Personal Papers: Anastasie Raoul papers
The Anastasie Raoul Collection consists of correspondence, financial and legal papers, albums, newspaper clippings, and advertisements related to Anastasie Julia Raoul and the Raoul (de Champmanoir) and Daumas families. Spanning from 1786 to 1895, the collection touches on family relations, daily life, education, religion, health, and business dealings in Syracuse, New York and various other locales such as Philadelphia, Louisiana, Alabama, France, and Havana.
The Raoul collection presents a picture of American life in the nineteenth century that is full of both the extraordinary and the commonplace. The unifying force of the collection, Anastasie Julia Raoul, was the daughter of a Commissary-General under Napoleon who married a son of well-connected French family, but spent the majority of her life living quietly in upstate New York giving French lessons. By the 1850's, she was best known for her students' Fourth of July pageants and the strawberry festivals in the summers that allowed her to earn a little extra money. However, she had once owned a store and been a member of the Syracuse business community. She was an independent woman who led a quiet life punctuated by profound separations of years and distance from her family, friends, and the native culture of her youth.
Anastasie Raoul, nee Daumas, was the daughter of Francis and Victorine Daumas. Before his death in 1817, Francis Daumas was a merchant of Philadelphia, planter in the West Indies, and Commissary -General of the British Isles. In 1812, he was Commissary of the French under Napoleon at Hispaniola. In 1817, at the age of fourteen or fifteen Anastasie Daumas married Dr. Jean Rose Raoul de Champmanior, originally from Dinan, Brittany, France. After their marriage in Delaware, the Raouls lived in New Orleans and New York City. Apparently, Dr. Raoul spent a good deal of time away from his wife, perhaps at sea as a shipboard doctor and eventually stayed in Havana for a period of at least a year in 1824-25.
By 1826, Dr. and Madame Raoul parted ways seemingly for good. She left New York City for Syracuse, New York with her young niece and brother in tow and it is unclear what became of her husband. Upon her arrival in the sleepy town, the fashionable Raoul was rumored to be worth twenty thousand dollars and according to her obituary, she was "in the enjoyment of ample means for those times." Despite these claims and Raoul's impressive style of living, she admittedly came to Syracuse to get rich. Estranged from her husband with her family to support, Raoul opened and operated the Onondaga Book and Drug Store where drugs, medicines, dye stuffs, books, stationery, "fancy articles," and willow ware were sold. Raoul, independent of her husband, occupied a place in the community usually reserved for men. A preprinted advertisement for the store informed "his friends and the public" that A.J. Raoul carried certain items in "his" drugstore.
The men in Anastasie Raoul's life made a habit of leaving her to fend for herself. In 1836, her brother, Alfred Daumas, never returned to Syracuse and his sister after embarking on a book-buying trip for the store. He resurfaced in a theater company in Maryland some years later and by 1843 Gaston Raoul, Anastasie's nephew, confirmed reports of Alfred's suicide in New Orleans. The consequent loss of capital that accompanied Alfred's disappearance exacerbated Raoul's already strained financial situation. The hopeful entrepreneur who traveled North to make money a decade earlier faced a harsher reality that included auctions forced by creditors and eventual bankruptcy. To earn a living, she fell back on her heritage and for the next twenty-six years taught French and periodically offered instruction in music, drawing, and sewing.
In 1819, Dr. and Madame Raoul took in their niece Marie Anne Julie (Marian) Raoul shortly after her father's death in Louisiana. While living in Syracuse with Anastasie, Marian attended Harmony Retreat in Auburn. Her letters home tell of daily life at the school; a teacher confiscated a contraband copy of The Romance of the Forest. But family drama soon ensued that took her further from her aunt than Auburn. Her brother, Gaston Raoul of Springfield, Louisiana, outraged that his sister had been separated from her mother at a very young age with no contact with her immediate family, expressed to Anastasie his desire to be reunited with her. Marian left Syracuse in 1844 and would not see Anastasie again. In her correspondence to her surrogate mother, she gave details about her new life in antebellum Louisiana, including tales of her suitors and outbreaks of yellow fever. After Marian's marriage to Francis Baker, a cattle rancher in Alabama, her letters tell of the relative isolation of her life in a sparsely populated area, her growing family, and of her husband's interactions and dealings with slaves. During the Civil War, the sometimes contentious communications between niece and aunt stopped completely, but were commenced again by Marian in 1866. These last few letters before Marian Baker's death in 1874 make reference to "Yanks," Reconstruction, and freed slaves.
