When I think of the transatlantic slave trade, I think of all the millions of families being separated from their families, traditions and cultures, all to adapt to being someone’s chattel property, to do whatever they command and working from dusk to dawn for the rest of their lives. It’s no secret of the ugly horrors slavery has plagued in many black families for generations. Who knows, the stranger you meet in somewhere could probably be a descendant of one of your ancestors siblings. In my personal slave research of SW Louisiana, primarily St. Landry Parish, I have discovered several families who were separated during slavery, whether it was mothers from their children, fathers from their wives, siblings or extended family members being sold to another plantation. This short but formative write-up is going to show you first hand of how an enslaved Negro woman was separated from the children she carried and how her family have been disconnected ever since. Hopefully this piece could reunite many of them.
Last Monday during a random courthouse research, as I browsed through the old 1860 entries, I came across this entry of Jean Baptiste Paul FONTENOT, Hypolite Paul FONTENOT, Samuel REED, fils, partitioning slaves. As I explored the French record, the sequence of the names ALPHONSE, ALPHONSINE and CLEMENCE stood out to me which led me to believe that they were the enslaved children of Michel POULARD. I knew they were the children of Michel, however I didn’t know who was their mother was, in fact, I once believed they were the children of Clarice FUSELIER, the woman who was identified as Michel POULARD’s younger children Onesime and Belisaire. Although I was excited in having substantial proof as to who their mother was, I waited to get the record fully translated to make sure I was comprehending the French language well. Special thanks to my Canadian friend history, Mona A. RAINVILLE, Lawyer, who read through what was going on. Later that day, I received the full translation from Clint BRUCE.
Translation done by Clint BRUCE: Canada Research Chair in Acadian and Transnational Studies (CRÉAcT, French acronym) at Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia
The year of our Lord eighteen hundred and sixty, and the seventh of April,
Before me, Yves D’avy, Recorder, duly commissioned and sworn in for St. Landry Parish, residing there in Opelousas, undersigned, and in the presence of the witnesses named hereafter and also undersigned
Appeared in person, viz.
- Jean Baptiste Paul Fontenot, Chataigner
- Hypolite Paul Fontenot, Chataignier
- Samuel Reed, the son, Chataignier
All residing in the said parish of St. Landry, in the districts mentioned above, Who have declared and hereby do declare that at the auction conducted on April 20, eighteen fifty-two, of the succession property of the late Paul Fontenot, they made themselves joint adjudicators of the slaves whose names and ages follow, to wit: Françoise, négresse of approximately twenty-(six?) years of age, and her three children, Alphonse, nine years of age; Alphonsine, six years of age; and Clemence, four years of age; of ages being the same as those given in the auction report under number 73, to which reference is made; That at that time they agreed verbally up the joint possession, but none authentic [or: but unofficially] given the age of the children, and that since then have been born of the said nègre Françoise, two children, one named Celestine, today four years of age, and the other named Marie, two years of age; besides which there was forgotten in the auction report a négresse named Meline, also a daughter of Françoise, then three years of age.
Today the parties appearing wishing to cease the joint possession that exists between them and each definitely make known his property, have agreed to divide the said slaves as follows, to wit: The said Jean Baptiste Paul Fontenot takes for his share of the said slaves Françoise, currently around thirty-four years of age; Meline, eleven years of age; Celestine, four years of age; and Marie, two years. And the said Hypolite Paul Fontenot and Samuel Reed, [? of the division/splitting up], do surrender and transfer to him all rights, title, and claims that they had concerning the said slaves.
The said Hypolite Paul Fontenot, for his share of the said slaves, takes Alphonsine, currently four years of age, and Clementine, currently twelve years of age; and the said Jean Bte Paul Fontenot and Samuel Reed do surrender and transfer, as part of the partition, to the said [Hte?] Paul Fontenot all their rights of ownership to said slaves.
The said Samuel Reed, for his share of the said slaves, takes Alphonsine, currently around sixteen years of age, and the said Hypolite Paul and Jean Baptiste Fontenot do surrender and transfer to him all their rights to the ownership of the said slaves, and this as part of the partition.
They [?] mutually in all their rights of guarantee against all preceding sellers, the value at the time of the verbal partition being for the share of Jean Bte Fontenot seven hundred and fifty dollars; for that of Hypolite Paul Fontenot six hundred and fifty dollars; and Samuel Reed, his share at four hundred and fifty dollars. They have settled amongst themselves the difference in value as they do declare and do mutually give each other release (of responsibility).
