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    Bernard Family Slavery Archive. A large and important group of approximately 550 manuscripts, documents, and letters, together with a 160-page account book as well as a 170-page letter book and ancillary manuscript and printed material chronicling the business and personal lives of the Bernard family from Marseilles, New Orleans and Bayou Teche, Louisiana. Encompassing an entire century of history, from 1780 through 1880, the archive, written in both French and English, covers at least two generations of the Bernard family beginning with the family patriarch in this country, Hiacinthe Bernard. Hiacinthe first arrived in New Orleans in 1783 to engage in the slave trade. For several years, he pursued a variety contacts in Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba and the Lesser Antilles developing channels for importing slaves into New Orleans, then under Spanish control. Soon before Louisiana came under American control in 1804, Hiacinthe purchased several large tracts of land from the Chitimacha Indians on Bayou Teche. Here, he established a successful lumber mill and plantation that later passed to his children Raymond, Matilde Adelaide, and Honori François Xavier. The next generation continued business operations through the mid-century. It appears from the tremendous records in this holding that the Bernard family used slave labor to operate their lumber mill as well as serve domestic duties in the family home.

    Hiacinthe Bernard, a native of Marseilles, first arrived in North America in March of 1780 landing in Philadelphia. According to his passport signed by French Minister to the United States, Chevalier De La Luzerne that same month, he was to traveling to "St. Eustace dans le Vaisseau [vessel] La Ninerve..." The war over, Bernard removed to New Orleans to establish a slave importation business. It is the slave operation that comprises the first major component of this archive: the 170-page (8 x 12 inch) letter book of Hiacinthe Bernard, kept from 1783 to 1786. The retained letters are written to a variety of correspondents throughout the Caribbean together with letters to his mother and other family in Marseilles. The business correspondence (in both English or French depending upon the correspondent) concerns his forming the slave trading concern in New Orleans, revealing much on the mechanics of the slave trade in the years immediately following the American Revolution. Much of the first year of correspondence details energy to solidify business networks. While on a extended trip to Haiti in the autumn of 1783 he writes to John Perkins: "...be kind enough to lett [sic] me know of you as soon as possible on you're arrival in this place because if you intend always to send or bring me negroes in new Orleans very soon I'll speak to great many planters about it to facilitate the Sale..." On the same day he writes to Messrs. Tyler & Mumford in Kingston, Jamaica: "...let me hope by that to be by the future much connected with your house. I'll do every thing prudence may suggest for the best and safety of the interest of my friends; I intend as soon my safe arrival in new Orleans to establish a house upon such style as to not leave nothing to be desired by my friends. I intend to advise you by all the possible opportunities of the business in New Orleans [e]specially for negroes which is the only article that may be imported from your place, if you would be kind enough to do the same with me I'll be very obliged to you and by some time I could perhaps be connected in the negroes you might send to me..." During this period, Bernard composed similar letters to his francophone correspondents. Upon his return to New Orleans, he quickly made good on his assurances. To John Perkins, then at Kingston, he reports: "I am arrived here 3 days ago I spoke already to several planters about negroes what is, I think the best article that by be imported here they will sell I hope at least at the price I told you, but paper money has fallen very much..." Later in the month he advises the same correspondent of the planter's taste in slaves: "...negroes may sell here from 300: to 360: dollars the best, but new negroes and no west India negroes; I mean negroes that have been some time in west India or other part of America. They don't like them here, and won't give good price for they would be more over prohibited if known I beg you to take that in serious consideration as well as to do any thing under my name, and be very cautious because they are very severe here. negroes do not pay nothing to come in it is only the trouble of making formalities. The capt. of vessels or others must not know that the Vessel is for your account but always for mine. I have permission to receive vessels from west India granted to me by government. I must not flatter you to sell a quantity of negroes at the price mention'd for cash unless by lowering little the price, and if negroes would be very few imported. but without that I think they would sell very easy 1/3 or 1/2 for cash, and remaining part at about one your credit the planters in gen[er]al in this country are not bat debtors and there is not such law as it is in French islands in their favour, they may be compell'd to sell their plantations effects &c for payment especially for negroes..." The journal continues on similar subjects in great detail. Though we have not been able to fully translate the French text, it appears that Bernard had more success with his linguistic compatriots: the 1785 and 1786 portions of the letter book are almost entirely in French.

