The following article is from Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter and is copyright by Richard W. Eastman. It is re-published here with the permission of the author. Information about the newsletter is available at http://www.eogn.com.
“In the June 15, 2010 newsletter, I published an article in this newsletter of First African American in Georgia to be Inducted into National Society Sons of the American Revolution. That article is still available at http://goo.gl/1moVO
That article described the efforts of genealogist Michael Henderson. Now the popular television program, History Detectives, has helped Michael find even more information about another ancestor and has revealed some fascinating history for all of us in the process.
The television program explores the lives of free people of color in New Orleans in the 1770s and 1780s. The area was under Spanish rule at the time although the American Revolution was being fought nearby in what was then territory controlled by the English. Slavery was practiced in New Orleans although enslaved people had more rights and options for freedom than did slaves in other areas of what is now the United States. Many slaves obtained manumission documents giving them freedom. Some even obtained their freedom by “purchasing” themselves.
In short, a slave could work on his or her days off for someone else and be paid for the labor. Many slaves saved the money from their “outside jobs” and purchased themselves, in much the same manner that anyone else might purchase a slave. That strikes me as strange, but the television program states that it was quite common in New Orleans at the time and then explains how the process works.
Michael Henderson’s enslaved ancestor, Agnes Mathieu, obtained her manumission document even though her owner objected. The disagreement was escalated to Spanish Governor General Bernardo de Galvez, which, in itself, was quite unusual. Michael Henderson asked, “Why would a governor get involved in what would appear to be a minor legal case?” History Detectives agreed to find out.
The story that follows is fascinating. It involves politics, American Revolutionary War battles, interracial romance, a man battling for the freedom of his lover, and a lot of history. Agnes Mathieu and Mathieu Devaux, a French national living in New Orleans, became Michael Henderson’s great-great-great-great-grandparents.
I watched this episode when it was first broadcast and today I watched it again on my computer.
You can also watch this interesting story if you go to http://video.pbs.org/video/1575582583/?starttime=1176060“