Théonie Marie Louise Alexandrine <I>de la Rivière Mignot</I> Rutjes


Théonie Marie Louise Alexandrine de la Rivière Mignot Rutjes

Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA
Death 13 Dec 1875 (aged 56)
Greenwich, Fairfield County, Connecticut, USA
Burial Greenwich, Fairfield County, Connecticut, USA
Memorial ID 68234515 View Source
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Théonie Marie Louise Alexandrine (de la) Rivière was the eldest daughter born to Jean-Pierre (John Peter)(de la) Rivière and his wife Constance Alexandrine Angot. Her father was a French aristocrat, a baron under the Ancien Regime. He was born in France, but escaped the Revolution to the French colony of Saint-Domingue (Haiti). At the outbreak of the slave revolt which led to the independence of Haiti in 1804, Rivière and his family came to the United States. He settled in Charleston, SC, where he was known as John Peter Riviere, and opened a grocery. At some point in the second decade of the century the family lived briefly in Philadelphia where daughter Théonie was born. Nevertheless, Théonie was raised in Charleston, a cosmopolitan southern port city which saw a wave of French immigration in the years after the Napoleonic Wars. Among the new immigrants was Rémy Mignot (1801-1848) of Granville, Normandy.

On October 15, 1834, Théonie married Mignot, who owned of a fashionable coffee house and confectionery in Charleston. Mignot was recently widowed with at least two sons by his first marriage, including the future landscape painter Louis Rémy Mignot (1831-1870). Théonie and Rémy had four children: Adolphus John (b. 1835), Louisa Constance (b. 1837), Alida Octavia (b. 1840), and Adrian Paul (b. 1844).

After her husband's untimely death Théonie married in 1850 Adolphus Johannes (Adolph John) Rutjes (b. ca. 1825), a native of Appeldorn in Prussian Rhineland, and a close family friend (Rémy and Théonie had named their first child after Rutjes). The couple had one daughter, Cornelia (b. 1851), later the wife of Mortimer Churchell. Théonie and Rutjes continued the confectionery business under the new name Mount Vernon Establishment at 174 King Street. An 1860 advertisement in the "Charleston Courier" boasted a "Stock of Pastillage, French Bonbons, Sugar Almonds, French Fruits, Cornets, Fancy Boxes...all DIRECT FROM THE PARIS MANUFACTURER." The business also offered "a large commodious Hall" for parties, weddings and other events.

Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Civil War followed by the great Charleston fire of December 1861 which destroyed the Rutjes's house, compelled the family to leave Charleston for Columbia, SC. (The four Mignot children had already been sent to a boarding school run by Rutjes's brother in the Dutch city of Eindhoven. All of Théonie's children by Rémy Mignot married into Dutch families and her descendants are mainly Dutch and Belgian.) Cornelia Rutjes apparently stayed with her mother throughout the war.

At Columbia, Théonie operated the Central House, a boarding house on the corner of Main and Camden Streets. Through the grim last years of the war she endeavored to maintain a sophisticated, Continental establishment, offering French lessons and hosting a "fashionable dance academy." Again, her hopes ended in fire. The Central House was lost in the general conflagration following Columbia's surrender to Sherman's army in February 1865. (Théonie's apparent separation from husband Adolph John Rutjes since before the beginning of the war remains unexplained. Possibly Rutjes was in Holland with his step-children. There is no record of service with the Confederate Army.)

After the war, Théonie briefly returned to Charleston and opened the Mansion House, advertised as "combining the conveniences of a Hotel with the comforts of a private house." That venture failed and in 1868 A.J. Rutjes was forced into bankruptcy. A few months later Théonie announced in the Charleston papers that she was opening another hotel, also called Mansion House, in Washington, DC. That venture was even more short-lived, for in the summer of 1868 Théonie, her husband and their daughter moved to Raleigh, NC where they bought and managed first the the Exchange Hotel, then the grander National Hotel. They remained in Raleigh only a few years. Though admired for its well-appointed facilities and bountiful table, the National Hotel failed by late 1872, the result of Rutjes lavish overspending. Facing bankruptcy, Rutjes and his wife decamped for New York City. In 1874 it was announced in the New York press that "the Lenox House at Greenwich, Conn., will open in May under the management of Mr. A. J. Rutjes." The Lenox House was a fashionable "watering place" for the Northeastern elite. Unfortunately, the next year Théonie died, reportedly of a "stroke of paralysis." The following notice appeared in a New York newspaper:

RUTJES—On the 13th inst., at the Lenox House, in Greenwich, Conn., THEONIE MARIE RUTJES, wife of A. J. Rutjes. The friends of the family, also of her daughter, Mrs. Cornelius Churchill, are requested to attend her funeral, on Wednesday, the 15th, at the Catholic church, in Greenwich, where a solemn requiem high mass will be offered for the repose of her soul. Mass to commence at half-past ten.
[New York Herald (New York, NY), December 14, 1875.]

Théonie was buried alone in a Greenwich cemetery--a rather sad end to the intrepid life of the Baronne de la Rivière.

After a few years, her widowed husband, now sometimes known as Col. Rutjes, returned to the Carolinas where he resumed a frenetic career in the hospitality business, never remaining long in any one place. In 1880 he was proprietor of the Glen Alpine Springs Hotel, a mountain resort in Burke Co., NC. The following year he returned to Raleigh where he advertised as a music instructor. He then moved to Durham, NC where he was the popular manager of the the Claiborne Hotel. In Durham Rutjes married Amelia Holt who served as housekeeper for his properties. In 1883 he was briefly back in Raleigh running the Tucker House hotel. By 1887 he was at the Merchants Hotel in Spartanburg, SC. In 1890 Rutjes assumed management of the Haywood White Sulphur Springs Hotel in Waynesville, NC. Unfortunately, financial and legal troubles continued to dog him and his career came to an ignominious end in 1892 when he cruelly abandoned his wife and disappeared, reportedly absconding to his native Germany.

[Biographical sketch by John W. Coffey]



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