Charlot Roi, Early African American of the Ouachita Poste of NE Louisiana

 It seems that most people do not know or remember that the Ouachita/Morehouse, Louisiana area did not start off as the sedentary, slow paced, spice-free extension of the old southern territories it became. Instead it's beginnings were steeped in drama and color; and the area's population, though small, was teeming with African Americans, West Indians black and white, Native Americans, Spanish soldiers, displaced French petty diplomats, and desperate eastern colonists in search of land or running from the law. It was a safe haven for men who lived outside of the norm; men who'd deserted wives and families in the east could hide out for years without being found; men who had been charged with committing criminal or societal wrongs could easily roost on the Ouachita for a few years, re-invent their images and emerge as fresh and reputable as a sinner after baptism. Men with a bit of Afro or Native American ancestry, or Afro or Native women and children could live openly on the Ouachita for a period of years, push on to other places, or if influential enough, remain in the area and become a part of the white community. It was into this rough and tumble, black bear infested environment that Charlot Roi was born in the early 1780's to a black mother who has yet to be identified and Auguste Roi, a first generation Franco American who came into the area with Don Juan Filhiol. Charlot's birth and presence on the Ouachita has been overlooked by most historians; Dr. E. Russ Williams is one of the few researchers to have recognized and acknowledged him. It is Zadoc Harmon, a free black trader and accused horse thief  that lived along the Ouachita for a brief period who is recognized as the most significant African American from the late 1700's through statehood. Zadoc was undeniably a colorful force during his tenure in the Ouachita Valley; however his impact on the community was far less than that of Charlot's, the native born African American who lived in the area his entire life. Charlot lived a productive life on the Ouchita and worked with Abraham Morehouse and others to improve the living conditions of the incoming settlers from the early 1800's through to his death after 1852.

The Early Years

Charlot is first found in the Inventory of the Commandant of the Post of Ouachita when a Spanish scribe recorded the letter of freedom that was issued to him by Auguste Roi. Charlot was noted as the "mulatto Carlos" and Auguste as "Augusto Roy".  Charlot was one of several blacks who were granted freedom in 1793. His mother's name was not listed in the document. Charlot appears to have lived as a free person forward from that date until the early 1800's when he was apparently re-enslaved by his white half-siblings, or his influential brother-in-law Louis Lamy, who was the executor for Auguste Roi who died at the turn of the 19th century. On November 6, 1806, Charlot, with money he was given or loaned by the firm of Jean Francois Girod & Chol, purchased his second freedom from Auguste's estate. It was about this time that Charlot married a woman reported as Dorcas  or Darkis, but known as Hannah. Dorcas was an indentured servant associated with William Burney Sr. DaTis as she was listed on the transcribed list of Bastrop "arrivees" came into the area with Burney, his wife, and the orphan Elizabeth Irik (sic) in May of 1797 from Kentucky. Charlot's relationship to Dorcas is proved on February 26, 1810, when William Burney released her from her bond and identified her as the wife of "Charlow".

The Census Records

 On the 1790 census of the Ouachita Poste, 4 blacks, identified as 2 mulattos and 2 negros were living in Auguste Roi's household. It is assumed that all were enslaved servants, as there has been no documentation found on Roi freeing any of those he held in bondage before or after Charlot was freed in 1793. Charlot and his mother could very likely have been two of the four blacks enumerated in that year.  In 1788 Auguste sold a man and a woman to Don Juan Filhilol, they are assumed to have been a couple, and he has been noted (without name) as the  valuable bi-lingual servant that Roi sold to Filhiol. In 1790 Auguste sold a "mulatress" to Jean Poiret. Research is currently underway to identify this woman, it is possible that  this unnamed woman was Charlot's mother.Charlot is not named on the Ouachita Religious Census of 1800. He may have been  been re-enslaved at that point. Auguste Roi's demise is proved on that census when his wife is identified as the Widow Roi. Charlot may have been one of the mulatto men living in the households of other area inhabitants. In 1810 "Charlo" is recorded on the federal census. His family included another male age 0-10 years, his wife, 16-25 years and a young girl also between 0 and 10 years of age. Charlot is identified only as "Charlo" on that record, no last name was recorded, and the family was designated as white. Charlot's most immediate neighbors were George Stroop, and Thompson Clack; also living in the vicinity were William Birney Sr and his son William Jr.,  Moses Floyd and Aaron King.  By 1820  there were 3 girls and 3 boys between the ages of 0 and 14 living in the Charlot Roi household and all were identified as free people of color.  In 1830 it appears that another boy had come into the household, he was between 0 and 10 years. His birth or inclusion in the household increased the number of Charlot's assumed sons from 3 to 4. One daughter was gone from the household, and was likely married or working away from home. The Roi's have not been located on the 1840 census in Louisiana or any of the surrounding states. In 1850 we find Charlot sharing a household with his youngest known son, Louis, and living near his oldest son Auguste and his wife and family. Charlot's wife and most of his children did not appear on the 1850 census. Their absence on the first every name census, leaves researchers without names for his 5 other children.

