All Souls Day 2011

Madame Marguerite Justine Belhomme (Marchand) Benoist Mezeix The Milliner of Natchez

Click image above to view slideshow. Photos by J.E. Guercio and Johnny Junkin

Madame Benoist--- “French Lady...with an accent”. Madame Marguerite Justine Belhomme (Marchand) Benoist Mezeix, (she had 3 husbands) was a milliner by trade. She was born in 1814 in Angouleme, France, where she was baptized and made her First Communion. Her early years were marked by the last years of the Napoleon Era and the start of the Bourbon King, Charles X.

After the death of her first husband and children in France, Justine starts life anew arriving in Natchez, sometime before 1850. She would return to France to visit her sisters and to buy the best Paris millinery for the Natchez market.

It didn’t take long for Justine to find her second husband, Eugene Benoist, who was born in Meaux, France. He had recently arrived in Natchez, and he was five years her junior.

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Justine Belhomme Benoist holding her only surviving child Louis Armand Benoist (founder of Benoist Brothers).

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Left: Justine Belhomme Benoist in the early years.

Middle: Justine Belhomme Benoist (hair parted down the middle and pulled back, black dress which buttons down front, looks like she is wearing a black lace cap and ear bobs, white lacy collar and very lacy (double) cuffs, one hand propped on chair arm and one hand in lap.

Right: Portrait by Henry Norman hangs in Benoist-Stier House in Natchez, Mississippi where it has hung since at least early 1900's. It is also on exhibit with the Gandy Collection at First Presbyterian Church in Natchez, Mississippi. In this portrait, her fluffed lace scarf is held in place by a cross.

On March 13, 1850, they were married in the unfinished cathedral and their celebrant was Fr. Raho who served under Bishop Chanche. Their surviving child, Louis Armand Benoist, was born August 28, 1852. (From this child the Benoist family of Natchez descends.) Justine’s second husband died during the yellow fever epidemic of 1853. He is buried here.

Justine was widowed seven years before she married her third French husband, Claudius Mezeix, on December 2, 1860, in the cathedral. Rev. M.F. Grignon was the celebrant. She was 46 years old, and he was 35! He was a cotton broker and a holder of patents on the lubrication of axle boxes. They lived on Justine’s 80 acre plantation, Blowburn, on Old Palestine Road.

Justine’s business thrived until the 1860’s when the Civil War began. Tragedy struck when the Union Army took possession of Natchez in 1863. Her property was confiscated without compensation under the suspicion that she aided the Confederacy with goods. In the U.S. Court of Claims she is described as a “French Lady...with an accent”. The property was returned to her at the end of The War in 1865.

Justine died on July 31, 1879, at 65 years of age. She is buried between two husbands. Also buried in this plot is Jerome Belhomme, Justine’s brother.

Do you like my mourning cross? It is Justine’s and it is shown in her portrait by Henry Norman--the Natchez photographer.

I am Ginny Gerace Benoist and I am married to Paul Benoist. We live in the Benoist-Stier Home at 410 South Union Street in Natchez.

Composed and presented by Virginia Gerace Benoist for All Souls Day Procession, November 6, 2011.

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Lithograph on stone - St. Mary Cathedral