In the early 1980's, a Louisiana court case made headlines when a woman (Susan Guillory Phipps) sued the State of Louisiana to have herself declared to be of the white race, questioning a state law which required her to be registered as "colored" because her descent included 1/32 Negro blood. This woman was a direct descendant of my ancestor, Joseph Gregorie Guillory, and his slave, Marguerite (Spanish = Margarita). This 20th century court case brought to light long buried details of a 200-year-old courtcase that has become known as "The Margarita Case".
Joseph Gregorie Guillory was born c1712 on what is now called Dauphin Island (Alabama), the son of Francois Guillory and Jeanne Montfort. Francois Guillory had arrived in colonial Louisiana (Mobile, Alabama) c1707-1708 from Montreal and established himself on the eastern end of Dauphin Island (then called Massacre Island).
In 1739, Joseph Gregorie married Marie Jeanne LaCasse, the daughter of Jean LaCasse and Marie Anne Fourche. At the time of her marriage to Joseph Gregorie Guillory, Marie Jeanne was the widow of Joseph Stameyer (aka: Estamier dit Chateauneuf). Joseph, a soldier in the company of Le Sueur, had died in 1738, less than 10 months after his marriage to Marie Jeanne.
Joseph Gregorie Guillory and Marie Jeanne LaCasse produced at least 8 children before the death of Marie in April 1764 at the age of 38. Soon after Marie's death, two sons-in-law of Joseph Gregorie sued for their portion of Marie Jeanne's estate and an inventory was taken at that time which included nine slaves. Among them was Marguerite, a "Negro" slave who was pregnant on the date the inventory was made, 22 July 1764. Shortly thereafter, Joseph moved his children and slaves to Louisiana and settled at Opelousas Post where he had recently received a land grant of 640 acres. It is here that the "Margarita" case begins.
It is not known if Marguerite gave birth to the child she was carrying before arriving at Opelousas Post. It is now assumed, however, that the child Marguerite was carrying was "Catherine" (called Catiche), born c1764, fathered by Joseph Gregorie Guillory.
After the move to Opelousas Post, Marguerite produced three additional children fathered by Joseph Gregorie: Jean Baptiste (c1766), Joseph (c1769), Marie (c1770). (The fact that Joseph Gregorie Guillory was the father of Marguerite's children was never disputed.) After the birth of Marie in 1770, Joseph Gregorie Guillory went thru the motions of freeing his Negro mistress and their children. At the same time, he convinced his legitimate children (who owned an undivided half interest in the slaves) that he was capable of paying them their portion of their deceased mother's estate without having to sell the slaves or divide them between the heirs. Joseph Gregorie Guillory then had a local schoolmaster draw up the emancipation paper. However, unbeknownst to Marguerite, the document was technicially invalid because the schoolmaster was not qualified to officiate at the manumission. Whether Joseph Gregorie was aware of this fact is unclear. However, as stated by Winston Deville in the article entitled "The Margarita Case: Historical Perspectives on a Controversial Case in 18th Century Louisiana" (Louisiana Bar Journal, Volume 31, Number 2):
"We are left with the distinct impression that Guillory probably wanted to appease his mistress by giving her and her children what they would believe to be their freedom, yet have a loop-hole for the future."
On December 31, 1770, the emancipation act was recorded in New Orleans before Andres Almonester y Roxas, Notary Public.
However, in 1773, in order to settle the estate of his deceased wife, Joseph Gregorie Guillory legally conveyed his mistress, Marguerite, and his four mulatto children to his legitimate children, ignoring the 1770 emancipation. Their value was placed at 2000 livres.
Four years later, as death grew near for Joseph Gregorie, he went at night to the residence of his white children, threatened his son, Jean Baptiste Guillory, at knife point and abducted Marguerite. His legitimate children showed no opposition to their father's actions as he promised the return of the slave to them after his death, indicating he needed her services only during his life. Joseph Gregorie Guillory died between 1777 and spring of 1778 but not before giving Marguerite, once again, her freedom.
