The Tale of a Roofless Home


By Carol Wells

In 1799, Edward Murphy bought from Mrs. St. Denis one arpent twenty toises (1) (Old French, historical length units) on Red River with the provision that Murphy must move her house to the road that ran beside the river or build her a new house on that road. The creek, not the house, was Murphy’s interest. On this land he built a gin. Her husband’s adventure into the cotton business did not interest Murphy’s wife. Mrs. Murphy’s eyes were on a roofless house on two arpents adjoining the gin. That the house had been built in the early 1740s for Athanase de Meziere meant nothing to Joseph Malige Jr. The owner, young Malige Jr., caught in the rush to plant cotton, had added four rooms to the five-room house build long ago for a long-deceased lieutenant governor in his youth. After the work was done, Malige Jr. could not pay his workmen. The case dragged on and on. The house stood roofless through several years of argument.

Perhaps Edward Murphy could not understand why a useless house interested his wife. Murphy enjoyed the noise and confusion of his businesses two miles below the city. His boats arriving, cargoes sorted and placed in proper storage or in the store to be sold, horses from Indians at Nacogdoches, pelts brought, sorted counted, and placed in storage. Indian hunters were paid, attendants worked at the store where Murphy sold luxury and essential goods from New Orleans. Activity at all hours that kept Murphy busy and happy did not delight Murphy’s wife.

Murphy bought the roofless Malige house at Sheriff sale. It was no problem for Edward Murphy to have a roof put on the waiting house. On the last week of July 1808 the final papers were signed. Murphy died that same week. Elizabeth Murphy bought the house from her husband’s estate on Sept. 16, 1808. The quiet house would be Elizabeth Murphy’s home for the next 20 years. Her son, Edward Cesar Murphy, could have the business and welcome to it. Her daughter, Eugenie Murphy Tauzin (named for her grandmother Eugenie Fleming Murphy in Ireland) spent her married life in the house.

A toise (French pronunciation: ?[twaz]; symbol: T) is a unit of measure for length, area and volume originating in pre-revolutionary France. In North America, it was used in colonial French establishments in early New France, French Louisiana (Louisiane), and Quebec. In North America, 1 arpent = 180 French feet = about 192 English feet.