Newly restored tomb honors ‘Hero of Cat Island’ and descendants
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By Mike Lacy | June 22, 2019
BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - He was called “The Hero of Cat Island," but nobody really knows what Juan de Cuevas looked like. No renderings exist, just guess work.
“I see a man probably about my height, prominent features, very prominent Spanish features,” said Dorty Necaise, president of the Juan de Cuevas Family Association. “Life on the island probably would have hardened him a little bit.”
Legend has it that de Cuevas fired the first shots against the British in 1814 prior to the Battle of New Orleans, but there’s more to the story of him and his wife, Marie Helene Ladner. Thanks to a restoration, their final resting place has been preserved for future generations.
On Saturday, it was a ceremony fitting for a family that many argue gave birth to the Mississippi Coast.
“Everything about the Cuevas and Ladner families stems from Cat Island,” said John Cuevas, author of two books on Cat Island and great-great grandson of Juan de Cuevas. “That seems to be the catalyst that has brought us all together.” Three generations were raised on the island. “It’s almost as if they were the Adam and Eve of the Gulf Coast because any of the old names - Lizana, Dedeaux, Garriga, Favre - can all trace their roots back to Juan and Marie on Cat Island,” Cuevas added.
The ceremony at the Old Biloxi Cemetery was organized by the Juan de Cuevas Family Association. “It's our major goal to preserve and restore all of our local history on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Necaise said. “And good ole Juan de Cuevas played a major role in the founding of the Gulf Coast.”
The couple’s tomb was restored by Nick Black of New Orleans. “I treat each tomb as if it were from my own family,” he said. “And this was the same case with the Cuevas tomb, but the Cuevas tomb, just with the enthusiasm that everyone has about his legend, just made it a little more special.”
Descendant Laurie Quave Rosetti said the restoration project helps prolong a unique opportunity. “Not many people can say that they can trace their lineage back in their home town and that their great-great-great-grandfather is buried right there and you can see his tomb and learn all about him,” she said.
Necaise said to “stay tuned” because more events are coming in the future.
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