Monday, December 30, 2013

A Change in the Past, A Change for the Future

I haven't blogged in a while and with the holidays being both a busy yet relaxing time, I've decided to write a post!

Recently, a day passed in December that wouldn't have meant anything special to me until recently. December 21st would have been any other day for me this year; it was a Saturday, the first official day of vacation for me and a marker that Christmas was only four short days away. Yet, this year it meant much more to me. It was the day my 4th and 5th great grandmothers were officially recognized as French citizens (or people for that matter) after receiving the surname Lautin and being freed from slavery. This year marked 165 years of freedom between my 5th and 4th grandmothers and myself.

Anse Cafard Slave Memorial - []

Slavery's end came to the island of Martinique in 1848 in various stages. A decree is signed on April 27th but was only publicly announced on the 3rd of June, about a month and a half later. Guadeloupe also at this time was becoming an island free of slavery, thanks to it being a territory of France as well. Emancipation Day is celebrated on both islands in late May (the 22nd and 27th).

As the slaves became free, they were to receive last names- something which many didn't previously have since they were to work fields rather than be identified in high ranking positions. Each person was to report to registrars which had been set up in their towns in order to document the "new" people. These documents are known as Les Actes D'Individualités.

Luckily for me these documents have been placed online and I have blogged before about using these records to discover my 4th great grandmother who immigrated to Puerto Rico and her mother who was originally from Africa and brought over to Martinique as a slave. My 5th great grandmother appeared before Charles Fouchet to register herself and her two daughters, Julienne Malvina and Pauline - the former my 4th great grandmother and the latter my 4th great grand-aunt who sadly passed away in 1855. Their acts were taken on the 21st of December 1848, where they all received the last name "Lautin" most likely from Charles Fouchet himself. The previous slave owners were not surnamed Lautin but this was the surname they received for whatever reason.

Here are their Actes D'Individualités again:

Eglantine Lautin- 5th Great Grandmother

Julienne Malvina Lautin- 4th Great Grandmother

Pauline Lautin- 4th Great Grand-Aunt

I wonder a lot about my ancestors, their thoughts, their moods, their aspirations. I wonder what was running through my 5th great grandmother's mind the morning of 21st December 1848.

I imagine her raising early at the crack of dawn from having to work the fields so early after so many years. She stretches by the door of her home as she stares out onto the plantation has worked on for many years. She would take a deep breath and muster in her best French: Aujourd'hui nous sommes françaises. (Today we are French!) She would wake her daughters from their slumber, today they longer would be considered slaves but free people. Would Eglantine remember a past life in Africa when she was free and went by another name? Would she dream of returning to that land or would she look forward to her daughters' futures? Would she find this a joyous occasion or one of hard ship as she would have to look for work elsewhere now?

I am blessed to have a strong ancestress who physically and mentally prepared herself each day for the work that was to come, not knowing when it would end. This single event in history changed the future of her family and ultimately mine as well; who knows what sort of freedom Julienne would have been allowed if she would have to had live the rest of her life as a slave rather than a free woman. She probably would have never taken the journey to Puerto Rico.

Always remember those that came before you and their stories, their struggles and their lives for one day you shall join that chain of ancestors. 

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