The Hargous Family 1830-1850
By: Tom Frascella February 2014
As previously noted Giovanni Sartori and Jean Hargous jointly purchased land and built New Jersey’s first Catholic Church in what was then the Lamberton section of Nottingham Township in 1814. This area would eventually become the independent Borough of Lamberton and later in 1851 would become part of the City of Trenton. The Hargous and Sartori families became the first of approximately twenty-eight Catholic families in the area to register in 1814 at this first NJ Catholic Church. As both Sartori and Hargous were named John they chose to name the church after their patron saint and the church became known as St John the Baptist. The original Church that they built and paid for was located at the corner of Lamberton and Market Streets and included a church cemetery. The building was consecrated by Bishop Michael Egan of Philadelphia in 1814. The parish was ministered by visiting priests from Philadelphia’s St. Augustine’s parish between 1814 and 1830. St. John’s received its first resident pastor the Rev. Geoghan in 1830.
In his early years Jean Hargous compiled a noteworthy naval career with the French navy attaining the rank of Captain. It was while in said service that he participated in the rescue of French citizens fleeing the slave revolt in what was then San Domingo, now Haiti. While so engaged Captain Hargous’ vessel took on board a young women of noble French birth by the name of Madame Boisson. A romance quickly developed between the Captain and Madame Boisson culminating in their marriage and eventually their settlement in exile from France, with many other ex- pats, in the Trenton area.
In 1800 the marriage was blessed with their first of four children, named Peter Amedee Hargous. The three other children of the marriage were Louis Stanislaus, Eugene, and Marie Melicie. Peter would eventually grow up and marry Eugenia Victorine Sartori, oldest daughter of Giovanni Sartori, thus uniting the families both in the construction of St. John’s Church and by blood. Shortly after Peter’s marriage he settled down and formed Hargous Brother’s Shipping of New York City. The shipping company’s main routes of trade were concentrated between New York, Havana, the Caribbean islands, New Orleans and southern Mexico. In a short time the shipping enterprise became very successful and the Hargous family enjoyed great wealth.
It should be noted that the Hargous family appears from the historical records to be very gifted in linguistics as well as in business. I should include among the Hargous family the nephew of Jean Hargous also named Louis who became a professor of Languages at Princeton University. Prof. Hargous in his later years would take up residence in the Hargous family mansion in Trenton. The Hargous brothers also seem to share in this language gift as each was multi-lingual. No doubt such a shared talent helped in their merchant endeavors. During the course of their merchant endeavors, Peter appears to have concentrated his attention in the New York shipping offices, Eugene in New Orleans and Havana and Louis in Veracruz, Mexico. Their sister Marie never married and resided her entire life in Trenton at the original family estate.
Drawing of the Hargous Mansion, Seward Ave. Trenton
It is Peter who initiated the business enterprise which formed the foundation of the family’s wealth and he appears to have filled the oldest brother role in most early family matters. During the late 1830’s and early 1840’s he amassed quite a large personal fortune and appears to have set the family tone by being very generous with a number of charities including encouragement of development of Catholic resources in both New York and New Jersey. During his lifetime he became a close personal friend and confidant of Bishop John Hughes of New York. During the 1830’s and particularly the 1840’s the U.S. sustained its first experience with large mass immigration. Large numbers of German and eventually Irish immigrants, escaping poverty and crop failures in their native countries began arriving in the tens of thousands. Many of these immigrants were Catholic and the small American Catholic Church was ill equipped to handle the needs of these arriving poor. Bishop Hughes recognized that he could not look to Europe to supply the clergy and infrastructure that was going to be needed. His plan was to build a seminary and college in New York City to educate American Catholics including many newly arrived to fill the expanding needs of the Church. One of those he turned to was Peter Hargous. Peter became a generous benefactor and supporter of the Society of Jesus. Through his generosity he was named to the first Board of Trustees of the new St. John’s College and Seminary that Bishop Hughes built in New York City. The school became very successful and eventually out grew its initial confines. As a result the College relocated to a part of the City known as Fordham Hill and in the process became known by a new name Fordham University. In addition, Peter was a generous benefactor to the establishment of the first New York foundation of the Religious of the Sacred Heart.
In Trenton during this same period the tiny St. John’s Church struggled financially to serve the ever increasing tide of immigrants to this area. The struggles were not helped by the fact that the parish seems to have had poor luck in retaining a pastor to guide the flock. Between 1830 and 1844 the parish had no less than eight pastors, most leaving as a result of poor health. In 1844 the Rev. Mackin arrived to a parish heavily in debt and insufficiently sized to meet the needs of its growing congregation. The only course of action appeared to be to build a new much larger church. Only the funds needed to discharge the parish’s debt and to purchase property on which to build a new church were lacking. Here the Hargous family interceded again in the groeth of this initial Catholic New Jersey parish.
