Eliza Jane Poitevent
Holbrook Nicholson/Pearl Rivers
First Woman Publisher and Editor of Major American Newspaper, the Picayune
Biography of Pearl Rivers
By Don Wicks (2007)
Pearl Rivers is the pen name of poet Eliza Jane Poitevent Holbrook Nicholson. Eliza
took the pen name from the Pearl River, which was near her childhood home. She became the owner and
publisher of the Times Picayune in New Orleans from 1876 to 1896.
Born in Gainesville, Mississippi, twenty miles south of Picayune on March 11, 1843 (some sources say
1849), to William J. Poitevent and Mary A. Russ Poitevent. She was reported to be a quiet child
and a daydreamer who had a sickly mother, a very busy father, and two older brothers that taunted her.
When Eliza was nine, Eliza's aunt, Jane Kimball, visited the family and entreated
her sister Mary to let Eliza Jane come live with her and her husband, Leonard Kimball, in Hobolochitto
(the early name for Picayune) where Leonard managed a plantation (now called the Hermitage) and a store.
Leonard Kimball and Jane Potter Russ had been married in Gainesville around 1840. Jane
was in her early teens, and Leonard was in his late thirties. They were childless in 1852 when Eliza Jane
Nicholson came to live with them. When Eliza moved to Picayune, she had older brothers
by three and six years, a younger brother by two years, and younger sisters by seven, five and 2 ½
years. It is not known whether or not Eliza Jane exhibited the wild nature she exhibited
in later life. She may have been sent away because she was difficult to control as the family was well
off with servants and slaves. Her father William James Poitevent was reported to be
a spirited man, and she may have taken after him. At any rate, the change of homes was beneficial for Eliza.
The trip from Gainesville to Hobolochitto was long whether by steamship or by buggy. At first, Eliza
must have had mixed emotions about the move. Shortly after she arrived and settled in
with the Kimballs she began revealing herself in poems. In Myself she wrote
With windows low and narrow too,
Where birds came peeping in
To wake me up at early morn
And oft I used
The Cherokees to climb the sill,
gossip loving bee,
To come so near that he would pause
And buzz a word
worked for Moses Cook, operated a trading post and post office, and tended the toll bridge across the creek.
He also managed the slaves and servants that planted and harvested the crops on the plantation. It was
a busy place with travelers passing through and locals coming to buy supplies and pick up
their mail. The Kimballs also offered rooms and meals to travelers. Eliza may have had duties helping to
tend the store and toll bridge; but when she was free, she roamed the piney woods. Much
of Eliza’s poetry reflects the animals, birds, and flora she observed. She seemed to change into
an enchanted princess, using her newly possessed charms to manipulate the adults around
her. That personality is reflected in Myself:
was a dear old man,
Who took me on his knee,
And better far than vexing
He held a kiss from me.”
was and still is a curious phrase. She kissed her teacher? Looking at it from Eliza’s innocent eyes,
it might have meant that she had wrapped her teacher around her little finger, who put
aside the vexing books for a kiss and taught her things that interested Eliza--maybe about nature and folklore.
That type of candidness was carried with her in her later life. The teacher was Moses
Cook, owner of the plantation, who shared the double penned log house with the Kimballs.
With access to the mail, Eliza had the opportunity to read newspapers and magazines where she developed
her love for poetry and fashion. She never threw away anything because everything to
her had life, even pencil stubs.
She is known to have lied about her age and other aspects of
her life. Her brothers had told her she was ugly and no man would ever love her or want to marry her. Her
vanity was the sort that tendered the preoccupation with always trying to look her best
rather than the sort of believing one’s self beautiful. In later life, she even missed an audience
with Queen Victoria because she felt she wouldn’t look good in the presentation
gown. This vanity, however, was not strong enough to curtail her wild and kindred nature. In a poem written
on one of her first visits to New Orleans, she writes about braving the city’s
bustle to give a tired man the berries she picked in spite of her torn clothing and unkempt hair. She writes:
With my fingers stained and purple,
Torn dress, and rumpled hair,
I would have braved proud fashion’s eye
To place my berries there.
Again in her poem Myself she writes:
No other child grew on the place,
A merry roughish elf,
I played “keep house” in shady nooks
All by my little self.
I leaped the brook,
I climbed the bars,
upon the hay;
To swing upon the old barn gate
To me was merry play.
