Baptiste Angélique and the Chitimacha Indians of Louisiana

Transactions of the Anthropological Society of Washington, Volumes 1–3( 1882) featuring paper presented by Alfred S. Gatschet

In 1881, Alfred S. Gatschet, a German-American linguist , traveled to Charenton, Louisiana and visited members of the Chitimacha tribe looking to collect information on their language, culture and traditions. One of Gatschet’s main goals was to create a dictionary of the Chitimacha language. His main informant was Baptiste Angélique, an elderly man of color described as “an old hoary negro” by Gatschet who lived next to the Chitimacha reservation. Baptiste was fluent in the Chitimacha language and grew up among the Chitimacha Indians. He knew about their traditions and the locations of the different Chitimacha Indian villages. So, who exactly was Baptiste Angélique? What was his background? How did someone with no known Chitimacha ancestry come to be a native speaker of the language? Where there any other documentary sources referencing Baptiste Angélique?

Transactions of the Anthropological Society of Washington, Volumes 1–3( 1882) featuring paper presented by Alfred S. Gatschet(continued)

My curiosity about the origins of Baptiste was based on a hunch from all my years of genealogical and historical research into my Louisiana Creole roots.
Manumitted Louisiana Creole slaves and free persons of color often used patronymic and matrilineal surnames derived from the forenames of their parents and sometimes former slave owners. This naming tradition was also common throughout the French Antilles and the greater Latin world. That would mean the mother of Baptiste would have been named Angélique. Because he had a French name, it was reasonable to assume Baptiste was Roman Catholic.

I found two references for Baptiste in the sacramental records of the Immaculate Conception Catholic church in Franklin, Louisiana.

TOM, Baptiste (Tom & Angelique MARS) bt. 18 April 1891 at age 100 yrs. (Charenton Ch.: v.2, p.262)

ANGELIQUE, Baptiste d. 4 Jan. 1894 at age 105 yrs. (Charenton Ch.: v. 1, p. 185)

Baptismal record of Baptiste Angélique(in French) 18 April 1891

Just as I inferred, Angélique was indeed his mother’s name! The use of Tom as his surname is another example of patronymic naming practices. More importantly, the baptismal record revealed his mother’s surname(Mars) and the name of his godmother(Louise Marguerite Clara Mossy née Fusélier).Baptiste Angélique grew up near Grand Lake, which was one of the main settlements of the Chitamacha Indians since the time of French colonization. Given his fluency in the Chitimacha language and his deep knowledge of their cultural history, it seems more than likely he spent his entire life among them and makes you question Gatschet’s assumption Baptiste was a former slave.

It turned out Angélique Mars was Angélique MASSE(pronounced /Mahs/ in French), a free woman of color who lived around Grand Lake in the land of the Chitimachas during the early 19th century. Conveyance records dating from the time held at the St. Martin Parish courthouse showed her selling land from the estate of her father L’eveille MASSE to Agricole Fusélier in present-day St. Mary Parish(St. Mary was formed from a part of St. Martin). Agricole was the grandfather of Baptiste Angélique’s godmother and Angélique lived in a settlement formed by the freed slaves of an early French fur trader and rancher named André Masse. The Masses were the earliest Creoles in southwest Louisiana and first community of free persons of color.

The French travel writer C.C. Robin briefly mentioned the Masses in his book, “Voyage to Louisiana” which documented Robin’s journey to the newly acquired American province of Louisiana in 1803:

However, the Atakapas Indians gradually became accustomed to going to New Orleans to exchange their furs, and traders there, conversely, began to go among them, and these reciprocal relations softened the customs of the Atakapas. Some of the colonists finally dared to go and settle on these spacious prairies. One of the first who went there about fifty years ago was named Masse, a scion of a rich family of Grenoble. This individual brought with him twenty negroes, and it might be said he was rather the father than the master of them. He hardly gleaned enough from their labors to live on. His dwelling was a simple cabin, open to the air. He slept on a buckskin. His only eating utensils were a knife and a horn spoon hung at his belt. He lived thus for twenty years in the wilderness, offering hospitality to all who asked for it for as long as they wished. However, the number of parasites living on him was never large; his austerities drove them away. His Negroes, whom he made content, and who had gotten out of the habit of work; were freed on his death, and they form today, at the lower end of the Teche, a little community, as indolent as in the time of their master.

The lower end of the Bayou Teche is also where the Chitimacha tribe lived(still live) at the time of Baptiste Angélique’s birth( Gatcshet estimated Baptiste’s date of birth around 1805. Different records give a wide range of his birth year anywhere from 1789–1815). The FPOC Masses associated and intermingled with the Chitimacha Indians over several generations around the Grand Lake area. Angélique Masse’s maternal uncle, André, married Chitimacha women and fathered two sons who became members of the tribe.

Baptiste Angélique, the “old negro”, lived his entire life surrounded by his Chitimacha Indian and Creole of color relatives. He was ethnically Creole and multi-lingual in that he spoke Chitimacha and Kouri-Vini(Louisiana Creole).
His life is a perfect example of how ancestry isn’t always a true reflection of ones culture and that human beings are capable of learning any culture regardless of their genealogy.

Writer and artist with musings on Art, history, genealogy, culture,the humanities with short stories and poems

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