Saturday, July 31, 2010

Mom! Why Is Your Mother's Surname Spelled Mathieu?

1899 -  1936

   When I began my family's ancestral history research, there were many questions that needed answers.  One in particular was after noticing the spelling of my maternal grandmother's surname, Mathieu.  Curious to know why was it spelled MATHIEU in stead of the English version MATTHEW, I asked my mother and discovered a few things.

      Nellie Mathieu, my grandmother, was born in St. John the Baptist Parish about 1899.  Beautiful and kinda reminds me of my younger sister Jane, Nellie was the daughter of Charles Gratin MATHIEU and Georgiana LEGAUX.  Not much was know of her earlier life  by my mother because, Nellie died  3 June 1936 when my mother was only six years old.  It was then, that I realized how fortunate I was to have my mother still with me.  For some reason, I just knew I had to learn as much as I could about the family, and my mother would play an important role in helping me connect to our family's past.

      I had so many questions and knew if I were to find answers, I would need to look for them.  Up for that challenge, I set out to learn all that I could about my French Creole Ancestry in Louisiana.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Researching my Louisiana Creole Ancestry

While researching my mother's French Creole roots in Louisiana, I have discovered an interesting story of my 4th generation great grandmother, a former slave and later free person of color named Agnes, born about 1759 in  Côte des Allemands, German Coast, Louisiana. She was the slave and mistress of Mathieu Devaux, a French immigrant, who settled in Louisiana and became our Mathieu family’s progenitor. He was born 14 February 1737 in Marseille, France.  Agnes apparently had an arrangement with Mathieu as an indentured servant/mistress to pay off funds that he might have given her to purchase her freedom.

According to Agnes’ manumission documents, there was some resistance from her previous owner, Madame Barbara Herterline-Harang, Agnes decided to self-purchase her freedom. She decided to take her case to the Spanish courts (Spain ruled Louisiana from 1763 -1803) and plead for the rights to her freedom. Somehow, she was able to use the help of a third party, a white Frenchman named Mathieu Devaux, who petitioned the courts on her behalf and was granted the right to purchase Agnes for the specified amount, and who afterwards granted her freedom in 1779.

As it turns out, Agnes and Mathieu had some affection for each other. In 1783, Agnes gave birth to Mathieu’s mulatto daughter, Marguerite. Between 1783 and 1803, she gave birth to six more mulatto children, which Mathieu identified as his natural children in his last will and testament—two sons and four more daughters—all of whom were born free and became members of the Free Persons of Color Society in New Orleans, Louisiana well before the start of the 19th century and the Louisiana purchase. I am a direct decendent of Agnes’ and Mathieu’s son, Louis Mathieu Devaux born 27 December 1795.

Louis married Clarie Peytavin, another free person of color. They settled in the St. John the Baptist Parish a region of Louisiana. Louis’ wife Claire came from a background similar to his own. Her mother, named Marguerite, was a former slave and mistress to a Frenchmen named Charles Duriblond Peytavin, born about 1761 in Provence, France. Charles manumitted both Marguerite and her mulatto daughter Claire their freedom on January 20, 1800.  

An interesting side note:  Clarie’s grandfather, Etienne “Samba” Villiere—a former slave who was free by December 30,1800—was said to have been a member of the Bambara tribe from Mali, West Africa.