Charlot's Life Unfolds

Much of what is known on Charlot comes from a handful of land and civil records archived at the court houses in Bastrop and Monroe; and from depositions he gave during the Senate Hearing on the Baron de Bastrop Land Grants in 1851 and 1852. Though the records are sketchy when compared to his white contemporaries, there is enough recorded data to form a clear understanding of Charlot's life and work; and enough to formulate questions that when answered may offer more clarity on Charlot's personal life. One question that begs to be answered arises when Girod provided Charlot with the money for his manumission. Girod and his partner Chol, were likely the largest slave traders in the area in the early 1800's. Girod with his brothers Nicolas (early New Orleans mayor) and Jean Claude were international slave traders. The Girod brothers slave enterprise was far reaching and their slave trafficking included dealings in Africa, the US eastern seaboard, Cuba and Louisiana. Though they were committed slave traders the Girod brothers were attracted to black women with whom they maintained open relationships and by whom they fathered children.  Jean Francois Girod, aka John Francois Girod was one of the Frenchmen who brought their black children to the Ouachita. His sons Jean Francois II and Marine spent their lives from early childhood forward in the Ouachita Valley where they were identified as black in early records, but became a part of the white community as they grew older. What prompted Girod to give Charlot the money? Did he owe him a favor? Was he a relative of his sons Marine and Jean Francois II?

In 1825 Charlot purchased a 150 acre tract of land on Prairie Jefferson from John Ward. After maintaining the property for 10 years, Charlot sold the acreage to Robert H. Bowmar on September 22, 1834 for eight hundred dollars. Family lore speaks of the family being poor in the years before the Civil War, however Charlot's documented employment and this land sell indicates that he generated enough income for the family to live comfortably. The land sold for $800.00 in 1834, which would have valued $16,700 in those times. Exact goods and services purchased for $800.00 today, would have cost about $37.00 in 1834.

The Senate Land Hearing depositions given by and about Charlot offers details that help in fleshing out his life and work. Charlot's birth, early employment and places of residence are referenced in the depositions. Most importantly Charlot's testimonies enabled a number of  early residents or their descendants to validate their rights to the land claims being questioned by the Senate. Without Charlot's detailed depositions a number of settlers would have lost their rights to their land. Some of the families who's claims were validated by Charlot's testimonies were: Alexander Peck, Hannibal Faulk, A.D. Crossman all of whom purchased the "Strickland Tract"  that was first occupied by Alexander Scribner; Robert H. Bowmar who purcahsed and cultivated land on Prarie Jefferson that was first occupied by Levi Guice; James C. Cooper who was settled on the Gabriel Scott tract and Moses Floyd. Charlot also testified on behalf of Jesse H. Wilson who lived in Prarie Jefferson on a tract of land that had been originally granted to Joseph Segars who came to the Ouachita with Bastrop in 1797; and Randal Livingston, Adam Pruett and the heirs of Hemken, Kellam and H.M. Bry. In a society and time when land truly meant everything it is surprising that Charlot was not memorialized for his invaluable help in securing the land titles of those being questioned.

"Chain Bearer (CB)   Also known as chain carrier or sworn chain carrier (CC, SCC):  They were land surveyor's assistants; handled measuring chain. Generally, there was a legal requirement that chain carriers take an oath as to the honesty of their work; therefore the chain carrier should have been of legal age.  It was a common practice for a member of the family to serve as a chain bearer for the surveyor. In Robert Gibson's 1796 Treatise of Practical Surveying he commented that, "The surveyor should be careful to have his chain measured before he proceeds [on surveys]..." for consistent precision. In the Speculation Lands Collection each individual survey consisted of two chain bearers (item 0712 comprises of three). The rear man or "hinder chainman" stood by the starting stake with one end of the chain while the front man, carrying the other end unrolled the chain as he went toward a mark. Furthermore, Gibson argued that the success of a survey, depended on the care and skill of the rear chain bearer.  He had to ensure that the front man was always in line with the mark. "The inaccuracies of most survey's arise from bad chaining" recorded Gibson."

