Dr. John Montanee
A New Orleans Voodoo Grimoire
There have always been stories of the Widow PARlS’ association with Dr. John. Dr. John was a Voodoo practitioner, who dispensed a hodgepodge of treatment for whatever ailed you. We only know his name was John MONTANEE, and he was African by birth. On census records, and various other documents his surname appears as Montanent, Montaine, Montanee, and Montanet. The United States Census for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880 enumerated John MONTANEE’s occupation as an Indian Doctor. The date of Dr. John’s exact arrival in New Orleans is unknown. However, by the time he reached New Orleans he allegedly was a free man. Based on his age when he died, he possibly was born in 1815. At seventy, Dr. John died intestate on 23 August 1885 at 89 Villere Street. His cause of death was Bright’s disease, a disease of the kidneys. Upon Dr. John’s death, nineteenth-century writer, Lafcadio HEARN felt New Orleans lost the last influential man of mystical powers. Except for old newspaper articles, little is known of the cures and remedies of Dr. John, and the men who dispensed their services. These men were called Conjure Men, Voodoo Men, and Doctors. They were thought to be Two-Headed, or born with a veil [caul], meaning they could see in the spirit world and physical world. The more popular name for a male practitioner in New Orleans during this period was Doctor. Unlike Jose Joffry VERBOIS, a free black of the Guinea Coast, who in 1799 noted in his testament several persons owed him for his services as a healer, we have no journal or list of clients from Dr. John. [ 71 ]
Contrary to previous nineteenth-century literature, Dr. John died a literate man, who achieved some prosperity as a property owner. The earliest transaction of his identity and his cursive signature appeared 6 February 1847. Carolyn Morrow LONG, in A New Orleans Voudou Priestess, cites a Civil Court suit record regarding Nancy ST. MARTIN, f.w.c. and John MONTANEE. “In her statement, she (St. Martin) maintained she is an ignorant and illiterate woman, and she was prevailed upon by Jean MONTANEE, with whom she lived in concubinage, to make him a donation (in the form of a simulated sale), of the above property, under the promise that she would continue to be in possession thereof... and that he would... support her... in case of sickness, old age, or infinnity.” The sale was declared null and void, and Dr. John was ordered to pay Nancy ST. MARTIN seven dollars a month rent from the time of the sale until she regains possession of the property, plus $300.00 damages and court courts.” [ 72 ] Yet, when Nancy ST. MARTIN died, John MONTANEE was still living at 405 Annette, when he appeared before the recorder of deaths to provide infonnation regarding Nancy’s death. Like Dr. John, Nancy was African by birth. She died at a house on Bourbon Street between Ursuline and St. Phillip, currently the 1000 block of Bourbon. [ 73 ]
Beginning in 1843 through 1860, Dr. John was purchasing and selling real estate property and slaves. His single largest real estate purchase was in 1851. At that time, Dr. John purchased six lots for sixty dollars from Felix Morris JACOBS. These streets are currently Independence, Pauline, Roman and Derbigny. By 1857 his name appears as Jean MONTANEE for tax assessment. At that time he had an empty lot, on Bayou Road, in addition to three houses on Bayou Road and Prieur Street. That property was located near the former site of the House of Joy bar owned by the deceased Roy GLAPION, Sr. Dr. John also owned four slaves, valued at two thousand-six hundred dollars. [ 74 ]
