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The first Creole / Afro American participant in Louisiana’s Reconstruction period

.A Captain in the 1st Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards.




Arnold Bertonneau


A New Orleans wine merchant, A fair skinned Blue eyed Creole/Black soldier

best known as one of the first Afro / Creole participants in Louisiana’s Reconstruction period.


In 1862-63, Bertonneau was a captain in the 1st Regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards. This volunteer black regiment originated in 1861 under the Confederacy and included only free blacks. 

Once the Union Army occupied New Orleans in April 1862, the Native Guards were re-commissioned to serve in the Union as reinforcement troops.  They also now accepted runaway slaves. On May 27, 1863, the Louisiana Native Guards were among the first troops in the Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana.

Two months prior to this battle, however, Bertonneau resigned his commission in protest due to the mistreatment and misuse of his men.   Bertonneau returned to New Orleans and became a central figure in the campaign to win black suffrage.

The suffrage issue arose on December 8, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln restricted the vote to white males only.  In response, Bertonneau led a petition campaign during which more than a 1000 signatures were gathered to allow those black men free before the Civil War to vote. 

The Official Web Site of the Louisiana Guard Click here

In April 1864, the petition was delivered to President Lincoln and Congress by Bertonneau and Jean Baptiste Roudanez. At the urging of Massachusetts Republican Senator Charles Sumner, the petition was transformed into a demand for universal black male suffrage in Louisiana. 

Before returning to New Orleans, Bertonneau and Roudanez promoted universal male suffrage in Massachusetts at a dinner in their honor before a delegation of Radical Republicans and Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew. After introductions, Bertonneau delivered his stirring speech “Every Man Should Stand Equal Before the Law.” On April 15, 1864, the speech was published in the abolitionist newspaper, the Liberator.

Bertonneau was a delegate to the Convention of Colored Men of Louisiana in 1865 and to Louisiana’s Constitutional Convention in 1867-68.  He was Louisiana’s Assistant Internal Revenue Collector in the early-1870s.


Ruffin II, Herbert G.
Claremont Graduate University



Credits Source of information

Eric Foner (ed.), Freedom's Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders During Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996); James G. Hollandsworth, Jr, The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience During the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998); and Charles Vincent, Black Legislators in Louisiana During Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976).

Ruffin II, Herbert G.
Claremont Graduate University

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