My 3rd Great Grandmother is Listed as Property in Jean Vavasseur's Estate.
An essay about the history and genealogy of Black Americans
How far removed are Black Americans from their enslaved ancestors? My fourth great-grandmother, Marie, was enslaved by Jean Pierre Gaspard Vavasseur (1778–1850), a French colonizer who left his hometown of Capbreton, Landes, Aquitaine, France, for Louisiana, in the Attakapas region. Vavasseur owned a plantation in St. James Parish, on the left bank of the Mississippi River, "roughly 60 miles from New Orleans, between Jefferson College and the property of Henri Bauder." So, of course, as a Black American, I assumed some of my ancestors were enslaved. My caramel complexion, kinky hair, and numerous cousins in coastal Louisiana were a dead giveaway. But discovering that I live less than an hour away from the sugar plantation where my ancestors were forced to labor brings their experiences into focus.
Marie's child, Aimée Bazile (1819–1880), my 3rd great-grandmother, was also enslaved and is listed in the Estate of Jean Vavasseur as property, aged 31 years, as the mother of four children, valued at $1800. According to the information provided to the St. James Parish Clerk of Court Convent in Louisiana, filed in 1851, Aimée was a creole negress. The document lists Vavasseur's "legitimate heirs," who he bore with his wife, Mary Linder; they had at least five children. However, Jean Vavasseur had at least once the child out of wedlock with his slave, my 3rd great grandmother, Aimée Bazile, Charles Jefferson "Jeff" Vavasseur (1835–1910), who is left off of the document, and subsequently denied any inheritance.
What was life like being enslaved by Frenchmen? A conversation between Fredrick Law Olmsted and his buggy driver as they traveled between sugar plantations near New Orleans suggested that "If he had to be sold, he would like best to have an American master buy him…the French masters were very severe and 'dey whip dar niggers most to deff — dey whip de flesh off of 'em." The brutality of the slavery system in America, throughout the Caribbean, and South America is undisputed, but some stories indicate the French were particularly cruel to their captives. Black Americans, particularly those born in Louisiana…