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History: A farewell to James B. Gilmer

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J.T. Manry’s column about James B. Gilmer in the September 29, 1932 issue of The Bossier Banner could have been filled with much more information about Gilmer’s life.  However, the life of this man who accomplished so much in Bossier Parish was cut short.

“About the year 1856 he sailed for Cuba, intending to buy land and begin a new territory.  He was then in the prime of life, robust of health and fearless for his personal safety, nor did he take heed of the scourge then raging in that tropical island—for many years a pest-hole for yellow fever.  He contracted the disease and died—a stranger in a strange land.  When the contagion had spent its force and diminished, his brother, George F. Gilmer, of Plain Dealing, went to Cuba and had his body disinterred and conveyed it to Montgomery, Ala., where it rests beside the remains of his first wife.”

“Contrary to the insinuation of Governor Gilmer, of Georgia, that he was ‘progressive to the point of recklessness,’ he left the largest estate then in Louisiana, and free from encumbrance.  Under the able management of his son-in-law, the late Dr. Samuel Whitfield Vance, sr., the then growing crop paid all indebtedness and left a handsome balance.  One of Mr. Gilmer’s strongest points was his ability to discern and choose men of responsibility and worth to fill the many responsible positions for which he needed them.  Many of the foremost captains of industry and commerce of the section during later years received their training, in early life, under the tutelage of Mr. Gilmer.”

“James Blair Gilmer married twice.  His first wife died before he came to Louisiana, leaving him three daughters—Mary, Hattie and Eliza.  The first married Dr. S. W. Vance; the second, Patrick O’Neil, and the third, Col. R. Y. Graves.  He married as a second wife, Mrs. Pauline Pickett.  She also had three children by a former marriage.  The greater part of the property of Mr. Gilmer was acquired during the period of this second marriage, which, under Louisiana law, became community property.  In the division of the property the Pickett heirs received six large river plantations and the Orchard home.  Yet, with this deletion, there still remained enough to give each of the three Gilmer children a large estate, much of which is still owned by his descendants of the second and third generation.”

“Mr. Gilmer was a lover and patron of the finer and cultured side of life, as evidenced by the size and quality of his library.  He employed the best obtainable life painters, and kept them at his home for months, making portraits of himself and his family.  Many of these paintings may yet be seen, in their gilt frames, on the walls of his descendants, and as fresh in appearance as when last touched by the artist’s brush.”

Visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center to see a color photograph of a painting of James B. Gilmer, as well as a letter that describes the death of Gilmer in Cuba.

Ann Middleton is Director of the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center. She can be reached at (318) 746-7717 or by e-mail at amiddlet@state.lib.la.us