    The other major component of the archive is the 160-page account ledger together with the approximately 550 letters and documents (mostly in French) of the Bernard family. This body covers the period of 1803 to 1881. The sizable number of loose documents include copies of land transactions between the Bernard's and the Chitimacha Indians on Bayou Teche; a copy in French of Article VI of the Anglo-French treaty of 1803 confirming the Louisiana Purchase with a copy of an official reassurance form the Americans that they would protect their "propriété et liberté"; together with letters to and from Hiacinthe Bernard, Ramond Bernard, Xavier Bernard, Pierre Bernard, and other members of the family, both in Louisiana and in France. The documents primarily deal with the running of the Bernard lumber mill, financial matters, lawsuits, and papers regarding the purchase and maintenance of slaves including bills for clothing and medical care. One such doctor's invoice for services from October 11, 1836 to May 5, 1837 includes a $1.00 charge "Pour l'extraction d'une dent á Nelson 1.00" Nelson had been purchased at age 24 by the Bernard family in 1831 from a Tennessee man together with eleven other according to documentation in the archive. Nelson and others sold for $600 a person, save for "Sophia, yellow girl fifteen years" who was discounted at $450. When the Bernard's had too many slaves for the work at hand, they would lease them out to others. An 1839 document bills the recipient $20 for "Loyer [rent] de la négress Nancy 2 mois...".The numerous letters include family and business correspondence, often quite intermingled in subjects of concern. For example an early 1830s missive from Raymond Bernard to his brother Xavier discusses at length how to motivate slaves to work in the lumber mill.

    The account book/ledger covers the period of 1837 to 1859. It relates to the activities of the lumber mill and its slave work force. There are numerous entries "pour planches" (boards) occasionally " voliges" (battens), "Poteaux" (posts), " Lattes" (slats) " Chevron " (rafters), and occasionally "Pieds Planches " (foot boards) and "Madriers " (beams). The family also appears to have been a major supplier of groceries to the area. Jacques Forciar sold 964 logs of cypress for $1,205 in food and supplies including pork, potatoes, sugar, and coffee. The Bernard's purchased finished goods in exchange for cut lumber they traded to New Orleans merchants. They kept accounts with a wide variety of merchants including Gabriel Zaclair, J Depart, Madame Ferri, Chalres Grevemberg, Demasilere Dusieu, Gregurie Bodin, Charles Oliver, Ignace Rodrigues, Rosemond Buurgeous, Robert Ditch, Simon Baudin, Theodore Fay, Cloi Broussard, Charles Grevemberg, August Lafontaine, and Henry Foot. They also maintained accounts with free blacks including "Chalre negre libre ". Toward the end of the book, we encounter a snapshot of the labor force at the Bernard saw mill in 1845 with a listing of "noms des negres" -- the names of 58 slaves detailed in various categories including their sex, age and position. A distinction was made for "negresses - occupies a la masion " (3) and "Vieux [old] negres". All except the three elderly slaves were valued in pencil at the right. Top value was $1200, for men in their prime, 19-35, the lowest was for the children at $50 each for infants and toddlers. Of the " vieux negres" the oldest "Sam faron[?]", age 75 is listed as "independent".

    As with any archive of this magnitude encompassing such a long time period, it is truly multi-dimensional in scope. The body of papers give us not only a glimpse of the daily life of slaves on a bayou plantation and an unprecedented view into the nature of the slave trade in the Caribbean at the close of the eighteenth century, but it underscores the strength of French Cajun culture Louisiana delta and in particular, the persistence of the French language there. English does appear, mostly in the form of legal notices, suits and the like from the parish, state and federal governments. (One of the English documents is even witnessed by future Confederate statesman, Judah P. Benjamin). Occasionally one encounters a dual language document as in the case of a four page invoice from the early 1840s: two lines beneath "un Chapeau" we find an entry for "1 Gallon Whiskey" But overall, through the end of this collection in the early 1880s, French was still the dominant tongue among the local population.

    Overall the documents are in very good condition evidencing the usual wear including minor tears and chips, light toning and some dampstaining. For a collection from the deep South, it is in remarkable condition. Collections of this size and depth seldom appear in the market, especially from Louisiana. Though documentary material concerning slavery is available on the market, an archive of this nature, covering two or more generations of slaveholders documenting all aspects of their lives, is not often encountered outside institutional holdings. This archive was discovered by our consignor in a remote part of an attic in a newly purchased home in Fayette, Louisiana. This is the first time these papers have been outside of their region of origin. Such research potential is prized by both collectors and scholars alike. A most impressive collection of manuscript Americana providing a significant contribution to our understating of the history of slavery and the French Cajun community in Louisiana. Please note, only a small portion of this extensive archive is pictured. There are an additional 4 binders containing well over 500 individual documents and correspondence. Viewing is strongly recommended.




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    Auction Dates
    April, 2007
    16th-17th Monday-Tuesday
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