Friday, February 19, 2021 Nic Butler, Ph.D.

In the early days of the nineteenth century, a trio of French immigrants living in urban Charleston agreed to reward a hard-working enslaved woman named Catherine by allowing her to purchase her own freedom. After laboring diligently within the city for many months, Catherine amassed the required sum and handed it to her master, Antoine Plumet. Rather than signing the necessary documents to manumit her, Monsieur Plumet defrauded the industrious woman and died without honoring their bargain. Catherine’s subsequent struggle to assert her freedom forms a dramatic and illuminating chapter in history of antebellum Charleston.

If you’re an avid reader of scholarly literature and primary sources relating to the institution of slavery in early Charleston, you might recognize a few of the following details of Catherine’s life. I first encountered her story while reading through the surviving antebellum petitions to the South Carolina General Assembly, which are held at the state’s Department of Archives and History in Columbia. Industrious archivists have digitized much of that material and made it available online, so I’m certainly not the first to have read about Catherine’s struggle for freedom some two centuries ago. In late November of 1821, both houses of the South Carolina legislature read a petition written by white lawyer from Charleston, asking the assembly to ratify a law to free a black woman named Catherine from the yoke of slavery.[1] That brief petition references earlier documents and several individuals, and the petition itself instigated the creation of further legislative paperwork. In recent weeks, I have endeavored to identify the characters associated with this story and track down various documents that illuminate their activities. The surviving archival materials are far from complete, but the extant documents provide a sufficient framework to reconstruct at least a portion of Catherine’s life. As I think you’ll soon agree, her story, even as a fragment of a complicated narrative, offers a compelling window in the lives of so many similarly-faceless people whose existence is now obscure. Catherine was but one woman among a sea of enslaved people whose personal stories are well worth remembering.


The French Background:

The story of Catherine’s struggle for freedom is couched within a world of French-speaking immigrants who formed a colorful subculture in urban Charleston that is only dimly remembered today. Most South Carolinians know that French Huguenots exerted a significant influence on the state’s early history, but the people surrounding our protagonist, Catherine, were part of a different community. In contrast to the French Protestants who arrived in the early colonial-era and worshiped at the Huguenot Church on the south side of Queen Street, the French Catholics who held Catherine in bondage were part of a later wave of migration that mostly worshiped at St. Mary’s Church on Hasell Street. Catholics were not welcome in South Carolina until after the American Revolution (see Episode No. 142), and many of Charleston’s Protestant bluebloods viewed the rise of St. Mary’s with a measure of distrust and disdain.

Following the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789, a small number of French nationals, adherents to the Catholic religion, fled to North America and the Caribbean. Some of that exodus population sailed to Saint-Domingue, the prosperous French colony occupying the western half of the island of Hispaniola (now called Haiti). When Saint-Domingue’s enslaved majority initiated their own bloody revolt in 1793, thousands of white residents fled in a great hurry with little more than the shirts on their backs. They escaped to other islands in the Caribbean and steamed into various North American ports, including Charleston, Savannah, Philadelphia, and, of course, New Orleans. Many, though not all, of the white refugees from Saint-Domingue (or St. Domingo, as Americans called it) were educated, affluent people with refined tastes who were accustomed to a life of relative leisure. Like the established planters in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, their privileged lifestyle had been built on the backs of enslaved people of African descent, but now they had lost everything and were obliged to start anew. Many used their talents to forge new careers as teachers, musicians, dancing masters, fencing instructors, and chefs. Between 1793 and the 1820s, the influx of several hundred French-speaking, Catholic refugees transformed and enriched Charleston’s cultural life in ways that haven’t yet received sufficient attention.[2]

Some of the Saint-Dominguan refugees managed to escape the island with enslaved people in tow. Charleston’s long-established commitment to slavery no doubt rendered some comfort to newly-impoverished French planters, but most white South Carolinians soon lamented the arrival of black and brown Francophones. Conservative white men feared that Saint-Dominguan slaves, who had recently witnessed a violent and successful slave revolt, would describe that bloody experience to their enslaved brothers and sisters here in the Lowcountry and encourage them to rise up against their oppressors. This fear was compounded by the fact that some of the white refugees held a more relaxed attitude towards persons of African descent. The exodus from Saint-Domingue in the mid-1790s brought to Charleston an increased number of mixed-race, free persons of color whose behavior and beliefs did not conform to South Carolina’s conservative social structure. The official response from the white minority, at both the municipal and state levels, was to begin closing the legal door leading from slavery to freedom.

