The Colour of the Land, a Story with an Ancestor at Random

Tanlistwa, carte, map, Moreau du Temple, 1770

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« Have you ever wanted to do genealogy, but didn’t know what ancestor to look for? To me, often! In that case, I either take today’s birthdays or a random number. (…)
Did you get the right number? Tell us the story of this ancestor. »

This is the brilliant idea of the June 2018 #geneneatheme: archives and ancestors. I got the number 163… it didn’t work with my genealogy and then I came by chance to Elisabeth Doris number 143. Perfect. Today, I am doing a family portrait, but above all I am talking about the transmission of the land between whites and free of colour because it is quite a story!

Elisabeth Doris (1801-1838) owner, mother of 5 children, married.

Elisabeth Doris, like Elizabeth Laurencine, is my five-time great-grandmother. From her marriage certificate in 1833, I learned that she was born in the commune of Lamentin in 1801, Marie Claire’s natural daughter. I was not able to find the baptism certificate she presented at her wedding, but if that is true, it means that she is one of my rare black ancestors born free before the 1830s. Why is this important? Because before this period, the Free of colour, these freed or free from birth, black or mixed, are stigmatized and legally discriminated because of their origin and the colour of their skin. It is this element that will enlighten the rest of Elizabeth’s story. But for now, let us return to the great sacraments of his life.

In 1832, Elisabeth, the owner – such an important status in the West Indies at the time – married Pierre François Laurent, two years his senior. Marriage gave the couple the opportunity to legitimize their five children born of a concubinage of more than 13 years:

In 1838, Elisabeth Doris died. 37 years old. It’s not very old to die. Elizabeth will not see the marriage of her eldest daughter, any more than she will have time to know the definitive abolition of slavery. At his death, the family friends were present, the very ones who were witnesses at his wedding. Elisabeth is then called a dressmaker, deceased in her home, located at the place called Les Roches Quarrées… the famous family lands until today.


The colour of the land

But what is really nice for the researcher that I am, with Elisabeth Doris, is precisely the history of his lands. Remember, at her wedding, she is said to be an owner; in fact, I found a land transaction in 1832 full of information.

In 1832, Mr Auguste Lejeune, living in Lamentin, donated a plot of land to Clotilde Eliante – living in Fort-de-France and to my ancestor Elisabeth Alix living in Lamentin, « adults of age, sister of each other, natural daughters of Marie Claire Dosir « . So Elizabeth had at least one sister. Impossible to find the baptism of one or the other at the Lamentin. On however in 1803 in this town, I found the baptism of « Calixte mestive (…) natural daughter of Marie Claire mulâtresse libre« ; a sister who died at only 3 months. But the discoveries do not stop there.

In the land transaction, Mr. Lejeune specified that he held this land from his deceased neighbour, Jean Louis Desvolières, who had donated it to him in 1826, and that he himself had donated it to the two women « to conform, as a trust to the intentions of the donor whose intention was that this property be transmitted (…) to various persons who had been designated to him. As a trust ! What’s that? Fidéicommis, this means that Jean Louis Desvolières passed on his property to the 2 sisters via a third party

Why? Why?
Louis Desvolières was a white, « béké » whose ancestors were settled in Martinique before 1670, but the legislation of the Ancien Régime prohibited the legacies of Whites to the Libres de couleur. In the 1832 land transaction, the notary indicated that the trust was not specified in the 1826 deed and Auguste Lejeune indicated that he was « today able to fulfil these intentions« . Now do you all see how important dates are to me?


The donation was made on 22 August 1832, Jean Louis Desvolières died at 71 on 10 September 1831. He donated this land on June 26, 1826. In 1826, it was not legal for a white man to make a bequest to two girls of colour. For a century, the royal declaration of February 5, 1726 prohibited it. « We also want (…) all freed slaves or negroes, their children and descendants to be incapable of receiving, in the future, any inter vivos gifts, by death or otherwise » [« voulons aussi que (…), tous esclaves affranchis ou nègres, leurs enfants et descendants soient incapables de recevoir, à l’avenir, des blancs, aucune donation entre-vifs, à cause de mort ou autrement »]. On February 24, 1831, the king’s order granting full civil rights to free people of colour changed that! The two sisters of colour could now legally receive land from a white man as a donation.

Thus Clotilde and Elisabeth came into possession of a portion of land « located in this commune of Lamentin of the capacity of 1 hectare 93 ares 89 centiares (…) making a square and a half, old measure of the country » [« sise en cette commune du Lamentin de la contenance d’1hectare 93 ares 89 centiares (…) faisant un carré et demi, ancienne mesure du pays »], resulting from the fragmentation of the land.t of a larger dwelling. On this portion of land there is a house, a kitchen and a rabbit house built in the past. The land is valued at 2500 francs and the property history states that Mr. Lejeune obtained it from Mr. Desvolières who had had it from a dead sister without children. The deed of donation is signed « with Miss Clotilde Eliante, as for Miss Elisabeth Alix she declared that she did not know » [« avec la demoiselle Clotilde Eliante, quant à la demoiselle Élisabeth Alix elle a déclaré ne le savoir »].

Was Jean Louis Desvolières the white father of Clotilde, Elisabeth and Calixte? 71 years old in 1831 ; he was therefore born around 1760 ; he was 31 years old when Elisabeth was born. That’s plausible. There will never be irrefutable evidence, there was in any case an emotional attachment strong enough for the man to worry about being able to transmit land to the one who had lived… at home! In 1819, Louise’s birth was declared by « Elisabeth Doris, of free coloured, eighteen years old, living with Mr. Louis Quemin Desvolières, resident of this parish » [« Élisabeth dite Doris, de couleur libre, âgée de dix-huit ans, demeurant chez monsieur Louis Quemin Desvolières, habitant de cette paroisse »].


The story of Elisabeth Doris is of course the genealogical history of my family, but more broadly, it is representative of the complexity of the relations between Whites and Free people of Colour. Collective ideology tended to stigmatize the Free people of colour, but the logic was totally different in the interpersonal relations of proximity; both sought and found ways to circumvent the system, notably to allow the transmission of the land.

You, do you know how family land got into your family?

Genatheme: knowing more about the month’s genathema game: pick an ancestor at random!

Archives nationales outre-mer : état civil du Lamentin, acte de mariage (1833) p. 54, acte de décès (1838) p. 47 d’Élisabeth Doris, acte de naissance (1819) p. 14 de sa fille Louise.

Archives territoriales de Martinique : 4Q2/0546/n49, transaction foncière de 1832.

Bibliothèque nationale de France : Code de la Martinique. Tome 1 / . Nouvelle édition, par M. Durand-Molard et Carte géométrique et topographique de l’Isle Martinique / Levé et dessiné par Moreau du Temple, 1770

Google book : Bulletin des actes administratifs de la Martinique, 1831.


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