Laurent Clerc Descendant Shares Family Treasures
The following is an interview with Sue Galloway, direct descendant of Laurent Clerc, during her visit to Washington, D.C., to visit Gallaudet University and the Clerc Center, and make presentations on Clerc at two area libraries. The Clerc Center is named in honor of Laurent Clerc and his contributions as the first deaf educator of the deaf in the United States.
CC: Tell us how you are related to Laurent Clerc.
Sue Galloway: I am a direct descendant of Laurent Clerc through my mother's side of the family. My great-great grandmother was Elizabeth Victoria, the eldest daughter of Laurent Clerc and his deaf wife, Eliza Boardman.
CC: When did you develop your interest in your famous ancestor?
Sue Galloway: I've always known that Clerc was an important man. Many members of my family have Clerc as part of their name. It was at the Greenville Country Library in South Carolina that my own personal search for information began. I am a librarian by training, and when I took the job at Greenville, I started to learn about sign language and Deaf Culture. Naturally, the name of Clerc came up. I contacted my mother to see if she had any family archives related to Clerc.
CC: Is that when you found out about the famous trunk?
Sue Galloway: Yes, my mother was searching in the attic of their house in North Carolina for toys for her grandchildren. She opened up an old trunk and found documents in the bottom layer. They turned out to be a collection of Clerc's letters, a family album, citizenship papers, and more!
CC: Tell us more about what you brought to share on your visit to Washington, D.C.
Sue Galloway: In my lecture, I shared a story about the 52-day voyage Clerc and Gallaudet took from France to America. It is during that long voyage that Gallaudet taught Clerc English, and Clerc taught Gallaudet sign language. Clerc kept a diary. In one entry he said that "the interior of the ship abounds with mice, we have a cat that some of the mice are bigger than she is. We have ducks that are warlike and courageous and eat the mice . . . no more duck for dinner for me."
CC: Clerc kept a kind of autograph book that you showed at your lecture. Could you describe it?
Sue Galloway: Clerc had an address book with tabbed letters of the alphabet down the side. He included the names of people he met, the latitude and longitude of his travels, and a short genealogy of his family. Clerc, along with Abbe Sicard from the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Paris, gave lectures in France and England to raise awareness of the capabilities of deaf people. It was at one of those lectures that he met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. There are some familiar names in the book-James Monroe, President of the United States, the Hon. Henry Clay of Kentucky, and John Jacob Astor. Clerc mixed with some of the important people of his day.
CC: You brought an original letter written by Gallaudet to Clerc on April 10, 1818 that reflects the amazing friendship these two pioneers of deaf education shared. May I quote an excerpt from the letter for our readers?
Sue Galloway: Yes.
CC: Thank you. Here is an excerpt from the letter:
"...I thank my God I have one friend, one friend, dear to me in whom I have always confided, to whom I have opened the inmost of my soul...it is you, you whom when I first saw I esteemed, you who was so kind to me in France, you who taught me how to teach the deaf & dumb; you who trusted me when we left together your native land... you have been my counselor in difficulty, my succour in melancholy; my friend always. ..Soon we shall finish the short journey of life-will you lay the turf on my grave, or shall I weep over yours?-Let us live together & dispense the goodness of God to the ...deaf and dumb."
[Please note that the above excerpt from Laurent Clerc's letter is included here with the permission of Sue Galloway and is not to be reproduced elsewhere.]
CC: As you have researched more about Clerc, how does he come across to you as a man?
Sue Galloway: Clerc has become very close to my heart. His philosophy was - "Freely ye have received, freely give." Clerc had a passion about spreading among children the advantages he did not have. He taught many school superintendents, gave lectures on his own time-and taught full time at the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut for 41 years (the school he and Gallaudet founded as the first school for the deaf in America). We have letters from his former students that show him as a kind and benevolent gentleman. The students were clearly grateful to him.
CC: Clerc was also a family man. He married Eliza Boardman and had six children. One of the treasures from the trunk was an anniversary album. What was inside?
Sue Galloway: This is one of my favorite artifacts. Clerc and Eliza celebrated their golden wedding anniversary [50 years] in 1869-three months before Clerc died. A friend put together an album with the names of the original wedding party, a copy of the letter of consent for their marriage, and a history of the births, deaths, and marriages of each of the six children and all the grandchildren.
CC: Do you have any plans for collecting and publishing your family history of Clerc?
Sue Galloway: I am still studying all the family Clerc materials. I'd like to get a research grant to support travel to Clerc sites such as his birthplace in La Blame de Grottes [a Laurent Clerc Museum is located in the town center] and the school for the deaf in Paris. I'd like to find out more about materials archived at the American School for the Deaf, Gallaudet, and Yale University. On this trip, I have enjoyed visiting with the President of Gallaudet, Dr. Alan Hurwitz, during my visit to Washington. He showed me Clerc's walking stick and other Clerc artifacts in his office, and invited me to dinner at House One with his wife Vicki. I also toured the Gallaudet archives and the Deaf Collection.
CC: Thank you for sharing some of your fascinating family history. We hope to see more in the future when you publish your research.
Sue Galloway: You're welcome. It's been a whirlwind visit. I hope to come back to spend more time at Gallaudet and with the students at MSSD and KDES.