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Joseph Gregoire Guillory (1712-1786)

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Update - this is a fantastic paper written by Nicole Gipson with tons of details about the case and the Guillory family. It is long! (111pgs)

When you start looking at your family tree in detail, and look below the surface you discover stories that can be amazing, courageous or sad. I found this story back in 2019 on a website by Cathy (Lemoine) Sturgell whose site is called My Louisiana Lineage, and it is one that I wish didn't happen. It is about my 6th great-grandfather who lived in Opelousas, Louisiana. I have read this many times and each time I get more out of it. The fact that he named his children the same names, Joseph, Jean Baptiste and Marie and they would have been living side-by-side with each other. Here is the summary of the case and I hope you are as intrigued and appalled as I was. No one ever said genealogy was going to be all rainbows and sunshine, there are dark clouds and disappointment too!

Guillory Family: The infamous "Margarita" Case

In the early 1980's, a Louisiana court case made headlines when a woman sued the

State of Louisiana to have herself declared to be of the white race, questioning

a state law which required her to be registered as "colored" because her descent

included 1/32 Negro blood. This woman was a direct descendant of my ancestor,

Joseph Gregorie Guillory, and his slave, Marguerite (Spanish = Margarita). This

20th century court case brought to light long buried details of a 200-year-old

court case that has become known as "The Margarita Case".

Joseph Gregorie Guillory was born c1712 on what is now called Dauphin Island

(Alabama), the son of Francois Guillory and Jeanne Montfort. Francois Guillory

had arrived in colonial Louisiana (Mobile, Alabama) c1707-1708 from Montreal and

established himself on the eastern end of Dauphin Island (then called Massacre


In 1739, Joseph Gregorie married Marie Jeanne LaCasse, the daughter of Jean

LaCasse and Marie Anne Fourche. At the time of her marriage to Joseph Gregorie

Guillory, Marie Jeanne was the widow of Joseph Stameyer (aka: Estamier dit

Chateauneuf). Joseph, a soldier in the company of Le Sueur, had died in 1738,

less than 10 months after his marriage to Marie Jeanne.

Joseph Gregorie Guillory and Marie Jeanne LaCasse produced at least 8 children

before the death of Marie in April 1764 at the age of 38. Soon after Marie's

death, two sons-in-law of Joseph Gregorie sued for their portion of Marie

Jeanne's estate and an inventory was taken at that time which included nine

slaves. Among them was Marguerite, a "Negro" slave who was pregnant on the date

the inventory was made, 22 July 1764. Shortly thereafter, Joseph moved his

children and slaves to Louisiana and settled at Opelousas Post where he had

recently received a land grant of 640 acres. It is here that the "Margarita"

case begins.

It is not known if Marguerite gave birth to the child she was carrying before

arriving at Opelousas Post. It is now assumed, however, that the child

Marguerite was carrying was "Catherine" (called Catiche), born c1764, fathered

by Joseph Gregorie Guillory.

After the move to Opelousas Post, Marguerite produced three additional children

fathered by Joseph Gregorie: Jean Baptiste (c1766), Joseph (c1769), Marie

(c1770). (The fact that Joseph Gregorie Guillory was the father of Marguerite's

children was never disputed.) After the birth of Marie in 1770, Joseph Gregorie

Guillory went thru the motions of freeing his Negro mistress and their children.

At the same time, he convinced his legitimate children (who owned an undivided

half interest in the slaves) that he was capable of paying them their portion of

their deceased mother's estate without having to sell the slaves or divide them

between the heirs. Joseph Gregorie Guillory then had a local schoolmaster draw

up the emancipation paper. However, unbeknownst to Marguerite, the document was

technically invalid because the schoolmaster was not qualified to officiate at

the manumission. Whether Joseph Gregorie was aware of this fact is unclear.

However, as stated by Winston Deville in the article entitled "The Margarita

Case: Historical Perspectives on a Controversial Case in 18th Century Louisiana"

(Louisiana Bar Journal, Volume 31, Number 2):

"We are left with the distinct impression that Guillory probably wanted to appease his

mistress by giving her and her children what they would believe to be their freedom,

yet have a loop-hole for the future."

On December 31, 1770, the emancipation act was recorded in New Orleans before

Andres Almonester y Roxas, Notary Public.

