Pierre Gentieu family archives1860-1999
4 Linear Feet
General Physical Description
At seventeen he was working as a bookbinder in Pau, France when the Second Italian War of Independence began. As he was underage, he needed his parents permission to enlist. Eager to fight for the liberty of Italy, he wrote to his parents in Orthez explaining that all of his shopmates were enlisting and asked that they grant permission at once so that they could all be in the same company. He was surprised when his parents objected to him serving while underage for a foreign country. Feeling disappointed and defiant he informed them that he was going to go on a “tour of country” and travel in order to learn more about his trade, which he was permitted by law to do without their permission. His parents wrote to his uncle who lived in Brooklyn, New York about their concern that their son would not learn anything useful and asked for advice. The uncle recommended that his nephew come to America while underage to avoid the service requirement in France once he became of age.
On March 4, 1860, Pierre Gentieu left France for America. He arrived in Brooklyn fifty days later and spent the spring and summer months with his aunt and uncle, however, when the season changed to winter, he could not bear the cold weather. On January 8, 1861, without his aunt and uncle’s consent he purchased a ticket aboard a ship to New Orleans, Louisiana.
While in Louisiana he joined the New Orleans Artillery which drilled in both French and English. When the Civil War broke out he was given the opportunity to enlist for the South or leave the militia. Since he did not support the cause of slavery he refused to fight for the Confederacy. In July of 1862 he enlisted with the 13th Regiment of Volunteers of Connecticut, which was formed in Louisiana. It was at this time Gentieu’s name was shortened, dropping “Baillan.” Additionally, some of his military papers have his first name as “Peter.”
Gentieu fought in nine battles of the Civil War and was injured three times. One injury during the Battle at Cedar Hill in Virginia was especially severe. Throughout the war he became close friends with a member of his company Francis “Frank” Weed (1841-1913). Gentieu described their relationship as being like brothers. When the war ended and the company was discharged, he was going to go to Brooklyn, but Weed invited Gentieu to his home in New Canaan, Connecticut to see the state he fought for. During the visit Gentieu met and fell in love with Frank Weed’s sister Sarah Albina “Binie” Weed (1846-1925). Gentieu became a United States Citizen in 1868. The couple married on May 17, 1871.
When first married, the Gentieu’s made their home in Brooklyn, New York. Gentieu opened chocolate bakeries, as his father was a chocolatier in France. He then opened a restaurant that struggled and was losing money. He sold the business and sought an employment opportunity in Wilmington, Delaware. He interviewed with Henry du Pont (1812-1889) and took an instant liking to him. On June 14, 1877, he began working as a powderman for the DuPont Company. Gentieu became friends with the du Pont family in addition to being a loyal employee.
In 1878, while on a lunch break Gentieu painted the Lower Yard. The painting impressed his direct supervisor, Lammot du Pont (1831-1884) who requested that Gentieu photograph it so that various members of the du Pont family could have a copy. Shortly after Gentieu was promoted to making sieves for separating powder grains. In 1881, he was promoted to yard clerk, and then later store keeper at the mills.
Drawing and photography were among Gentieu’s favorite pastimes. The du Pont’s allowed Gentieu to photograph the DuPont Co. plant, property, family members, and their homes. He created an invaluable photographic record of the company's Brandywine Mills at the turn of the century.
The Gentieu’s family home in Delaware was called “Woodside” in Henry Clay, near the Brandywine. The couple had four sons and two daughters. The oldest two sons were both born in New York, the remaining children were born in Delaware. In 1912, Gentieu commissioned a home for his family on Riverside Avenue in Wilmington, Delaware, a short distance away from the DuPont Co. powder yards.
Pierre Gentieu was a member of Greenhill Presbyterian Church and Binie Gentieu was a member of Mt. Salem M.E. Church and honorary President of the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society. Binie Gentieu predeceased her husband after a long illness in 1925. Pierre Gentieu lived in the Riverview home with one of his daughters until his death at age 89 from a stroke in 1930.
In 1946, Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954) purchased 354 glass plate negatives from Gentieu’s children. Prints were made and given to each child and to the Hagley Museum and Library. The glass plate negatives were donated to the Historical Society of Delaware.
Pierre and Binie Gentieu had six children: Frederic Auguste Gentieu (1872-1951), Francis “Frank” Pierre Gentieu (1876-1950), George William Gentieu (1878-1931), Celeste Darrigrand Gentieu (1879-1971), Joseph Henri Gentieu (1885-1963), and Jessie Albina Gentieu Estlow (1890-1956). Although three children had no issue, they had nine grandchildren and twenty great grandchildren. All six children worked for the DuPont Co. and several grandchildren did as well.
Scope and Content
The albums were compiled by Norman Gentieu (1914-2009). Norman Gentieu is the grandson of Pierre Gentieu descended from his son, Joseph Henri Gentieu (1885-1963). The names of the albums have been retained, the materials have been removed from their original binders and rehoused in archival album boxes. The order of materials has been retained.
