Lesage is a census-designated place (CDP) on Ohio River Road in Cabell County, West Virginia, USA. As of the 2010 census, its population was 1,358. It is the nearest community to Clover Site, a National Historic Landmark.
Lesage is a part of the Huntington-Ashland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). As of the 2010 census, the MSA had a population of 287,702. New definitions from February 28, 2013 placed the population at 363,000.
The community was named after Jules F. M. LeSage, an early settler. Jules-François-Marie Lesage was the eldest child of Michel-François Lesage 1788-1866) and his wife Marie-Josephine Duval (1787-1863) of Paris. French state records note his birth on July 15, 1811, though he later claimed his birthday as July 14—Bastille Day. His parents had him baptized at the ancient Church of Saint-Gervais in the 4th Arrondissement, where the family lived. Lesage père was a prosperous manufacturer of printed wallpaper and hat boxes. Raised under the restored Bourbon monarchy and the successor regime of Louis Philippe, young Jules reportedly espoused dangerous republican sympathies. In the early 1830s, following service with the French army in Algeria, he immigrated to New York City where his father established him in the family business. [There is some evidence that Michel Lesage and another son, François-Achille Lesage, were also in New York in the early 1830s, though Michel at least returned to Paris]
On June 20, 1835 Jules (or Julius) Lesage married Marie Magdeleine Tessier Bellemère (1804-1882) at St. Peter's Catholic Church in lower Manhattan. Marie (or Mary) Lesage was a Paris-born widow. The couple settled first in New York City, then moved for a few years to Philadelphia, finally returning to New York where Lesage continued the family business of manufacturing "Paper hangings and hatter's boxes." The couple had three sons: Francis Julius (b.1836), Joseph Achilles (b. 1838), and Leo Horace (b. 1842). Leo died in 1843 during the family's extended visit to Paris (1842-1843).
Lesage possessed a restless temperament and he seemed always to be looking for the next object of fascination, whether a new avocation, new scenery or a new woman. His roving spirit prompted him to give up his life in New York and embark on an adventure in the western wilds. His grandson Joseph C. LeSage recalled the great migration:
"In about 1849 the Mormons were being driven from their city of Nauvoo, Ill. And a French Socialistic Society called the 'Icarians' purchased the city, by the sale of stock to its members. My Grandfather belonged to it, and sold out his business in N.Y. and early in 1851 started to take up his residence in the New Place....They embarked on ship from N.Y. and sailed to Baltimore, from which place they took passage on the B. & O. Railway for Pittsburgh. The engines were small, and of very limited capacity, so as a result a steam winch was located on top of the Allegheny mountains to pull the train up....Safely at Pittsburgh, they loaded on the steamer Cincinnati, and paid their fare to Nauvoo. This consisted of a trip by the Ohio to Cairo, thence by the Mississippi up past St. Louis to the port of destination. At Athalia, O. then known as Haskellville, the boat broke the main shaft from side to side of the stern wheel, which let the wheel sag down in the water, and prevented further navigation. She tied to the bank, and carpenters were sent for at Cincinnati, to come and construct a new wheel. Time rolled on, and days went into weeks, and no workmen came. Grandfather became restive and peevish, quarreled with the Captain and Purser, and finally effected settlement with them and took his family and goods and went ashore, renting a house in Haskellville in which to live. He considered himself a mineralogist, and began prospecting the hills on both sides. He finally determined there were valuable ores in the Virginia Hills and wound up by purchasing a tract of almost two hundred acres in Cabell County."
Predictably, Lesage grew frustrated with prospecting. Rather than continue on to Nauvoo or return to New York, he chose to stay in Cabell County, which was then a western county of Virginia. Though he had no experience as a farmer, he had an impervious faith in his own abilities. He bought more land, eventually acquiring a sizable tract along the Ohio River. Writing to his daughter-in-law from France in 1875, Lesage admitted that it was "ever my ambition from the time I came to [West Virginia] ... to build a small village and give it my name." To that end, he built a grist mill which his son Frank operated for a number of years. He took up gunsmithing. And he brought over a number of French families whom he settled on his property. Unfortunately, none of these families had any experience working the land. Most left within a year or two. Even so, Jules Lesage got his wish. The area around his farm became known as Lesage's Landing, eventually shorted to Lesage, West Virginia.
