Surprise Schenectady connection in Louisiana

By Pat Rush
Thursday, April 18, 2013
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The tour had a day off in St. Francisville, Louisiana, a small, charming village on a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River.

Our lodging was a bed and breakfast in the historic district. I overheard the owner describe an annual festive day in June called "The Day the War Stopped." When I mentioned that I was from Schenectady, New York, he said "We have somebody from your town come down here every year for the festival."

I then learned the story. During the Civil War, the battle over control of the Mississippi was intense. A Schenectadian, John Eliot Hart, commanded a gun boat, the USS Albatross, and took part in the shelling and bombardment of Confederate towns along the river, including St. Francisville. (Hart was married to the daughter of Schenectady Mayor Abram Van Voast.)

In 1863, Hart took ill with yellow fever and died on his ship. He had made his last wishes known, to be buried on land in a Masonic service. His officers, under a flag of truce, rowed to the town and were put in touch with local Masons.

A burial service was held at Grace Church, with both Union and Confederate Masons participating.

The war stopped for the burial of Commander Hart. The grave is still there, as is the church, rebuilt later that century. Each summer the burial of the Union naval officer is commemorated with a reenactment of the burial service.

Turns out, a representative of the Masonic lodge to which John Eliot Hart belonged makes the long trip to St. Francisvlle from Schenectady to take part in th e ceremony.

I walked to Grace Church late in the afternoon to look for Hart's grave. I didn't find it, but I wandered through the old cemetery, under ancient oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, thinking about the strangeness of history and of time.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Schenectady resident is Frank Karwowski, a member of St. George's Lodge, the same lodge Commander Hart belonged to in the 19th century.

For more, see the daythewarstopped website.

View all of Pat's entries on her cross-country trip here.

 

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