According to the 1880 United States Census for Orleans Parish, John MONTANET (MONTANEE) was seventynine. His wife Annantine MONTANET (Marie Annantine Annant MONTANEE), a black female was twenty-eight. The five children in the household identified as black were Marie MONTANET, age twenty-one, Arthemise MONTANET, age nineteen and a seamstress, Edward MONTANET, age eight and at school, Oscar MONTANET, age four, and Philogene a black male age one. Census information compounds confusion in identifying his family of procreation with his children named in his succession record and from sacramental records. For example, Our Lady of Sacred Heart marriage records indicates François MARTIN married Catherine MONTANE, daughter of Jean MONTANE and Mathilda WILLIAM, and Alicia MONTANEE in 1885, served as deponent regarding the death of Dr. John. Another child, John MONTANEE, Jr. is identified as the son of John MONTANEE and Marie POPULAS on his death certificate. [ 75 ]
The 1880 census recorder indicated Dr. John’s son, Oscar MONTANEE’s birth, circa 1876, based on his age from the census. However, Oscar’s death in 1901 at age twenty two would place his birth in 1879. Dr. John’s age by the same 1880 census recorder would place his birth circa 1801. It is obvious Marie MONTANEE and Artemise MONTANEE indicated in the household could not be children of Dr. John with Marie ARMANT, born circa 1852 by census information. In all probability, Dr. John probably fathered Marie MONTANEE and Artemise MONTANEE with a woman other than Marie ARMANT. There is the possibility Philogene died in infancy, yet a P. MONTANEE appears as deponent for the male infant Jean MONTANEE’s death certificate. This infant died within twenty-eight days of birth. Thus far, I have only been able to substantiate nine children for Dr. John, including his namesake John MONTANEE, Jr. who died in 1876 as an infant. [ 76 ]
The only known legal marriage of Dr. John was to Marie ARMAND/ARMANT. Dr. John and Marie ARMAND were married 20 October 1868, in St. Theresa Catholic. Church, located on Coliseum and Erato Street in New Orleans. John WELLS and A. ABRIEL swore to the Justice of the Peace they were acquainted with John MONTANEE and Marie ARMAND. The celebrant was Reverend Theodore J. KERNEY. The witnesses were Joseph GRENOT, Marie GLAPION, Marie MONAY and Marie A. GLAPION. Since Lizette’s daughter, Marie GLAPION was deceased; the identity of this Marie GLAPION is unknown. The Widow PARIS is eliminated as Marie GLAPION, because she is not identified in her usual manner as the Widow PARIS. On the other hand, another witness Marie A. GLAPION, could certainly have been Ann Marie GLAPION. The identification of Marie MONAY is unknown. Although vital records are inconclusive on the Montanee lineage, the most definitive source in reconstructing Dr. John’s life was his succession. Without his succession, other contemporary writers were unable to provide a full treatment of his life in their literary work about Marie LAVEAUX, and early twentieth century writers were not interested in fact. Dr. John was of little interest to nineteenth and early twentieth century writers, except to portray him as a buffoon. He was of little significant other than to Lafcadio HEARN. [ 77 ]
There is a thirty-six year span in the paper trail from Dr. John’s death until his wife and two surviving children, Edward MONTANEE and Jeanne MONTANEE filed a petition in Civil Court years after his death. On 14 October 1921 the children filed as rightful legal heirs, to obtain ownership of their father’s property. From the testimony of deponents in his succession, Marie ARMAND would have been a very young woman of sixteen when she married Dr. John, a mature, shrewd man compared to her life experiences.
Immediately in question of Dr. John’s estate was his lots. This property was located in the Third District, Square 794, bounded by Independence, Roman, Pauline and Derbigny Streets. The property was regulated as a vacant estate. The property was illegally sold on 9 May 1921 for unpaid taxes for tax years, 1880-1918, to the Puritan Land Company. Motions were filed, petitions written and sworn affidavits were taken. The Civil Court judgment of 6 September 1922, ordered the State Tax Collector for the Parish of Orleans, to annul the records of “unknown,” for tax years’ 1880 to 1918, because Dr. John’s name (John MONTANEE), was recorded in the conveyance office. In the end, the purchaser redeemed the property to the Montanee family rather than stand suit.