I waded in the shallow stream
To break the lilies
And laughed to see the minnows swim,
So near my rosy feet.
I rode the pony down to drink,
He played some pranks with me,
But I had learned to hold on tight
And was as wild as he.
I could not keep my bonnet on,
The briars tore the frill,
The wind untied
the knotted strings
And tossed it at their will.
My dress and apron bore
Of frolic wild and free,
The brambles caught my yellow hair,
And braided it for me.
Leonard, Eliza’s uncle, was depicted as a frugal but generous man, but when it came to young love,
Leonard was ruthless in protecting her. Eliza was sent to the Amite Female Seminary
in Liberty, Mississippi, from which she graduated in 1859. An album in the Nicholson Collection at the
Williams Research Center in New Orleans has many poems and well wishes to Eliza at graduation.
She was depicted in a publication of women writers in the South as the “Wildest girl in school,”
apparently her own designation.
At the Female Seminary,
Eliza experienced her first love with a young man named William Cole Harrison. The romance, however,
was thwarted by her uncle Leonard and the headmaster Rev. Shirk, who came upon one of her love letters
and demanded them all. Eliza Jane refused but did give up the cards and a memento given
to her by William. When she moved back to Hobolochitto, she was kept captive by her uncle who, according
to William, had spies out to prevent the romance. Eliza spent three weeks on her brother’s
steamship after graduation and asked Willie to send his letters to Gainesville. In desperation, she secreted
one more visit with him on her brother's boat at the dock on Lake Pontchartrain. They briefly met, and
she gave him a ring. A third person, Bec, a friend of Eliza's, was instrumental in fostering
the romance. The correspondence ended in the latter part of 1859, but the friendship continued after Eliza
moved to New Orleans and married Holbrook until William moved to California. In 1861,
William joined the Civil Was as a Confederate soldier and later became a pharmacist and medical doctor.
He eventually became a Confederate General. Eliza's letters show the practical side
of her trying to accept the futility of the relationship, and she vowed to wait for him and love him forever.
What she did during the Civil War is not known. A group of poems
written for the New Orleans Times in 1866 reflect a romance with a Civil War
soldier. There’s a story by Elise Farr, secretary for Lamont Rowland, a one time
owner of the Hermitage. Farr wrote extensively about the place and Eliza. She gives an account of a girl
living at the Hermitage who fell in love with a Civil War soldier (reported in one manuscript
as Union) and mourned his death by sitting on the porch playing sad music on her violin. When the slaves
heard the music, they would stop their work to listen.
There are poems about lost
love and rejection. If her poems are in any way biographical, she intimately knew a woman’s
heart in love, lost love, and in rejection before she decided to marry Holbrook, co-owner of the Daily
The earliest poem in the Daily Picayune
attributed to her is “A Little Bunch of Roses,” published October 17, 1866. However, a delightful
poem published a day earlier called “Wouldn’t you like to know” is
most likely also hers. On January 28, 1866, she wrote, I Miss Thee for the New Orleans
Times, followed by five other poems-- all sad poems about her dead soldier
Eliza Jane’s first known trip to New Orleans was in the latter
months of 1868, when she visited her Grandfather Russ. There were trips back and forth to New Orleans until
she met Alva M. Holbrook, who asked her to become literary editor of that paper. She
accepted and later married him, a man 29 years her senior. She began writing for the New
Orleans Times in January 1866, but by 1867, she wrote exclusively for the Daily
Picayune. Most likely since she had known love and lost love, she married Holbrook
for status and security. However, instead of security, she encountered trauma and scandal that affected
her deeply until she met and fell in love with George Nicholson, the business manager of
A month after the wedding to Holbrook, Jennie Bronson, Holbrook’s
divorced wife, a crazed woman with a Latin temperament, entered Eliza’s home. Brandishing a seven
shooter, she shot twice at Eliza but missed. Eliza wrestled the gun away and yelled
for the police. Jennie then began to beat Eliza over the head with a bay rum bottle causing deep wounds.
