Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
African American Lives 2 -- Hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
In Search of Our Roots -- Buy the companion book now from ShopPBS
Sharing Stories: One Family's Story
Read a story matching
the term you chose:
STORYTELLER LOCATION YEAR TOOK PLACE TELLER'S PLACE OF ORIGIN HOW YOU HEARD
Mother's cousin New Orleans, Louisiana 1770s New Orleans, Africa, France, Germany oral history

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 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 about 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, when Agnes decided to self-purchase her freedom. Agnes 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, this 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 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 descendent of Agnes’ and Mathieu’s son, Louis Mathieu Devaux (born 1795).

Louis married Clarie Peytavin, another free person of color. They settled in the St. John the Baptist Parish 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 December 30, 1800. An interesting side note is that Clarie’s grandfather, Etienne “Samba” Villiere—a former slave who was freed by December 30,1800—was said to have been a member of the Bambara tribe from Mali, West Africa.

Back to story listBack to sharing into
Email this page
Major corporate funding for African American Lives 2 and its outreach initiatives is provided by The Coca-Cola Company and Johnson & Johnson. Additional corporate funding is provided by Buick.
The Coca-Cola Company Johnson & Johnson Buick
KUNHARDT Thirteen/WNET New York