The Pennall Family

By Jessica Gorman

This past weekend, at Oakland Cemetery in Shreveport, a memorial was dedicated to the victims of the yellow fever epidemic that struck the city in 1873. It ranks as the third worst in U.S. history.  One-quarter of the population of Shreveport, approximately 1200 people, died within a twelve-week period. At its height, the deaths came so quickly that a mass grave became necessary. This grave, known as the Yellow Fever Mound, contains over 800 burials. On this memorial, are listed the names of all those who have been identified. One name immediately stood out to me, Miss Carolina Augusta Pennell. (I believe her name was actually Caroline, the family spelled their surname Pennall.) Her younger sister, Sarah Emily, is buried in the old section of the Minden Cemetery. Her burial was one of the first in the cemetery. The story of the Pennall family is filled with tragedy.

Dr. William S. Pennall moved his family from South Carolina to Minden in the late 1830s. They were among the earliest settlers of the town. Three of the Pennall children, John W., Eliza Winifred, and Caroline Augusta, were born in South Carolina. The birth of the fourth child, Edward H. occurred in Louisiana in approximately 1837, just one year after Minden was said to have been laid out. Dr. Pennall not only served the community as a physician, but he is also identified by the state legislature as being among the incorporators of the Seminary of Minden in 1838. When Minden Lodge No. 51 was chartered in April 1845, Dr. Pennall was Worshipful Master.

The 1840s brought the addition of three more children to the Pennall family. Lavinia, Robert R., and Sarah Emily. Sadly, little Sarah Emily only lived eight months before her death in September 1843. That decade also brought the death of Dr. Pennall, reportedly under strange circumstances. The newspaper relates that “he had been observed in the evening to display some signs of derangement” and that after he had gone to bed “about 1 o’clock he jumped up in great afright, declaring some one was in his room trying to kill him; he got hold of a loaded pistol, and before anyone could prevent, or had even thought he had such a design, placed the muzzle against his left temple, and discharged it.” Dr. Pennall died about an hour later. He was buried 13 May 1849, presumably in the Minden Cemetery. His grave is unmarked. 

In 1850, Mrs. Caroline Eliza Pennall, widow of William Pennall, was living in Minden with her six children. Eldest son, John W. served as mayor of Homer in 1857 before the family moved to Shreveport. In May 1859, John was elected mayor of Shreveport. He was also partner in the law firm of Kilpatrick & Pennall with his brother-in-law, J.H. Kilpatrick. This firm served the parishes of Caddo, Bossier, and DeSoto. That same year, younger brother Edward was serving as deputy clerk to the 18th Judicial District Court. 

In 1861, John was elected Justice of the Peace for Ward 4, Caddo Parish. When the Civil War broke out in April of that year, Edward immediately enlisted in the Caddo Rifles. The other two Pennall brothers did not enlist until the following spring, Robert in April and John in May. One year and one day after John’s enlistment, Edward was killed at Chancellorsville. John died that same year, reportedly at Vicksburg but I have yet to confirm the location, only that there was a resolution in the Caddo Court in November of 1863 confirming his death. Robert, the only brother to return home from the war, faced his own tragic ending.  

While serving as a deputy sheriff in Caddo Parish, on the afternoon of 8 July 1867, Robert found himself in an argument with another man. He reportedly struck this man over the head with a bottle. Several hours later, while walking down the sidewalk, Robert Pennall was shot in the back. He later succumbed to his injuries. No arrest was ever made in the case. 

The first cases of yellow fever occurred in August of 1873. The illness spread rapidly through the city of Shreveport, ravaging the population. In October, it claimed as its victim Miss Caroline Augusta Pennall. A census record reveals that her family likely referred to her as Carrie. She was 37 years old at the time of her death. She never married. She was buried in Oakland Cemetery, but it is unclear whether she was buried in the family plot or the Yellow Fever Mound. Her mother, for whom she was named, had now buried a husband, two daughters, and all three of her sons. She lived out the rest of her life in the home of her daughter, Lavinia, where she died on 21 September 1876. 

(Jessica Gorman is Executive Director for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum, Webster Parish Historian, and an avid genealogist.)