Jean Sylvain Gentil (1829-1911)*, a native of France and lifelong proponent of democratic principles, left his country in 1850 as a political exile following imprisonment and expulsion by Emperor Napoleon III. Gentil settled in Saint James Parish, Louisiana in 1853 and obtained a professorship of foreign languages at Jefferson College, a small Catholic school. Following the Civil War, Gentil continued his political activism by partnering with Armand Victor Romain to produce the weekly Le Louisianais. In 1881, Gentil sold Le Louisianais to André Roman and Paul Grima, who continued producing the newspaper until 1883. Gentil subsequently owned La Démocratie française of New Orleans and wrote articles for various other publications. In addition to political pieces, Gentil composed a great deal of poetry throughout his life.
The J. Gentil Papers consists of three handwritten documents, all of them in French. The leather-bound volume, titled “Chants de L’exil,” includes sixteen poems or songs. It is unclear if the entries are gathered or the original work of Gentil; entries list a geographic location and date. The other two documents, “Instruction et Avenir” and an untitled manuscript, refer to “College de la Louisiane” and “University de la Louisiane” respectively, suggesting the texts are commencement speeches.
Researchers can view the documents online here or request the original manuscripts by consulting with archives staff. Loyola University Special Collections & Archives is located on the third floor of Monroe Library and is open for research and quiet study Monday-Friday, 9:00-4:30.
*In his book Les écrits de langue française en Louisiane au XIXe siècle, Edward Larocque Tinker presents Gentil’s full name as Jean-Sylvain Gentil; however, Gentil signed himself “J. Gentil” or used one of his noms de plume, which included Jean Gribouille, J. Gringoire, J. Gueux, J. G. jardinier (or, jardinier louisianais), and Simplex.
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