Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Mystery of Cassandra Deye Cockey Owings Pradelles

 The Owings family is etched into Bath County history with the Bourbon Furnace and namesake of Owingsville, but another member of the Owings bloodline has an intriguing tale of mystery and romanticism.  Tales of swashbuckling adventure and prestige have always held a certain fascination, and the story of Cassandra Deye Cockey Owings Pradelles has all the markings of such adventure.
Cassandra Deye Cockey Owings was born Christmas Eve, 1772 in Baltimore County, Maryland to John Cockey and Colgate Deye Owings; the first of eight children.  Her younger brother was Thomas Deye Owings, who came to Kentucky and gave Owingsville it's name.  John Cockey Owings served in the American Revolutionary War and became acquainted with Benedict Francois Van Pradelles, a French lieutenant.  Van Pradelles became enamoured with Cassandra and the couple married August 29, 1790 in Philadelphia.  
The couple moved to France soon afterward and started a family which would eventually consist of ten children.  During the French Revolution, the family fled France and came back to the United States, first in Baltimore, then in Philadelphia around 1795.  
Around 1804, Cassandra petitioned Kentucky Legislature to free her of her husband's debts and liabilities, and shows her living in Lexington at the time.  By July, 1805, the Van Pradelles family was again on the move; this time to New Orleans.  The journey took three months of floating down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers on either flatboats or makeshift sail boats.  Once in New Orleans, Benedict Van Pradelles became a prominent figure within the city, becoming Register of the Board of Land Commissioners upon his arrival.  He also was named Notary Public for the City of New Orleans and Justice of the Peace in 1808.  Cassandra and Benedict enjoyed a successful and wealthy life during their time in New Orleans, so much that when her father, John Owings passed away, he willed her nothing, citing that she had "received other considerable fortunes from other inheritances". 
Benedict Francois Van Pradelles contracted yellow fever and died December 12, 1808, only a few weeks before the birth of his youngest daughter.  Cassandra, now a widow with six young children still living at home, stayed in New Orleans and opened a boarding house.  It is known that around 1811, Cassandra traveled to Maryland and left her children in the care of her sister Frances.  It is unknown why she chose to do this, but court documents show several legal actions involving Cassandra and others staking claim to her late husband's estate and land settlements which may have had some impact on her decisions.  Cassandra's health began to fail during this time, and a will was drafted in July, 1813; her mystery and legacy begins here.
At the advice of her doctor, Cassandra decided to return to Baltimore sometime between July, 1813 and March, 1814.  Her journey would be by sea, up the East Coast aboard a ship named the Corinthian.  A nightmare haunted Madame Van Pradelles just before she boarded the ship; a dream that her ship was captured by pirates and she was bound, blindfolded and made to walk the plank into the ocean along with other passengers.  She relayed this nightmare to friends, but continued her journey regardless.  Famed pirates Jean Lafitte and Dominique You were known to travel the waters along the North Carolina coast during this era, but by the time of Cassandra's journey, activity had dwindled to a minimum according to reports.  The Corinthian docked at the port of Beaufort, North Carolina, according to some official records that survive.  Sometime after this stop, the ship, and passengers, vanished into history.
Dr. John Moore, who married Cassandra's daughter Mary Marie Penelope, allegedly came into contact with a old pirate who made a stunning confession just prior to his death.  The pirate, who some believe was Dominique You, told the doctor that he was present when Lafitte's crew took the Corinthian near it's last known port call.  He  said he had taken jewels from a "pretty young thing from Baltimore" before she and the others were made to walk the plank to their deaths in the churning waters.  
Members of the Owings family were returned a trunk, silver and jewelry that were identified as Cassandra's that was located at a stronghold owned by Jean Lafitte sometime after her disappearance, bolstering the claim of the confession.  Her remains, nor the others, have ever been found.
A book was written about Jean Lafitte in 1930 by Lyle Saxon.  It offers a romantic view of the pirate and tells a version of Madame Pradelles' fate, but notes the date as being 1815.  The first record of Cassandra's will being probated was on March 9, 1814, and was presented to a Maryland court by her daughter.  Lawsuits would follow the disappearance, with Benedict Francois Van Pradelles, Jr. claiming he was the rightful and sole heir to his mother's estate.  Another legal action was taken over the disposition of land and slaves which Cassandra still laid claim to at the time she disappeared.  Another book, Cassandra Lost, written by Joanna Catherine Scott also gives a romantic view of the legend, but is more of a novel love story than an accurate historical account.  A movie was made starring Yul Brenner, aptly called Lafitte the Pirate and alludes to the fact that others took Cassandra's ship and killed the passengers, unjustly placing the blame on Lafitte. 
There is a memorial marker at an empty grave in the Sherwood Episcopal Cemetery, Cockeysville, Maryland, that simply reads, "Cassandra D. Pradelles, Lost at Sea in 1815, Age 40 Years".  This monument was erected by Cassandra's sister, Francis.  There is, however, an age discrepancy; in 1815, Cassandra would have been 43 years old, not 40.
 We may never know what really happened off the coast of North Carolina, but it is most definitely a tale of intrigue during a romantic age, and one with a touch of local notoriety.

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