Friday, September 11, 2015

Looking for Lois Ann Little

Very little is known about Lois Ann Little, Jean Laffite's putative granddaughter. We are told that she was born in 1840, was a deaf mute for most of her life, that she lived on the outskirts of St. Louis, Missouri and died in 1914. Her parents were Francis and Denise Little.

Lois Little is said to have been good looking and intelligent and to enjoy drawing, but she could not hear and could not speak out loud. I am not sure whether her deafness was congenital or as a result of a childhood disease. As far as we know, she never married. As Lois Little has no great achievements to her name, her chief interest to me at the moment is to help authenticate the Journal of Jean Laffite and the accompanying biographical materials that came with it, in the form of entries in the family Bibles and scrapbooks kept by the Laffite heirs. If we can prove that Lois Little existed, then maybe we can prove that her mother Denise Laffite Little existed as well, and we will be one step closer to proving that the Journal is genuine or at least contains facts about Laffite not otherwise known. 

My biggest lead at the moment is a small order of nuns who emigrated from France  and set up shop at Carondelet in 1837 to minister to the deaf community of St. Louis. They are called the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. Here is their story:

St. John Fontbonne in 1808, after the French Revolution, re-founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph (CSJ). More than a century and a half before, in 1650, the Sisters of St. Joseph had been founded in LePuy, France. During the French Revolution, the sisters were forced to return to their homes and the community was dispersed. Some 28 years after the refounding, six Sisters of St. Joseph came to the United States in 1836 and established American roots at Carondelet, a small community in south St. Louis, Missouri. Five years later, in 1841, they opened St. Joseph's Academy for girls.
 The school that the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet opened was not just a school for girls, It was not just a school for French speaking girls. It was a school for the deaf.

St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf was founded in 1837 when six Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet arrived in America from Lyon,France. Sent by the Bishop and a dedicated supporter, their sole mission was to educate children with deafness. They began teaching sign language in a small log cabin on the banks of the Mississippi River. Their ministry grew and by 1908 they purchased a school building and established residential housing for students from across the nation
I have contacted the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet several times already, but I have not yet had any confirmation of any contact with Lois Little, as the archives from that period are hard to access. However, I plan to redouble my efforts until a more concerted search can be made.

If there was a young girl of French origin living in Carondelet or the vicinity who was deaf and in need of an education, where would she have gone if not to the school opened by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet? And if she had parents and a famous grandparent who were well off, would there not be evidence of financial contributions from the Littles and the Laffites to that school?


  1. I was reading about how Louis Laurent Marie Clerc brought sign language to America, so I was wondering did the teachers use this in teaching the death children at that school?

    1. Hi, Julia, That is such a good question! Only two days ago I had access to a website that held the answer to your question. On it there was a photo of the title page of the book that the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet used to learn how to teach sign language to deaf mutes. But I do not remember who wrote that book, and when I tried to find the page again, I could not. On that page there was a story about how when the sisters first arrived in Saint Louis and announced themselves as Sisters of Saint Joseph from Lyons, the priest who greeted them asked them to prove they could really speak in sign language made the sign that she was very hungry and missed the bread of Lyons. For the life of me, I cannot find that page again, but I can remember it very clearly, all except the name of the author of the book. I think the book may have been "Manuel d'enseignement pratique des sourds muets (vol. 1), by Bébian, Roch Ambroise Auguste, 1789-1839
      Published 1827"