However, in 1773, in order to settle the estate of his deceased wife, Joseph

Gregorie Guillory legally conveyed his mistress, Marguerite, and his four

mulatto children to his legitimate children, ignoring the 1770 emancipation.

Their value was placed at 2000 livres.

Four years later, as death grew near for Joseph Gregorie, he went at night to

the residence of his white children, threatened his son, Jean Baptiste Guillory,

at knife point and abducted Marguerite. His legitimate children showed no

opposition to their father's actions as he promised the return of the slave to

them after his death, indicating he needed her services only during his life.

Joseph Gregorie Guillory died between 1777 and spring of 1778 but not before

giving Marguerite, once again, her freedom.

On April 27, 1778, my ancestor, Jean Baptiste Guillory, conveyed the story of

the abduction to the commandant at Opelousas. In his petition, he demanded the

return to slavery of Marguerite to his and his sibling's ownership. The

Opelousas Post commandant transferred the petition to the high court of the

Cabildo in New Orleans (January 20, 1779).

The defendants, Marguerite and her Guillory mulatto offspring, contended that

they had been freed in 1770 and that the plaintiffs had approved their

emancipation. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, insisted that the alleged

manumission of 1770 was illegal; they were young at the time and their father

had taken advantage of that fact; the so-called freed slaves had become solely

their property in 1773, when their father had conveyed them to the heirs. Due

the the obvious complexity of the case, the case was transferred to the high

court in Havana, Cuba.

Note: Upon close examination of the case outline that appeared in the January

1935 edition of Louisiana Historical Quarterly, it appears that Marguerite's

four mulatto children remained as slaves in the household of the legitimate

Guillory children although the mulatto children maintained that they had been

set "free". I have seen no evidence to suggest that Marguerite's children were

with her between her 1777 abduction and the 1783 settlement of this case.

In 1781, Claude Guillory, another son of Joseph Gregorie's, brought forth a suit

in order to recover a slave that had run away (January 20, 1781, No. 3494, 13

pp. Court of Alcade Jacinto Panis, New Orleans). This slave, of course, was

Marguerite, who was now reported to be living in New Orleans. As a result of

this suit, Marguerite, and her employer, Miguel Barre, were arrested and put in

prison. After producing the document to prove her emancipation, both Marguerite

and Miguel Barre are released. The 1770 emancipation document, certified copy

presented in this case, stated as follows:

"I, Gregoire Guillorie, over my ordinary mark, of my own free will and that of my children,

for the life and thirty years services rendered me by Margarita, my slave, not only to me

but to my children before and after the death of my wife I declare that I give her her

freedom as well as that of her children, on condition that she serves me up to my death.

Done and executed of my own free will, April 13, 1770. Juan Batiste Guillorie, son, Ordinary

mark of Mr. Gregoire Guillorie, Claude Guillorie, son, Luis Guillorie, son. Signature of

Mr. Guillorie approved by Benoit."

On March 9, 1782, Marguerite, a free Negress, filed suit against the Guillory

heirs to compel them to declare her children free (No. 3440, 71 pp. Court of

Alcade Panis, New Orleans). Marguerite, once again presented the act of

emancipation and indicated that her four children were suffering under the power

of the Guillory heirs who were unwilling to free them. Marguerite maintained

that her children had been held by force and treated with cruelty by the

Guillory heirs. (Click here to see a copy of Marguerite's petition.)

Although the case dragged on for another year, the final outcome was this (as

detailed in the act dated at New Orleans, April 5, 1783):

Marguerite, a free Negress, and her four mulatto children, were ordered to pay the Guillory

heirs 600 pesos, in confirmity to and under the following conditions: 150 pesos which has to

be counted as diminished by the personal labors of her son, Juan Bautista, during two years

and two months that he must remain in the service of Juan B. Guillory, and 150 pesos that

she has to pay in cash, 50 pesos more to be paid within three months, and the remaining 250

pesos within two years counted from this day. As soon as the amount shall be paid, the

Guillory heirs agree to give Maria, Joseph, Juan Bautista, and Catalina their freedom.

Little is known about Marguerite's life after the 1783 settlement. It is known,

however, that she was still alive on February 23, 1808 when her daughter, Marie,

married Juan Mateos of Vera Cruz. Both Marguerite and daughter Marie are listed

as "free". What few people knew at the time, however, was the intense struggle

that Marguerite and her children went thru to become that way.

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