African American Resource Center
New Orleans Public Library

African American Genealogical Research in New Orleans
Emancipation Records

The City of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana had one of the largest free populations of people of African descent in the United States. Most slaves were emancipated during the Spanish Colonial period of Louisiana (1769-1803) and the early years of the American Territorial period (1803-1812). During the Spanish Colonial Period, slaves could buy their freedom, be loaned money to purchase their freedom, have their freedom purchased by a relative or friend or be given their freedom. After the territorial period, the Louisiana State Legislature began to make emancipation of slaves more difficult. By the 1830's an owner of a slave had to publicly announce his or her intention to free a slave. The slave had to be at least 30 years old, and had to be of good character and good conduct. By the 1850's, emancipation was so restrictive that a slave could be freed only by an act of the state legislature.

Most descendants of Louisiana's Creole or Free People of Color population can trace their freedom to the Spanish Period. Only a few individuals can trace their lineage to the French Colonial Period (1718-1763) where approximately 150 slaves were emancipated. This figure does not include the small number of free blacks who immigrated to Louisiana from France, the Caribbean, Africa, and other places during the French Colonial Period.

Some slaves were freed for saving the lives of their owners or for showing faithful service to them. A significant group of female slaves gained their freedom because they were the lovers, common-law wives, or mistresses of white men, who were not always their owners. Their children often became free or were born free through such relationships.

Regardless of the method of emancipation, there exist numerous records of these acts either in wills, inter vivos donations, or by legal suit before the court where a slave could sue to be free if he or she had the money for self-purchase.

Original emancipation records can be found in the Notarial Archives (1769-1850's), or in parish courthouses. An index to Parish Court Slave Emancipation Petitions for Orleans Parish (1814-1843) can be found at the following website: nutrias.org/inv/vcp/emancip.htm. A database of emancipation records for South Louisiana from1769-1804 can be consulted at the Williams Research Center at the Historic New Orleans Collection. The information is indexed by the first name of the slave, the slave-owner's last name, or by the name of a third party involved in the emancipation act.

During the 1790's many free people of color, whites, and slaves fled the former French colony of St. Domingue (present day Haiti), due to massive slave uprisings led by Toussaint L'Ouverture and Jean Jacques Dessaline. These refugees fled to eastern Cuba, Jamaica, other Caribbean ports, New Orleans, and various North American Atlantic ports. In 1809, over 10,000 refugees, mostly from the eastern part of Cuba, migrated to New Orleans. Approximately one-third was free persons of color, one-third slaves, and the remaining third was whites. This influx of St. Domingue refugees had a major impact on the culture, education, language, customs, religion, cuisine, and folklore of New Orleans as well as on the agriculture in South Louisiana. A large percentage of Louisianans of enslaved and free African descent can trace some ancestor to Haiti.


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