Louisiana 16 progress report

It is a rainy day and I have now relocated to New Orleans. It’s not all work, as you might imagine life in the Big Easy, but there are opportunities to further the research here and I am compelled to take advantage. To that end, I attended St. Augustine Catholic Church yesterday—a historic congregation founded in 1842 by free people of color and cited as the oldest African-American Catholic parish in the nation.

Today, the vibrant congregation is a wonderful blend of the community it serves. The choir of voices and musical instruments felt much like a grand concert. It was inviting and uplifting and perhaps could be a source of an 1857 birth record I am seeking.

After this service, I drove to another church in the hope of finding an individual who is a second great-granddaughter of one of the early Taylor enslaved. You may be thinking that this was an odd method of reaching someone and I would have to agree. However, there is no available phone or address, yet we know she is a member of this church. Alas, the Sunday service had been over long before we got there. There was a number and a notice of a Wednesday evening Bible study that I will try to attend.

So very grateful am I for the support given by folks in Virginia: support that has allowed me to make this journey. I can report with a full heart that it has been well worth the effort.

Hours have been spent walking the fields of Pointe Coupee Parish noting the locations of cemeteries and searching for the names of those native Virginians. Though there undoubtedly are graves I have not yet found, it was informative.

I have attended more church services in the past month—sometimes two in one morning—than I have in the past year. I cannot say I am any closer to redemption, but it has been enlightening. And, I have been able to meet so many wonderful and interested people: sharing the story, encouraging their personal involvement and identifying a few more descendants.

I spent days in the parish courthouse, thrilled that they allowed me to review the old (and desperately in need of preservation) books. I have never encountered a finer group of clerks who were always helpful, courteous and patient with my queries. I discovered a remarkable trove of data that would assist others looking for their ancestors in the manner of recorded slave sales, needing preservation and indexing to become accessible.

Reading through the original records of the first half of the 19th century, one can easily become distracted by the vast amount of material contained within. I can promise you I stayed on track, but it was not always without a challenge. I was there to find what I could about William Taylor even when the records were written in French.

There was one significant new find. In 1848, William Taylor purchased two young women—both about 16 years of age. Their names were listed as well as who had owned them previously and the value of the sale. This record is special for a couple of reasons. One is the process of elimination in determining which of those enslaved listed in Taylor’s will (1851) could have been part of the Louisiana 16. These young women would not be candidates as they came into the picture much later than 1834 when those raised at Montpelier were sold and moved to Louisiana.

The find also provides clues of age, gender, name and owner that could assist in locating these same individuals after Emancipation and even the possibility of connecting with living descendants. There is much work yet to be done.

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