During South Carolina’s first century of existence, an individual could manumit or emancipate his or her enslaved property with very little interference from the government (see Episode No. 146). The laws of this land did not prescribe a specific procedure or set of conditions for this task, and “free people of color,” as they were generally known, could lead independent lives as long as they had a written confirmation of their emancipation or could rely on the testimony of white neighbors to vouch for their status. This legal tradition began to change in December 1800, however, when the South Carolina General Assembly ratified a new law “respecting slaves, free Negroes, mulattoes, and mestizoes . . . and to impose certain restrictions on the emancipation of slaves.” At the turn of the nineteenth century, the state imposed a more rigorous and formal protocol designed to make it more difficult and legally cumbersome to dissolve the bonds of slavery. Besides the imposition of new paperwork and levels of bureaucracy, the law of December 1800 also required would-be emancipators to acquire sworn statements from five individuals testifying that the enslaved candidate was “not a bad character” and was “capable of gaining a livelihood . . . by honest means.”[3] In short, the small but historically steady stream of people moving from slavery to freedom in South Carolina was suddenly reduced to a trickle at the dawn of the nineteenth century.


Catherine’s World:

The paucity of surviving paper records concerning enslaved people like Catherine render it impossible for us to identify her roots and to describe her early life. Without a surname or some other particular nomenclature, it’s very difficult to differentiate her from other enslaved women bearing the name Catherine in Charleston during the first half of the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, we know that she was real person with hopes and fears who inhabited this community two centuries ago. We are fortunate that a few scraps of information survive to create an outline of a portion of her life. Although it might not be possible to definitively know her age, appearance, or the timbre of her voice, we can use the scraps of historical data to restore some of Catherine’s agency and walk for a moment in her shoes.

At some point during the early years of the nineteenth century, Catherine became the property of a Frenchman named Pierre or Peter Catonnet (also spelled Catonet, 1770–1843). Monsieur Catonnet’s roots are unknown to me, but he appeared in Savannah by 1794, married a Georgia belle named Ann (1777–1830), and spent the next half century circulating between Charleston, Savannah, and Augusta, Georgia.[4] He might have been among the Frenchmen who emigrated to the United States after the commencement of the French Revolution, or he might be been one of refugees who fled hastily from Saint-Domingue in 1793. Peter was a merchant specializing in the grocery or dry-goods trade, working in partnership with a succession of individuals over the years, and seems to have earned a comfortable living for his American family.

Peter Catonnet first appears in Charleston’s published city directory at the beginning of 1807, at which time we might imagine that he had only recently settled in the Palmetto City.[5] On March 19th of that year, Monsieur Catonnet purchased an enslaved woman “named Catharine [sic], with her female child named Salle [sic],” for the sum of $600. The owner and seller of these enslaved people was John James Himely (died 1812), the son of the former pastor of Charleston’s French Huguenot Church.[6] The document recording this 1807 transaction does not provide any details about Catherine, nor can we be sure this is the right woman, but the timing of Catonnet’s purchase fits the chronology of our story. If the adult woman in question is our protagonist, then we might conjecture that Catherine possessed some familiarity with the French language. Whether she was born in South Carolina, in Saint-Domingue, or in Africa, is now impossible to know, but her long association with a series of French-speaking families suggests to me that she might have been multi-lingual.

During his tenure in Charleston, which continued on and off for around two decades, Peter Catonnet became acquainted with another local Frenchman named Antoine Plumet. Monsieur Plumet was a native of Angoulême, in the southwest of France, born around 1760. He settled in Charleston sometime before 1797, at which time he described himself as being “late of St. Domingo.”[7] At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Antoine (or Anthony, as he was sometimes called,) worked as a shopkeeper and shared a residence in King Street, south of Broad, with a physician named John Plumet. Dr. Plumet, who might have been Antoine’s father or brother, disappears from Charleston records after 1807, but it’s unclear whether he died or moved elsewhere.[8] Few facts survive to tell us about the lifestyle and personality of Antoine Plumet, but the inventory of his estate, recorded in 1816, paints a portrait of a man accustomed to a life of comfort and indulgence. It includes a gold watch, gold buttons, gold buckles for his shoes and knee breeches, silverware and jewels, and fourteen French-speaking slaves.

