Here — near the corner of Royal Street and Esplanade Avenue — a white riverboat captain named Stephen Herriman, originally from Long Island, made his home from 1843 until his death in 1854.
Stephen Herriman’s house is no longer standing. It possibly was torn down by businessman John Gauche when he purchased property at this corner in 1856, or it might have been destroyed during an 1893 fire. (A marker for the Gauche House can be seen around the corner at 1315 Royal Street.) Whatever his building’s ultimate fate, Herriman will not go down in history for his work as a captain, for his fundraising activity with his Masonic lodge during an 1853 yellow fever epidemic, nor for his amassing of sizable wealth — there were at least ten enslaved people in his house. What is most memorable about Stephen Herriman — and what makes the location of this house so remarkable — is his brief encounter with a Free Woman of Color named Justine Olivier.
Little is known of Stephen Herriman’s experiences with Olivier. No civil records tell of their union. Their connection would be lost to time if the New Orleans Archdiocese didn’t keep such comprehensive records, for Herriman and Olivier are identified as parents to George Herriman Sr. — the cartoonist’s grandfather — in numerous documents, including the Church’s records of Herriman’s 1846 wedding to Louisa Eckel.
Olivier’s first child with Stephen Herriman appears to have been Frederic Herriman, born in 1818; George Herriman Sr. arrived two years later. Within a few years of these births, Stephen Herriman would marry Janett Spencer, a white woman also from New York. At around the same time, Justine Olivier would begin a lifelong relationship with the son of a French tinsmith named Joseph Alexandre Chesse, and raise her two Herriman sons in the Chessé family.
What is perhaps most remarkable about this location is how it illustrates the close proximity of all members of these families. A matter of a few city blocks separated the Herriman and Chessé families. What did they know about each other? What contact was kept through the years? Did Stephen Herriman watch his two sons with Justine Oliver grow to manhood, and did he participate in their lives? Those questions will likely never be answered.