While the name Edward Gay might be relatively unknown outside of the University’s family housing, an on-campus exhibition is trying to put a face behind the name.
Hill Memorial Library is featuring a gallery until July 6 of Gay and his nearly 200 years of family history.
“We rarely focus an exhibit on one collection,” said Exhibition Coordinator Leah Wood Jewett. “But [we] wanted to show how you can really see what’s going on statewide and nationally over time through this one family’s letters, diaries, and photographs.”
The exhibit showcases memorabilia that dates as early as the late 1700s and transitions into Edward J. Gay Sr.’s role in Louisiana history.
According to Jewett, Gay was a prominent figure in the sugar industry. Originally from St. Louis, he moved to Louisiana after marrying his wife. Here, he helped manage his father-in-law’s sugar plantation in Iberville Parish.
He soon acquired more holdings in Louisiana and St. Louis.
The exhibition features Gay’s detailed business records, including sugar prices and slave purchases.
“Even if you’re not necessarily interested in the topic in general, it’s interesting to see as individual people that they’re just like us,” Jewett said.
During the Civil War, Gay was opposed to secession because his market for sugar was New York. He cooperated with Union forces and was protected from Union troops during the Civil War.
After the Civil War when neighboring plantations went bankrupt, he purchased their plantations and helped them out of debt.
When political power was restored to the South, he was elected to Congress.
The exhibition gives a detailed timeline of his descendants and their role in Louisiana history. His grandson, Edward J. Gay III, sat on the Board of Supervisors and the building committee while the University’s current campus was constructed.
Some descendants of Gay still reside in Louisiana, and the Edward J. Gay Planting and Manufacturing Company also still exists in Iberville Parish.