The French Connection

When I first read about Caroline Forbes Barnes her name seemed to suggest old money, good manners, and deep roots in American history.  At least two of those assumptions may have been accurate.  In 1860 12-year-old Caroline Forbes Barnes, known as “Carrie” to differentiate her from her mother, Caroline Frances Barnes, lived with her parents, two sisters and a brother in Stowe, Lamoille County, in northern Vermont.  The Barnes household also included a servant, 15-year-old Delia Dewitt, a native of Canada.  A quick gander at the 1860 census finds a number of residents born in Canada who had evidently drifted south of  the border to find work as servants in Stowe.  Carrie’s brother Willis turned 15 when the the Civil War broke out the following year, but still managed to serve long enough with the Vermont Heavy Artillery to emerge from the conflict with the rank of corporal.

In 1870 Carrie Barnes was staying with her older sister Abby Vail and Abby's husband Charles, an attorney in Irasburg, Vermont, only a few miles from Canada.  After Carrie’s father, Henry Eaton Barnes, died in 1877, her mother relocated to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, bringing along Carrie and Mary, the two daughters who remained unmarried.  Caroline and Henry's son Willis Barnes had settled in Iowa and married Sarepta Ellen Brockman in 1876.  According to the 1880 Iowa census, Willis had a positon as express agent in Benton, while, 200 miles away in Cedar Rapids, his 31-year-old sister Carrie taught music, and Mary, 29, was listed as a student.  Once again, there was a servant in the Barnes house to pitch in with family chores, 15-year-old Josie Vanois, who had been born in Iowa to Bohemian parents.  The widow Barnes, her daughters and their servant lived among neighbors who commonly employed immigrants from Bohemia, many of whom had streamed to America in the wake of the Czech revolution of 1848.

A few years later Caroline Forbes Barnes joined the faculty of Washburn College in Topeka.  Founded in 1865 as “an institution of learning, of a high literary and religious character, to be named ‘Lincoln College,’ which shall commemorate the triumph of Liberty over Slavery in our nation, and serve as a memorial of those fallen in defense of their country,” the school swiftly changed its name to acknowledge a generous bequest from the estate of industrialist Ichabod Washburn of Worcester County, Massachusetts.  An item of "Washburn College Notes" in the 17 September 1884 edition of the Topeka Daily Capital called attention to certain returning instructors.

Prof. Lovewell, during the fall term, will conduct classes in physics, general chemistry, natural philosophy, and trigonometry.

Miss Carrie Barnes continues in charge of the musical department, and Miss M. Smith of the department of drawing and painting.

The listing of their names in tandem might not have been by chance, particularly if their colleagues at Washburn were paying attention.  Less than a year later the Daily Capital announced that “Rev. L. Blakesley yesterday married Prof. J. T. Lovewell of Washburn college, and Miss Carrie F. Barnes, who had charge of the musical department of Washburn for two years.  They take a wedding tour through the west.”  A note in the Alma Enterprise, while misspelling the professor’s name as “Lovell” elaborated that the couple "departed the same day on a bridal trip to the Yosemite Valley.”  

Forgetting for a moment the ominous countdown of Carrie’s 37-year-old biological clock, Professor Lovewell may have had his own very practical reasons for seeking a mate at 52, reasons involving a ladder leaning against the side of his house.  For almost a decade Joseph Lovewell was a lonely widower but also a happily solitary scientific tinkerer, after handing over his children to the care of his sister Harriet and her husband Fred Miller, a traveling salesman in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin.  In January 1883 Fred, perhaps having brought the family for a holiday visit, climbed that ladder, tumbled to his death, and upset the family applecart.  Not only had Prof. Joseph Lovewell's children Paul and Bertha been living with the Millers, but so had Fred’s mother and Joseph and Harriet’s father, dear old Nehemiah Lovewell, the grandson of first-cousins John and Vodica Lovewell.

Whether or not the Lovewell/Barnes union was a love-match, it was a merger that produced winners all around.  The professor found a suitable companion, his impressive new house at 1601 College Avenue had a hostess, the children got a mother, and a year after the wedding the family welcomed a brand new addition.  After the death of her own mother in 1886, the girlish nickname “Carrie” was sloughed off in favor of the more dignified “Caroline,” and a baby girl was born to Caroline Forbes Barnes Lovewell on September 19th of that year, a child with black hair, large gray eyes, and a healthy Mediterranean glow.  Was a name already decided, or did the new mom take her daughter’s dark, olive complexion into account before deciding on the French name “Marguerite?”

While she may have been the first Forbes or Barnes or even Lovewell to be called “Marguerite,” the Lovewell girl was not the family’s only Marguerite for very long.  Caroline’s brother Willis and his wife Sarepta lost four infant children before finally gaining some traction with little Flora Lucy in 1888.  Their sixth and final child was Marguerite Barnes, born in 1891.

I have seen no pictures of Marguerite Barnes, or her aunt Caroline Forbes Barnes Lovewell, only a few ratty newspaper halftones of Caroline’s daughter Marguerite Lovewell, the operatic soprano who created a stir in the title role of the operetta “The Moon Maiden,” based on an Asian folktale.  Why was this descendant of venerable New England families an exotic, olive-skinned beauty with a French name?  The most obvious possibility is that the family may have had a long-submerged French heritage which blossomed undeniably with the birth of Marguerite.  Just as the Lovewells had been Puritan dissenters looking for a safe haven in the New World in the 1620’s, some of Marguerite’s forebears may have been Huguenots, French Protestants who had been sending colonists to America to escape religious persecution since 1620.

According to the website of the Huguenot Society of America, the movement, reaching France in the early 1500’s “was quickly embraced by members of the nobility, by the intellectual elite, and by professionals in trades, medicine and crafts.  It was a respectable movement involving the most responsible and accomplished people of France.”  In the beginning, before the political oppression, mass slaughter and flight to the Americas, the Huguenots were protected by a patroness, “whom scholars have called ’the first modern woman, ’” the sister of Francis I, who convinced the king to treat the new faith with compassion.

Her name was Marguerite. 


© Dale Switzer 2023