Diversity in the Notarial Archives: African Americans

The records of the Clerk of Civil District Court’s Office, which date back to the 1700s, represent the rich history of New Orleans and its diverse communities. Our archives can be used for property, family history, architectural, and landscaping research.

This showcase will highlight a prominent African American notary and two brothers who served the community in Orleans Parish and surrounding areas as civil engineers.

Louis A. Martinet, Notary

Louis A. Martinet was born in 1849 to a free woman of color and a carpenter who emigrated from Belgium. While in his early twenties, from 1872 to 1875, Martinet served as a State Representative from St. Martin Parish. In 1875, Martinet passed the Louisiana Bar. The following year, he graduated in the first class from Straight University Law School, which would later become Dillard University.1

Throughout the early years of his practice, Martinet was a key figure in the civil rights actions surrounding the end of Reconstruction.  In 1889, Martinet began publishing The Crusader, a paper chronicling the struggle for civil rights. In 1891, Martinet was a founding member of the Comité des Citoyens (Citizens’ Committee). The Comité des Citoyens was comprised of prominent people of color in New Orleans and sought to end racial segregation in the south by challenging the practice in the courts.2 Martinet was involved in the landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson case, which was a prolonged legal battle that resulted in the 1896 Supreme Court decision to legalize the separate but equal doctrine. He notarized the petition to the Supreme Court on behalf of Plessy.3

For several years, Martinet’s political, journalistic, and notarial lives co-existed. The Crusader was published out of Martinet’s notarial office, and the Comité des Citoyens’ fight against the Separate Car Act received donations from organizations that used Martinet’s notarial service.

In 1957, the Greater New Orleans Louis A. Martinet Legal Society, an organization of African-American legal professionals, was founded in his honor for his achievements in the field of law.4

The Research Center houses his eight notarial volumes. These volumes include property sales and acts of incorporation for benevolent and mutual aid societies, beginning in 1888 until his death in 1917.

Several persons appeared before Martinet to incorporate The Afro-American Mutual Aid Protective Association on February 3, 1898. An act of incorporation records the rules and purposes of an organization of which the organizing parties sign and agree to the terms.

Martinet, Louis. 1898, February 2. Vol 3, Act 1. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

The act states the purpose of the corporation “…shall be to give financial aid and medical and pharmaceutical assistance, or furnish physician and medicine to its members, in case of sickness, and to bury them or provide for their burial in case of death. Also to give benefits or reliefs to families of deceased members.”

Martinet, Louis. 1898, February 2. Vol 3, Act 1. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.
Signature page. Martinet, Louis. 1898, February 2. Vol 3, Act 1. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

Another organization to appear before Martinet was the Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Bounty and Pension Association of Louisiana, which incorporated on June 22, 1899.

Martinet, Louis. 1899, June 22. Vol 3, Act 20. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

“The objects and purposes of this association shall be to render assistance to its members in good standing and to devise ways and means for the caring and establishment of decrepit ex-slaves, their widows and orphans, and to unite the efforts of all friends in securing the pension legislation in favor of the ex-slaves, particularly by petitioning Congress to pass Senate Bill No. 4718 (now known as the Mason Bill), first introduced in the Lower House of Congress by Hon. W. J. Cornell of Nebraska, June 21, 1890, as House Bill No. 1119 and in the Senate February 6th 1896 as Senate Bill No. 1978 by Hon. J.M. Thurston of Nebraska, and re-introduced June 6th 1898 as Senate Bill No. 4718 by Hon. William E. Mason, of Illinois. And in this connection this association shall work under the advice and guidance of and coordinate with ‘The National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Bounty and Pension Association of the United States of America.’”

The ex-slave pension movement was based on the concept of military service pensions with hope of enacting legislation to grant compensation for years of unpaid labor.  The National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief Bounty and Pension Association was chartered on August 7, 1897. Formerly enslaved, Callie D. House was a notable leader of the association.5

Callie House. Callie House. Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/summer/slave-pension.html

Another notable charter, also meaning act of incorporation, for the Colored Young Men’s Christian Association, was executed by Louis Martinet on February 6, 1907, with the purposes “…for the promotion, encouragement and development of the Christian character of its members, and for the cultivation of the spiritual, mental, social, and physical condition of young men and for the purpose, to establish and maintain a night school, reading room, lyceum, gymnasium, and such other means for the development of Christian character.”

