The Wills family of Grand Coteau, Louisiana: Along with several other Maryland Catholic families, Frederick Wills moved to Louisiana after the War of 1812. Frederick and some of his children went back and forth between Louisiana and Maryland for almost forty years, but contact was eventually lost. Numerous descendants of his grandson Charles Henry Wills still live in the Bayou country today, but only a handful with the surname Wills.
The seventh child of John Baptist Wills, Sr. and Anne Livers, Frederick Wills (1780-1831) was often grouped with his brother Charles. In the 1796 will of their grandmother Mary Livers, they were jointly bequeathed two Negro boys, “to be divided between them” when they come of age. Together they were also named as under the guardianship of their brother John B. Wills, Jr. in the Feb 1799 Charles County Orphans Court (this was probably related to an inheritance, since their father was still alive). At that time, Frederick’s birth was given as 8 January 1780.
He first married Teresa Hamilton sometime around 1805, because his household in the 1810 census includes not only a woman (aged 16-25) but also two girls under 10, and 8 enslaved persons. They were living near or on his father’s property. In June 1814, they received several hundred dollars from the sale of her deceased father Bennet Hamilton’s farms. The Hamilton and Wills families lived close by in the Port Tobacco area. A generation later, her niece Dorothy Rosella “Rose” Hamilton married Frederick Wills’ nephew William Alfred Wills.
During the War of 1812, Charles and Frederick served together in the Militia during July 1813, June-July 1814 and July-Aug 1814 under their nephew Capt. Francis Thompson.
After the war, Frederick joined a small group of Maryland Catholic families who moved to Grand Coteau in Louisiana’s bayou country as part of a project led by the Smith family starting in the 1790’s, which then built the Church of St. Charles Borromeo and the Convent of the Sacred Heart, and then later the Jesuits’ St. Charles College. His brother William had already moved to Louisiana a few years before, but east of the Mississippi. Two of his Hamilton brother-in-laws also moved to Louisiana.
In the 1820 census, Frederick was recorded in St. Landry Parish near fellow Marylanders Frederick Hardy, Elizabeth Ann Smith, and Benjamin Mudd, as well as Robert Burleigh of North Carolina. Frederick and his wife’s household included one other adult male, two girls (aged 10-15), two girls and three boys (under 10), and 13 enslaved persons.
In November 12, 1820, at the estate sale of John Taylor (Teller, Theller) in Grand Coteau, Frederick Wills bought the deceased’s land and residence (5 arpents front by 40 in depth, adjoining on one side David Muche and on the other John D. Smith) for $3,945.
He was probably already remarried at this time. According to his widow’s pension application written long afterwards in 1855, Frederick was married to his second wife Ann Catherine Green (da. of Henry Green) in 1822, by Rev. Charles Neale, SJ, either at one of the Jesuit parishes or at the Carmelite monastery, where he was chaplain. But the date of 1822 is probably mistaken (just as the application’s date of 1825 for Frederick’s death is wrong) because the Grand Coteau parish registers list Anne Catherine Green as the mother of John Henry Wills (died 1823, aged 5), and Stanislaus Wills (b. 20 Sept. 1821). It is possible that the priest in Louisiana mistakenly attributed Frederick’s second wife as the mother of John Henry, but Stanislaus’ mother must be accurate. If the date of 1822 is incorrect, then when did Frederick remarry? If we accept the church records, then we should assume Frederick remarried sometime between 1814 and 1817 while in Maryland and then moved to Louisiana with his family and new wife. But it is also possible that his first wife Teresa went with Frederick to Lousiana (as two of her Hamilton brothers eventually did), died there, and he returned to Maryland briefly to find another wife.
The Wills’ social circle of anglophone Marylanders midst the many Frenchmen can be seen from the witnesses at daughter Mary Anne’s wedding in 1827: Stanislaus Gardner, N. Offutt, Raphael Smith, Teresa C. Wills, Ann E. Hardy, and Theo Lastraphe — all Marylanders except the last. The year before her marriage, Mary Anne Wills had been godmother for a daughter of Robert Burleigh Jr., another major English family in the community and the one with whom the Wills would most intermarry.
