A New Family History?
Just when you think there’s nothing left to learn about the famous du Ponts…
Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli
What is it about those du Ponts?
We see the name everywhere, so it is as familiar as anything else around us. Yet there remains a mystique, one created by two centuries of stories, myth and legend.
We know the legacies of the family’s major figures: Eleuthère Irénée du Pont’s founding of a gunpowder company that has become a worldwide science company, T. Coleman du Pont’s career in the U.S. Senate, Alfred I.’s building of Nemours, Henry Francis du Pont’s transformation of his home into Winterthur Museum & Country Estate, just to list a few.
We see the family name on school buildings. We still feel the du Pont influence on politics, local arts, local philanthropy. A ripple at DuPont Co. can turn into a shock wave for the state. By now, we think we’ve seen and learned it all.
So it came as a great surprise when authors John Collins and University of Delaware professor John Allen Quintus one day delivered, out of the blue, a story about a du Pont that history has forgotten—or perhaps chosen to ignore.
As you’ll read in their “The Madness of Count Louis” (page 62), Louis Cazenove du Pont was no stellar student, no captain of industry, no major player in the long story of the family. Privilege may have been his birthright, but he was, in a word, as unremarkable as any one of the great unwashed masses of his time. A reputed drinker and womanizer, he suffered the misfortune of being born into a family characterized by ambition in an age characterized by ambition—as well as strict morals.
Where does a man like Louis fit into society? It’s impossible to believe he never asked the question. Perhaps he’d considered many possibilities, but the only answer we’ll ever have is his suicide.
It’s a tragic story, to be sure, and one with several versions. Which is true? We may never know. The authors do their best to sort out conflicting accounts, and in doing so, we hope they’ve rewritten a bit of family history in a significant way. I trust you’ll find it as fascinating as I did.
- It’s not likely you’d find a sympathetic ear when mentioning the half-baked idea of turning Brandywine Creek through Brandywine Park into a kayak park. Imagine my surprise when Marian Young of Brightfields Environmental Services told me, “I had the very same idea.” (What would park architect Frederick Law Olmstead think today?) In an all-too-brief discussion at the Delaware History Center, during the kickoff party for this month’s In Wilmington section, we hatched other fiendish plans. Marian, we have to finish that discussion.
- Also during the In Wilmington reception, I had the pleasure of meeting Phil Gross of Gross Lighting Center, which is celebrating 100 years in business. That kind of longevity is a testament to not only Gross, but also to the city. May the next century be as prosperous for all.
- This is long, long overdue: A big thank you to Bob Ruggerio of The Commonwealth Group for meeting at Harry’s Seafood, lo, those many months ago. Bob had a couple great ideas for stories you’ll read about in upcoming issues.
- Congratulations to director Carol Everhart for making the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner at the Atlantic Sands a night to remember, as always. It was a pleasure to finally chat with Scott Thomas of Southern Delaware Tourism. And DT was especially pleased to accept recognition for its 20 years of membership. Thank you.