Leo Lawton received a letter from Carol Van Cleef asking for any possible information on Peter S. Lawton of New Orleans in the late 1800s. Carol enclosed a photocopy of an old letter written by Peter. The original copy of the letter was very fragile, difficult to read, and one corner of page two was nearly non-existent. Below is a transcript of that letter.
Algiers, Tuesday night 11 O’clockDear Friends,We w(ere) all very much surprised at not meeting Miss Johanna at the Depot this evening. I thought it was understoodbefore we left, that the young Lady would be on hand for Christmas Day, and therefore I neglected any allusion tosame in the Letter which I mailed to you on the 19th inst. and which I suppose, only reached you after your second Letter had left Galveston. I telegraphed to you at half-past Ten O’clock yesterday morning, and although I went up to the Office three times since, I have as yet received no reply. The Weather is very bad here, this entire week & from what I can learn from the News-Papers, it is very rough in Galveston also. We sincerely hope that she will start in time to be here for the New-Year festivities which, if the weather permits, will be on a grand scale. We hope (missing) (de)layed departure (missing) (let)tuces other than (missing) (w)hich we wou(ld) (missing). We are all well and hope to (hear) the same from you. I thought after receiving your second Letter ( ) it would be useless to write, as (the) Letter would have reached you too late, so I mentioned about having no vegetables in the Telegram also I am much obliged to you for your kindness in that matter. I have not come to any conclusion in regard to Cottage-House as yet. Write immediately & let us know everything. Telegraph at the same time Miss Johanna leaves so that we will know when to look for her. Address to Algiers or to 71 Poydras St N.O.
Kindest regards from “all,” to “all.”
Peter S Lawton
The letter is very intriguing. Who was Peter? Who was Johanna? Where is Algiers? What’s lettuce got to do with it? Did Peter ever get to meet Johanna? I found out Peter’s father was James and he had owned a grocery store at 71 Poydras Street in the Algiers section of New Orleans, and that’s about as far as I could get. I then asked Togin Lawton Cassell if she had any information on this family. She inundated me with facts, censuses, and insight. I’m sorry to say though, that we never located Johanna. Together we present you with what we learned.
Togin (Lawton) Cassell and Leo Lawton
Not much is known at the present time about the ancestry of the small Lawton and Collins family branches from Ireland, or an even smaller family named Behrman from Russia and Prussia, but the three family’s lives were all interwoven in the great American melting pot, and produced the most popular mayor in New Orleans history, several well known members of the United States military and an astronaut who traveled to the moon.
James Lawton was born in Ireland in October of 1825. During the first half of the nineteenth century, potatoes were the staple food of the Irish. The decade of the 1840s was known as the great potato famine, which extended over all Ireland. In the years 1845-1850 alone, over 2 ½ million of the 8-9 million total Irish either starved to death or emigrated from their homeland. In 1843 James Lawton immigrated to the United States and settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. His wife Margaret was born about 1828 in Ireland and they married between 1851 and 1853 in the United States. Their son Peter was born in 1854, Catherine (Kitty) in 1856, Margaret in 1863, and James in 1868. One other child was born, but apparently died before reaching ten years of age.
In 1878 Peter married Isabella, and a year later they had a son Sydney. Peter worked in his father’s wholesale andretail grocery business located at 71 Poydras Street in the Algiers section of New Orleans.
Henry Behrman, born in Russia in 1825, married a girl from Prussia named Fredericka. They immigrated to New York City where their son Martin was born October 14, 1864. Packing their meager belongings, along with their one-year-old, Henry and Frederica moved to New Orleans in 1865 at the end of the Civil War. About 1870 Henry, a clerk in a New Orleans store living with his 33-year-old wife Frederica and 5-year-old son Martin, died. Frederica supported her son and herself running a dry goods and notions stand in the bazaar section of the French Market. By the time Martin turned 12 in late 1876, his mother had also died. After selling the leftover stock at the French Market, he went to work at Samuel’s Dollar Store on Canal Street. By 1878 he was working for Michael Gallagher in his grocery in the Algiers section of New Orleans. In 1880, 15-year-old Martin was living in the New Orleans home of Michael Gallagher and his wife Ellen, both born in Ireland.
Before 1860 the Collins brothers, Thomas and Jeremiah, immigrants from County Cork, Ireland, were living in Cincinnatti, Ohio. Thomas, born in 1833, married Julia, and they had a son Jeremiah in 1859, Margaret in 1862, Ellen in 1864, and James in 1866. Thomas’s older brother Jeremiah, born in 1818, married Ellen in Ireland, who immigrated with him and their five children; Jeremiah, age 12; Patrick, age 8; Mary, age 7; James, age 6; and Hanna, age 5. After their immigration, about 1856, four more children were born. Margaret in December 1857, Ellen in February of 1860, Julia in December of 1862, and Thomas in March of 1864. Jeremiah is listed after the other children on the 1860 census of Jeremiah’s family. This could possibly mean he is a nephew of Thomas and the elder Jeremiah, rather than a son of the latter.
