Free People of Color in Louisiana: Revealing an Unknown Past


Free People of Color - Materials contributed by Tulane University Special Collections to the main Free People of Color that is hosted by the Louisiana Digital Library. The entire Free People of Color project is located here:

This project brings together materials from LSU Libraries Special Collections, The Historic New Orleans Collection, the Louisiana Research Collection in Tulane University Special Collections, the Historical Center at the Louisiana State Museum, and the Louisiana Division of the New Orleans Public Library. In Digitizing, these records allow us to reunite collections from the same families that were divided across repositories as well as scattered documents, making these materials accessible in one place for the use of historians, genealogists, students, teachers, and the general public.

Digitized collections include entire collections of papers from families or individuals that were free people of color. Many of these extend, chronologically, beyond the end of slavery. Being a free person of color ceased to have legal meaning after emancipation and the passage of the 13th Amendment, but having been a member of that class continued to have cultural, racial, social, economic, and political implications for those who had been free people of color in the antebellum period, and for generations of their descendants. For this reason, we have chosen to digitize entire collections and not set an arbitrary cut-off date for materials.

Because of the relative dearth lack of personal and family papers for free people of color, public records are a particularly important source for researchers. This project will digitize significant collections of public records from the New Orleans Public Library's Louisiana Division, including a four-volume "Register of free persons of color entitled to remain in the state" (1840-1864), four different collections of emancipation records, which often include testimony regarding why the slave was deserving of freedom and provide other information about the slave and slave owner, and an extensive collection of indenture records (1809-1843) in which at least one participant (the person being indentured, his/her sponsor, or the artisan/merchant to whom the servant was being bound) was a free person of color.

Finally, many items have been selected for digitization from larger collections that are not primarily related to free people of color. Bringing these items together from the disparate collections in which they exist will facilitate comparison and help to provide a larger body of information for researchers about the norms of living conditions and race relations for free people of color during the colonial and antebellum eras.

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See the complete annotated list of the selected collections, including links to finding aids when available
Emancipation petition of David Griffith, Number 57A, 1827.
Petition of David Griffith to free the slave Jarret Garret, who is described as a negro man of 35 years of age.
Francisco Bouligny memorandum, 1776 September 1.
Francisco Bouligny (full name: Francisco Domingo Joseph Bouligny) was a soldier and administrator of Spain and Louisiana. He was born in Alicante, Spain to Juan Bouligny and María Paret. He married Marie Louise Le Sénéchal d'Auberville (1750-1834), the daughter of Vincent Guillaume Le Sénéchal d'Auberville. Their children were Marie Louise Joséphine (born 1771), Dominique (q.v.), Rémy (1774-1776), Louis (q.v.), and Céleste (1784-1787). In August 1776, he submitted to the Spanish government a lengthy Memoria describing the natural resources, population, and exposed position of the colony of Louisiana, and making recommendations for remedial action. This led to his appointment as lieutenant-governor of Louisiana in charge of new settlements, commerce, and Indian relations, a position he held from November 1776 to 1780.Felix Herwig Kuntz (1890-1971) was the son of Rosemonde Elizabeth and Emile Kuntz and the brother of Emile N. Kuntz. He was an avid collector of documents, paintings and furniture during and after the Great Depression. The documents in this collection were items that Kuntz collected for his own personal interest. Memorandum regarding the instructions for the Governor-General of Louisiana, presented to Charles III at La Granja on the 1st of September 1776. Incomplete, unsigned copy, [written in the hand of Francisco Bouligny]. Captain Francisco Bouligny, then on official leave in Spain, discusses the depressed state of the economy in the Province of Louisiana, where he had served in His Majesty's army since 1769. He also made suggestions for improving the situation and for defending the colony against the threats of the English. The third section relates to reforms and improvements. Labor control was an important concern, for "the happiness of all the inhabitants depends upon the exact discipline that is imposed upon the Negroes," the document stated. The Governor was to prohibit public dances of enslaved persons and to capture and punish fugitives. He was to admonish masters to not treat their slaves with excessive severity, and those who persisted in acting in an inhumane manner were to be banished from the Province and their slaves sold. He was to ship out of the colony those free mulatto women who lived in public concubinage. He was to encourage the marriage of enslaved persons by Catholic ritual. In Spanish with English translation.
Jean Baptiste emancipation record, 1788 August 1.
A legal document granting liberty to Jean Baptiste, described as a mulatto, after the death of his master, François Marine. The document is in French and is notarized by Nicolas Forstal.
Juanita Cholan and Celestin Grevemberg land plat, 1800.
The plat (map) for the bordering lands of Juanita Cholan and Celestin Grevemberg, both free women of color. The tracts were bounded on two sides by the land of Pedro Broussard. Juanita's land adjoined the Attacapas (Attakapas) River. On the reverse side of the map is a text fragment describing a parcel of land, possibly that of the front, making reference to linderos (de sassafras). The document is in Spanish.
Marguerite emancipation record, 1788 February 3.
A legal document in which Joseph de Villiers grants liberty to his slave, Marguerite, who is described as a mulatto. In French.
Matthew Flannery census of New Orleans, 1805 August 5.
Census of New Orleans, 1805, submitted by Matthew Flannery to the City Council of New Orleans. The data sheets, compiled by census-taker Matthew Flannery, are arranged by streets, according to the model form he submitted to the City Council on May 11. The total number of inhabitants in the city was 8,475 - 3,551 whites; 1,566 free persons of color; 3,105 enslaved persons; and 253 other free people. In French.