At some point during their respective lives in Charleston, say, around the year 1812, Antoine Plumet had a conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Catonnet about their enslaved woman named Catherine. Both Peter and his wife, Ann, regarded Catherine as “a valuable and favorite” servant in their household who was worth far more than they had paid for her. She was by then a mature woman, around forty years old, although in truth we have only a vague notion of her true age. It’s unclear whether Catherine worked solely within the family residence, or perhaps at Peter’s grocery store, or worked independently around Charleston and brought her wages back to her masters in a punctual manner. In any case, the esteem with which the Catonnets regarded Catherine inspired Antoine Plumet to make what seemed to be a very descent proposal. Catherine’s industry and fidelity merited some reward, n’est-pas? Would it not be just to allow this femme esclave to earn her freedom? “Listen to me,” Plumet might have whispered to his friends on their piazza one night, “why don’t you sell Catherine to me for a reasonable sum, say $300, and I will emancipate her as soon as she has repaid that sum to me.”

The Catonnets might have initially scoffed at Monsieur Plumet’s suggestion. They had paid more than $300 for Catherine, and she was worth not less than $800, they protested. Ann and Peter would be the losers in this transaction, while Antoine himself would gain nothing from the bargain he proposed. But profit was not the object, Plumet might have countered. This was a matter of justice; compensation for years of service fidèle. At some point, the Catonnets warmed to this idea. After all, to forsake ownership of Catherine was but a small sacrifice compared to the great benefit that she would eventually gain. Slave owners in Charleston did occasionally allow their servants to purchase their own freedom by working outside their home and accumulating the required sum over a period of months or years (see Episode No. 147). The Catonnet’s owned other slaves and other property, and they decided that they could bear the loss of Catherine in order to set her on a path to freedom.

But emancipating a slave in early-nineteenth century South Carolina was not as simple as it was in the past. The state legislature had created a strict protocol in December 1800, and there were now several tedious steps to follow. Yes, yes, Monsieur Plumet said that he understood the obstacles. He would allow Catherine to work independently in Charleston and collect wages from her periodically. As soon as she had amassed the purchase price of $300, Plumet promised that he would execute the papers necessary for Catherine’s legal manumission. The parties involved in this subversive conversation did not record on paper the details or the date of their agreement, but both Peter Catonnet and his wife, Ann, later testified in court that they had freely entered into a verbal contract with Antoine Plumet to secure Catherine’s freedom for $300, and swore that they had placed their “fullest reliance” on his promise to honor the agreement. The plan was eventually revealed to Catherine, of course, who may have learned from experience to mask her excitement behind a façade of stony obedience. Trust was a commodity given with the greatest of caution. We can only imagine the silent swell of hope within her breast that might have spilled tears down her brown cheeks.


Working towards Freedom:

And so, sometime around the year 1812, the enslaved woman known only as Catherine bid adieu to the Catonnet family and removed to chez Plumet somewhere in King Street, south of Broad. Here she shared living quarters with five other enslaved women, their five children, and two adult men. There was a mulatto woman in her thirties named Félicité, with her young son, Amiable; a Negro woman named Nolette, nearly forty, and her teenage son, William; Rosalie and Marie Negritte, both in their twenties, were also black, but childless; Marie Claire, the eldest at around forty, had two young sons, Alexis and Cherie, and a daughter named Fausine. Charles, aged around thirty, worked a cook, while forty-year-old St. Louis rolled cigars for a living. Accustomed to a voluptuous existence during his fifty-odd years, Monsieur Plumet lived in more comfortable quarters apart from the enslaved servants, but he was not alone. He shared the rest of his household with a “Negro female slave” named Adelaide, whom he esteemed above all the rest, and his heir apparent, Antoine, who was the “free born son” of a now-absent femme de couleur.