In 1880, Thomas’s family was still in Cincinnatti with Thomas now 46, and Julia 45. All of the children remained in the household. Jeremiah was now a 21-year-old carriage painter. His sister Margaret was working in a shoe shop at 18. Fifteen-year-old Ellen was working in a paper mill, while the 13-year-old James was still in school.In the 1870 Cincinnatti census, only a few households down the street from Thomas’s family, was Jeremiah’s family. The younger eight children remained in the home. In 1880 Jeremiah’s family remained near Thomas’s in Cincinnatti, but only the four youngest children, all born in Ohio, were yet in the nest.
It all comes together
In 1878, Jerry B Collins, the 12-year-old son of Jeremiah in 1860, married Peter Lawton’s sister Catherine, and in 1880 they lived next door to her parents with their baby daughter Mary. Soon after 1880 Martin Behrman left Gallagher’s Grocery to work for James Lawton in his large mercantile establishment. Lawton’s business included a grocery, and a bakery, which was very popular with the planters along the Mississippi River. It was at this time that Martin became good friends with Peter Lawton, the married son of Martin’s employer, who also worked in his father’s store. In 1887 Martin and Peter became partners in their own grocery business, and in that same year Martin married Jerry B Collins’s sister, 24-year-old Julia Collins.
The Twentieth Century Arrives
By 1900, the 75-year-old James Lawton was a widower living by himself. Of the five children he had fathered,only three remained alive. Peter also remained in New Orleans, but his wife, Isabella, had died before 1897 whenhe married Katherine Sullivan.
As the new century arrived, Jerry B Collins was a storekeeper. Jerry and his wife, Catherine K Lawton, had beenmarried 22 years, and she had given birth to eleven children, of which nine were yet living. Living in the home, with their parents, at the time were Mary B Collins, born September 1879; James Lawton Collins, born December 10, 1882; Margaret Collins, born February 1884; Katherine Collins, born February 1886; Agnes A Collins, born March 1890; Peter Lawton Collins, born 1893; Uliance Collins, born 1895; Joseph Lawton Collins, born May 1, 1896; and Jerry Bernard Collins Jr., born September 1898.
According to the 1900 census, Martin Behrman had been married to Julia Collins 13 years. She had given birth to seven children, but sadly, only two were still living. They were Mary Helen Behrman, born May 1889; and William Stanley Behrman, born in June 1891. Mary later married Nathaniel W Bond. William was an American officer in WW I.
James Lawton died between 1900 and 1910. His son, Peter S Lawton, was living in a rooming house owned by Mary Grayon Calliope Street in 1910 with his wife Katherine, whom he had married July 25, 1896, and daughter Mary, age five. Katherine had borne two other children, but both had died. Katherine died sometime after 1920, while Peter lived until after 1930.
Martin’s partnership in the grocery with Peter Lawton had lasted only about a year. He became a traveling salesman for several grocery wholesalers, after which he became deputy assessor of the Fifth District of New Orleans, and for four years was president of the Board of Assessors. In 1892 he was appointed clerk to the city council, filling that office four years, and from 1892 to 1905 was a member of the Board of Education. In 1904 he was elected state auditor, a position he resigned when nominated for mayor. He won the mayoral election and remained Mayor Behrman of New Orleans for 16 years until 1920. At that time he became an officer of the American Bank and Trust Company. In 1924 he ran for New Orleans Mayor again, won, and took office in 1925, remaining until his death January 12, 1926.
Jerry B Collins died between 1910 and 1920. His wife Catherine K Lawton outlived Jerry, and died after 1920.
Their oldest son James Lawton Collins, born in 1882, was an officer in the light cavalry at Fort Robinson, Nebraskain 1910, was in El Paso, Texas November 5, 1917 when his son James Lawton Collins Jr. was born, and was in Washington, DC in 1920, with his wife Virginia and the three-year-old James. James Sr. had served under General Pershing during WW I and the general was his son’s Godfather. In 1930, James Sr., was a military attaché at the American Embassy in Rome, Italy, with Virginia, James Jr. and two daughters, Agnes and Virginia, when their son Michael was born. James Lawton Collins Sr. died in June 1963, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where his wife, following her death, was interred the following month.
James Lawton Collins Jr., born November 5, 1917, following in the footsteps of his father and uncle, had a long andillustrious career in the United States Army. He led an artillery battalion ashore at Utah Beach during the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy. He served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars also. At one time he was the commanding officer of the Army language school at Fort Ord in Monterey, California. He was a prolific author writing many books about the history of warfare, including the “D-Day Encyclopedia.” Brigadier General James Lawton Collins Jr. died May 5, 2002, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
James’s son Michael was born October 31, 1930. Michael entered the United States Air Force, ultimately trained to be an astronaut, and retired as a Brigadier General. While in the space program he flew on the Gemini X and Apollo XI moon landing missions, and was command pilot of the orbiter when Neil Armstrong made mankind’s first footprint on the moon. After his retirement he was director of the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian.
Joseph Lawton Collins was born to Jerry and Catherine, May 1, 1896 in New Orleans. He graduated West Point in 1917. During WW II, he was a commander with the VII Corps, Chief of Staff in Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack, and led the breakout from the Normandy beachhead in June 1944. During the Korean War he was Chief of Staff of the United States Army and the United States Ambassador to Vietnam during that conflict. He died September 12, 1987 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His wife, Gladys Easterbrook Collins, was buried at his side two years later.