Eliza called for the Irish laundry woman, who with the cook, freed Eliza and took her
next door, then across the street, where she was attended to by a doctor. Meanwhile, Jennie found an ax
and began to destroy the furniture. A legal mess that lasted almost two years resulted
from the assault. During reconstruction most government administrations were controlled by carpet beggars,
and corruption and incompetence were rampant. Amazingly, in October of 1873, Jennie Bronson
was found not guilty of assault. Through some manipulation, Jennie moved into Eliza’s house using
a court document filed by another judge and stayed there for a long time before she
could be evicted. Eliza was living in the St. Charles hotel and wrote William asking him to help her retrieve
her home. She mentioned that all her correspondence (and poetry) was in the house. William
contacted her after the assault by Jennie Bronson and wanted to renew the relationship, but Eliza would
not since she and William were both married to others. However, in one of her letters to William, she confided
that Holbrook did not love her, "never did, and never will."
felt rejected by her family when she left Gainesville, when she fell in love with Willie, when she began
publishing poetry, when she accepted the literary editorship of the Daily
Picayune and when she married a divorced man, but the incident with Jennie Bronson was a
public scandal with accusations of an affair before marriage and was a devastating attack
on her life.
During Eliza’s recuperation from Bronson's attack, with friends
rallying by her side, she published her only book of poetry, Lyrics, containing
43 of her poems, under the pen name Pearl Rivers. She struggled to lift her spirits
as she wrote an article and poem in the Daily Picayune in September of 1874 about
the trials of gallant women and the tribulations of the Poesy. The poem had been published
earlier in the Times but was reprinted to reflect another trauma in her life.
Before their marriage in 1872, A. M. Holbrook had sold the paper. When the paper lapsed into financial
trouble under its new owner, Holbrook was made president by the company that bought
it. Holbrook later bought the paper back. During that period Eliza and Holbrook traveled to Chicago, New
York, and Canada. Eliza’s account of the trip was published in the Daily
Picayune on two occasions. The narrative shows a free spirited girl on her first real vacation.
She writes of magnificent architecture, museums, and famous people. She was being exposed
to a culture different from the South, and she loved all of it but the bustiers which were in fashion at
Before Holbrook could turn around the indebted newspaper, he died in
bankruptcy, leaving Eliza with the choice of retaining ownership of the indebted newspaper or accepting
the $1000 dollars the state offered to bankrupt widows. At the urging of the business
manager and editor, she kept the paper-- much to the chagrin of her family. It was not proper for a genteel
Southern woman to enter business, especially with cigar smoking men in a newsroom .
She defied her family once again. Having made the decision three months after Holbrook’s death keep
the paper, the editor, Jose Quintero, a flamboyant Spaniard and expert duelist, challenged
anyone who wished ill of the new female editor to do it at the risk of death in a duel with him.
About this time the business manager George Nicholson invested his own savings in the paper and acquired
1/4 ownership. George was married with children at the time, but there was an apparent
relationship between Eliza and Nicholson as noted in a group of romantic and coquettish letters written
by Eliza Jane to "Uncle" Nick. These letters, not usually ones that would
appear in a family collection, were given to Eliza’s granddaughter by a Poitevent relative. The letters
provide an invaluable insight to Eliza’s nature and personality. When she was
a widow (in a note written by Eliza to her sons) was a letter written by her to their father, showing she
was not at all ashamed of the letter. The letters are in the Nicholson Collection at
the Williams Research Center. They show a young girl in love, struggling with how to express it to a married
In 1877, a year after George Nicholson's first wife died,, Eliza Jane and
George Nicholson married. This time Eliza married for love and faced a very insecure financial future.
During those times, scandalous activities were not promulgated in print, but rumors
abounded in New Orleans. Eliza apparently got along well with George’s first family. Annie, the oldest
daughter actually raised the two Nicholson boys after their parents died.
Nicholson, a brilliant business man, and his ingenious female editor wife managed to make the paper financially
profitable. At first, a managing editor was hired, so Eliza’s input came about
gradually. However, in 1880, after the paper was awarded the state publishing contract, the editor was
released, and Eliza took on the responsibility. She began the Society Bee,
a local gossip column and published the first weekly issue of a serial novel, A Dead Life.
The Daily Picayune became one of the leading newspapers in the South during the
Reconstruction. Eliza added woman and children and animal issues to the newspaper at
a time when Southern women were shedding the bondage of being of a lower genteel class. Her innovations
were unprecedented in the South. She fought against the corrupt regimes in local and
state government. She supported building jetties to clear the Mississippi River and opposed the continued
dredging proposed by the Corps of Engineers. She supported Democratic takeover of the
corrupt Republican regimes. She supported public selling of bonds to build the railroad that now passes
through Picayune. She was undoubtedly responsible for naming the stops of Picayune and
Nicholson. She also hired many women writers, including Catherine Cole and Dorothy Dix, the infamous Dear
Abby of her time.
