The first historical record of George Herriman Sr. — the cartoonist George Herriman’s grandfather — is the New Orleans Archdiocese’s confirmation records for St. Louis Cathedral on March 1, 1836. Among those confirmed that day was a young “George Herimand,” who was brought to the Cathedral with his half-sister, Louise Chessé, for the sacrament. Performing the sacrament was Antoine Blanc, who in 1850 would become the first archbishop of New Orleans Archdiocese.
Among the most recognizable buildings in New Orleans, the current St. Louis Cathedral sits on a site that was designated for a place of worship shortly after the founding of New Orleans. An early church was destroyed (along with much of the French Quarter) in a 1788 fire. Herriman was confirmed in the third church on this site, which in 1850 was rebuilt into the current cathedral.
More than the outer structure of St. Louis Cathedral would change over the years. At the time of Herriman’s confirmation, the congregation was racially integrated, to the surprise of many visitors. “Never had I seen such a mixture of conditions and colors … white children and black, with every shade between, knelt side by side,” reported one visitor, as quoted in James B. Bennett’s book Religion and the Rise of Jim Crow in New Orleans. Just as the structure of the church changed, so too did the fortunes of African Americans within its walls. By the end of the century, black Catholics were required to sit on newly installed boards against the cathedral’s back and side walls.
George Herriman Sr. remained a practicing Catholic throughout his life, and following his death in 1907 was entombed in St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 on Esplanade Avenue.