The Beaurepaire Family-- from Freedom to Slavery and Back Again

This house, relatively unchanged since the early 1800s reflects the tricky navigation of enslavement and freedom by a family called the Beaurepaires. Louis Beaurepaire, a free man of color, bought the home on Monday, August 25, 1828 from another free man of color, Brazile Raphael Crocker. He eventually sold it to his second wife, Thereze Meunie in 1829. Beaurepaire had had a relationship with an enslaved woman, named Agathe Leveille, owned by Felix Grima, who lived around the corner at the famed Grima house, 820 St. Louis St.

Felix Grima was a very wealthy notary, lawyer, and judge. He owned dozens of enslaved people over the years, many of whom were inherited from his family, meaning that the lives of the Grimas and their slaves were intertwined for generations. Agathe’s mother, Sophie, for example, had been in the possession of Felix’s mother, perhaps since Sophie’s birth around 1790. By 1852, Sophie remained with the Grima family, in the same household, but had been since emancipated, and was living there as a free woman of color.

Agathe and Louis had four children, Charlotte, Louise, Henry, and Eugene. All four were baptized at St. Louis Cathedral, and listed with their mother’s and father’s names. The sons were also, records reveal, skilled tradesmen; Henry was a tailor and Eugene was a carpenter. While slaveowners often wanted their slaves to be skilled, they avoided giving formal instruction and apprenticeships to their slaves, for fear that an enslaved person would become aware of their propensity for independent financial survival and try to escape or buck at submission.

Between 1846 and 1851, the Grimas emancipated all four Beaurepaire children. Henry and Eugene, valued at $1600 together, or nearly $50,000 today were willed from Felix’s mother to Felix in January of 1851. By April, he had emancipated them. In order to free Henry and Eugene, Felix had to submit a petition to the judge and the municipality at large. He had to specify that they had skills that would allow them to live independently and contribute financially, as well as testify that they had not committed any crimes:

“They were born and have been brought up in the home of petitioner’s late mother, and have shown themselves extremely attached to the whole of petitioner’s family to whom they have constantly been rendering great services—that they have always been good, faithful, and obedient servants, have constantly shown themselves respectful toward the white population, and that their conduct has constantly been exemplary in every respect.”

The municipality had responded with unanimous approval.

Unfortunately, by 1862, all the Beaurepaire children except Eugene had died of illness. In 1856 he purchased a 32-year-old enslaved woman named Jane from the Grimas for $800. Throughout the Civil War Era, we don’t see much of Eugene or Jane in the records. However, in 1870, Eugene marries a woman named Marie Jeanne Daniel. Eugene died only two days later. In 1874 Marie Jeanne Daniel inherits the home you’re standing in front of on Burgundy Street. Despite the fact that Louis Beaurepaire’s wife remarried, the courts granted the home as inheritance to Eugene, but since he had died four years before, the property went to his wife, Marie Jeanne.

What happened to the mysterious Jane? Why did Eugene purchase her from the Grimas in the first place? While these facts are not laid out explicitly, Eugene’s will makes clear that Jane was in fact Marie Jeanne, and his purchase was one made so that they could be together.

In an unexpected turn, the Grimas extended their benevolence to ensuring that Marie Jeanne got her rightful part of Eugene’s estate. Alfred Grima, one of Felix’s sons, served as her attorney and helped file her petition in 1871. Another Grima son, Edgar, drew up the inventory of Eugene’s estate.

In addition, Felix Grima testified to their relationship. The courts recorded:

“[he had] known Jeanne Daniel upwards of 25 years, during which interval of time she was for a number of years a servant in his family. That witness was well acquainted with the late Eugene Beaurepaire even since his birth, and never lost sight of him up to the time of his death. That the said Eugene Beaurepaire was born in the house of the witness’ family from the consummation of a servant [a slave] of the name of Agathe and one [Louis] Benjamin Beaurepaire, who never were united in marriage, and both of whom have departed this life for many years past, having had together several other children, all of whom are dead. That it is to witness personal knowledge that the said late Eugene Beaurepaire left no ascendants, no legitimate descendants, and no lawful or legitimate collateral.”

The total value of the estate was $2540, or $79,023 today. The house you’re looking at was part of that estate.

We can only guess why the Grimas treated the Beaurepaires differently from their other over 30 slaves. Perhaps the Grimas favored them because of their lineage in a line of enslaved persons who had belonged to the Grimas for multiple generations. Perhaps they knew Louis Beaurepaire, as a friendly neighbor, and felt responsible for his children in some way. Perhaps because of Louis’ standing as a successful, independent, free man of color, they believed that his children deserved a life with more opportunity. Whatever their reasoning, it was not due to a distaste for slavery as an institution. Felix, a notary, spent day after day witnessing and documenting the sales of slaves. All enslaved persons in New Orleans were considered “immoveable property” meaning that their sales had to be notarized, like real estate. Were it not for the booming slave market of New Orleans, Grima wouldn’t have had such an illustrious career. His former home, now a historic house museum, boasts the largest single family living space in the French Quarter, the majority of which was inhabited by slaves that he never freed.

In 1876 Marie Jeanne sold the property on Burgundy Street.

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727-729 Burgundy Street