The #Poinsettia that is such a Christmas tradition gets its name from a Charlestonian – Joel Robert Poinsett. He was a Charleston attorney who was very fond of plants and trees, and created a massive garden in the upper peninsula that became known as Poinsett’s Grove. He was apparently a brilliant man who enjoyed the company of great thinkers, and was known for hosting breakfasts, at which ideas were offered and discussed with great scholarly detail. With a reputation as a scholar, a jurist, an elected congressman, and fluent in various languages, Poinsett became a trusted diplomat, and was appointed by President John Quicy Adams as ambassador to the newly-independent Mexico in 1825.
Poinsett was as interested in Mexican plants as politics, and became enamored of the fiery-red blooming shrub known Flor de Fuego, or Fire Flower, as well as Flor de Noche Buena, or the Christmas Eve Flower. He brought the plant back to his grove and cultivated it as a Christmas ornamental flower, and by the 1840’s, it became known as the Poinsettia. It is pronounced “poyn-Setta” for the benefit those TV football commentators who pronounce the Poinsettia Bowl game with an “eeah”.<img src=”Charleston Gardens” alt=”Historic Charleston”>
This painting is, according to family history, a portrait of my great-great-great-great grandfather and his young son. We know the son’s name was Auguste Paul Trouche, and that he lived from 1803-1846, but sadly, there is
complete mystery as to the older Mr. Trouche’s name and life. According to family stories, the Trouche family arrived in Charleston about 1792, as French immigrants fleeing the uprisings in Saint Domingue in the aftermath of the French Revolution. There is no record of anyone in the city by that name until 1806, when the city directory lists a “Madame Trouche” as a refugee. Perhaps she survived the uprising with her infant son, and Mr. Trouche died in Saint Domingue.
Auguste would become a skilled artists, whose work is still displayed in the Gibbes Museum of Art. According to one of the past museum directors, the artistic skill of Auguste was unlikely to have been learned in Charleston at the time, and the style of his oil landscapes on canvas was very much in vogue in early 19th-century Paris.
This makes me wonder whether the family may have been separated by the events in the Caribbean, and that perhaps Auguste and his father returned to France and the younger man came to America later. There is also the possibility that Auguste’s age is recorded wrong, because the painting seems to be late 18th century with Mr. Trouche’s powdered whig. Another peculiar fact is that when Madam Trouche died in 1843, she was 86 years old, which, if Auguste was really born in 1803, means she would have given birth to him when she was 46 years old, which was very unusual in those days, so perhaps he was her grandson.
The Joseph Manigault House stands majestically as one of Charleston’s most fascinating tourist attractions at the corner of Meeting and John streets in the historic Mazyck-Wraggborough neighborhood – a far cry from the house’s situation a century ago.
Completed in 1803 as a “garden villa” overlooking open meadows in the Charleston peninsula “neck”, the grand Adam-style house was an exquisite design completed by local architect Gabriel Manigault for his brother Joseph, a wealthy rice planter.
Distinctive features of the Adam style, also known as Federal style, is the focus on unusual color, which has been meticulously restored in the house, open for public visitation as part of the Charleston Museum. Another noteworthy detail is the sense of spaciousness created by a grand central staircase built in elliptical shape.
Like many Charleston houses, the structure fell on hard times after the War Between the States, deteriorating badly as the surrounding area gave way to factories and rail lines. By 1922, the property was sold to the Standard Oil Company, which turned the grounds into a filling station, and the beautiful Gate Temple entrance was converted into a restroom.
The Depression ended the gas station venture, and in 1933, the house faced possible demolition when the Charleston Museum purchased it in a public auction.
During War World Two, it was leased to the federal government as a women’s USO club.
Today, the house is beautifully restored and displayed, with features that include a stunning garden and an opulent interior that still dazzles visitors year after year.