On April 27, 1778, my ancestor, Jean Baptiste Guillory, conveyed the story of the abduction to the commandant at Opelousas. In his petition, he demanded the return to slavery of Marguerite to his and his sibling's ownership. The Opelousas Post commandant transferred the petition to the high court of the Cabildo in New Orleans (January 20, 1779).
The defendents, Marguerite and her Guillory mulatto offspring, contended that they had been freed in 1770 and that the plaintiffs had approved their emancipation. The plantiffs, on the other hand, insisted that the alleged manumission of 1770 was illegal; they were young at the time and their father had taken advantage of that fact; the so-called freed slaves had become solely their property in 1773, when their father had conveyed them to the heirs. Due the the obvious complexity of the case, the case was transferred to the high court in Havana, Cuba.
Note: Upon close examination of the case outline that appeared in the January 1935 edition of Louisiana Historical Quarterly, it appears that Marguerite's four mulatto children remained as slaves in the household of the legitimate Guillory children although the mulatto children maintained that they had been set "free". I have seen no evidence to suggest that Marguerite's children were with her between her 1777 abduction and the 1783 settlement of this case.
In 1781, Claude Guillory, another son of Joseph Gregorie's, brought forth a suit in order to recover a slave that had run away (January 20, 1781, No. 3494, 13 pp. Court of Alcade Jacinto Panis, New Orleans). This slave, of course, was Marguerite, who was now reported to be living in New Orleans. As a result of this suit, Marguerite, and her employer, Miguel Barre, were arrested and put in prison. After producing the document to prove her emancipation, both Marguerite and Miguel Barre are released. The 1770 emancipation document, certified copy presented in this case, stated as follows:
"I, Gregoire Guillorie, over my ordinary mark, of my own free will and that of my children, for the life and thirty years services rendered me by Margarita, my slave, not only to me but to my children before and after the death of my wife I declare that I give her her freedom as well as that of her children, on condition that she serves me up to my death. Done and executed of my own free will, April 13, 1770. Juan Batiste Guillorie, son, Ordinary mark of Mr. Gregoire Guillorie, Claude Guillorie, son, Luis Guillorie, son. Signature of Mr. Guillorie approved by Benoit."
On March 9, 1782, Marguerite, a free Negress, filed suit against the Guillory heirs to compel them to declare her children free (No. 3440, 71 pp. Court of Alcade Panis, New Orleans). Marguerite, once again presented the act of emancipation and indicated that her four children were suffering under the power of the Guillory heirs who were unwilling to free them. Marguerite maintained that her children had been held by force and treated with cruelty by the Guillory heirs. (Click here to see a copy of Marguerite's petition.)
Although the case dragged on for another year, the final outcome was this (as detailed in the act dated at New Orleans, April 5, 1783):
Marguerite, a free Negress, and her four mulatto children, were ordered to pay the Guillory heirs 600 pesos, in confirmity to and under the following conditions: 150 pesos which has to be counted as diminished by the personal labors of her son, Juan Bautista, during two years and two months that he must remain in the service of Juan B. Guillory, and 150 pesos that she has to pay in cash, 50 pesos more to be paid within three months, and the remaining 250 pesos within two years counted from this day. As soon as the amount shall be paid, the Guillory heirs agree to give Maria, Joseph, Juan Bautista, and Catalina their freedom.
Little is known about Marguerite's life after the 1783 settlement. It is known, however, that she was still alive on February 23, 1808 when her daughter, Marie, married Juan Mateos of Vera Cruz. Both Marguerite and daughter Marie are listed as "free". What few people knew at the time, however, was the intense struggle that Marguerite and her children went thru to become that way.
You might be interested in reading Winston DeVille's publication on this entitled "The Guillory Manuscripts: 1764-1765-1766-1773". You can order from Provincial Press.