Their family increased so that at the 1830 census Frederick and Ann Catherine were at home in Grand Coteau with two young women (one aged 20-29, one 15-19) and teenager Justin and three younger boys, and 13 enslaved persons.
Frederick Wills died on 3 October 1831, “aged 55”, and his succession papers are dated 16 Nov 1831. His widow later returned to Maryland and in 1855, giving her age as 65 she applied for pension from Frederick Wills’ War of 1812 service. In that application she gives the information on their marriage and her maiden name, and her residence as Charles County with acquaintances “Aloysious Coomes, Charles S. Kenaman, res. Charles Co.” Her son Charles H. Wills also went to Maryland, where he died in 1845. His estate documents imply that he had 4 surviving siblings then, in addition to his late sister Mary Anne Wills Doremus. (see below)
The records of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Grand Coteau (GCCh) give thorough baptismal and marriage information about most of the family, but only after its founding in 1819. The census records suggest that Frederick had several earlier children whose names are unknown to us.
Children of Frederick Wills and Teresa Hamilton:
7.1) Mary Ann Wills (1805/8- 1835) marr. Peter Doremus
“Marie Anne Wells” was godmother for Marie Teliza Burleigh, daughter of Robert Burleigh and Marie Madelaine Miller, on 25 April 1826 at Grand Coteau.
Mary Ann Wills “of Maryland” married Peter Doremus “of New York” (1797/8-1846) on 2 Oct. 1827 at Grand Coteau. Mary Ann’s parents were recorded as “Frederick & dec. Treacy Hamilton”. She was recorded as “Anne Wills” or “Anne M. Wills” at the baptisms of three of her children. Peter had come from New York or New Jersey only a few years earlier, and erected a sawmill with a lumber business. Mary Ann died 12 Oct. 1835 and in 1839 Peter married secondly Evelina Guilbeaux. The history of this family is told in the Genealogy of the Doremus Family in America (1897).
Mary Ann Wills and Peter Doremus had four children:
7.1.1) Mathilda Doremus (1828 —1897), Sister of the Sacred Heart.
She was born 1 Oct 1828 and was baptised a month later with Raphael Smith and Marie Clemence Guilbeau as godparents. After her father’s death, “Marie Mathilde Doremus” entered the Society of the Ladies of the Sacred Heart in Natchitoches and received first vows on 19 Sept. 1849. She eventually became the Mother Superior. From her passport application in 1880, we learn that she had black hair, fair complexion, round face, grey eyes, high forehead with a small nose and mouth.
7.1.2) Edward Peter Doremus, D.D.S. (26 Nov 1830 – 1900/1910), marr. Mary Elizabeth Lyons
He was educated at the college in Grand Coteau and became a dentist. He was a Captain in the Lousiana Infantry, CSA, serving in the 28th Thomas’ Regiment with his step-brother Augustus Boyd Doremus. He was captured and paroled at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. He married Mary Elizabeth Lyons 22 Apr. 1867 in Opelousas and their first child was baptized there, but by 1870 they were living in Washington, LA. He later studied at the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, graduating in 1876. The following year, he applied for a passport in Philadelphia, describing himself as 6’1″ tall with brown hair, blue eyes, straight nose, and a full beard. He was planning to travel in Europe with his wife, three children, and his “protege” John Walker, a 16-year-old orphan who had been living and working with him for several years. Edward did go to Zurich, Switzerland in 1878 (where his brother was in practice), then in 1882 to Cannes where he stayed until at least 1897 (although he is said to have died in California, where his brother had gone). His wife Mary Elizabeth Doremus and the children were living with her brother J. Lyons (also a dentist) in 1880, but later they must have gone to Europe because a son Edward was born c. 1885 in Switzerland and oldest son John Lyons Doremus became a dentist in France too. In 1900, the married Mary Elizabeth Doremus was in Opelousas; in 1910, she was widowed and living in Iberia parish with her son “Eddie”; in 1920 she was in San Diego, Calif. with her daughter “Anita”. Children: John Lyons, Anna Della, Mary Elizabeth, Edward Peter.