First, Peter bought outright the “old” St. John’s Church property and debt, reselling the property at a considerable personal loss in 1848. Second the family became major donors to the purchase of land on Broad Street for the construction of the “New St. John’s Church”. The family’s generosity to the new St. John’s Church has in part survived the Church itself which burned down in the 1880’s. Among the donations made by the family, the church bell which sits preserved in front of Sacred Heart Church which now occupies the former New St. John’s site on Broad Street.
In 1808 the Catholic Dioceses of Philadelphia and New York were established. From 1808 thru to 1850 the Catholic Church’s need in New Jersey were administered by the Bishops of those two Dioceses with Trenton being roughly the dividing line north and south.
Around 1850 the Church decided that Catholic presence in New Jersey had grown sufficiently to warrant the creation of a Diocese of New Jersey with its own Bishop established in Newark. As part of that restructuring it was determined that Trenton had a need for a second Catholic Church. Specifically a need was recognized for a Catholic presence in Trenton which could focus on the needs of the growing German immigrant population of Trenton. John A. Roebling had established his initial wire rope manufacturing plant along the river in south Trenton in 1848. Although the works were initially small compared to what it would become, Roebling’s presence and his preference for hiring German speaking workers was beginning to have an impact on the town’s population.
Bishop Hughes of New York and newly installed Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley of New Jersey turned to Peter Hargous in the matter of providing a second Catholic Church for Trenton. In 1851 Peter Hargous re-purchased the “old” St. John’s Church built by his father and Giovanni Sartori and donated it in fee simple, debt free, to the Diocese of New Jersey as the new home for the German Catholic immigrant community in Trenton. Since, by 1851 St. John’s Church was already the name of the “new” Church on Broad Street the old church was renamed “St Francis of Assisium” and Rev. Gmeimer was installed as its first German speaking pastor.
As an interesting historical side note New Jersey’s first Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley has an interesting family pedigree. He was born in New York City the son of a prominent physician and professor at Columbia College. His father is credited with developing New York’s quarantine system for dealing with epidemic outbreaks. Epidemics of every sort were a major issue in this time in urban settings worldwide and so the protocols he established were very important medical development. Dr. Bayley was also the brother of Elizabeth Seton making Bishop Bayley the nephew of the first U.S. born saint. His mother was the daughter of Jacobus Roosevelt and as you might guess from the name he is a cousin of both U.S. Presidents’ Roosevelt.
Peter Hargous’ energies seemed equally matched by his younger brother Louis. During the late 1830’s and early 1840’s Peter’s brother Louis who was born in 1810 was occupied with family and personal business interests in the Veracruz region of Mexico. Louis himself a Princeton graduate was fluent in six to eight languages, including Spanish. In Mexico Louis established several business ventures including L.S. Hargous and Co., the banking house of Hargous and La Serna, and was a partner in the Louisiana Tehuantepec Railway Co with his brothers and a number of American investors. In approximately 1842 Louis became U.S. consul to Veracruz and served in that capacity for 17 years. At the outbreak of the U.S.-Mexican War in 1846-1848 Louis received a commission in the U.S. Army with the rank of colonel. He became part of the command staff of U.S. Army General Worth commander of U.S. forces in the region. He worked closely with U.S. forces both land and naval in securing successful landings in the Veracruz region and arranging support and contact with native Mexican forces.
Veracruz had strategic importance to U.S. interests. Since the time of the Conquistadors the Tehuantepec Isthmus, a narrow point of land 120 miles wide had been used as a overland transportation route to move goods and supplies from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. In the early 1840’s Mexican businessman Jose de Garay had petitioned and received governmental concession rights to build a railway across the isthmus by the Santa Anna regime. By 1842 de Garay had hired Italian surveyor Gaetano Moro who laid out a buildable route for a railway/ canal which was known as the Tehuantepec railroad/canal project.
At the conclusion of the U.S.-Mexican War the U.S. had acquired by virtue of the defeat of Mexico vast land holdings along the U.S. Southwest and the Pacific coast but no easy way to reach, protect or develop its newly acquired resources. As part of the peace treaty of 1848 the U. S. indemnified Mexico for its territorial loss in the amount of 15 million dollars. However, recognizing the isolation of the territories it acquired the U.S. additionally offered Mexico another 15 million dollars for the exclusive right to build the railroad/canal project. Mexico refused the U.S. offer relying instead on de Garay to raise the capital and build the project instead. However, de Garay could not raise the estimated 17 million dollars the project was expected to cost.
U.S business interest in the project however greatly increased with the discovery of gold in California in 1849. As a result U.S. interest in both the Tehuantepec project and on building a U.S. transcontinental railroad began to spike with that interest continuing throughout the 1850’s. However the transcontinental railroad became mired in political bickering over which of three routes should be promoted, those routes being a northern, central and southern route. In addition to the enormous financial potential of that a transcontinental railroad would create, its geographic location would potentially open new territories to development. With rapid development would bring the possibility of new States being created and the issue of the balance of slave States to free States came into play causing Washington’s political elite into political gridlock.