Martinet, Louis. 1907 February 7. Vol 5, Act 2. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

Norbert Rillieux and Eugene Rillieux, Civil Engineers

Norbert Rillieux and Eugene Rillieux were African American civil engineers, and they are included in this post for their creation of surveys, which are used to define land boundaries of a property. Some of their surveys are now part of the collection of Plan Book Plans housed in the Notarial Archives Research Center. Plan Book Plans are a collection of 19th century watercolor surveys that are specific to New Orleans. They were created to hang in auction houses and were designed to catch the attention of potential buyers through the use of vibrant colors. Plan Book Plans would sometimes include an elevation, or a scaled exterior view, of the house or homes to be sold. Examples of these unique surveys can be seen throughout the blog posts. For a more detailed explanation of Plan Book Plans, please see the Architectural Drawings Virtual Showcase, which is located on our website at www.orleanscivilclerk.com.

Image of Norbert Rilleux. No images of Eugene Rillieux could be located.
Image credited to the Collections of the Louisiana State Museum, gift of Dr. C. A. Browne

Norbert Rillieux was born in 1806. Eugene Rilleux was born in 1811. Their father, Vincent Rillieux, Jr., was a white engineer. Constance Vivant, their mother, was a free woman of color from a wealthy family of landowners.

Rillieux-Waldhorn House. Google image.

The brothers’ grandfather, also Vincent Rillieux, was the owner of the Rilleux-Waldhorn House, located at 343 Royal St. on the corner of Royal and Conti.

The placard outside of the Rillieux-Waldhorn House indicates the name of another relative of the Rillieux family, Edgar Degas, who was a prominent French artist.

Following in their father’s footsteps, they were educated in France and became engineers. Nobert Rillieux became an instructor of applied mechanics at the Ecole Centrale in Paris. There is little information about the life of Eugene Rillieux.6

Norbert Rillieux returned to New Orleans and developed a sugar-refining apparatus that would transform the sugar industry in Louisiana and around the world. The apparatus, known as the Multiple Effect Evaporator, pulled vapors from cane syrup and produced sugar crystals.6

Illustration from U.S. patent No. 4879, issued to Norbert Rillieux on Dec 10, 1846, showing the evaporating pan.
Illustration credited to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office by way of the American Chemical Society

During their time in New Orleans, the Rillieux brothers produced plot plans, surveys, and architectural drawings. Thirty-eight of these plans are housed in the Notarial Archives Research Center and display properties widely varying in locations within Orleans Parish and nearby parishes and states.

Plan of ground situated in the Faubourg St. Mary and only plan by the Rillieux brothers that includes an elevation of property. Plan Book 23, Folio 55. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.
Plan of ground situated in Pass Christian, Mississippi. Plan Book 3, Folio 3. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.
Plan of lots situated in Lewisburg, located in Old Mandeville along Lake Pontchartrain. Plan Book 14, Folio 40. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.
Detail of “E & N Rillieux, Civil Engineers” signature. Plan Book 14, Folio 40. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.
Buildings indicated on lots located in the old Faubourg Lacourse. 1834 April 5. Plan Book 93 Folio 29. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.
Detail of Norbert Rillieux’s signature. Plan Book 93, Folio 29. Courtesy Hon. Chelsey Richard Napoleon, Clerk of Civil District Court, Parish of Orleans.

Norbert Rillieux returned to France where he died in 1894.

The Rillieux brothers and Louis Martinet are just two examples of notable African American professionals whose plans and documents can be located in the Research Center. There are hundreds of notarial acts pertaining to free people of color, enslaved people, and African American organizations.

The Clerk’s Office has a rich amount of history pertaining to African-Americans and Creoles. If there are any particular interests that you would like to learn about, please contact the Clerk’s Office. We are happy to assist.

Sources:

1. https://www.neworleansbar.org/uploads/files/Notary%20of%20Note%20Article_7-29.pdf

2. Scott, Rebecca. “Public Rights and Public Standing: Louis Martinet, Plessy V. Ferguson and Access to Law,” Unpublished. https://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1316&context=articles

3. https://louisianadigitallibrary.org/islandora/object/uno-p16313coll86%3A50

4. http://gnomartinet.com/history/

5. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/summer/slave-pension.htm

6.https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/norbertrillieux.html

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