The precise chronology of Catherine’s residency at chez Plumet is unknown, but she might have spent much of her time working beyond the crowded household. Later witnesses acknowledged that she worked diligently to earn her freedom, although no record survives of her precise trade. Perhaps she washed clothes or cleaned houses, hawked cakes in the market or sewed clothes in tailor’s backroom. If she possessed any special skills, she might have nursed the sick or helped pregnant women deliver their babies. In any case, she likely earned pennies at a time and delivered her wages to master Plumet every week or every month. The memory of a child taken from her, or a loved one not too far away, might have helped her focus on achieving her goal as the months passed. Perhaps she kept a running tally of her earnings on a piece of slate that she kept by her cot, and dreamed at night of a life of freedom in the not-too-distant future.

After many months, or perhaps a few years, Catherine knew that she had earned the $300 required to purchase her own freedom. It was time to broach that weighty subject with master Plumet. The words that passed between enslaved woman and free man are long lost, but the substance of their conversation echoes across the generations through the testimony of contemporary testators. Catherine asserted that she had fulfilled her obligation by earning $300 and delivering the money into Plumet’s hands. The older Frenchman waved aside her arithmetic and countered that the funds were still deficient. Catherine then earned more money and paid him faithfully, but Plumet still ignored her success. In desperation and frustration, Catherine appealed to her former mistress, Ann Catonnet, to intercede on her behalf.

The conversation between the Georgia native and Frenchman might have included sparks and fury, but Ann Catonnet later presented a calm summary to court officials in Charleston. Antoine Plumet at first denied that Catherine had satisfied her end of the bargain. Ann continued to badger him about their verbal contract, and argued that Catherine had worked industriously and faithfully to reach the goal to which they had mutually agreed many months earlier. Under continued scrutiny, Plumet finally conceded to Ann that the enslaved woman had indeed paid him the sum of $300. But Catherine was his legal property, and he asserted that he was entitled to receive interest on the transaction because of the long duration of her incremental purchase. The value of the interest demanded by Monsieur Plumet is unknown, but the Catonnets later testified that Catherine continued to live with her master and worked outside his home “for a period sufficiently long to have paid double the sum.” But still, he would not relent.

It was at this point, according to later testimony, that Catherine and her white allies began to understand the true nature of Antoine Plumet. He was a selfish, duplicitous man who harbored no intention of manumitting Catherine. She was industrious and obedient, and her labors helped to perpetuate the life of comfort and leisure to which Monsieur Plumet had grown accustomed. When Peter and Ann Catonnet complained to their neighbors about Antoine’s obstinance, they discovered that others had experienced similar frustration. Plumet was a man capable of the most “despicable” acts, they learned. Witnesses confirmed that “he had been in the habit of inducing masters of slaves to sell them for a less[er] price than the[ir] value, under pretense of emancipating them, and then defrauding the slaves themselves.”

While Mr. and Mrs. Catonnet might have been shocked and offended by Monsieur Plumet’s true colors, Catherine must have been devastated. Within the servants’ quarters at chez Plumet on lower King Street, some of the other enslaved women and men might have sympathized with her. It’s possible that Charles or Nolette, or perhaps Marie Negritte or St. Louis revealed that Antoine had once promised freedom to them, too. Like Catherine, they had worked hard and dreamed of an independent life, but master Plumet denied their cumulative arithmetic and censured their demands for liberty. Without a written contract and without white allies to fight for their rights, there was little they could do. Like millions of other men, women, and children trapped in the morass of legal slavery at that time, they learned to bury their dreams and to focus on persevering with as much dignity as possible.


A Taste of Liberty:

Although the duration of Catherine’s enslavement at the hands of Antoine Plumet is unclear, it was not permanent. The Frenchman grew ill of an unknown ailment and died in the early weeks of the year 1816. He was not a citizen of the young United States, nor did he possess a grand estate, but he had written his last will and testament in December 1811, perhaps before Catherine entered his life. Plumet had no family in South Carolina besides his minor son. To administer his estate, he appointed his “friend” and fellow French refugee from Saint-Domingue, Louis DeVillers (ca. 1766–1831), who had arrived in Charleston by 1795. Long active in the city as a professional musician, Monsieur DeVillers operated a retail music shop at the southeast corner of King and Broad Streets and resided near chez Plumet. He had only recently returned to Charleston, however, having fled the state in May 1815 after murdering his brother, Augustus, with an umbrella on a crowded city sidewalk.[9]

