“Destiny Decided Differently”: A Donation of the Diary of Louis Adrien Davoust, 1846-1847

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

On 30 September 1886, forty-one years to the day that his parents, Antonia Margarita Workman and F.P.F. Temple, were wed (incidentally, this was the first nuptial in greater Los Angeles in which both parties had English-language surnames), John Harrison Temple, the fourth surviving child, of eight, to the couple, married Anita Davoust.

The couple, married for forty years, had seven children and were, from 1888 to 1899, owners of the 75-acre Workman Homestead, which then included the Workman House, El Campo Santo Cemetery, a water tower that is still with us and much else. John was also the first family historian, gathering and preserving material about the Workmans and Temples that have helped the Museum immensely in its interpretation of the history of the families.

Adrian Davoust, line 19, enumerated with portrait painter and future photographer Henri Pénélon at Los Angeles in the 1860 federal census.

Anita’s parents were María Antonia Dominguez (1846-1916), who was also a member of the prominent de la Guerra family of Santa Barbara and whose mother, bearing the same name, has been featured in a previous post here highlighting a portrait of her with her husband, Antonio Orfila and son José Clemente Orfila, and Louis Adrien Davoust (1823-1892), the subject of this post.

Davoust, purportedly, though without proof, to have been a relative of Louis-Nicolas Davoust, Marshal of the Empire under Napoleon Bonaparte, was born to Christine Francoise Cavoisy and Louis Alexandre Davoust, a hack driver and notions merchant, at Bonneval, some 75 miles southwest of Paris, though the family resided in the capital at the time that this post concerns. It is not known what his occupation was in his early adulthood in his native country, but, in 1847, Davoust sailed for the Americas, specifically Valparaiso, Chile, on the coast about 70 miles from the nation’s capital city of Santiago.

Davoust, number 349, for his first voter registration listing after becoming an American citizen on 11 October 1873.

His stay there was short as the astounding news of the discovery of gold in California, which took place early in 1848, reached South America sooner than elsewhere in the world, and, in fact, many Chileans, where mining was a major part of the economy, headed north to try their luck in the newly acquired American possession (Josephine Belt, the wife of Joseph Workman, John Temple’s uncle, was half Chilean).

Davoust worked in the California gold mines for over a year and then took a ship from San Francisco to San Pedro, with other passengers including Irish native John G. Downey, a future governor of California and founder of the city that bears his name, and Prudent Beaudry, a French Canadian who became a prominent figure in real estate and, in the mid-1870s, mayor of the Angel City. The vessel arrived on 5 January 1850 and Davoust remained in Los Angeles for the rest of his life.

The Davoust family, listed as “Dubois,” and with Adrian as “Adreno” on Upper Main Street in Los Angeles in the 1880 federal census.

He was long associated with the painter and photographer Henri Pénélon. The two lived together in the 1860 federal census, there are tax records associated with the duo in papers from the latter at the Seaver Center for Western History Research and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and Peter Palmquist’s book, Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865, suggested, based on Edan Milton Hughes’ Artists in California, 1786-1940, that Davoust may have worked as a photographer with his fellow Frenchman.

The census enumeration, however, listed the 36-year old Davoust as a “master carpenter,” a vocation found in other records, such as voting registers. With regard to the latter, some of these state that Davoust was naturalized as an American citizen in September 1859 at San Francisco, which would have required him to travel north specifically for that purpose. Yet, other voter registration lists and a notice three days later in the Los Angeles Herald document that he was naturalized on 11 October 1873.

Davoust mentioned in connection with a Bastille Day celebration, Los Angeles Express, 27 June 1881.

On 14 September 1865, he married Antonia Dominguez and Anita was the first of their children. The Davousts lived for some time in a remote area at Topanga Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, where a stone chimney apparently still remains from their domicile there. When they returned to Los Angeles, Davoust continued his carpentry work, while also becoming heavily involved in the growing French community, which included winemakers, sheep ranchers and herders, merchants, and many others, and which centered on an area along Aliso Street east of Alameda near U.S. 101 and Union Station.

He was, for example, a founding member by 1860 of the Société Francaise dé Bienfaisance Mutuelle de Los Angeles, or the French Benevolent Society, a mutual benefit organization of the kind many ethnic groups establish when living in a foreign land. One of the most important projects of the Society was the creation of the French Hospital, opened in 1869, and which most recently was the Pacific Alliance Medical Center, catering to the residents of the Angel City’s Chinatown, until it closed in 2017. The Society, of which Davoust was a secretary, treasurer and vice-president, as well as a paid collector of dues, still seems to exist in an office in Calabasas at the west end of the San Fernando Valley.

