February 8, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Paul Tulane

Paul Tulane was secretive by nature. He would tell no one what he was working on or how he was investing his money. His attorneys knew only sketches of his affairs. So when Tulane summoned Louisiana representatives to his Princeton, New Jersey home in his 80th year only he knew the meeting's purpose.

Tulane's family had settled in the rolling central New Jersey hills in the last years of the 18th century. The Tulanes were French Huguenots who fled the French Revolution for Santo Domingo where they quickly established a profitable lumber trade. A violent Negro uprising in 1791 forced the family to flee again, arriving in Princeton in 1795.

Paul Tulane was born in 1801 and educated in private schools. He began a career as a merchant but in 1819 a wealthy cousin from France arrived in Princeton, where he stopped on his way to an extensive tour of the American west. When he left Paul Tulane went with him.

At the end of their travels in early 1822 Tulane returned to Princeton and began planning a move to New Orleans. He arrived in November 1922 and lived there off and on for the next 50 years. With help from his father Tulane began wholesaling clothes, shoes and hats. He also opened a retail store. Soon he and his agents were pushing up the Mississippi River taking orders from the regions he had just explored with his cousin.

Paul Tulane & Company became a well-known firm throughout the Mississippi Valley. The timing was propitious. New Orleans was just blossoming as a major port city in the new steam age. Tulane prospered along with the city. Soon he had stores all over the booming town.

The Civil War brought an end to the greatest prosperity New Orleans would know for another 100 years. Tulane's income dropped but most of his capital survived. He emerged from the war with his wealth intact but his feeling for his adopted city severely diminished. He had inherited his father's Princeton property and went home to New Jersey, returning to New Orleans only on winter trips.

Now, fifteen years later, Tulane was still well-known in Louisiana and state officials readily agreed to visit him in Princeton. Tulane was a restless, dynamic man who never took the time to marry. Through his life he had given money to ministries, churches and missions regardless of denomination. Although he loved New Orleans and spoke fluent French he never identified with Louisiana' Creole heritage. So it was with considerable surprise that the Louisiana delegation accepted a gift of $288,000 in property to use for education.

There was much discussion on how to use the gift. Tulane provided some guidelines but no specifics. It was finally decided to bolster the wobbly University of Louisiana, to be known thereafter as the Tulane University of Louisiana.

In addition to original gift, one of the largest of its kind yet made, Tulane University expected it was only the beginning. Tulane's New Orleans attorney drafted a codicil leaving the University his entire estate.

Tulane died unexpectedly in 1887 at the age of 86. But no one could find his will. Would such a clever businessman not leave a will? Did someone destroy it during the search? No one knew if he ever signed the document naming Tulane University as his beneficiary. It was known that in his last months that Tulane thought the University was spending his money recklessly. Had that caused Tulane to destroy any existing will?

No one ever knew. A will was never found and Tulane's estate, estimated at over one million dollars was distributed among a distant nephew and grandnieces and grandnephews. Tulane University received no further cash gifts. The man who lived so secretly had taken his deepest secret with him.

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