With this as background and recognizing an opportunity to move forward where the government had failed the Hargous brothers put together a joint capital venture with investors in New York and Louisiana and formed the Louisiana Tehuantepec Railroad Co. in 1857. The company then successfully bought out de Garay’s rights. Unfortunately, the state of Mexican politics at the time was in complete disarray, which stifled the project over the next decade and created huge losses for the investors. Problems began when President Benito Juarez suspended payment of foreign debt which resulted in
Mexico’s largest creditors England, Spain and France invading in1861 and taking control of the Mexican Government.. Although England and Spain left in 1862, France was not ousted from Mexico until 1866 and only after U.S. pressure was brought to bear. The project was also impeded by the outbreak of the American Civil War which seriously impacted the shipping routes enjoyed by Hargous Brothers Shipping Co. I have read estimates that the investment group lost 150 million dollars in 1910 dollars on the project. Peter Hargous’ fortunes were the most directly impacted and because of his untimely death in 1864 he did not have the time to personally recover.
In the January Sartori Family article I mentioned that Dr. Louis Sartori served as a ship’s surgeon during the Civil War. It is interesting that he resigned his commission in the U.S. Navy in 1864. As the oldest brother of the Sartori family he may well have resigned his commission in order to help his sister, the widow of Peter Hargous, in settling her very complicated affairs after Peter’s death in September 1864.
Eventually some of the Hargous/Tehuantepec railroad project losses were addressed and recovered by the investors in the U.S. treaty with Mexico in 1868 as well as additional diplomatic negotiations in 1870 and 1881.
For those who have further interest in the history and accomplishments of some three generations of Hargous family members, a useful source outline can be found in the United States Catholic Historical Society’s “Historical Records and Studies Vol. 13” published in 1919. The information contained in the volume is a fascinating read and a much more detailed summary than this article can put forth. There are however a few more details concerning the family that are appropriate to add to this article before stepping away.
With regard to Marie Melicie Hargous only daughter of Captain Jean Hargous, as stated above she remained unmarried and resided in Trenton for her entire life. She also throughout her life continued to be a generous patron of the Trenton Catholic community. She and her cousin Prof. Louis Hargous were benefactors of both early Trenton Catholic Churches, the “new” St. John’s and the restored St. Francis of Assisium. They were also benefactors of Trenton’s third Catholic Church St. Mary’s which was built in the mid 1850’s. Among their many gifts to that building were several stain glass windows. St. Mary’s Church on North Broad Street in Trenton would become “Old St. Mary’s Cathedral” when the Diocese of Trenton was formed in 1881. Unfortunately, the structure and the windows were destroyed in an arson fire in the mid 1950’s however, the “new St. Mary’s Cathedral” now stands on that site. The generosity of the Hargous Family was clearly of great importance to the success and early establishment of the Catholic Church in the Trenton area.
This website has a number of readers in the Buffalo N.Y. area. As the articles progress there will be a number of occasions where a connection between the Trenton community and the Buffalo community intersect. Following up on that the Buffalo readers may be interested in the fact that Peter Hargous and his wife Eugenia Sartori had ten children, one of whom a daughter Mathilda married Count Louis le Couteulx de Caumont. That name is known in the Buffalo area as the Count’s father and uncle contributed land and money for the building of the first Catholic Church in Buffalo.
Louis Hargous resolved his business affairs in Mexico and returned to the U.S. in the late 1860’s. He first settled in Virginia with his family during reconstruction before eventually returning to New York City. Louis Hargous died in the mid 1880’s. Late in life one charitable recipient of his and his family’s generosity was the cause and development of Homeopathic medicine in the U.S. He and his family made substantial donations to the founding Hahnemann Homeopathic Hospital in Rochester New York Included within the parameters of the donations were the reservation of a number of “free” beds to be provided for those who could not afford hospital care. As a result of their generous donations the hospital was given the name Hargous Memorial Hahnemann Hospital of Rochester.
One lasting indication of the family prestige, wealth and prominence in the 19th century would be the family location and size of the family burial crypts. Below is a photograph of the Hargous’ Mausoleum located in Trinity Churchyard, Manhattan, NewYork. Trinity Churchyard located in the financial district is one of the most famous cemeteries in the country.
Below, is a photograph of the Hargous family crypt in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Hamilton, New Jersey.
Trenton Bishops’ Graves
The Hargous crypt shown above while in design much more modest represents the only lay person burial located on a small island burial plot. It is located near the Cedar Lane entrance to the cemetery. All of the other burials contained in this separate plot of land contain graves and markers of prominent religious from the community. Most notably this part of the cemetery contains the graves of all of the Diocese of Trenton’s past Bishops
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