Even when Holbrook took back the paper as president, the newspaper
was changing, but now its innovations were numerous, It offered more poetry, literary and romantic stories,when
Eliza was literary editor after her marriage. While her innovations boosted circulation,
it was George’s ability to sell ads, Eliza’s genius, and the new state contract which helped
turn the paper around.
Physically Eliza Jane was short--
barely over four feet tall with tiny hands and feet, a somewhat large nose and ears, blue-green
or green-gray hazel eyes, and beautiful auburn red hair (blonde from the sun in her earlier years). she
looked younger looking her age. She was of fair complexion and probably had freckles.
She was an attractive child/woman, but it was not her appearance, but her presence that marked her. She
not only impressed men but women and children also. She was sensitive and had a stern
will but was not domineering. She was honest to a fault and a free spirit who could live comfortably
in her imagination, but she also enjoyed others. She was amiable but not outgoing. She
was basically shy and hated to appear before groups of people, sending someone else when duties called
her to appear. She loved life and found joy in her children. There appear to be times
when she went underground. Perhaps she was away on trips or perhaps she was sick or in a state of depression.
She taught her children nature lore. She knew things that others couldn’t comprehend
even with experience, so she may have been psychic. As a child, she strikingly resembles an Indago or Chrystal
child, two of the Psychic personalities defined by that group. “Did you know she
could levitate?” her granddaughter, Elizabeth once said in an interview… “and bend spoons!”
Eliza Jane had participated in several interviews and was
written about in journals and articles in magazines. Many short histories are available,
and there is a lengthy history of the Daily Picayune during her reign. Who she
was is revealed in her poetry and the various articles she wrote when she was editor.
She was a gifted writer whose sincerity and general knowledge of the world comes through. Every article
is a journey, and every poem has a message. She reveals the depth of her pain and the
height of her joy. She questions herself and the world constantly through her newspaper and fostered many
causes. She did not promote woman suffrage but suggested that women be ready when it
comes. Her view on slavery is not known, nor her view on freed slaves. There may have been resentment because
freed blacks were considered responsible for voting in the corrupt government. Her husband
George, in a letter to her, suggested a change in their position on the issue, saying that perhaps
the blacks should not have been given the right to vote. Many felt as he did and what followed
were the poll taxes and the literacy test. However, the histories of the newspaper during
Eliza’s reign do not site any editorial opinion. Her principals were never based on public
sentiment or cultural norms.
To date, over 200 of her poems have been found.
She wrote mostly verse, some portions with genius, some mediocre, which is typical even
with famous poets. During her time she was probably the most famous poet in the South. After her marriage
to Holbrook and the attack by his ex wife, her poetry suffered. When she took over the
newspaper, she had little time to write. There were, however, several serial novels with no by-line. They
have been hers. Her writing was not revived until the birth of her first son Leonard
when she began to write children’s verse and newspaper articles about her life and children. Later
in life, her poetic skills were rejuvenated with two narrative poems: Hagar and
Leah. The poems defend the two women who were given a bad rap in the Bible. Both, especially
Hagar, received national acclaim.
Eliza Jane died February 15th, 1896, two
weeks after George’s death. Both died of influenza during an epidemic in New Orleans.
They are buried in Metairie Cemetery. They left two sons, Leonard Kimball Nicholson, age fifteen
and York Poitevent Nicholson, age twelve. Aunt Annie, the oldest of George’s daughters,
took over care of the boys while the editor, Rapier took over their financial interest. Leonard
became the editor of the Times Picayune. York worked for the paper but was sickly
and worked only when he felt up to it. Both boys graduated from VMI and were best friends.
Eleanor, a deceased granddaughter, had said York never talked about his mother, but he did tell
her stories of English folklore that George had told him. Elizabeth, the granddaughter that
I interviewed, said he did talk about both his mother and father but not too frequently. She remembers
sitting with her father on the front porch sharing their personal lives. Jerry, Leonard
Nicholson’s adopted son said his father never talked about his mother or father. Leonard may
never got over his parent’s death and compensated for it by being a mentor for his
brother. After Leonard’s first wife Mary died in childbirth, he married his Poitevent
cousin. His grave was moved from Gainesville to Picayune when the Test Site was constructed.
