress, born in New Orleans, La., in 1805, and died in that city, 9th January. 1885. She was the daughter of Daniel Clark, a native of SIigo. Ireland. He emigrated from Ireland and settled in New Orleans. In 1796 he inherited a large property from an uncle. He died in New Orleans, 16th August, 1813 and his estate w;is disposed of under his will dated 20th May, 1811, giving the property to his mother, Mary Clark, then living in Germantown, Pa. Then began the singular case which made Mrs. Gaines famous. Daniel Clark was reputed a bachelor, but he had a liaison with Zulime des Granges, a beautiful French woman, during the absence of her supposed husband in Europe. She bore two daughters, one in Philadelphia, Pa., in 1802. and the second in New Orleans, La., in 1805. The second was Myra. She was taken to the home of Colonel Davis, one of Mr. Clark's friends, where she was nursed by Mrs. Harper. In 1812 the girl was taken to Philadelphia with the Davis family, and there she was known as Myra Davis. In 1830 Myra discovered letters that revealed the secret of her birth. In 1832 she became the wife of W. W. Whitney, of New York City. Her husband received from Colonel Davis a letter containing an .account of a will made by Daniel Clark in 1813, shortly before he died, acknowledging Myra as his legitimate daughter and giving her all his estate. Mr. and Mrs. Whitney at once set about to regain the estate, then grown to great proportions. Evidence was produced to prove that such a will had been made, and on 18th February, 1856. the supreme court of Louisiana received the evidence as sufficient, but the lost or stolen will itself was never seen in all the years of the famous case. Then came a difficulty. The Louisiana law forbade a testator to devise to his illegitimate child. Then it was shown that her father had been married to her mother in 1803, in Philadelphia, by a Roman Catholic priest, at a private ceremony. Mrs. Des Granges had learned that her supposed husband was not legally her husband, as he had a living wife. She was therefore free to marry Mr. Clark. After he had made arrangements to acknowledge the marriage, he became suspicious of her fidelity. She was deserted by him. and she afterward was married again. The United States supreme court decided the fact of the marriage to Clark, and thus Myra's legitimacy was established. Her husband died, and Mrs. Whitney, in 1839, was married to Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines, who died in 1849. In 1886 Mrs. Gaines tiled a bill in equity to recover valuable property held by the city of New Orleans, and in December, 1867, she received a favorable decision. In 1S61 the estate was valued at thirty-five-million dollars. Up to 1874 Mrs. Gaines had got possession of six-million dollars. The bulk of the great estate was consumed in litigation. In April, 1877, the probate of Daniel Clark's will was recognized by the United States circuit court, and the city of New Orleans and other defendants were ordered to give account to a master in chancery for all the income derived by them from the property, and their titles were taken from them. An appeal was made, and was unsettled when she died. She showed reat magnanimity in refusing to dispossess four-hundred families occupying her lands. She preferred to obtain judgments against the city, and she refused to sell her claims to those who offered her large sums of money. Her whole life was a battle to Iree her own and her mother's name from stain, and she had the supreme satisfaction of knowing that she had succeeded.