A Glimpse of French Refugees in Wilmington, DE in the 1790s

Gleaned from Early Catholic Sacramental Records

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The register in which these entries appear was begun at Wilmington, Delaware, in 1796 by the Rev. Etienne Faure, a refugee French priest from St. Domingue ( present-day Haiti ), the French-speaking western half of the island of Hispaniola. He came to Wilmington with several French families and their households, fleeing the revolution that followed the slave uprising of 1791, and was appointed by Bishop Carroll of Baltimore to serve as pastor of the French refugee community in Wilmington. He died in August 1798, and was buried at St. Francis Xavier, the old Jesuit mission at Bohemia, Maryland. 

He was succeeded by another St. Domingue refugee priest, a French Capuchin known as Father Julien de Bourgogne while a member of the orderís Franche-Comtť Province, but who resumed his family name Cibot when he was released to become a secular priest, and which he then used alone as his signature. His given names Joseph Adrian have been found in only a single record, the baptismal register of St. Peterís Church, Baltimore, where he officiated at baptisms of four French refugees on 8 September 1793, the year he fled St. Domingue. In 1797, at age 64 and in exile, he sought approval from Rome to return to St. Domingue and to re-enter the Capuchin order. On 27 December 1797 the Vatican Congregation for Propagation of the Faith acted favorably, and named him prefect apostolic of northern St. Domingue for a term of seven years, but while in Wilmington between November 1799 and January 1801, he continued to use his earlier title of vice-prefect apostolic of northern St. Domingue in signing register entries. By 1802 he had returned to Haiti.

Island of Hispaniola - 1791

For additional background information on the 1791 Slave Rebellion, please click here.

Most of the early register entries are in the form of a certificate signed by the priest, testifying to what he did, who was present (often described by title or rank, former position and place of origin), and then signed by all those present as witnesses. The certificate format follows the usual French and Spanish custom, and provides social and cultural insights into the community that are lacking in the more abbreviated entries in the English, Irish and German traditions.

There are some 24 register entries relating to these French refugees from modern-day Haiti ( 16 Baptisms, 5 Marriages and 3 Burials ). Each of these can be examined via the links below. The records can also be searched for specific name(s) by using our general Search All facility of the transcribed registers.

The links take you to English translations of these 'certificates' with also a link to a scan of the actual register page, should you wish to examine the original hand-written French record. Transcription and translation of these documents from French to English was a team effort. Donn Devine, Suzanne Frederick, Joseph M. Lalley, Jr., Thomas L. Lalley, and David Nealy participated at various stages from the initial draft to the several-times-edited versions that appear here. Researchers are advised to review the microfilm image ( or the accompanying scan of same ) to verify the accuracy of the transcription, particularly for proper names, and the translation.

We wish to once again thank the Wilmington Diocesan Archives for their permission to allow us bring these remarkable records to you online. Particular thanks are due to Donn Devine for providing the historical context in which these records were recorded.

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