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Of all the mysteries that surround the life (and death) of New Orleans' voodoo queen Marie Laveau, one in particular has puzzled both scholars and fans for more than a century. That is, whatever happened to her husband, Jacques Paris?
Laveau, a free person of color, was born in the French Quarter in 1801. She was just 18 years old when she married cabinet-maker Jacques Paris, another free person of color from Haiti, at St. Louis Cathedral.
Though it's widely believed that the couple never had children, records from St. Louis Cathedral reportedly show entries for the baptism of two daughters: Marie Angelie and Felicite. While there is no official documentation Jacques' death, Felicite's baptismal record from 1824 states that he was deceased.
After that, Jacques, Marie Angelie, and Felicite essentially disappear, both from Laveau's life and from history.
What we do know is that Laveau quickly moved on with a wealthy white gentleman named Christophe Glapion, with whom she spent 30 years in a common-law marriage and shared as many as 15 children.
Laveau spent her remaining decades as New Orleans' premier voodoo priestess, revered as a healer, counselor, and community leader. But the details of her life are murky, at best.
Enter Kenetha Harrington.
"She's told us nothing," Harrington said of Laveau in a recent interview with Doug MacCash for NOLA.com. "Maybe she'd want it that way. The less she's given, the more we're drawn to her."
Harrington, an LSU archaeology doctoral candidate, was only 12 years old when she first became fascinated with Laveau. And now, years later, she's managed to unravel at least one part of the mystery: the fate of her husband.
"As a student of Marie Laveau," Harrington said, "I've never been satisfied that he'd just disappeared. It seemed too easy for him to disappear."
Five years ago, Harrington began digging through historical archives for clues as to what actually happened to Jacques Paris. But unlike scholars before her, she took a different approach.
Harrington told NOLA.com that instead of hunting for him in New Orleans, she looked in the neighboring city of Baton Rouge. She also broadened her search to include "Santiago Paris," an alternative version of his name.
In 2019 she came upon the record of an 1823 succession for a free man of color named St. Yago Paris, a phonetic spelling of Santiago. He was listed as a carpenter, which, at the time, was another name for a cabinet maker.
"The chances that there was another free man of color in West Baton Rouge Parish with that name, who was also a carpenter, living around that time, are unlikely," Harrington told NOLA.com. "The dots line up. I'd welcome arguments against, but that is my theory."
St. Yago died with $13.87 to his name, through $8 was owed to the doctor who treated him up until his death. He was buried in an unmarked grave in St. Joseph Catholic Cemetery in Baton Rouge.
As for what he was doing 80 miles away from his wife, Harrington does not know. Perhaps working? Or had he fled a marriage gone sour? And what became of Marie Angelie and Felicite?
If there's anyone who can answer those questions, it's Harrington.