N.Y. family explores its Natchez roots

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 17, 2010

NATCHEZ — Driving up to Monmouth wasn’t exactly coming home for Lexy Lovell, but entering the doors of the historic home connected Lovell with her family history.

Lovell is the great-great-great granddaughter of Brigadier General John A. Quitman, one of the first owners and the most prominent owner of the plantation.

Lovell and her family — husband Michael Uys and children Alex and Jeremy Uys — were in Natchez Monday through Wednesday to explore Lovell’s Southern roots.

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“I have heard so much about my family history, but had never been here to see it,” Lovell said. “We wanted to go and find it and discover it for ourselves. I find it fascinating that so much history is still quite alive.”

The family lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., but planned a trip south this summer that included the stop in Natchez and a trip to Terrebonne Parish to see a section of land still passed down through the Quitman family tree.

This was the family’s first trip to Natchez.

Before embarking on the trip the family researched the Quitman family legacy and developed an understanding about John A. Quitman and his immediate family.

Michael Uys said the numerous tracts of land Quitman purchased in the 1830s shocked him.

“He was acquiring land almost annually,” he said. “It was almost unbelievable that he was able to expand his property in that way.”

In addition to Monmouth, Quitman owned sugar plantations in Louisiana.

For Lovell, touring Monmouth and being told the stories of the Quitman family was a personal history lesson.

“It was very strange to have someone telling me things I never knew about my family,” she said. “The dedication to the restoration and family history of this house has been amazing.

“There are items in the house that I grew up hearing about, but having them here gives a better sense of the history of the family.”

Family artifacts like the Quitman family wedding china were previously donated to Monmouth by Lovell’s family and are displayed in the dinning room.

“We found them in my grandmother’s attic, and I remember my father and aunt talking about what to do with them,” Lovell said. “A decision was made to donate the china to Monmouth. This is where it belongs.”

Throughout the house, Quitman family portraits are on display, several of which Lovell had never even seen in photographs. Looking at one portrait in particular, she was shocked to see such a resemblance between it and her son Jeremy.

“It jumped right out at me,” she said. “To me, they had the same lower jaw structure and other facial features.”

For Jeremy and Alex, seeing the ceremonial sword presented to Quitman for his efforts in the storming of Monterey in the Mexican-American War was the highlight of the Natchez trip.

The sword is being stored in a safe-deposit box at a local bank, but the family was able to see it Tuesday.

Alex said he was impressed by the story of his great-great-great-great grandfather leading the troops in war with only one shoe.

“I think he was pretty cool because he fought in the war, and the sword was cool,” Alex said. “The inscription was really neat, and it talked about what he did in the war.”

Jeremy said Quitman must have been very brave.

“It seems like he was pretty adventurous and courageous,” Jeremy said.

What really stood out for the family has been the level of interest others have in preserving the history of the Quitman family.

“I am very excited to have been here,” Lovell said. “But what I find so exciting is that other people are just as excited about it.”

Michael said by bringing the children on the trip, he hopes to create a family connection with the Quitman family’s southern roots.

“From an outsider looking in, this has been very impressive,” he said. “To see the history of Lexy’s family preserved in this way is great. We hope this is a place in many years the boys will want to bring their families.”