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Legend of Adelaide: A Link to the Past

by Phillip Cunningham, Head of Research Services

A New Orleans article about then-Mayor Marc Morial’s business trip to Haiti, originally published in the Times-Picayune in 1994, identified a passport as the family document linking Morial’s paternal lineage to Haiti. The passport was in possession of Walter Morial, whom Marc’s brother Jacque referred to as the family historian. But by 1994, Walter had passed away and the passport’s location had become a piece of family lore.

Passport for Adelaide Brunet, 1798.
Passport for Adelaide Brunet, 1798.

Turns out, in 1974 Walter donated the passport to the Amistad Research Center as part of his personal papers. Thank goodness! A document such as that is a genealogist’s dream come true! Augusta Bruley Elmwood, a New Orleans genealogist quoted in the Times-Picayune article, says many records and tombstones in Haiti have been destroyed by years of political strife and natural disasters. For Marc and his kinfolk, that means both sides of the family, the Morials on their father’s side and the Haydels* on their mother’s side, have roots in Haiti, back when it was known as Saint-Domingue. The passport gives incredible details about their great-great-great-great-great-great (give or take a great) grandmother.

Adelaide Brunet was her name. She was born in Cap-Français (now Cap-Haïtien) on the northern coast of Saint-Domingue. A fold in the document obscures her exact age, but she was in her 20s, about 5 feet tall, with black hair, black eyes and a snub nose. She received the passport at the French consulate in Charleston. An interesting detail at the top of the document is an unusual date: the 26th of Messidor, year 6. The date is from the short-lived French Republic calendar that followed the French Revolution. In the Gregorian calendar, the date would have been July 14, 1798. In the left margin, it states the document is only valid for three months. It’s a safe bet that once in the United States, Adelaide never returned to Haiti. Clues as to how the family would ultimately settle in New Orleans come from a second document also kept by the family historian.

Certificate assigning Etienne Saulet of New Orleans as the tutor of Celina, Adelaide Brunet’s daughter, 1817.
Certificate assigning Etienne Saulet of New Orleans as the tutor of Celina, Adelaide Brunet’s daughter, 1817.

A legal document from 1817 made in the Probate Court for Orleans Parish mentions Adelaide’s death and the appointing of guardianship for her daughter, Celina. Joseph Cabaret, a free man of color, appeals to the court to appoint Etienne Saulet, another man of color, to serve as Celina’s tutor.

Adelaide’s re-settling was neither surprising nor uncommon at that time. The Haitian Revolution led to a large emigration from Haiti to New Orleans. In the summer of 1798, when Adelaide landed in the port of Charleston, Toussaint L’Ouverture had defeated the French colonial powers and forced the surrender of the occupying British armies too. New Orleans (Nouvelle-Orléans at that time) was still a French territory and a close refuge for those leaving the island. In the early 1800s, a large portion of the city’s French-speaking free people of color would have come from Haiti.

So, to answer the mystery from 25 years ago, Marc Morial’s visit to Haiti was, in fact, a return to his ancestral turf!

*For more information on the Haydel family in Louisiana, I recommend Bouki Fait Gombo: A History of the Slave Community of Habitation Haydel (Whitney Plantation), 1750-1860 by Ibrahima Seck. For more information on the African-descended population in Louisiana, check out Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole culture in the Eighteenth Century by Gwendolyn Midlo Hall. I also recommend the website for all things relating to Creole history and culture in New Orleans.


Images from the Walter Morial papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.


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