Sunday, August 23, 2009

ORALIE TROUP VIGAL

Shattered Dreams

Her parents named her Oralie, or "the golden child." All of her life Oralie dreamed of being happy. Born into great wealth, she never seemed to find the alluring bliss she longed for and so desperately hoped to find. This little rich girl grew up without the constant presence of a father and without the guidance and nurturing of her mother, who died at a young age. In her autumn years, Oralie was labeled a "lunatic" and involuntarily confined within the inescapable and claustrophobic walls of the Lunatic Asylum of Georgia.

Oralie Troup was born about the year 1820 - perhaps in Laurens County or wherever her mother may have sought the best medical attention. Her father was George M. Troup. Troup served two terms as Governor of Georgia, as well as terms as a United States congressman and senator. Governor Troup and his family moved to Laurens County around 1815. Oralie's mother, Ann Carter, was a great granddaughter of Robert "King" Carter of Albemarle County, Virginia and one of the wealthiest landowners in Colonial Virginia. Oralie was a second cousin of arguably one of the most famous southerners ever, General Robert E. Lee.

Oralie spent much of her youth with her older sister Florida and their Troup cousins who lived at Broughton Island near Darien in McIntosh County, where educational opportunities were much more available and where she could live a proper social life in keeping with her lavish lifestyle, much more so than in the sparsely populated agrarian back woods of Central Georgia.

Florida and Oralie developed an acquaintance with Fannie Kemble Butler, an English actress who resided on the nearby Butler Plantation. Mrs. Butler kept journals of her experiences in the slave holding plantations of the coastal Georgia islands. In them, she described Oralie as one of the most beautiful women she had met in America. After a bitter divorce from her husband, Mrs. Butler published her journals in an effort to promote the abolition of slavery and convince the government of her native land to refrain from entering the Civil War on behalf of the South.

While there are no existing census records to show her residence before 1850, Oralie did live in the home of her father at his Valdosta Plantation on the Old River Road, southeast of Dublin. As the woman of the house, Oralie entertained visitors on their travels from Darien to the capital in Milledgeville. The death of her sister Florida- perhaps her dearest friend - in 1847, and living in solace with her rapidly aging and frequently ailing father and her ne'er-do-well brother George, Jr. did little to further her dreams of eternal happiness.

Following the Governor's death in 1856 and that of George Jr. a few years later, litigation, often ugly and greedy, ensued between the heirs of the Governor, who had amassed a substantial fortune in real property and slaves. The remaining heirs, all children of Florida, stood to inherit all of the estate of their grandfather if Oralie never had any children. Oralie's share of the estate amounted to some $30,000 in land and more than $100,000 in the market value of the slaves she owned.

Oralie chose to live on what had theretofore been called the Turkey Creek Plantation of the eastern outskirts of present day Dudley. In 1860, Miss Troup made substantial improvements to the place, which she renamed Vallambrosa for a Benedictine abbey in the Appenine Mountains of Tuscany, Italy. At the terminus of a winding path near the banks of Turkey Creek was a spring house, which featured a stone arch with the words "Oralie Troup 1860" carved in a stone marker along with a goblet centered inside a four-leaf clover. In point of fact, the spring house was not a house at all. Moreover, it had no roof. The simple structure resembled the entrance to an ancient Hebrew tomb carved in the side of a steeply sloping hill. The stone, its original lettering now somewhat eroded, rests in front of the Dublin-Laurens Museum.

The dark clouds of the Civil War opened in the latter months of 1865 in glorious splendor. Oralie was anywhere from the age of 45 to 56, depending on which source you believe - the former being more likely than the latter. Considered an old maid, her hopes for marriage at her age were slight, unless the suitors, who came looking for riches instead of youthful beauty, might come and court the lonely Oralie. She had fully intended to marry before. Oralie had the finest brocaded satin wedding dress tailored for her wedding, but the prospective groom met with an untimely death before the couple shared their vows.

Enter one John A. Vigal, a Macon native who had lately resided in Sumter County before the beginning of the war. An Assistant Surgeon of the 33rd N.C. Infantry Regiment, the presumably handsome and relatively young widower with two young sons, moved to Dublin to open his practice. There he began to court Miss Oralie, some fifteen years his senior. Though he was nowhere near destitute, his means were considerably less than those of the wealthy spinster. John Vigal bore the scars of sorrow as well. The scarlet stains of ceaseless carnage never faded from his surgeon hands. After losing his wife at a tender age, Dr. Vigal found himself amputating limbs and watching young boys bleed to death in the blood-splattered field hospitals of Lee's army, who suffered acceptable casualties at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, but were slaughtered by slightly more than a score of thousands in a shallow valley south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, some two summers prior.

Though Oralie was "past the days of her youth," she was quite loved by those who knew her. Tall and graceful, Oralie loved to dance. Finally she would dance with the man of her dreams. In the days before Christmas, John Vigal proposed marriage to Oralie, who readily accepted. Oralie had her servants to take out her abandoned dress and revitalize it for her grand wedding, which was held on January 11, 1866.

Sometime in the fall of 1870 or the early winter of 1871, it is not exactly known when, Dr. Vigal fell ill. He traveled to Macon to seek treatment. Soon he removed himself to a healthier climate. On June 14, 1871 , Oralie received a communique that her beloved John had died.

Oralie’s life was about to change. And, once again, happiness devolved into sorrow. Oralie’s stepsons, Clifford and Joseph, were sent back to their blood relatives, leaving her to face the world alone once again.

Most of the people that knew Oralie would tell you that she "had little capacity for business and that she was generous to a fault." Credulous and trusting, Oralie was susceptible to connivers, schemers and fortune swindling lotharios. Oralie was the last surviving child of George and Anne Troup. She was in her early fifties and there was no one around to protect her from the avaricious miscreants who might seek to relieve her of her life sustaining affluence.