The will of Antoine Plumet was proved before a probate judge on April 13th, and Monsieur DeVillers began executing his legal obligations. First and foremost, the deceased had directed his executor to draft the necessary paperwork to formally emancipate his “Negro female slave” named Adelaide. After completing that task, DeVillers was obliged to deliver to Adelaide all of the silver, jewels, linens, furniture, and other merchandize belonging to the late Monsieur Plumet, along with $1,200 in cash, “that she might hold the same as her property.” To his young, “free born” mulatto son, Antoine, Plumet devised several slaves, including Charles the cook, and washer-woman Marie Claire with her children. According to the late Frenchman’s will, DeVillers was to hold Antoine’s inheritance and the remaining property, including Catherine and seven other enslaved people, in trust for Plumet’s “lawful heirs residing in France.”[10]

On the 20th of June, 1816, Peter Catonnet joined Louis DeVillers and two other Frenchmen at chez Plumet to appraise the monetary value of all the personal property found within. Adelaide was by now free and had presumably assumed ownership of the furniture, jewels, and cash devised to her by Antoine, l’aîné.[11] The remaining chattel property included a collection of gold and silver objects, a trunk and press containing “sundry goods,” and an assortment of clothing, all valued at $272. The Frenchmen then turned their attention to the thirteen enslaved people in residence. Catherine, the eldest in the household at approximately age forty-six, was appraised at $250, a significantly lower value than the other adults present. Peter Catonnet, as we know, was very familiar with Catherine’s industry and her ability to earn a living, but the appraisers might have purposefully depreciated her value, and those of her colleagues, in order to diminish the death taxes due on the total value of the estate. The Frenchmen agreed that the thirteen men, women, and children were collectively worth at least $4,250.[12]

Besides the humiliation of being physically examined by a group of men and assigned a monetary value, Catherine’s life changed very little in the weeks after the death of Antoine Plumet. Louis DeVillers, who had his own affairs to attend to elsewhere, acted as a sort of surrogate master and continued to collect wages from the enslaved men and women who worked outside the household. At some point in the future, Louis might have advised Catherine and the others, Monsieur Plumet’s legal heirs might arrive from France and become the masters of their fates. Until that time, he was responsible for their maintenance, and they should continue working in their accustomed, semi-autonomous manner.

But Plumet’s death created a small void in the system of surveillance and intimidation that enabled the institution of slavery. Catherine had argued with the corrupt Frenchmen about the verbal contract he had made with the Catonnets several years earlier, and she was confident that she had paid Plumet far more than the $300 he originally demanded for her freedom. In his absence, who was to say that she was not free? At some point in 1816, Catherine decided unilaterally that she was, in fact, now a free woman. She probably removed herself from chez Plumet and found lodgings elsewhere, and joined the ranks of several hundred other free persons of color who formed approximately three percent of Charleston’s urban population. Louis DeVillers might have pursued her and demanded she pay him her wages as usual, but Catherine apparently ignored his authority and kept her earnings for her own support. Preoccupied by his own pursuits in music and retail business, DeVillers seems to have shrugged off Catherine’s personal rebellion and let the woman go.

In the early months of her long-awaited freedom, Catherine might have adopted a surname and forged a new and independent identity within Charleston’s bustling community of free people of African descent. Some record of this new identity might have been recorded among the city’s surviving tax records or other legal documentation if Catherine’s freedom had endured. Sadly, however, it did not last long. By the summer of 1818, there was a new Frenchman in town, Pierre François Brisson, better known as Peter Francis Brisson, who had emigrated to South Carolina to claim his share of the estate of Antoine Plumet. Monsieur Brisson consulted with Louis DeVillers and studied the written inventory of his late relative’s estate. Young Antoine and twelve slaves remained in the household, but where was the woman, Catherine, who was valued at $250 just two years earlier?