Despite financial and familial difficulties, Anastasie Raoul made a mark on her adopted home with her perseverance, teaching, and hospitality rather than with the more sensational aspects of her life. Upon her death in 1875, her friends in Syracuse provided her with a plot in Oakwood cemetery and a gravestone with the inscription "Our Friend." One such friend, Margaret Tredwell Redfield Smith, preserved Raoul’s personal papers as well as her legacy by writing about Raoul and her impact on the Syracuse community.
Personal Papers: Diary of Mystery Man
His identity was a mystery. I first began to glance at his life by reading his diary (The diary recently came to OHA from Rochester as the diary of a now unidentified Syracuse bank employee.). He recorded his activities from 1922-26 in A Line A Day, a small maroon book used for chronicling one's thoughts and actions. As I read the pages I learned that most likely he was Jewish. He lived in Syracuse and worked at a bank. He moonlighted as a hosiery and petticoat salesman. He had many Jewish friends; Max and Regina Stolz, Henry Kutz, Thelma Kopelwich, Ann Rabinowitz, and Jewel Lieberman, just to name a few.
As I began to unravel the mystery of his identity by perusing the diary entries, I learned more about this unknown Syracusan. He was single and lived with his Uncle Sydney. Uncle Sydney's sister was Mrs. Belle Nister of Nurnberg (Nuremberg), Germany. He worked at Syracuse Trust Co. He frequented the local movie theaters - the Eckel, Keith's, Empire, Strand, and Regent - where he enjoyed watching such silent films as Miss Juliet, Rent Free, The Million Dollar Handicap, and Lady Windermere's Fan. He played the piano, as well as pinochle and bridge with his friends. He attended dinners and dances at the Philo Lodge of the Masonic Temple. He went to the Young Men's Hebrew Association. He attended services at Temple Society of Concord where he listened to his own Rabbi, Benjamin Friedman, as well as guest speakers from Rochester, Chicago, and Cambridge, England. He traveled around CNY selling women's hosiery and petticoats in East Syracuse, Cortland, Canton, Ithaca, Sherburne, and Lowville. On February 28, 1922, this unnamed Syracusan purchased a new Durant automobile. The auto dealer gave him $455. for his 1921 Ford sedan. In August 1923, he enrolled in a correspondence course for Business Administration through the LaSalle Extension School. For the next three years, he completed 48 correspondence lessons, concluding the course in June 1926.
His identity remained a secret until I utilized additional research tools at OHA's Research Center. Continuing to probe, I noticed an entry for 1925 that mentioned his upstairs neighbor, Mrs. Meyer Rosenthal. The Syracuse City Directory for that year listed her address as 1417 E. Genesee St. The other resident at that address was Sydney Benda (Uncle Sydney!). Searching for more information on Sydney Benda, I found his cemetery card. On the reverse was the name of a sister, Mrs. Belle Nister, and a stepson, Samson B. Zenner. The Syracuse City Directory listed Samson Zenner as living at 1417 E. Genesee St. and as a bookkeeper at Syracuse Trust Co. Finally, I knew his name!
Samson Zenner was a lifelong resident of Syracuse. After completing his coursework through LaSalle Extension School, Zenner later became an accountant. He married after 1930, and he and his wife, Blanche, had two children. He was a member of Temple Society of Concord.
Samson Zenner's diary offers a wonderful glimpse into the life of a young Jewish man living in Syracuse in the early to mid 1920s. His diary entries are succinct, and depict a well-read, ambitious man who worked hard at the bank, loved to socialize with his friends, visit the surrounding scenic areas, and participate in various Jewish religious and community activities. It also provides some information pertinent to the Syracuse Jewish community in the 1920s.
Thomas Hunter, Assistant Director