In 1932, the Iris Society of Louisiana dedicated a Rainbow Memorial to Eliza, a lagoon
in City Park.
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On March 11, 2008 the New Orleans Arena hosted 311 Day 2008. This bi-annual event held
in New Orleans is a live concert and fan gathering celebrating the music and unity of rock reggae band 311. 14,000+ fans
attended from all 50 states and 12 different countries.
On March 11, 1944, the Liberty ship John M. Parker was launched by Delta
On March 11, 1943
, after three years of college and some secretarial/stenographic jobs,
Lucie Allison enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps. Allison photographed his younger daughter just before she boarded
a train for Asheville, North Carolina. She is pictured standing on the sidewalk across from the L&N Railroad Station at the foot of Canal Street
. Overhead is the pedestrian walkway that provided access to the Algiers Ferry Terminal from the rest of Canal. (NOPL)
Albert Baldwin Jr., businessman, civic leader. was born in New Orleans on October 7, 1866; son of Albert
Baldwin (q.v.) and Arthemise Bouligny. Education: University of Louisiana (Tulane). Married, February 25, 1890, Helen
Hardie (b. 1868), daughter of John T. Hardie (q.v.). Children: Alice Hardie (b. 1891), Albert (b. 1893), Alma (b. 1897),
and John (b. 1899). President of New Orleans National Bank; president, A. Baldwin & Co., Ltd.; president, Gullet Gin
Co.; president, New Orleans Water Supply Co.; secretary-treasurer, Salmen Brick and Lumber Co.; vice president and treasurer,
Times-Picayune Publishing Corp.; director, Union Ferry Co., Illinois Central Railroad Co., director, Texas and Pacific Railroad
Co., vice-president, Public Library Board of New Orleans. Member, Boston Club; several carnival organizations. Mason.
Died, New Orleans, March 11, 1915. G.D. Sources: Family papers and newspaper obituaries. From http://lahistory.org/site19.php
Amédé Ardoin (March 11, 1898 – November 3, 1942) with fiddle
player Dennis McGee, was one of the first artists to record Cajun music on December 9, 1929 for Columbia Records in New Orleans.
Lord Beaconsfield Landry, physician, civic leader and vocal soloist, was born on March 11, 1878
at Donaldsonville, Louisiana. His father, Pierre Landry, was the first Black Mayor of Donaldsonville. Lord Beaconsfield
received his elementary education in Donaldsonville and later completed high school at Gilbert Academy in Baldwin, Louisiana.
He received a B. A. in 1902 from Fisk University where he was a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. He taught school until
1904 when he enrolled in Meharry Medical College. He received his M. D. degree in 1908 and returned to New Orleans to practice
medicine in Algiers. Dr. Landry, always interested in helping the less fortunate, began a column "How to Keep Well"
in the Louisiana Weekly newspaper on May 8, 1928. He operated a free clinic for the poor people of Algiers. He also directed
the Osceola Five, an all male vocal group that specialized in Black cultural music for educational and religious programs.
On January 23, 1934, Dr. Landry died of blood poisoning. He was originally buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, but later his
remains were reburied in Nashville.
By ordinance of March 11, 1846, the City of Carrollton Council required the Commissary
("a competent person elected annually...." whose duties included the inspection of the town's streets &
levees, the inspection of licenses, the arrest of runaways & vagrants, and the general police of the municipality) to
take an annual census "of the inhabitants and occupations or professions of the town."
The town of Covington, previously called Wharton, was granted a charter March 11, 1816
and named in honor of General Leonard A. Covington, war hero of 1812. Source: http://www.enlou.com/time/year1816.htm
Pierre-Clement de Laussat, Colonial Prefect of Louisiana, took formal possession of Louisiana for France
on November 30, 1803 and on that date also established a municipal government for the city of New Orleans, composed of a Mayor,
a Municipal Council of twelve members, and a Recorder-Secretary. The city was governed by these officers until March
11, 1805, when the new Mayor and Conseil de Ville were installed, as provided for in the 1805 city charter. Laussat,
meanwhile, completed his responsibilities in New Orleans in April, 1804, and left for his new post in Martinique during that
Spanish Governor Salcedo and the Cabildo learned on March 11, 1803 that Louisiana was
to be transferred to the French.