Catherine was free—or at least she claimed to be free. Monsieur DeVillers might have explained to Brisson that the woman claimed to have made an agreement with the late Plumet, and she had departed his household some time earlier. Brisson could find no evidence of such an agreement, nor any record proving that Catherine had navigated the legal hurdles required to transition from slavery to freedom. Determined to make the most of his inheritance, Pierre Brisson searched through the streets of Charleston and found the newly-independent woman. No record of their first encounter survives, but we can imagine that it might have been a scene of great drama and passion. Catherine was as determined to be free as Brisson was desirous of owning her labors. In the end, the Frenchman won the argument and forced Catherine to return to her life at chez Plumet.[13]


A Cry for Help:

We can only imagine the heartbreak that Catherine experienced in 1818 when Pierre Brisson squashed her independence. She was once again a slave, but she might also have been a bitter and obstinate presence in the home of her new master. For reasons not explained in any surviving documents, Monsieur Brisson decided to sell Catherine and banish her disruptive pretentions to freedom. On the first day of August, 1818, Brisson struck a bargain with a French baker named Pierre Labaussay, who lived on the upper end of King Street on Charleston Neck, just outside the city limits. For $650, Brisson sold to him “a Negro woman named Catherine late belonging to the estate of the said Anthony Plumet, with all her future issue and increase.”[14]

Like millions of other enslaved people who were forced to endure a lifetime of transitions from one master to other, Catherine settled into a new abode and learned the habits and manners of new family that held her in legal bondage. If she had bit her tongue and accepted her dismal fate, like so many others, we might know nothing of her life beyond her name. But Catherine had long labored to secure her freedom and had briefly tasted the sweet victory of that prize. She was determined to fight for her own emancipation, but could not do it alone. She needed an ally to wrestle with the legal system that controlled her world.

Through channels and conversations unknown, Catherine met a bright young man, the scion of an old and respectable Charleston family, who had recently graduated from Yale College and passed the bar in the city of his birth. She recounted to Isaac Edward Holmes, Esquire, aged twenty-three, the story of her life with the Catonnet family and their tripartite agreement with the late Antoine Plumet. Mr. Holmes, though no abolitionist, agreed that Catherine had been ill-treated and defrauded. He agreed to take her case, but first he would need to gather statements from witnesses and prepare a strategy. Soon, however, he would petition the courts and even the legislature if necessary to secure Catherine’s legal emancipation.

Tune in next week, when we’ll continue with Catherine’s dramatic story. Will lawyer Holmes blaze a legal path to gain her freedom, or will the rising tide of discrimination and paranoia in 1822 Charleston bar the narrow path out of slavery? Join me next week to learn more about Catherine’s compelling personal journey.



[1] Petition of I. E. Holmes to the Senate of South Carolina, undated [November 1821], South Carolina Department of Archives and History (hereafter SCDAH), Petitions to the General Assembly, no date, No. 1751. At least two recent scholars have relied on Holmes’s flawed petition to present fragments of Catherine’s narrative. See Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 1–2; Loren Schweninger, Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

[2] For more information about the impact of French immigrants on Charleston around the turn of the nineteenth century, see Robert J. Alderson, This Bright Era of Happy Revolutions: French Consul Michel-Ange-Bernard Mangourit and International Republicanism in Charleston, 1792–1794 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008); Margaret Wilson Gilliken, “Saint Dominguan Refugees in Charleston, South Carolina, 1791–1822: Assimilation and Accommodation in a Slave Society,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of South Carolina, 2014; Nicholas Michael Butler, Votaries of Apollo: The St. Cecilia Society and Concert Patronage in Charleston, South Carolina, 1766–1820 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007).

[3] Act No. 1745, “An Act respecting Slaves, Free Negroes, Mulattoes and Mestizoes; for enforcing the more punctual performance of patroll [sic] duty; and to impose certain restrictions on the emancipation of slaves,” ratified on 20 December 1800, in David J. McCord, ed., The Statutes at Large of South Carolina, volume 7 (Columbia, S.C.: A. S. Johnston, 1840), 440–43.

[4] The tombstone of Mrs. Ann Catonnet, a native of Georgia, died 1830, is found in Colonial Park Cemetery in Savannah. Peter Catonnet’s tombstone stands in Magnolia Cemetery, Augusta, Georgia. Both can be found in the popular website

[5] J. J. Negrin, Negrin’s Directory for the Year 1807: Containing Every Article of General Utility (Charleston, S.C.: J. J. Negrin, 1807). Includes Peter Catonnet, merchant at both 42 Broad Street and 118 Broad Street, and Dr. John Plumet at 45 King Street.