According to Marie ARMAND’s deposition, she was Dr. John’s only legal spouse and did not remarry after his death. Eight children were born to their marriage- four of the children died in infancy, they were, Albert, Antoine, John, and Marie. Four children lived to age twenty-one. They were Jeanne, Edward, Oscar, and Joseph. Oscar and Joseph MONTANEE died in New Orleans. Oscar died 31 August 1901. Although Joseph was married, he had no known children. Joseph died 5 July 1904. Jeanne MONTANEE, and Edward MONTANEE were the sole surviving forced heirs, of their father. [ 78 ]
Marie ARMAND MONTANEE further testified that her husband informed her of property he owned near Macarty Square. However, she did not know the exact location. She stated everyone knew her husband by the name Doctor John, because he treated numerous persons with herb cures. She stated she never knew of any relatives of her husband. [ 79 ] Edward MONTANEE corroborated his mother’s affidavit. For his part, Edward stated he was forty-eight years of age. Edward did not remember any of his siblings who died in infancy except Mary or Marie MONTANEE; that Joseph died unmarried, and Oscar who did not live with his wife, left no children from his marriage. The Widow Marie TROULLIER and Gustave H. GOINELLE were two witnesses called to provide a deposition. The Widow Marie TROULLIER, residing at 1548 North Roman Street, was sixty-five at the time of her testimony. She would have been eleven years old when Dr. John married and twenty-four when he died, based on her birth circa, 1857. Marie TROULLIER stated she knew Dr. John and his wife intimately. Troullier indicated, “Dr. John had been dead for thirty or thirty-five years, and that he was buried from Villere Street between Conti and St. Louis. Dr. John and Marie had about seven or eight children, four who died in infancy, and four who reached twentyone and over. There were two surviving children, Edward MONTANEE and Jeanne MONTANEE. Troullier’s final statement was, “everyone knew John MONTANEE as Dr. John MONTANEE.” [ 8o ]
Gustave H. GOINELLE, resided at 1824 Onzaga Street. Goinelle’s testified he knew the late John MONTANEE very well, and knew John before he married Marie ARMANT. He further stated Dr. John was married only once, and then to Marie ARMANT; she was young woman when they married; his widow was still living at 3051 Grand Route St. John; he knew Edward and Jeanne MONTANEE very well; that John MONTANEE, was known as Dr. John; that he died many years ago. [ 81 ]
Dr. John was perhaps New Orleans last, full blooded African living in America in post Civil War New Orleans. Part of his life was in a house on Annette Street and at 89 North Villere Street, located between St. Louis Cemeteries One and Two. When he married, the ceremony was in a Catholic church in the American sector of the city. There are no records showing when he arrived to New Orleans, or an obituary that celebrated his life. Dr. John’s certificate of marriage is the only evidence that connects two Glapion women in his life, other than Marie LAVEAUX. Notarial records indicate he was literate and did not die a poor illiterate man. From his wife’s account and testimony from two witnesses, people in New Orleans sought his curative powers as an Herbalist. He was called Dr. John by his clientele, and a Quack Doctor and Indian Doctor by census recorders. Since Dr. John was of the Catholic faith, he received rites and rituals of Catholicism. He was accorded burial in a Catholic consecrated cemetery. Dr. John’s relic lies in Section E, Row One, in a wall vault in the Campo Santo, St. Roch Cemetery. Perhaps, there was some truth when it was said, “St. Roch Cemetery is by far the most Voodist cemetery in New Orleans.” [ 82 ]
The author would like to thank, Karen Livers, Greg Osborn, Jack Belsom, Sam Reine, Gerri-Turner Warren, Doreen Troullier, Shelia Prevost, Eugenia Foster Adams, the Staff of the Notarial Archives, the Archdiocese of New Orleans Archives, the Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library, Lois Washington, and Kathryn Labat for their assistance.
~ finis ~
71 Death certificate of John Montanee, Recorder of Deaths, filed 23 August 1885, date of death 23 August 1885, microfilm, vol. 87, p. 914, NOPL. The death certificate was filed by Alicia Montanee, a native of this city who declared John Montanee, a native of Africa age seventy, died at 89 N. Villere of Bright’s Disease. Lafcadio Hearn, “The Last of The Voodoos,” Harpers Weekly, reprinted Frederick Starr, ed., Inventing New Orleans: Writing ofLafcadio Hearn, Jackson University Press of Mississippi, 2001. Dr. Kimberly Hanger, who did extensive research on the Colonial period in New Orleans before her untimely death, refers to Jose Joffry Verbois. Hanger, Kimberly S., Bounded Lives, Bounded People, Free Black Society in Colonial New Orleans, 1769-1803, Duke University Press, Durham & London, 1997.
