Welcome, I was just sitting here reminiscing over my life. I am Anthony Aversi and I was born in Sorrento, Italy in 1811. I know you think I am someone else but I will get to that soon enough.
As a very young boy I decided I wanted to go to that great new land called America. So, I hid away on a ship and somewhere in the Mediterranean I was discovered by the crew and taken to the captain. So, for my protection he made me his cabin boy.
After arriving in America and going through immigration I was asked my name. When I told them Anthony Aversi they responded with “what did you say?” The captain said “his name is John Davis."So, I became John Davis.
I eventually ended up in New Orleans in the restaurant and saloon business. My establishments where located on Common and St. Phillip Streets. in the French Quarter.
In August of 1856, I decided to take my family on a vacation to Last Island, LA. It was located just west of Terrebonne Bay and was Louisiana’s greatest resort where plantation owners, city merchants and out of state tourist were attracted to the remote Island by its beautiful hotel and gentle breezes. The island also had up to 100 private cottages. There were about 500 visitors on the island at this time. On Saturday night 9 August there was a grand ball in the hotel.
The island had been experiencing high tides and windy conditions for two days. The rising water crept into the hotel. By 10 am the next day, 10 August, gale force winds began to blow over Last Island. Inhabitants and vacationers quickly realized that the storm was a possible Hurricane and there was nothing for them to do except search for a place of safety. Strong and powerful winds began to blow unceasingly and by two o’clock that afternoon the first ever documented category 4 hurricane hit the island with a 12' storm surge. The violent winds then shifted to the east, and finally to the south.
John Grady Burns portraying his great great grandfather Anthony Aversi aka John Davis.
Water swept over the island from both directions and soon the carcasses of the horses and the cattle and the bodies of human beings were strewn over the island, into the bay and for several miles up onto the marsh. Not a single building remained standing and the Island was cut into four separate islands know as Isle Dernieres consisting of what are now called Raccoon, Whiskey, Trinity and East Islands. Only about half of the people survived. The ship I was traveling on with my wife and two children was caught up in the storm and fortunately crashed on the Island.
On Monday morning I emerged form the wrecked steamer Star, determined to rescue those survivors that I could. I was able to save about sixty people from what I remember. With the help of others, and Captain Baylie, we repaired a small sailboat and set sail to Bayou Bouef to spread the word of this disaster and to secure help for those remaining on Last Island. Within hours after we reached land the steamer Aubrey, set sail for the Island with myself aboard.
When the steamer grounded before reaching the island, I took a skiff from the Aubrey, and set sail for the island to let the survivors know that help was on the way. I was recognized for my heroic efforts – they said a man who left his wife and children on the devastated island to go for help; a man who had maneuvered a small sailboat through treacherous water to spread the word of the disaster; a man who helped the first group of survivors board the relief vessel. I just thought I was doing the right thing.
There is a book written about the hurricane. Last Days of Last Island: The Hurricane of 1856, Louisiana's First Great Storm, by Bill Dixon. I am even mentioned, my name is in the book. It is a good read I must say. Hopefully you will look it up and read it.
Shortly after this disaster, in 1857 I moved to Natchez, MS. with my wife Honora Haley Davis and our two sons. After moving to Natchez, we had a daughter, Honora. I became a captain on the Mississippi river and returned to the restaurant business. My establishment was known as John Davis’ Oyster Saloon. It was located on the corner of Pearl and Market Streets. I lived here for forty years before passing on at the age of eighty–six. I was remembered as “The Hero of Last Island.” The Rev. Patrick Hayden performed my funeral services in 1897.
Written and performed by John Grady Burns for the the annual Natchez City Cemetery production of Angels on the Bluff, November 2019.
Burns family heirlooms, a framed portrait of John Davis, and his engraved gentlemen's walking cane.