[6] John J. Himely to P. Catonnet, bill of sale, SCDAH, Miscellaneous Records (Main Series), volume 3X, page 365.

[7] Antoine Plumet, “late of St. Domingo at present residing in Charleston,” to Madame Parageau, of Augusta, Georgia, bill of sale for “a Negro wench named Maria Louisa,” dated 22 August 1797, SCDAH, Miscellaneous Records of the Secretary of State (Main Series), volume I3: page 326.

[8] The Plumets appear in several published city directories. J. J. Negrin, New Charleston Directory and Stranger’s Guide of the Year 1802 (Charleston, S.C.: John A. Dacqueny, 1802), placed Dr. John Plumet, physician, at 255 King Street; In an advertisement in the [Charleston] City Gazette, 10 November 1802, page 3, Antoine Plumet gave his address as No. 256 King Street; Eleazer Elizer, A Directory for 1803; Containing the Names of All the House-Keepers and Traders in the City of Charleston (Charleston, S.C.: W. P. Young, 1803), placed “A. Plume[t]” shopkeeper, at 255 King Street. These street numbers reflect Charleston’s original numbering system, instituted by the British Army in 1780, which commenced with the low numbers at Boundary (Calhoun Street) and increased as they proceeded southward to South Bay Street. The numbering system was reversed (i.e., proceeding south to north) by 1806, at which time J. J. Negrin, Negrin’s Directory, and Almanac, for the Year 1806 (Charleston, S.C.: J. J. Negrin, 1806), placed Dr. John Plumet at 45 King Street; this information was repeated in Negrin’s Directory for the Year 1807. Richard Hrabowski, Directory for the District of Charleston (Charleston, S.C. John Hoff, 1809), included Antoine Plummett [sic], shop keeper, at 45 King Street. Abraham Motte, Charleston Directory and Stranger’s Guide, for the Year 1816 (Charleston, S.C.: by the publisher, 1816), placed Anthony Plumet, the proprietor of a dry goods store, at 48 King Street. Note that the house numbering system continued to evolve over the course of the nineteenth century, and further investigation would be required to determine the modern address of the Plumet residence.

[9] Charleston Courier, 9 May 1815; Paul R. Weidner, ed., “The Journal of John Blake White,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 43 (1942): 163.

[10] The will of Antoine Plumet, dated 18 December 1811, proved on 13 April 1816, appears in SCDAH, Will Book E (1807–1818), 554; WPA transcript volume 33C (1807–1818), 1064–65.

[11] I have not found any record of Adelaide’s manumission among the surviving “Miscellaneous Records of the Secretary of State” at SCDAH, but the name Adelaide Plumet appears in the Charleston newspapers of April 1819 and other records in later years.

[12] The “Inventory and Appraisement” of the “Goods and Chattels belonging to the Estate of Antoine Plumet deceased, taken and made in Charleston at the home of the deceased the 20th June 1816,” appears in SCDAH, Inventory Book E (1802–1819), 338. The appraisers were P. Catonnet, Thos. Feraud, J. Caquet, and L. Devillers.

[13] The quotations and details related to Catherine’s interaction with the Catonnets, Plumet, and Brisson, are drawn from the aforementioned 1821 petition of I. E. Holmes, and from Holmes vs. Brisson, Decree in Equity (February 1821), SCDAH, Records of the Charleston Court of Equity, 1821, No. 25.

[14] Peter Francis Brisson, “one of the heirs and attorney to the other heirs of Anthony Plumet,” to Peter Labaussay, baker, bill of sale, dated 1 August 1818, and witnessed by Charles Graves, recorded on 18 February 1819 in SCDAH, Miscellaneous Records (Main Series), volume 4P, page 437; Schenk and Turner, The Directory and Stranger’s Guide for the City of Charleston; Also a Directory of Charleston Neck, Between Boundary-Street and the Lines for the Year 1819 (Charleston, S.C.: A. E. Miller, 1819), includes Peter Catonet, grocer, at the corner of Queen and Church Streets, and Pire [sic; Pierre] Labaussay, baker and shopkeeper, on King Street Road, Charleston Neck.


NEXT: Freedom Won and Lost: The Story of Catherine in Antebellum Charleston, Part 2
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