Gabriel was born in Lyons, France, on Aug. 27, 1722, the son of a wealthy merchant, Pierre de la Claire, and his wife Ludivine Chaufouraux. It’s said that part of the family fortune and the family name came from their long history as cannon makers for the French court, beginning with King Louis IX who died in 1290. (The name Fuselier is said to be derived from fusil, the French word for gun.)
Le Grand Claire, the family estate, was in Vaise, a suburb of Lyons. Its gardens were designed by landscape architect Andre le Notre, who was the chief gardener for King Louis XIV and who is best known for his design of the formal gardens at the Palace of Versailles.
Gabriel had two sisters and two brothers. His older brother, Claude-Pierre, inherited the family fortune when their father died in 1738. The lack of inheritance may have been one of the reasons Gabriel decided to seek his fortune in Louisiana.
He arrived in New Orleans about 1752, and probably was involved in the textile business there. Whether he had family money or made it himself, eight years later he was able to buy from an Attakapas chief named Kinemo a huge piece of land bounded by Bayou Teche on the east and the Vermilion River on the west.
Four years later Gabriel was named the first commandant of the Attakapas post, which is St. Martinville today.
On March 2, 1764, he was married in New Orleans to Jeanne Roman, the daughter of Jacques-Joseph Roman of Grenoble, France, and the sister of Andre Roman, who was Louisiana’s governor for two terms in the 1830s. Two children were born of the marriage, Ludivine, and Agricole.
Jeanne died in France on Feb. 24, 1770, and later that year Gabriel married a second time, to Helene Elisabeth Soileau, daughter of the royal storekeeper in Natchez. Gabriel and Helene had 11 children.
A 1777 census of theAttakapas region shows he owned 900 head of cattle, 50 horses, 30 hogs, and 80 sheep and 31 slaves.
Gabriel wrote his last will and testament in Natchez where his wife’s parents had resided, but he did not die in Louisiana.
According to parish records in Bordeaux: “Sr. Gabriel Fuselier, merchant, native of Lyon, 67 years old, spouse in his first marriage of Miss de Roman and in his second marriage of Miss Soileau. He died in the Hotel of England after receiving the sacraments on October 11, 1789 and was buried the next day in the cemetery in the presence of Sr. Gabrolvie and baptiste Durene, Sacristan.”
According to family accounts, one of the things Gabriel left behind was a plantation he’d built near Grand Coteau about 1800. That property was still in the family at the time of the Civil War, when his heirs were said to have buried $500,000 in gold and silver there.
Federal troops ransacked and burned the plantation, but, according to family lore, they didn’t find the Fuselier treasure.
Nor has anyone yet.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.