It was about this time that the children of her departed and beloved sister Florida traveled to Vallambrosa to seek to take care of her affairs. Col. Robert Wayne, husband of Augusta Bryan and a veteran of the late war, assumed control of her affairs.

The Vigals executed a post nuptial agreement which set forth the terms of the ownership of their respective properties. Oralie’s lands, which amounted to nearly 5,000 acres, was placed in the hands of her husband to manage and control for her benefit, but not to be sold without her consent. Vigal, in exchange for his services, was entitled to the use of the profits for the education and maintenance of his sons. This was done without any requirement of any accounting to her whatsoever - a clause which would lead to much consternation after Vigal’s death. Oralie stipulated that if she was to die before her husband, that all of her property should go to her children, and if she bore none, to her husband and his heirs.

When Col. Wayne began to investigate Oralie’s assets and legal affairs, he discovered that Vigal had taken it upon himself to invest some of the excess and unreported profits into bonds of the Macon and Brunswick Railroad and placed them in the hands of a trustee for the benefit of his sons. Wayne believed that the late doctor had been embezzling funds from Oralie. It was further apparent that Vigal did not maintain an extensive medical practice - the only extant evidence of his practice came more than three years after his death when the Simmons Liver Regulator Company published his testimonial of the benefits of their product, a statement attested to by dozens of Georgia luminaries.

Upon the advice of her counsel, Oralie repudiated the terms of her agreement and sought to set aside the unwise relinquishment of her property to her late husband and his sons. A jury agreed and all of her property rights were returned to her, of course under the management of her nephew by marriage.

Col. Wayne sought and was granted letters of guardianship of the affairs of Oralie. Believing in his mind and the minds of his wife and in-laws that Oralie was incapable of handling her affairs, Wayne petitioned for a writ of lunacy directing that Oralie be confined to the Lunatic Asylum located on the outskirts of the former Georgia capital of Milledgeville. Oralie was taken under protest to the dreadful facility, where she was admitted on November 16, 1873.

During her initial stay in the asylum, which lasted at least until June 30, 1875, Oralie received infrequent visits from her family. Wayne did order and pay for the delivery of her favorite foods; lemons, oranges, sugar and cakes, as well as hair brushes and perfumes as pleasant reminders of the grand ole days when life was sweet and without care. Meanwhile, the Waynes lived at Vallambrosa in lavishness.

After a confinement of six months, rumblings began among Oralie’s friends and acquaintances that she was being imprisoned as a part of a scheme to get rid of her and gain possession of her exceedingly valuable estate. A correspondent of the Macon Telegraph denounced her immediate relatives and suggested their involvement in the dastardly scheme. He communicated his suspicions to the superintendent of the asylum, Dr. Green, pleading with him to observe and analyze Mrs. Vigal’s behavior and to verify that she had been justly committed to the institution.

Apparently sometime later, Oralie was sent home on a permanent, or perhaps only temporary, basis. For on October 10, 1877, Robert Wayne, acting as guardian for Oralie, petitioned Judge John T. Duncan, Judge of the Laurens County Court of Ordinary, for the appointment of a commission to determine the propriety of an order to recommit Oralie back to the asylum. Wayne alleged that his ward "had become very violent," and that he "had been unable to return her to home without force." Believing that she would be better cared for back at the asylum, Wayne asked the court to investigate the matter.

Judge Duncan appointed a thirteen-man jury to meet at the schoolhouse near Mr. Moore’s house on October 24th to try the issue of Oralie’s sanity. D.H. Combs was elected foreman by the panel, which included David Ware, Stephen B. Whipple, George H. Ware, John W. Horn, J.C. Pope, R.R. Stanley, J.T. Pope, C.C. Stokes, W.W. Howard, J.F. Howard and A.F. Thomas. W.P.W. Anderson testified along with Oralie’s nephew Hugh Bryan that Mrs. Vigal was incapable of handling her affairs. Wayne and a letter by Gen. T.P. Smith corroborated the testimony of Dr. W.J. Kurtz. Kurtz, a member of the jury, testified that he had known Mrs. Vigal for more than fifteen years and that he had recently spent one night and the better parts of two days observing her mental condition. Kurtz was satisfied that her mind was much impaired and that she was unsure and incapable of taking care of herself. Kurtz told the jurors, who agreed with his beliefs, that it was in Oralie’s best interest that she be sent to the institution where she could live with all the comforts of home - it being noted by the court that she possessed sufficient assets to enjoy said comforts for many years to come. But the years didn’t come. Nearly eighteen months after her return to the mental hospital, Oralie died on May 15, 1879. All alone and without anyone she could truly call a friend, Oralie was back in the arms of her parents and her sister Florida, who would love her for all eternity.

Oralie’s desire for everlasting contentment always seemed to have alluded her. The happy times were often interrupted by years of loneliness and fortnight after fortnight of despair. Her remains lie beneath an anonymous urn with no indication of who she was or when she was born or when she died. In her death as in her life, she was separated from her family. Lying just beyond her feet is Dr. Patrick Hoey, a doctor from Dublin, Ireland, who was a friend of Elijah Blackshear, an officer of the War of 1812 and the original owner of the place on Turkey Creek. Blackshear’s mortal remains lie to Oralie’s right in the cemetery in the yard of the now indiscernible Vallambrosa. Even the promised obituary by the editors of Dublin Post never materialized. Only a few of the ancient live oaks remain to mark the spot where, if only for a brief time, Oralie finally found true and belatedly deserved happiness before she faded away into the future of obscurity, that is until now.

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