Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The "French Negroes" of Illinois--Part III

Their surnames included Allard, Barbeau, Chalot, Godier, Jacques, Micheau, Paschal, and Roy. They were free people. They were the French Negroes of southern Illinois. They were clustered in Randolph, Union, Jackson, and St Clair counties. How did they get there and where did they come from?

Their story probably begins on the Caribbean island of Hispanola, where on December 5, 1492, the Spanish ship Santa Maria ran aground under the hand of Christopher Columbus. Columbus immediately claimed the island for Spain. The Spanish began importing Africans in the early sixteenth century. French settlers began arriving in 1625 and soon gained control over the western half of the island. In 1697, the Spanish gave the western portion of Hispanola to France. The French colony, named Saint-Domingue, soon became one of the wealthiest colonies in the New World. The French population consisted of the European French, the gens de couleur, and the slaves.

In 1789, the French Revolution began in Europe. Taking notice, the gens de couleur led a rebellion against the colonial government. In the spring of 1791, the French government granted expanded civil rights to free-born blacks and mulattoes. Slaves did not benefit from this action. Thus, in August 1791, slaves in the northern part of the colony, commenced their own rebellion. The French government thereafter revoked the newly-granted rights of the gens de couleur. Not surprisingly, the gens de couleur joined the slave rebellion in force. Under the leadership of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the rebels defeated the French colonial government. The French National Assembly then abolished slavery.

In the turmoil that existed, thousands of blacks left Hispanola for mainland America. They went to New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Charleston, Savannah, Florida and Louisiana. In America, plantation owners viewed the "French Negroes" as rebels who might inspire revolution in American slaves. French Negroes were blamed for violence and disease in several American cities.

The French Negroes contributed to the culture and politics of a number of places in the United States, having a particular impact in Louisiana.

The French Negroes of southern Illinois may have come from Louisiana or South Carolina or both.

Next: the Micheau family in Illinois and Missouri.

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