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Papers of Eugene Chauvet

Call Number: MS E59


Trader's personal records of Eugene Chauvet (journal, historical essays, natural history, family papers, logbooks, vade-mecum, child's sketches, and other related materials). The principal part of these papers is his "Ephemerides": a semi-journal particularly devoted to natural history (especially agricultural botany), his family life, illnesses, politics, logbooks of his travels, and to the history and description of Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean.


  • Creation: 1783; 179?; 1826-1882


Language of Materials

French; English; Malay

Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Eugene Chauvet

Eugene Chauvet was a Franco-American trader and colonial planter. He was born on Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean in 1819 to a family long established in that French colony; he was brought up there and in Nantes, Brittany. He first went to the United States (after Montevideo) in 1846; in 1853 he married Cordelia Lasak of New York and became an American citizen.

The following biographical information comes from the collection:

In 1858 Chauvet and his wife went to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he was in business first with his uncle, James D'Arcy, and then with LeCesne & Co, and where their child Ophelia was born. The family returned to New York in 1859, where Chauvet apparently was employed by a firm at 62 Pine Street to handle foreign correspondence. From 1859 to 1870 he spent most of his time in New York City, Spuyten Duyvel, Dobbs Ferry, and Pleasant Valley.

In 1859 Ophelia died, and in 1860 Cordelia went to live with the Chauvet family at Nantes. She remained in France, bearing a son who died there, until 1863 when she returned to New York.

In 1863 Chauvet visited Matamoros, Mexico, on business, and returned there in 1863-1864 during the revolutions and invasions. In 1865 he visited Haiti, and his son Albert was born in New York that same year. In 1870 Chauvet went to Nantes, leaving Cordelia and Albert in New York, to which he returned in June 1871.

Chauvet's journal skips to September 1872 and Paris, when he left alone for Singapore in 1873, apparently as an arms dealer. He remained in Singapore for a year, and left because the Dutch had taken over Achin in Sumatra. He returned to Réunion, which he left in October 1875 for Madagascar, where he set up a vanilla and coffee plantation, which he was still managing at the end of the last volume in the collection, dating from 1882. Cordelia and Albert remained in France and New York.


4 Volumes (4 volumes + 15 folders, 1 oversize folder) : The binding is a ledger-ruled stationers' notebooks. Varied marbled papers; cloth spines on v. 2-4. Child's sketches; trigonometry, house and land; natural history. ; Volumes measure 32.3, 33.8, 34.3, and 32.1 cm high

Scope and Contents

Chauvet's journal "Ephemerides" was written in 1858-1882, but refers to Réunion and French matters as far back as 1657. The chronological arrangement of the journal is not a reliable indication of its contents because of lengthy reminiscences and historically informative correspondence, as Chauvet quotes some correspondence at length.

The entries after 1875 are sparse. The journal is intermittent, and records only certain things. His daily work and current events are referred to only briefly, but he writes with much detail about his observations of local natural history (especially botany and birds); the physical and mental development, illnesses, and death of his children, and the progress of his own grief; and news of (and the genealogy of) the Chauvet-Lafitte-Gilbert-Lambert-Hoarau families in Réunion, Nantes, and elsewhere. He keeps a log of each journey (at times in great detail, at times of daily positions only). He makes constant references to Réunion, comparing the local flora, and the seeds he grows in his trial gardens, to those he knew there; when there he measures and describes houses, writes down ghost stories, descriptions of all hurricanes since 1667, names and histories of the individuals his family held as enslaved persons, how to prepare vanilla beans and animal hides. He observes some astronomical phenomena (such as meteors) closely, and some storms (e.g, the New York blizzard of 1869). Some expenses are listed (e.g. the costs of the whole life of his daughter Ophelia, dead at 17 months). He is greatly interested in illnesses and yellow fever in New Orleans, remedies, and deathbed scenes.

Chauvet is a fair source for the daily life of New York and suburbs society, and a better one for Nantes--in both cases his correspondence (of which he records large portions) gives more details in his absence than the brief notes he makes when he is actually there. He records the political conversations of visitors from Latin America, Burma, and France. He makes brief reference to the effects of the US Civil War, and to draft riots, gives a detailed description of the troubles in Mexico, and becomes involved in the relations between the United States and Achin (now Aceh, Indonesia).

The journal is written in mixed French and English, and usually day by day, although there are some long gaps. It seems that it was made partly so that his son Albert would later learn something of Chauvet's background and life: his attitude toward his distant family is amiable and sentimental.

Physical Location

MS E59

Physical Location

MS P65

Physical Location

MS R5:6

Immediate Source of Acquisition

W.P. Wreden, bookdealer, 1961-1963

Processing Information

Collection formerly located at MS Z64, then MS E60 and MS P65A.

Guide to the Eugene Chauvet Collection
Papers of Eugene Chauvet
Finding aid prepared by alh, December 4, 1991. Finding aid encoded by mg, 2005. Finding aid revised by cl, 2010; mwh, 2018.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Papers of Eugene Chauvet, Department of Special Collections, MS E59, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States