Valentines Day: Love Letters from Prairie du Rocher

Joseph Perry Micheau (born 23 Feb 1888, Prairie du Rocher, Illinois; died 15 Nov 1975, St Louis, Missouri) was a descendant of the French Negroes of Illinois–originally slaves from Jamaica brought to Upper Louisiana  by French entrepeneur Phillipe Renault in the 1720’s.  The Micheau family represent well the social and cultural lives of the descendants of the French Negroes of Illinois.  They were deeply religious, very hard-working, and focused on education.   Joe Micheau wanted very much to be a priest, until another irresistible force entered his life as we can see in these  nearly century old letters.

The letters were written to Edna Julia Lewis (born 14 Jul 1890, Carbondale, Illinois; died 28 Sep 1989, St Louis, Missouri).  She was not a French Negro. She was not a “cradle” Catholic (i.e, she was an adult convert to Catholicism).  She was the daughter of former slaves John Philip Henry Lewis (born Jan 1852, Baltimore, Maryland; died 29 Aug 1916, Carbondale, Illinois), and Margaret Elizabeth Griffin (born Jun 1860, Charleston, Tennessee; died 11 Dec 1942, Union County, Illinois).   Edna became a teacher, taking over the education of black children in Randolph County, Illinois, from a group of nuns.

P.D.R. Ill. May 1,’ 13.

Dear Friend

This is Ascension Thursday, and indeed a most beautiful day.  Am at leisure this morning, but must make my usual weekday trip.

How are you getting along by this time?  I suppose you are well settled to the routines of home life again.  We’re trying to make the best of these fine days.  So are all very busy.  Ema{{1}} has not finished talking of her C.Dale visit yet.  Nen{{2}} expects to go to St. Louis next Thursday.  Both she and M.{{3}} are coming to see you, but said  I must make the first trip.  Will tell you when I am coming in my next letter.  Are you being well treated by the Catholic people of Carbondale?{{4}}  I am sure, if Father Hilgenberg is the Fr. that I have reference, to, you will be well treated.

Ed., enclosed is the cross, please let it be a token of my dearest remembrance.  Hoping this will find all as well, as it leaves us.

I am very truly, your friend,
J.P. Micheau

P.S.  Sisters send love
Ans. S.{{5}}

[[1]] His sister, Mabel Emily Micheau (b. 4 Aug 1892, Prairie du Rocher, Illinois; date & place of death unknown.[[1]]

[[2]] His sister, Mary Angelique Micheau (b. 6 Jun 1873, Prairie du Rocher, Illinois; 29 Jun 1959, Normandy, Missouri).[[2]]

[[3]] His sister, Margerette (“Margery”) E. Micheau (b. 29 Apr 1895 Prairie du Rocher,Illinois; date & place of death unknown)[[3]]

[[4]] Edna had been baptized into the Catholic Church just about a month earlier on 3o Mar 1913, at St Francis Xavier Church in Carbondale. See Records of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville,  Illinois, available at [[4]]

[[5]] Writing letters every week or every day is something that people did for a great part of the twentieth century. These two abbreviations “PS” and “Ans. S.” mean respectively, “post script” (i.e., literally, “after writing”; used to convey an additional thought after closing a letter) and “answer soon” (rendered in 21st century language perhaps as ANX ASAP).[[5]]

My dear Ed
I just suppose you are waiting for a long letter well here it comes.  I am pretty much at leisure these warm days.  In fact, it is almost too warm to do much.  So after the morning chores, my hardest work is keeping in the shade.  Margery is still at work today is her last day tho.

Oh!  Ed she rec’d your card only this morning.

I am sorry to say they are not coming down this Sunday.  But sure, next Sunday, unless sickness prevents.  It is this way, with us here at home, everything was all right.  And Nen & M. were already.  But Addie{{6}} only asked her time off for next Sunday.  And this is the reason they cannot come down.

As for myself Ed this is what I me[a]nt when I said “Things may run my way.”  Syl{{7}} is expecting to come down for a few weeks.  So if he does, why then he will take care of home and things for me.  You know, we cannot all leave home together.  I think I may go to the city{{8}} Sunday morning, and I surely will have tried to have one of the boys come down.  I want to see you.  And as I said before, will enjoy being with you altogether, for once.  Mrs. Wright{{9}} only arrived back in P.D.R. last night.  Mrs. Lizzie came back with her.  Also among the visitors in our city are three of Mr. J. Lacavia’s three nieces.