A photo of Louis Adrien Davoust from the journal.

Davoust was involved in other French community activities, including commemorations of Bastille Day, which involved the 1789 storming of the notorious prison, fort and armory and the celebration the following year that highlighted the unity of the French people during the Revolution, each 14 July, and politics. While the Angel City now doesn’t honor the holiday like other western cities (Portland, Sacramento and Seattle, for example) have, the French in Los Angeles prior to the great boom of the Eighties were numerous enough to mount large events.

In 1880, Davoust was one of two vice-presidents of a Democratic Club founded by French-born residents of Los Angeles and which supported presidential candidate Winfield Scott Hancock, a former Army officer stationed in southern California just prior to the Civil War, and his running mate William H. English (while California and mostly the Southern states voted for Hancock, Republican James A. Garfield eked out a narrow victory, though he was assassinated the following year and his vice-president, the thoroughly forgettable Chester A. Arthur completed the term.)

During the influenza pandemic that claimed, in quick succession, the lives of Nicolasa Workman, her daughter Antonia Margarita Workman de Temple, and Thomas W. Temple, the grandson and son of the two women, Davoust succumbed to what was commonly called by the French moniker of la grippe, dying of pneumonia caused by the virulent flu on 11 January 1892. A local French newspaper noted that “the deaths have been coming fast for a few days” while noting that Davoust “was a peaceful and universally esteemed man.”

This past Saturday, the Homestead was very happy to have Patricia Berktold, a descendant of the Davousts, donate a diary kept by Adrien in 1846-1847 and titled “Voyages de Louis Adrien Davoust.” The first part of the journal concerns a “Voyage en Suisse,” in which the young man, after stating that his ambition to travel as a soldier was foiled when his number was too high to get him called up, this constituting a situation in which “destiny decided differently,” documented his trip from Paris, starting in mid-June 1846, to Switzerland. After adventures in that Alpine nation, Davoust returned to the capital city, where he learned from a friend about happenings in Chile.

A year to the date that he left for his jaunt to Switzerland, Davoust left Paris and traveled to Tours, perhaps passing through or near his hometown. He then went by boat on the Loire River to Nantes and then out into the Atlantic with a stop at the island of Ile d’Yeu before landing at Bordeaux, where he and companions found work building boats. While it was hoped to sail to South America before mid-August, the voyage was delayed to the end of September.

En route, Davoust recorded that the vessel, the Gange, passed a ship returning to Bordeaux from Valparaiso and the captain of the former asked his compatriot to send word through the newspapers of the mid-Atlantic meeting and that everyone on Davoust’s craft was well. A little more than two weeks later, land was sighted, this being the Portuguese island of Porto, west of the northwest coast of Morocco in Africa, while the following day the ship arrived at nearby Madeira.

Davoust reported seeing sharks and enormous schools of flying fish, as well as recording the unfortunate accident of a pregnant woman, who fell down some stairs and miscarried, with the infant’s body thrown overboard, though the woman survived. By the end of the year, the ship reached Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America and it is here, not all that far from the final destination at Chile (somewhat similar to the 1851 diary of Andrew Boyle, covered in a previous post here, where is travel journal ended just as his steamer was within a short period of reaching San Francisco) that the account ends.

There are , however, other entries, mostly in Spanish and perhaps penned by his wife or children (maybe Anita?) such as the record of his marriage to Antonia Dominguez at the Plaza Church (which included painted decorative work by his friend Pénélon; that Davoust was born in Bonneval, France on 5 December 1823; that Antonia was born at Santa Barbara twenty-two years later; listings of the births of their nine children between 1866 and 1887; the deaths of daughter Adriana, at just two years of age, in 1872 and of Adrian at age 68; the wedding of daughter Francisca (Frances) to August Steinike and the births of their three children; the death of Anita and John Temple’s second child, Francis W., at age 20 in 1909.

We hope to be able to share more of this remarkable diary in the future, including translated excerpts and more of the context of that period and of the life of Adrian Davoust and his family, but, in the meantime, having this nearly 180-year old document in the Homestead’s holdings is another great addition connected to the Workman and Temple families and Los Angeles.

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