The co-sharers declare that they dispense the Recorder of the production of certificates of mortgage, as required by article 3325 of the Civil Code of Louisiana or any other law regarding this matter, releasing the said Recorder from all responsibility.
Those appearing declaring moreover that the present deed is a definitive partition among them, without legal recourse against each other.
Prior to me obtaining this record, as I aforementioned I believe this was the children of Michel POULARD. With the above record stating they were purchased from Paul FONTENOT I then searched for succession within that family and found Francoise listed in the 1844 succession of Rosalie McCAULEY, the wife of Paul FONTENOT. To my surprise I actually located the suspected Michel listed in that inventory who was actually purchased by Paul FONTENOT as well, confirming my claim.
Discovering the record of Francoise enslaved was exciting but the reality of her being separated from her children wasn’t so exciting.
With the help of the Catholic Church and Courthouse records, I have identified Francoise as Francoise Antoine MARTIN. Prior to this record she was already in my genealogy database having children with a slave named TOM and Bazil ROUGEAU. As I looked at the 1860 census household of Jean Baptiste Paul FONTENOT, Bazil’s father Alexandre lived next door. I located Francoise in the 1870 census living with Richard VIDRINE. I believed this was her considering the ages and names of her children Antoine and Artemon who are obviously Artemon ROUGEAU and Antoine THOMAS.
1870 census household of Richard VIDRINE and Francoise Antoine MARTIN
I was able to establish a relationship between Antoine and Artemon after Artemon appeared as one of the witnesses to the marriage of Antoine THOMAS to Victoria FONTENOT: THOMAS, Antoine m. 11 Oct. 1881 Victoria FONTENOT (Opel. Ct. Hse.: Mar. #11977)THOMAS, Antoine (Thomas & Francoise) m. 1 Nov. 1881 Victoria FONTENOT (Eunice Ch.: v. 1, p. 132). When Artemon was baptized in the 50’s, his mother was listed as Frances ANTOINE: ROUGEAU, Artimen (Basile & Frances ANTOINE) b. 12 March 1866; bt. 27 March 1952 (Elton Ch.: St. Joseph Ch.: v.1, p.4)
After finding the record of Francoise enslaved, I have successfully identified the right enslaved family. In the 1870 census household of Hypolite Paul FONTENOT, there was a Negro woman named Clemence aged about 21 (1849) with her child Elvina aged about 5 (1865). This is obviously the same Clemence who Hypolite was given in the partition of the slaves. The Catholic marriage of Elvina could substantiate my claim: FONTENOT, Elvina (Clementine POULARD) m. 9 Jan. 1879 Emile Jean NOEL (Eunice Ch.: v. 1, p. 90)
I might have made this quite easy but this was no easy task. Most of the early records of the POULARD’s gave their surname as MICHEL, obviously taking their father’s forename as a surname. At the end of slavery, several former slaves used their father’s forename as a surname. Here is Alphonse’s son Theophile POULARD’s Catholic baptism entry with him being listed as a MICHEL: MICHEL, Teophile (Alphonse & Charlotte BOUTTE) b. 8 July 1877 (Eunice Ch.: v. 1, p. 19-x). He then went by POULARD, the name he died with.
After discovering the death certificates of Francoise’s POULARD children Alphonse and Clemence
nce, any of them listed their parents, something that the informant for the death certificate didn’t know, especially since they both lived long lives.
Death Certificate of Clemence POULARD
Death Certificate of Alphonse POULARD
Faces of Francoise’s descendants
Robyne DAMOND is the gg-granddaughter of Antoine THOMAS, Francoise’s son
Shawntee SCOTT is the gg-granddaughter of Antoine THOMAS, Francoise’s son
Daniel OZANE is the ggg-grandson of Alphonse POULARD, Francoise’s son
Nicole PITRE is the gg-granddaughter of Artemon ROUGEAU, son of Francoise
Jamie PAGE is the ggg-granddaughter of Alphonse POULARD, son of Francoise
Bithomas CEASAR Jr., is the ggg-grandson of Alphonse POULARD, son of Francoise
Vorice STEPHEN is the ggg-grandson of Clemence POULARD, daughter of Francoise
Janie STEPHEN-LAFLEUR, deceased, was the gg-granddaughter of Clemence POULARD, daughter of FRANCOISE
Artemon ROUGEAU, son of FRANCOISE, with wife Marie Amaya HARDY