Ed I would be so glad if you could come back with the girls.  If not then I hope it will be while Addie is home, which will be two weeks or more.  Please, may I send your fare or give it when you come up.  Either way will be pleasing.

If I go to St L. Sunday,  then I will not write until Monday morning, if not then you will receive a letter M.  morn.

Nen said to say she was sorry that they cannot possibly make it this Sunday. Next Sunday, sure tho.  All here are O.K. I hope the same of your people in C’dale.

With hearty good wishes to all.

I am your loving


[[6]] His sister, Adelaide Frances Micheau (born 27 Nov 1884, Prairie  du Rocher, Illinois; date & place of death unknown), who became Sister Celestine, OSP.[[6]]

[[7]] His brother, Sylvester August Micheau (born 14 Mar 1890, Prairie du Rocher, Illinois; died 10 Jul 1957, Petpskey, Michigan). Syl likely was in Chicago at the time of this letter.[[7]]

[[8]] St Louis[[8]]

[[9]] Likely a relative of Joseph’s sister-in-law, Sophronia “Zoe” Wright (1880-1968), who was married to his brother, Marshall Emmanuel Micheau (born 1 Oct 1878, Prairie du Rocher, Illinois; died 22 Oct 1954, St Louis, Missouri).[[9]]

P.D.R. Ill.  June 15, 1913.

Dear, Dear Ed.

Finding that I need you, I want you, I love you, and today thinking of you am writing this little message of love, even though you are  in my debt.  I have taught often do now, what must Edna Lewis think of me.  And again, the answer comes well, I have explained my situation to her, and surely she understands me.  I truely hope you do, tho now each little visit to your home, only tends to make you more dear to you [me].

You may think well he has changed his story.  All to[o] true.  But it is not without due consideration and I daresay not to hurri[e]dly either.  Frankly and Truely Ed, it is with a tinge of regret that I cannot see my way through the required schooling to reach my former desires.  And now feeling that it is not entirely my own fault in trying to make the best of all things my thoughts are turned it to you.

If knowing what you know of J.P.M. you still continue to love him.  Please answer soon.

How are you and All? Did John{{10}} spend Sunday with you this week.  Many times in the past week have M. & my conversations drifted to a week ago just passed.  The girls, that is, Nen, M., & A. are planning their visit to you. Surely a long promised one isn’t it?  They are coming tho. We have mass here at seven o’clock high Mass and the morning is a little longer. Rec’d communion to and surely remembered you together with the rest of sisters and Brothers.  Oh!  Say do you read the after dinner storries in Visitors [?]{{11}}  They are very, very fine.  I was much pleased last week to receive a card from one of Oscar Beckham’s sisters, asking me for last week’s Visitor.  Have been sending a few of them away, but failed to do so last week, and as she was interested in the story she missed the issue until Margerette sent it to her, a few days ago.  I am^ you send, an Angelus to[o], I think it is very good this week.  Please Ed, I want to see this letter and our next meeting. Has Miss Ema{{12}} gone to Chi. yet? My heartiest good wishes to each and all and

Much love to yourself

Margerette has just sounded the dinner call so I must close.

Yours sincerely.

Jos. P. Micheau

[[10]] Unable to identify this person. [[10]]

[[11]] Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic weekly still  in publication today.[[11]]

[[12]] Edna’s sister, Emma Lewis (born Sep 1877, Charleston, Tennessee; died about 1951, Carbondale, Illinois)[[12]]


Dear Joseph,

Your loving message came to me this A.M. I was quite surprised to receive it as I owed you this one but never-the-less I received it with the same joy as I have the others.

Dear Joe, I fully realize what it means to you to give up all that you have held dear in this life and make new plans for the future.  I fully realize how much you were attracted to your intentions for the your future vocation, but through it all there is one greater than we now who plans our destinations, and with Him for our leader we can never choose the wrong path. Everything is for the best provided we are guided by the right influence.  Not only once have I prayed for strength to think of, you only as a brother and a friend but many times.  And instead of drifting from you my heart has been steadily turning more and more toward you.  God only knows the longing and thoughts I’ve had of you.  God only knows the many prayers I’ve said for your success and when I’ve found that I could not forget you, I prayed that God’s will not mine be done.  And Joseph, dear Joseph, knowing what I know of you, of your great desire to become a religious, to make of that great sacrifice for love of Christ, I could love you all ways and shall. I could not do other wise, every moment brings tho’ts of you.  I wish I were talking the instead of writing this, for I have lots I would say.  I shall be very glad to see you, for though we are miles apart, my heart is ever near you.

With loving wishes I am forever

Your Ed.


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