According to the depositions Charlot was 66 years old when the hearings started in 1851 but reached his 67th birthday by December of that year, dating his birth to 1784. Charlot claimed that he worked for Abraham Morehouse as a chain bearer for 10 years, assisting in surveying the massive Baron de Bastrop grant. In all likely hood Charlot was recommended to serve as Morehouse's chain carrier; it would have been an almost imposible feat for Morehouse and assistants from outside of the area to expedite the plotting of the grant. Charlot mentions that he hunted the entirity of the Bastrop Grant and surrounding area, and was intricatly familiar with the layout of the land. Charlot's great granddaughter, Eleanor Evelyn Shiloh Alford claimed that  both her grandfather, Charlot's son Augueste II, and her great grandfather were carpenters and hunters who plied the waters from Illinois to the gulf. By Charlot's own admission he was indeed a hunter and a carpenter. He laid claim to assisting in the building of homesteads for both Jacob Stroope, John Vance and other early settler families. Charlot is believed to have died living near Shiloh Creek in an area now situated off of the Crosset Highway; but from the grant hearing depositions we know that he lived first in Monroe near the Poste; and moved to Prarie Jefferson, near Oak Ridge when he was about 45 years old or circa 1829. He remained in the Prarie Jefferson area for 18 years "prior to 1840" when he likely removed with his family to property his daughter-in-law purchased in the Shiloh Creek area noted earlier.

Charlot's Family

Charlot's wife was called Darcus on the release from indenture document signed by William Burney (Birney) in 1810, and recorded as DaTis on the roster of Bastrop settlers who arrived at the Ouachita Poste in May of 1797. No woman named Darcus exists in the memory of Charlot's descendants. The only early female name that was remembered, repeated and passed down was Hannah, the birth name of the woman who came to be called Darcus by the Burneys. Born of a white mother and black father in 1786, Hannah was set out as an indentured servant at birth by her mother's new husband. She traveled to the Ouachita with the Burney family and remained with them until after her marriage to Charlot, when she was informally released from their service on February 25, 1810. She and Charlot alledgedly raised seven children, that number agrees with the children living in their household in 1820 and 1830; however only two of those children can be identified with certainty, Auguste who was born circa 1809 and Louis born circa 1819. Jane King Stewart, who lived near the Roi's in 1850 is believed to have been the daughter of Charlot and Hannah Dorcas, but absolute proof of that relationship has not been established. There was never a great number of free blacks on the Ouachita, and most among that small group crossed the color line and moved on in the first half of the 19th century. By 1850 the handful of free blacks remaining in the part of  Ouachita Parish, which became Morehouse Parish were all clumped together in the Ward 2 area of the parish in close proximity to the Roi family. In the decades before 1850, the Franco/Spanish spirit of  "relative tolerence"  had been replaced by the more traditionally southern attitudes brought in by the hordes of mostly deep south settlers who pushed into the area from the Louisiana Purchase forward. It is in this less tolerant society we find Charlot, his youngest son Louis and his older son Auguste and his white wife, Mahala, and their children in 1850. Family lore claims that Auguste told his children that they could remain in the area and live as black, or go away and start over as white. The older children left; family history relates that some went to Mississippi to live amongst their mother's relatives, and others to Illinois. It is not known how their lives evolved as they never returned and were never heard from again. Charlot and his son Auguste died after 1850 and before 1857 leaving Mahala alone to deal with being a white woman with black children in a by then, racially charged community. Mahala sold her farm in 1857, perhaps with the intent of using that money to relocate with her younger children, or join those already established outside of Louisiana. She didn't make it, Mahala died, leaving her children James, William, Frank and Susan to fend for themselves. In 1859, for unknown reasons, James, the oldest of the group, entered into an indenture agreement with Emanuel Gross, a  recent Jewish immigrant. James, William and Frank were bound to serve Gross for predetermined periods of time; Susan who's name was included in the document, was not issued a designated lenght of service. By early 1860,  James and William were gone  from Gross's household and the area. Susan and Frank remained, but neither were in Gross' household. Both were now using their mother's last name Piles instead of their birth surname Roi. Frank had been apprencticed by the courts to William McFee, and Susan was living in the household of J.B. and Martha Smith. Susan soon disappered from the area as well, some claim that she went away and married white. It is possible that Susan Roy died in Ouachita Parish in May of 1870. Only Frank remained. His daughter claimed that he lived with the William McFee family until he reached maturity. Frank cannot be found in 1870, and it is assumed that he left the area in search of his siblings. By 1880 he was back home, but now using the  last name Charlo, which over the years evolved as Shiloh, the name now used by Charlot's descendants. The question of  the last name Roi being replaced by Shiloh remained unanswered until the document binding the Roi children to Emmanuel Gross was discovered. According to testimony provided by Isaac Naff, Recorder & Notary Public, the family was most commonly called "Sharlow". Bussey's comments answers the question on the use of the name Charlot (sic) as a last name, and highlights Charlot's reputation in the community.

