August 11, 2011

So much love, so much friendship

Born near Augusta, Georgia on August 11, 1811 (sometimes listed as 1810), Octavia Celestia Valentine Walton later made her mark in Alabama. The granddaughter of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, she moved with her family to the Florida territory as a girl and, later, to Mobile, Alabama. There, she married a physician named Henry Le Vert and became known as one of the most active socialites in the state and beyond, earning the nickname "the Pride of Mobile." Over the years, she met notables like Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and even the Marquis de LaFayette (whom she met when a teenager and, after hearing her speak perfect French, declared her "a wonderful child" and predicted she would have "a brilliant career").

After the death of several family members, Mr. and Mrs. Le Vert traveled to Europe in 1853. That trip and a second trip in 1855 inspired her only book, Souvenirs of Travel. Because of her reputation, she was able to step into high society and meet with important, wealthy figures, making her account unique among the popular travel writers of the period. As one reviewer commented:

Her enjoyment exceeded all our powers of imagination, and we are puzzled to understand how one small body could survive the amount of pleasurable emotions she describes in her volumes. We are sure our own "stalwart" frame would have broken down under them, and we should have gone off in a euthanasy. So much love, so much friendship, so much tenderness, so much pleasure, so much ecstasy of all sorts and kinds, was never, we are sure, crowded before into two volumes, or endured by one frail, delicate female body. We are amazed that she could live through it, or that the monotony of pleasure did not become painful.

Le Vert was ruined by the aftermath of the Civil War, but not in the way one might expect (though her husband died during those years). When Mobile was occupied by Federal troops after the end of the war, she invited Major General Edward Canby and his staff into her home. She hoped to convince them to ease restrictions on the residents; instead, rumors spread that she had been a Union spy all along. Her reputation ruined, she left Alabama and never returned. Instead, she returned to her native town in Georgia. Even so, in 1875 a newspaper remarked she was "beyond question... the most famous woman the South has yet produced."

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