J.T. Manry’s article about James B. Gilmer in the September 29, 1932 issue of The Bossier Banner documented not only the life of Gilmer, but also documented much Bossier Parish history.
“During the early days of the settlement of Northwest Louisiana transportation for farm production was a serious matter. At that time New Orleans was the principal mart for cotton and other farm production. To meet the contingency of the erratic service rendered by steamboats of that time, and to forestall the possibility of raising a crop with no means of getting it to market, Mr. Gilmer bought or built two steamboats, which plied the Red and Mississippi rivers for many years, conveying his and his neighbors’ productions to the New Orleans market. Once upon the return of one of his boats from New Orleans there was aboard a strange old woman. Her name was Ann Scroggins. She had been the wife of one of Lafitte’s piratical captains, and, accompanying her husband on his corsair, had seen much of the world and had had many thrilling experiences. Her husband had been captured and executed, and now, in her old age, she said she longed for the quiet life. Mr. Gilmer was so captivated with her queer personality and tales of romance that he built her a small house and cared for her until the time of her death and named one of his boats for her.”
“Before Ann Scroggins died she sent for Mr. Gilmer and gave him a chart, or map. This chart was mad in an approved way, giving latitude and longitude, with degrees and seconds, with exact measurements from certain landmarks on the coast of South America. She claimed that this chart would lead to her husband’s share of an immense treasure, the result of the robbing of a Spanish treasure ship, and that she wanted Mr. Gilmer to have it. It is said that he often mentioned the matter and intended at some future time to investigate. He died with yellow fever in Cuba, and as this chart was never found at his home among his papers (and he was a very careful man with his papers) it is possible that he had it with him and intended to extend his trip to South America. But, be this as it may, the treasure still slumbers beneath the unvaulted [sic] clay off the coast of South America.”
“About the middle of the Nineteenth Century the sugar industry was attracting wide attention, and Cuba was the Mecca (as it is today ) for those who contemplated entering this industry. Mr. Gilmer, ever on the alert for new fields of industry to conquer, became very much interested in sugar and Cuba. He believed that he could make more money in one year raising sugar in Cuba than he could during three years raising cotton in Louisiana, and, as his business was well organized here, he determined on the venture.”
There is still yet more to tell in the exciting and ultimately tragic life of James B. Gilmer. Next week’s column will reveal what happened in his last days. Meanwhile, visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center to fill in the blanks about Bossier Parish history.
Ann Middleton is Director of the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center. She can be reached at (318) 746-7717 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org