7.1.3) Rufus Doremus (6 April —12 Nov 1833)
7.1.4) Amanda Doremus (31 Jan – 7 Aug 1835)
7.2) Justin Wills (c.1813/15-1883), marr. 1839 Magdelein Burleigh
The father of nine children and all of the descendants of Frederick Wills still in the bayou country. For details, see his page.
7.3) Theresa Caroline Wills (1810/15? – 1889) marr. Pierre Follain
See her page.
Children of Frederick Wills and Ann Catherine Green
7.4) John Henry (1818-1823). “Jean Henri” died 9 Oct 1823 at the age of 5 ½ years.
7.5) Stanislaus Wills (1821 – 1850s?)
He was born 30 Sept. 1821, bapt. 16 Feb 1822 (with Francis Green and Ellen Mudd as godparents), and was possibly named for their neighbor and friend Stanislaus Gardner, who had also come from Charles County, Md. This is probably the “Saintt. Wills”, recorded in the 1850 census as a planter born in LA aged 24 (probably a mistake for 28/29, which would fit his baptismal record, and put him closer in age to his wife). With him is Therese Wills, aged 30, born in Maryland. He apparently died in the 1850s because she is then listed in 1860 (aged 41) as a “planter” with the children of Justin in her house. Then Theresa Wills died 17 Aug. 1861. Presumably, this is Stanislaus’ wife whom he met when visiting relatives in Maryland.
Charles Wills, son of Frederick Wills and Anne Catherine Green was born in October 1823 and baptized four months later at Grand Coteau, Louisiana. He is not to be confused with his cousin of the same name, Charles Henry Wills (1824-1896) of Araby in Maryland.
As the youngest child, he possibly accompanied his mother to Maryland after his father’s death, or perhaps he went there as a young adult. In either event, he is later found in Charles County, living with his uncle John B. Wills, Jr. His uncle’s will of Jan. 1845 states “I give and bequeath to my nephew Charles H. Wills one negro boy called Stephen to him and his heirs forever.” Sadly, the Oct. 2, 1845 issue of the Port Tobacco Times reports the death of Charles aged 22 at the residence of his “late Uncle John B. Wills.”
The administration of his estate gives us an idea of Charles’ finances and clues to the rest of his family. First, his mother renounced the administration in favor of John W. Mitchell. Then Charles’ contentious cousin Dr. Francis R. Wills petitioned to replace Mitchell since he was the largest creditor of “Charles H. Wills, Jr. deceased”, but the petition was dismissed. At least part of that debt to Dr. Francis Wills was for medical attention to his deceased cousin and the enslaved Stephen whom Charles had inherited a few months earlier.
The estate received from the executors of his uncle John B. Wills $499.18, and $99.80 was received from Mrs. Ann Wills for “wages due said deceased for the year 1845 up to death”. This Ann Wills could be either Charles’ mother or the widow of John B. Wills, Jr. of the same name, but either way we can understand that he was well enough to work for part of the year. In June 1846, bonds were received from Ann Wills and Teresa Caroline Wills (his mother and sister).
The administrator’s Dec. 1846 accounting of the estate lists $543.26 as distributed. He had paid Ann C. Wills the distributable share of said estate coming to her and states that the other distributables live beyond the limits of the state of Maryland “somewhere in the state of Louisiana.” There was a deposit of “the six shares” to said distributees. In June 1847, the administrator calculated the estate tax “after deducting the mother’s share of which is not subject to tax.”
From these documents, we understand that Charles had six heirs, presumably his mother and the shares of 5 siblings or their descendants: his brothers Justin and Stanislaus, his sister Theresa Caroline, niece and nephew Mathilde and Edward Doremus (children of his deceased sister Mary Ann — was this one share or two?), but possibly one more sibling.