Vol. 1: “Pierre Gentieu: French papers / Story / U.S. papers / Death” album consists of Gentieu's life and lineage in France, his story of immigrating to American, beginning work at the DuPont Company; a biographical sketch of Henry du Pont, Pierre Gentieu’s obituary and photographs of his funeral.
Vol. 2: “Pierre Gentieu: “Woodside” Henry Clay / Old photo home on Brandywine / 1405 Riverview Avenue” album contains photographs of Gentieu's first and second family homes in Delaware and documentation of the construction of his second family home including invoices and contract with the builder.
“Pierre’s Civil War History: Visit with JHG and PTG & A Civil War Weekend” this album juxtaposes a 1927 trip that Pierre Gentieu took with his son Joseph Henri Gentieu and his wife Pauline Gentieu to visit Civil War battle sites and a 2000 trip that Joseph and Pauline Gentieu's son, Norman Gentieu took with his children, Peter Gentieu and Mary Meloscia to the same sites. The album also includes photographs of Pierre Gentieu in military uniform and original military papers.
“Pierre Gentieu and Family” album tells the story of Pierre Gentieu and each of his six children. Each person(s) is introduced with a printout from the family tree website created by Penny Gentieu in the 1990s, and followed by photographs, correspondence, and newspaper clippings.
“The Weed Family / Pierre’s Letters to Binie / Material from Penny” contains correspondence primarily between Pierre Gentieu and Frank Weed, and Pierre Gentieu and Norman Gentieu. There are a few letters to Sarah Albina Gentieu from Pierre Gentieu.
“Pierre Gentieu : Photographs and Drawings” album contains a few photographs as well as notes and a report about Pierre Gentieu’s photographs. Pierre Gentieu's photographs can be seen in Hagley's Digital Archives: Pierre A. Gentieu Brandywine River Valley photographs (Accession 1970.001). The collection has been digitized and can be seen online in Hagley's Digital Archives.
"Joseph Henri Gentieu and Pauline Taylor Gentieu and family" album contains photographs of the family and their friends dating from 1911 to 1963. Joseph Henri Gentieu (1885-1963) was the youngest son of Pierre and Sarah “Binie” Gentieu. He married Pauline J. Taylor (1886-1984) in 1911. Joseph and Pauline Gentieu had two children, Norman Pierre Gentieu (1914-2009) and Phyllis Virginia Gentieu Johnson (1924-1995). Joseph Gentieu began working at the DuPont Company as a machinist in 1908 at the Carney’s Point Works. In 1920, he was promoted to Foreman, then General Foreman of Metal Crafts in 1946. He retired in 1950. Joseph and Pauline Gentieu lived in Carney’s Point/Penns Grove until 1945 when they moved to Richardson Park, Delaware, near Wilmington. These images are mostly informal snapshots of Joseph and Pauline Gentieu, their children, their friends, and Joseph Gentieu’s parents and siblings, primarily Celeste Gentieu and Jessie Gentieu Estlow. Most of the images are taken in Penns Grove or Carney’s Point, there are some taken in Atlantic City and some at their home in Richardson Park. There are also a few of Norman Gentieu visiting his grandparents at their home in Wilmington, Delaware. Joseph Gentieu’s chief hobby was gardening and some photographs do feature family members standing in his garden or of him gardening. Some photographs are marked as having been taken by Pierre Gentieu.
"City Point, Virginia" album consists of images of the Gentieu family’s time while living in City Point, Virginia while Joseph Gentieu was working as Foreman of the machine shop of the DuPont Smokeless Powder Plant known as Hopewell Works. The photographs date from 1915 to 1918, but Norman Gentieu records having only lived there from 1917 to 1918, therefore, perhaps the Gentieus visited the site several times before having moved down there. The photographs are informal snapshots of family and friends, as well as views of the town, their home, and the Hopewell Works site. During their time in City Point, they took a few trips to Richmond and the surrounding area, there are several photographs taken during these trips in which they visited several Civil War memorials, cemeteries, and other historic sites. Some photographs are marked as having been taken by Pierre Gentieu.
"Memphis and Louisville" album documents the Gentieu family’s time while Joseph Gentieu worked to help establish machine shops at the Chickasaw Ordnance Works in Memphis, Tennessee and the Indiana Ordnance Works in Charlestown. The Gentieus resided in Memphis from November 1940 to February 1941 and in Charlestown from March 1941 until August 1941, returning to Carney’s Point in September 1941. Joseph, Pauline, and Phyllis Gentieu were the family members on the trip. Pauline Gentieu maintained a handwritten notebook of their daily activities, this notebook and a typewritten transcript are in the album. Phyllis assembled an album of photographs. Later, Norman Gentieu removed the photographs from the original album to prevent any further deterioration, this album reflects his order. The photographs include historical sites and places they visited, it does not have photographs related to Joseph Gentieu’s work at either plant site.
Language of Materials
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- Pierre Gentieu family archives
- Laurie Sather
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- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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