The outbreak of the Civil War roused Lesage's fighting spirit. In opposition to many of his neighbors, Lesage sided stubbornly with the Union. Though fifty years old in 1861, he formed a company of militia, or Home Guards, to defend against marauding Confederate border rangers led by A. G. Jenkins. In his smithy, he fitted flintlock guns with modern percussion caps and beat iron rasps into cutlasses. One August night in 1861 Lesage was bushwhacked and wounded on the Merritt's Creek Road outside of Barboursville. His injuries, however, were not so serious as to cause him to hang up his saber. On September 26, Lesage and his son Joseph enlisted in the Union Army at Ceredo, and were assigned to Company G, 1st Regiment (West) Virginia Cavalry. His elder son Frank, now married with children, stayed behind on the farm, but later joined the 3rd Regiment (West) Virginia Cavalry.
Lesage served as commissary sergeant for his company. According to his grandson:
"[He] always wanted his mess fed and if the feed was not forthcoming from the commissary, he was ready to fight the commissary to get it. All commissaries were afraid of my Granddad, and they would rather feed his mess bountifully, than to get the red hot end of his wrath. Soldiers who served in Company "G" have told me there was always a scramble to get into my Grandfather's mess, because it meant something to eat, when the others were scraping their tongues. When there was no commissary to be had, he was equally resourceful on the forage. He would lead out his best foragers, and when they returned, it was evident somebody's cellar had given up the larder."
The grandson also admitted that Lesage "was hard to control in the service. He was disdainful of discipline on the march. Many times he would think he saw a rebel on some neighboring hill, and would strike out to get him…." Lesage's active service in the army lasted less than nine months. Due to "Rheumatism and Dizaness of the eyes" and the aggravating effect of the wound received in the ambush, he was granted an honorable discharge from the army on June 19, 1862. He returned to his farm, still threatened by partisans. Lesage attempted to organize a company of Scouts “for the purpose of protecting our selves against the rebels.” However, his efforts failed “for want of the number required.” Later, in 1865 he joined the Cabell County Scouts, serving as a private.
After the war, Lesage resumed farming and operating his mill. He also turned to less noble pursuits. His open flirtations with neighborhood girls had long scandalized his family. Finally, the old roué went too far.
Among the Frenchmen who heeded Lesage's call for settlers was his maternal first cousin Pierre Ernest Paulus (1825-1899), who arrived from Paris sometime after the conclusion of the Civil War, bringing with him his wife, son, and daughter Louise Théodorine (1852-1896). The family settled on a part of the Lesage property. The old man soon took an unhealthy interest in Louise. In 1873, apparently without warning, he abandoned his wife and eloped with his young cousin to Paris. It is probable that the flight was occasioned by pregnancy. Julius Lesage was about sixty-two years old; Louise was twenty-one. The couple set up house in Malakoff, a suburb of Paris. They never married. A son, Jules Théodore Lesage, was born on March 3, 1874. In 1880 Julius sold part of his Cabell County property to his son Joseph; the greater acreage went to Frank.
Long-suffering Mary Lesage—"Little Grandma"—died on January 26, 1882 and was buried in Woodland Cemetery, Ironton, Ohio. The following year Julius returned from Paris—alone. High-handed and combative as ever, he insisted on resuming his role as family patriarch. He quarreled with his sons and neighbors, finally quitting Cabell County for good in the summer of 1887. Back in France, Julius lived only a year more. His erratic behavior finally led to his commitment to the insane asylum at Villejuif (L'asile d'aliénés de Villejuif) where he died at the age of 77 years. Records show that his remains were initially interred in the Cimetière Parisien de Bagneux near Malakoff. However, they were later moved and their present location is unknown.
POSTSCRIPT: After the old man's death Louise Paulus married Jacques Louis Lamirault of Malakoff on July 26, 1889. She died in 1896. Son Jules Théodore Lesage married Aline Blanche Bénard in 1899. He served in the 1st Engineers Regiment of the French Army throughout World War I (1914-1918). By 1922 he was living in Granville, Normandy. His later history is unknown.
[Biographical sketch written by John W. Coffey, 3rd great-grandson of Jules F.M. Lesage.]
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