"Be it known that on this the 19th day of February 1859 before me Isaac T. Naff Recorder and Ex Offcio Notary Public in and for said Parish, and in the presence of the herein  and after named, witnessess personally came and appeared James Roy, free man of color aged 21 years of age, and Susan Roy free woman of color, and William Roy 13 years of age, and Frank Roy 11 years of age colored boys issue of Augustus Roy and his wife Mahala both deceased and who in this life time resided in said Parish of Morehouse their names being more familiarly known as "Sharlow". The forgoing named persons are also the grand children of the celebrated "Charles Roy" or "Old Sharlow" the bear hunter;and the said James Roy free person of color as aforesaid does by this act for and in consideration of the sum of two dollars per annum bind himself as a common laborer to Emanuel Gross of the Parish of Union, this state for the time and space of five years, and the said William Roy & Frank Roy & Susan Roy being under age, as aforesaid, that having chosen the said Gross as their tutor. I the said recorder do hereby bind them to the said Gross for the term of eight years for William and ten years for Frank, and the said Gross does hereby bind himself, his heirs, and assigns during said term of servitude for each of said above named persons to find them in food, clothing and lodging and general protection. It is understood that for the three underage that they are to be bound by the act until they are 21 years of age."

Charlot Roi, "celebrated hunter" remains unknown and "un-celebrated" in the community that he clearly helped to fashion and make habitable for new settlement. To his credit he was intregal in the push to reduce the large population of black bear in the region; he used his intricate knowledge of the environment to aid in the surveying of the land, making it available to the growing number of migrating families;  he extricated himself from enslavement by his white family and moved on to create a decent life for his family;  he participated in the American dream of land ownership, buying and selling land in an incresingly racially hostile community before 1835. Finally, in the last two years of his life this black man, living in the midst of a state and society that did not often want or allow blacks to testify in a court of law gave testimony over and over again to save and protect the land grants of his white neighbors; some of whom were supporters of slavery and adversaries of the advancement of black people. His children had to leave the area to find better and safer lives. Two of his grandchildren may have been sold into chattel slavery; and all except one had to leave the place they called home to survive. Frank Shiloh, the youngest of Charlot's grandchildren, was the only African American Roi to remain in the area. Frank married Laura Wells, a woman born of similar circumstances in Missouri, and they raised children: Frank, Sarah, Laura, Velma, Gertrude and Eleanor. Frank died in 1915, and his wife and several of his children preceded him in death. With Frank died the legendary stories of his grandfather Charlot Roi. His children knew a bit of the family history, but it has only been in the past 25 years that lore and facts have been brought together to form an accurate picture of Charlot Roi and his family and their lives in the Ouachita Valley. A handful of Charlot's descendants remain in the Morehouse Parish area; the smaller groups being the descendants of his great grandson Frank Shiloh Jr; and of his great granddaughter Laura; the largest group of Charlot's descendants remaining in the Bastrop area are the grandchildren and great grandchildren of his great granddaguhter, Eleanor Shiloh Alford, the wife of Thomas Alford, and daughter-in-law of Isaiah "Tutt" Alford, the last of the great black hunters of NE Louisiana. The greatest body of Charlot's descendants are likely those born of his children and grandchildren who had to leave the area their ancestor forged to live decent lives.

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Comment by Georgia Walker-Adams on May 22, 2013 at 12:17pm

My mother was born in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana. I never knew of this history of Charlot Roi and his family. It makes me think very differently now of that parish not just being a sleepy southern area of Louisiana. It has a colorful and interesting past. One of the people that benefitted from Charlot's testimony as to verification of land ownership, was Adam Pruett. One of the surnames in my family tree is Pruitt, sometimes spelled Pruett/Pruet/Pruit/Prewitt/Prewit. Thank you for this colorful, well-researched and informative blog entry.

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