LSU Libraries Special Collections’ “Of Kin and Cane” Exhibit, Symposium to Highlight Papers of West Baton Rouge Family

03/08/2013 03:44 PM

BATON ROUGE – Though the ink has long dried on countless pages of correspondence, penned by many hands over several generations in the Edward J. Gay family, the experiences these documents record come to life for the reader, even today.


The saga of an influential Louisiana family, rooted literally and figuratively in the cultivation of sugar cane for almost two centuries, is explored in the new LSU Libraries Special Collections exhibition, “Of Kin and Cane: Selections from the Edward J. Gay and Family Papers.”


The display showcases historical documents ranging from the Louisiana territorial period through the Progressive era that depict multiple generations of the Gay family and reflect their involvement in state and national politics, business and sugar cane cultivation. It will be on view in Hill Memorial Library on the LSU campus from March 18 to July 6.


A symposium, also entitled “Of Kin and Cane,” will be held on Sunday, March 24, from 12:30-5 p.m. in Hill Memorial Library. The event offers an opportunity for history scholars and agriculture specialists and practitioners to explore historical aspects of sugar research, technology and plantation management, as well as current-day practices of a family sugar concern that has been in continuous operation for close to 200 years. Speakers include Kenneth Gravois, sugarcane specialist with the LSU Ag Center; Richard Follett, reader in American history at the University of Sussex; John Gay, co-owner of St. Louis Planting and Vice-President of E.J. Gay Planting and Manufacturing Company; and E. Phelps Gay, president of E.J. Gay Planting and Manufacturing Company.


The Gay family collection is one of the most significant groups of papers among LSU Libraries Special Collections’ archival holdings. It has been used extensively in important works on enslaved and post-Civil War free labor, plantation economy and the sugar industry, and offers a myriad of potential topics for research. The exhibit will also feature clothing and other artifacts associated with the family. These artifacts are currently held by the LSU School of Human Ecology’s Textile and Costume Museum.


“Perhaps what is so engaging about the Edward J. Gay and Family Papers is the multi-generational character of the collection and how those generations reflect the times in which they lived – the panoply of American, and in particular southern, history played out in the life of a family,” said Tara Laver, interim head of LSU Libraries Special Collections.


Historical themes such as the spread of settlement from the East to places like Tennessee and Missouri, then to Louisiana, the establishment of plantations and acquisition of land and slaves and the associated plantation society, the development of sugar cultivation and commerce in Louisiana, the coming and experience of the Civil War and its lingering economic, political and social aftermath, the Progressive era and World War I are all illustrated in the story of this family and the documentation they left behind. Besides these weighty events, family joys and sorrows and the human experiences common to all times and places are also found among the papers of this close-knit, very prosperous circle of kin--births, deaths, heartbreaks, weddings, celebrations, travels, financial uncertainty and familial relationships.


At the center of the collection are Lavinia Hynes and Edward J. Gay. Born in Virginia in 1816 and an established St. Louis merchant, Gay came to Louisiana as a result of his marriage in 1836 to Lavinia Hynes, daughter of Andrew Hynes, a Nashville merchant who, through his own marriage, inherited part of Home Plantation in Iberville Parish, near Plaquemine. Much as Gay would, Hynes played a large part in managing the agricultural and financial affairs of his father-in-law, Joseph Erwin, who had established Home; both Hynes and Erwin and their families also figure prominently in the collection.


Andrew Hynes died in 1849, and Gay eventually bought out the interests of the other heirs, built a new, grand residence on the place, and changed its name to St. Louis Plantation. He made Louisiana his official residence in 1860, and the Gays spent the majority of the Civil War there, though he, Lavinia and their six surviving adult children continued to divide their time between St. Louis Plantation in Iberville Parish and the city of St. Louis, Mo., where much of their extended family resided.


A skilled businessman and effective plantation manager, Gay built up a network of real estate and sugar growing, processing and selling operations that employed his sons and sons-in-law and connected his ongoing interests in Missouri, Iberville Parish and the surrounding area, and New Orleans. In 1884, Gay was elected as a Democrat to represent Louisiana’s Third District in the House of Representatives, defeating former Reconstruction-era Governor William Pitt Kellogg in a contentious race. He served in Congress until his death in 1889. Lavinia Gay died in 1891.


Edward J. and Lavinia Gay’s children and grandchildren carried on the family’s tradition of influence and importance in the Louisiana sugar industry, and his descendants continue to farm and advocate for sugar interests to the present day.


Both events are free and open to the public. Pre-registration is not required. For additional information, visit


About LSU Libraries Special Collections

Housed in historic Hill Memorial Library, LSU Libraries Special Collections collects, preserves, provides discovery and access to, and promotes and instructs in the use of a wealth of research materials in fields ranging from the humanities and social sciences to the natural sciences, agriculture, coastal studies, the fine arts, and design.


Hill Memorial Library is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. When classes are in session, the library is open Tuesday evenings until 8 p.m. During the week, paid parking is available at the Visitors’ Center, Memorial Tower and Mike the Tiger’s Habitat. For more information, visit the LSU Libraries Special Collections website at or call 225-578-6554.






Contact Leah Jewett
LSU Libraries Special Collections


Contact Aaron Looney
LSU Media Relations

Posted on Friday, March 8, 2013