“Le Chevalier Louis Malarcher fled the [Haitian] revolution in St. Domingue and established a plantation on the East Bank of the river in St. James Parish. Malarcher became one of the most cruel slave owners in Louisiana. An enormous number of slaves ran away. Two of his slaves were killed in the slave revolt of 1811.”
— “On to New Orleans!: Louisiana’s Heroic 1811 Slave Revolt,” by Albert Thrasher
“Slavery here as elsewhere had its attendant evils, but there is little to prove that the slaves were grossly mistreated. Certainly the abundance of the St. James Plantations provided enough food, clothing, and care for all.”
— Cabanocey: The History, Customs and Folklore of St. James Parish,” by Lillian C. Bourgeois
Seem like something doesn’t jibe there? It certainly appears like it doesn’t. But then let’s add another quote from Thrasher’s book about the “German Coast” slave result along the Mississippi River and into New Orleans proper that became the largest slave uprising in American history:
“What was most remarkable, was that several of those listed as being killed or executed were owned by planters whose plantations were in St. James (Malarcher, Chapduc) and upper St. John the Baptist (Bechnel, Daniel). This fact supports the conclusion that the revolt was started up in St. James Parish.”
Using Thrasher’s book — which is extremely comprehensive and research-based, with many supporting evidence and documents — I, I have to say, come to the conclusion that Lillian Bourgeois’ book, which includes only one chapter on the massive institution of slavery that existed in the sprawling sugarcane fields of antebellum St. James Parish, is basically an apologist’s take on a thoroughly reprehensible social, cultural and economic atmosphere that permeated that parish before the Civil War.
In addition, Thrasher’s well supported tome makes it clear that the Chevalier Louis Joseph Malarcher, a French nobleman, treated his slaves horribly — horribly enough to cause them to play a part in the 1811 revolt.
So why is this important to the story of Negro Leagues legend Gentleman Dave Malarcher? Well, the surname says it all — the baseball great was descended from the slaves who witnessed and experienced horrors while owned by the Chevalier like chattel. In fact, it’s also quite possible that David Julius Malarcher himself was a direct descendant of the Chevalier or one of the latter’s sons, who very well might have used their female slaves as mistresses at best and as rape victims at worst. (I previously detailed this connection in this post.)
Gentleman Dave Malarcher was born and raised, for much of his childhood (before he moved to New Orleans to attend New Orleans University), in St. James Parish, one of Louisiana’s bastions of slavery. (I traced his ancestry to St. James in this post.)
Chevalier Louis Joseph D’Asprement Malarcher was indeed a wealthy man and an extremely successful sugar planter, possibly by building on the business skills he learned as a sugar planter in Haiti before the successful slave revolt there. According to the 1810 U.S. Census, he owned 40 slaves; by 1830, that number had increased to 57.
1820 U.S. Census
By the 1840s, the Chevalier and his estate — the records I have, via ancestry.com, say he himself died in 1841 in the hamlet of Convent in St. James Parish at the age of 87 — had amassed enough wealth to, in 1847, possess 1,461 of previously public land, a transfer approved by President James K. Polk himself:
Louis also didn’t flinch at shelling out shekels for his human property. In 1805, he purchased a slave named St. Pierre for $340, or nearly $5,300 in today’s dollars. That might have been a lot of money for “property” at the time, but to buy a human being for any price, let alone that much money, just reflects how inhuman slavery was and how cavalier slaveowners were.
As a side note, the seller is listed as Jean Druilliet. That could be a distorted spelling of Jean Druilhet, who would go on to become the grandfather-in-law of the Chevalier’s son, Adolphe, who inherited the family business from Louis after the latter died in 1841. (More on Adolphe later.)
The uprising of 1811 — as well as the fact that it involved at the very least two of his slaves — certainly didn’t deter the Chevalier from buying more and more slaves, and for greater and greater amounts of money. In 1815, for example, he purchased a 35-year-old man named Michel for $1,100, or almost $14,000 today. One of his most exorbitant purchases was a 30-year-old man dubbed Ned (as a group of five inventoried slaves) in 1812, just a year after the uprising, for $1,900 — $26,000 today.
Thrasher’s assertions that Malarcher was one of the most vile slaveowners in Louisiana could be supported by the large number of slaves who tried to escape from his plantation. Thrasher includes in his book advertisements and notices — personals, basically — of dozens of slaveowners posting rewards for lost “property,” and a lot of them are underwritten by the Chevalier. Here’s an example, posted in the Moniteur newspaper in April 1809:
“MAROON SLAVE: There left from the plantation of the undersigned, on March 29 … young negro, named APOLLON, of Congo nation, five feet, three inches, twenty-two years, good figure, name of owner tattooed on chest, speaks French and English, attired in blanket coat and black Kerseymere trousers. It is assumed he went to New Orleans. Honest reward to finder who will return him to M. Claude Treme, New Orleans, or to the undersigned on his plantation …”
Other ads include language that bluntly describe the treatment to which many slaves were subjected. One posting from April 1813 lists the escape of a male Creole “stamped on the breast C. Malarcher, has his tongue split.”
Some postings featured authorities announcing the capture of runaway slaves belonging to various masters, including one such ad in May 1816 announcing the capture of two runaways from the Chevalier’s plantation. One of them, a 30-year-old named Jack, had managed to evade capture for two years before being caught in New Orleans. The announcement describes Jack as “of a weak constitution, a thin long face, has the end of the right ear split, and a wart on the right arm, four feet and eleven inches high …”
In the 1840 federal Census — the last one taken before Louis’ death — he is listed as owning 55 slaves. The document also includes one free white male between the ages of 20-29. That was most likely the Chevalier’s son, Jean Baptiste Adolphe Malarcher, the successor to Louis’ business and plantation. My next post will discuss Adolphe and his children, a family that went through the Civil War and lost their slaves and thus, in a dose of poetic justice, much of their wealth.