Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The dowry was a custom brought to the United States by colonists from England and elsewhere in Europe. A dowry is defined as the money, goods or estate that a woman brings to a marriage. 

Dowries were an incentive for a man to marry a woman. They also provided for the woman should something happen to her husband. The ability to provide a dowry often meant the difference between marrying well or not.

Providing dowries for poor women was regarded as a form of charity by the wealthy. In 1824, a man named Julien Pydras bequeathed $30,000 to the parish of West Baton Rouge as a dowry fund for needy women. Each year the fund generated interest, and it still exists today. 

As a young man in 1760, Julien Poydras was taken captive from a French ship and sent to an English prison. He escaped and settled in New Orleans in 1768. At first he was a peddler of cutlery and other household implements. Eventually he became very wealthy, owning plantations all along the Mississippi River. He was quite accomplished—a poet, politician, and philanthropist.

Here’s an excerpt from his will:

The public interest and common welfare always awoke my attention and solicitude, and if I did some good and intend doing some more in presently drawing my last will, this is due to my deep love for my fellow citizens and the country I have adopted as mine.

Poydras died a bachelor. It’s rumored that he left the dowry fund to the West Baton Rouge parish because he was unable to marry Marie, the woman he loved in France. She had no dowry, and his family was well to do. By the time he had earned enough in America to send for her, she had married someone else.

If you want to read more, here’s a link to an article written about Julien Pydras:


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