Trying Again Pays Off Again: Updating "The French Negroes of Illinois"

Last year, I did a major series on the so-called “French Negroes of Illinois,” focusing on the Micheau family of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois. In that series, I traced the origins of the French Negroes of Illinois from slaves brought from Haiti by Pierre Renault, who was seeking silver and gold.

Also in that series, I recounted the story told by George Micheau (1852-1942) in a letter of how his family escaped from slavery in 1864. The family had been held by one John Highly of Washington County, Missouri.

Yesterday, my research into this family took a dramatic turn.

I was following my admonition to re-examine areas that one has explored before. I was checking various websites for the several permutations of “Micheau.” I was on the Washington County (Mo.) Genealogical Web Page when I spotted a link there that I had not seen before. It was a link to a page about the African-American history of Washington and Iron Counties, Missouri. That page had a list of slave emancipations. To my surprise, among these was George “Misho”
who later moved his family to Randolph County, Illinois! This would be George Micheau, Sr. (1812-?), father of the George who wrote the letter described above. See here and here.

Well! Well? Well . . . .

According to the website, Washington County court records show that in 1846 George Micheau, Sr., was given a license to live as a free man in Missouri upon the posting of a bond secured by one Steven D. Mullowny. In 1850, the census shows him living with a white couple, Garland and Clarissa Nuckols. The 1850 slave schedule also shows that Garland Nuckols of Washington County owned two slaves: an 18 year old girl and a 1 year old girl.

One must wonder if the two slaves might be the wife and child of George Micheau. The young woman seems to match the age of George’s [later] wife, Margret. Perhaps he was living in the Nuckols household to be near them and ultimately purchase their freedom. No record has been found showing that George and Margret had a female child. The 1870 census shows them with six sons.

So wait a minute . . .

If George Micheau was a free man in 1846 (and as late as 1850), how is it that he was a slave in 1852 [George, Jr., was born in 1852 and his letter suggests he was born into slavery] or in 1864 when his family escaped from John Highly? And just who are Steven D. Mullowny and Garland and Clarissa Nuckols?

There are some possible explanations for this apparent discrepancy. But first, we need more information. Next step: get the original documents from the Washington County court.

Obviously, there’s more to be known about the Micheaus. Once again, looking again has paid off again.

Craig

5 Responses to “Trying Again Pays Off Again: Updating "The French Negroes of Illinois"”

  • Miriam says:

    Congratulations, Craig! I look forward to hearing more about your research results for this family.

  • Janice says:

    Craig,

    What a remarkable find!! Please keep us updated as you learn more.

    Janice

  • Lee says:

    Congratulations on a great find!

    I have some thoughts…We both know that once free didn’t mean always free. I’ve read stories of *free* people of color being captured/kidnapped and either re-enslaved or in some cases, enslaved for the very first time. Is this a possibility?

    Also, the son George, Jr., wouldn’t his freedom have depended on that of his mother? Is it possible that his father had yet to buy his mother’s freedom and she was still a slave when he was born?

    I’ve only just (abt 2 years) begun studying African American genealogy so forgive me if my responses are ignorant of reality.

    My own possible AA roots are way, way back, but one of my unrelated projects is that of Asa Thompson, an African American schoolteacher/principal. I have a good hold on him and his immediate family back to 1880, but everything before that is a mystery. So, in spite of all my studying, at this stage, I think I still qualify as ignorant. ;-)

  • Craig Manson says:

    Lee–

    Your comments are right on target. One thing that sometimes happened was that if the “free” preson left the jurisdiction in which he or she had been declared free, the free status was revoked. In this case, there is some evidence that George Sr. went back and forth between Missouri and Illinois. That may have “voided” his Missouri freedom.

  • Lee says:

    That’s a twist I didn’t know about, but a good one to know. I look forward to hearing more about this case!


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