72 Ibid. Carolyn Morrow Long, n.2.
73 Death certificate of Nancy St. Martin, age about sixty, Recorder of Births and Deaths, recorded 3 May 1834, vol. 14, p. 264, microfilm, NOPL. We have no way of knowing if Dr. John cared for Nancy as ordered by the court. He was still living on Annette and Urquhart when Nancy St. Martin died, 27 April 1834. Nancy died at a residence on Bourbon Street, between Ursuline and St. Phillip. In the 1850s, 1100 Bourbon would have been 244 or 245 Bourbon Street. Constant Landreaux, f.w.c. who had a child for this author’s paternal fourth greatgrandfather, Joseph Trevino, sold John Montanee two lots facing St. Philip, Acts of Charles Victor Foulon, Notary, 03 Apri11845, act 103, vol. 16, NONA. Constance Landreux’s, daughter Gertrude Trevigne was half-sister of Franr;;ois Paulo Trevino, the author’s paternal third greatgrandfather.
74 Act of Sale, Felix Morris Jacobs to John Montanee, f.m.c. lot no, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of Square No. 34 by the property ofL.B.Macarty; in Faubourg Washington, Third Municipality, bounded by Independence, Prosper (North Derbigny) and Solidelle (North Roman) and lots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 in Square 43 in Faubourg Washington bounded by Elmire, Congress, Celestin, and Genie Street in Suburb Washington, Acts of Alphonse Barnett, Notary, 28 November 1851, act 582, NONA.
75 United States Census for New Orleans, Jno. Montant 1880, p. 90, line 39 NOPL. Marriage of Franyois Martin, son of Franyois Martin and Antoinette, to Catherine Montane, daughter of Jean Montane and Mathilda William, 22 July 1875, Our Lady of Sacred Heart, vol. 1, p. 139, AA. Death certificate of Jean Montanee, Jr., lawful issue of John Montanee, a native of Africa, with Marie Populus, a native of this city, age one year, died at 232 Prieur Street, 21 April 1876, Recorder of Births and Deaths, vol. 65, p. 918, microfilm, NOPL.
76 Death certificate of Jean Montane, age twenty-eight days, died 19 November 1870, Recorder of Births and Deaths, vol. 50, p. 100, microfilm, NOPL.
77 Succession of John Montanee, Civil District Court, Pjrish of Orleans, no. 138844, Division E, Dockett No. 1900, filed 6 October 1921, microfilm, NOPL. The marriage certificate of Jean Montane to Marie Armant is attached in the succession. Hereafter, Montanee Succession.
78 Alice Montanet of Bayou Road near Johnson declared Mary Montanet, age five days, died 15 October 1883, Recorder of Deaths, vol. 83, p. 841 , NOPL; Oscar Montanee, age 22, died 17 August 1902, vol. 125, p. 634, NOPL; Joseph Montanee, age twenty-four, birth place of father, Africa, died 5 July 1900, vol. 133, p. 55, NOPL.
79 Ibid. n. 76, Montanee Succession
80 Ibid. n. 76, Montanee Succession
81 Ibid. n. 76 Montanee Succession
82 Cemetery Interment Records, St. Roch Cemetery, microfilm, NOPL. Dr. John’s wall vault is located on square E, no. 2225, row I, St. Joseph Aisle.
This is a reprint of the section of the article focusing on Dr. John Montanee. There is a wealth of information here. The article distills much of use in the preceding nine documents. Madame Trevigne’s article is a cornerstone of historical investigations into Dr. John Montanee. ~ Ed.