Augustus Zerega was born December 4, 1803, in Martinique, where his father was a wealthy shipowner. After finishing his education in England and France he was sent on a number of voyages as supercargo, and at the age of 17 bought a ship and went into business for himself. While lying desperately ill on board his own boat in the harbor of St. Thomas, he was found and cured by Baron von Bretton, a physician, whose 15-year-old daughter, Baroness Eliza M. von Bretton, he married. Subsequently he led a venturesome and romantic career as Captain of sailing vessels, plying the Spanish Main when it was scoured by countless pirates and buccaneers.
When married, at the age of 21, he was worth $25,000, and before giving up the sea he had accumulated and lost three fortunes in the West India and South American trade. He won a wide acquaintanceship, and was an intimate friend of Simon Bolivar and other Spanish American patriots, for whom he filled large contracts in munitions of war. Philadelphia and New-Orleans were his trading centres until 1835.
After 1835 he established himself in New York as a coffee merchant, but soon went into the shipping business, owning and managing the Z line of general ships until 1855, when the boats were disposed of. He was a highly educated man, of cultured habits, a fine linguist, and had achieved more than a national reputation as a great merchant and ship owner. Among his thirty boats were the Queen of Clippers, the Arctic, Baltic, Antarctic, and other famous sailing vessels. The rescue of 300 United States soldiers from the foundering San Francisco, by Capt. Stouffer of the Antarctic, made a great stir when Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War. From 1855 to 1863 Mr. Zerega lived at Thogg's Neck, engaging in no business.
Mr. Zerega was intimately connected with the history of chess in New Orleans during one of its most brilliant epochs. A resident of New Orleans during at least a part of the year, he, with his partner, a Mr. Bernier, were members of the original New Orleans Chess Club which included on its roll the names of Eugene Rousseau, Ernest Morphy, C. Le Carpentier, John Slidell, Judah P. Benjamin, W. A. Gasquet, C. W. Horner, and others only a trifle below the two first named chess masters in strength. It was mainly through the efforts of Mr. Zerega that the famous match between Stanley and Rousseau in 1845 was arranged. He and Mr. Bernier were Stanley's seconds in that encounter.
He was also one of the founders of the New York Chess Cub, where he played a good second to Charles Stanley and later to Capt. Mackenzie. In 1845 he won a six game match against James Thompson while receiving time-odds. Thompson playing one move per minute and Zerega playing at one move every two minutes. Zerega won the match with three wins to two losses and one draw.
Mr. Zerega, as an older man, played a very strong game, indeed far better than he did in earlier life, thus affording an almost unique example of improvement in chess strength during old age. He was, in 1866 and 1867, a frequent opponent of Capt. Mackenzie and other leading New York players and was most dangerous for the best of them. He was especially partial to the Evans Gambit attack, which he conducted with great skill, and against even so powerful an adversary as T. Lichtenhein, his wins were achieved in a style that would have done credit to a far more celebrated player.
He died December 23, 1888, at the residence of his son-in-law, Horace Barnard, of pneumonia and heart failure after an illness of 10 days. He left an estate valued at more than $1,000,000. Eliza and nine children survived him.
New York Spirit of the Times, 1845.06.07
New York Times, 1888.12.24, p5
New Orleans Times-Democrat, 1888.12.30, p16