Uploaded by Iasu Mnses

free persons of color in Louisiana

Free Persons of Color in Colonial Louisiana
Author(s): Donald E. Everett
Source: Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 7, No. 1
(Winter, 1966), pp. 21-50
Published by: Louisiana Historical Association
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4230881
Accessed: 20-04-2020 21:42 UTC
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide
range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and
facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at
Louisiana Historical Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend
access to Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
Free Persons of Color in
Colonial Louisiana
Professor of History,
Trinity University,
San Antonio, Texas.
"The Negroes must be governed differently from the Europeans," reported Antoine Simon LePage DuPratz, "not because they are black, nor because they are slaves; but because
they think differently from white men." 1 Whether the reasoning of Louis XV paralleled that of DuPratz is not known, but
the monarch at Versailles, in March, 1724, issued a Code Noir
to be promulgated by his governor in Louisiana, Jean Baptiste
Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville.2 It was registered in New Or-
leans on September 10, 1724, by one Rossard, clerk of the
court.3 This Black Code, with certain revisions in the Spanish
Partidas Siete, continued to be the basis of legislation on the
subject until the legislature of the Territory of Orleans in
1806-1807 undertook to revise the regulations which governed
lDuPratz returned to France in 1734 after a sixteen-year sojourn in the
Louisiana colony. Antoine Simon LePage DuPratz, The History of Louisiana
or of the Western Parts of Virginia and Carolina: Containing a Description of
the Countries that lie on both sides of the River Mississippi: With an Account
of the Settlement, Inhabitants, Soil, Climate, and Products (London, 1774), 357.
20livia Blanchard (trans.), "Regulations, Edicts, Declarations and Decrees
Concerning the Commerce, Administration of Justice, and Policing of Louisiana and other French Colonies in America Together with THE BLACK
CODE," (Survey of Federal Archives in Louisiana, 1940), hereinafter cited as
Blanchard (trans.), "Regulations." The original copy of the Code Noir of
March, 1724, signed by Louis XV, is in the Louisiana State Museum Library,
New Orleans.
3"Sidelights on Louisiana History," Louisiana Historical Quarterly, I (January,
1918), 110.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
the Negroes. Even then many of the original provisions were
The purpose of the original Code Noir was to control the
increasing number of slaves in the colony. Harsh restrictions
were imposed on this servile group to prevent insurrections,
yet the king's interest in the well-being of the slave population
was evident in the more humane provisions which forbade the
torture of slaves and the separation of children from their
mothers. Religious instruction for the slaves in the Catholic
faith was also required.5
That the relations-marital and extramarital-between
white, free black, and slave were of concern to the Crown
was reflected in the Code Noir. It forbade whites to marry
blacks or to live in a state of concubinage with slaves. Furthermore, the Code even outlawed concubinage between manumitted or free-born blacks and slaves. However, if a free
Negro should marry his own slave concubine, she was thereby
set free, and their children were also to become free and legitimate.6 For all other circumstances, the law provided that the
children of a free father and a slave mother should be slaves,
following the condition of the mother; likewise, the offspring
of a slave father and a free mother were born free, following
the mother's status.7
The Code Noir manifested more solicitude toward the emancipation of slaves than attention to placing restrictions upon
them once they became free. Service as a tutor to the master's
children could bring liberation, and any master who had
reached the age of twenty-five could manumit his slaves if
he so desired. Fearing that a slave might steal to obtain the
price set for his freedom by a "mercenary master," the Code
stated that permission for manuniission could only be granted
4Acts Passed at the First Session of the First Legislature of the Territory of
Orleans (1806), 128, 164, 188, 198, 200; Acts Passed at the Second Session of
the First Legislature of the Territory of Orleans (1807), 82-88, 180, 188. See
also Nathan Willey, "Education of the Colored Population of Louisiana,"
Harper's New Monthly Magazine, XXXIII (July, 1866), 245.
5Blanchard (trans.), "Regulations," 421.
6lbid., 422.
71bid. 424.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
by the Superior Council.
method was to be confiscated and held as a bondsman of the
India Company.8
Whatever may have been the justification of the specific
manumission, such an act brought automatic naturalization to
any ex-slave who was not born in the Louisiana colony. Although he was not permitted to receive donations in any form
from whites, all other rights accorded to any subject of the
king were his. "We grant to manumitted slaves," concluded
His Majesty, "the same rights, privileges, and immunities which
are enjoyed by free-born persons. It is our pleasure that their
merit in having acquired their freedom, shall produce in their
favor, not only with regard to their persons, but also to their
property, the same effects which our other subjects derive from
the happy circumstance of their having been born free." '
The Code placed only two restrictions upon the free Negro.
He could not house fugitive slaves and would be sentenced
to pay thirty livres per day to the master for each day he
concealed a runaway slave. If the free colored man was unable
to pay this fine, he would be reduced to slavery. The second
restriction commanded a manumitted slave to show respect
to his former master and the master's family.'0
Free persons of color were already residing in the French
XVest Indies at the time of the French occupation of Louisiana
at the beginning of the eighteenth century. When white creoles on the island of Martinique were exempted in February,
1671, from a capitation tax which had been paid previously
by all free persons, the creole mulattoes also demanded the
same immunity. They continued these payments, however,
and twelve years later the Intendant, one Patoulet, reported
no difficulty in collecting the tax. He did not favor extending
the exemption to "mulattoes born in vice." Despite the Intendant's decision, the mulattoes refused to pay the capitation
tax in 1684, and the dispute was not settled until 1696 when
mulattoes as well as white creoles were exempted. Only blacks
Slbid., 437.
91bid., 439.
'Olbid., 432, 439.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
among the free population remained subject to a capitation
tax. This ruling was short lived inasmuch as the free mulatto
population was ordered to make payments once again on the
disputed tax in 1712. Finally the issue was brought into court
in 1724 by Magdelaine Debern, a free Negro woman living
in the Louisiana colony. As a result of this action all free
persons born in the French colonial possessions of the New
World-all creoles, whether white, mulatto, or Negro- vere
no longer required to pay the capitation tax.'1
It is impossible to state the exact date of the first appearance
of a free person of color in NewX Orleans, nor is it known
whether the first free colored person arrived from the
WVest Indies, or whether he was manumitted by a master
resident in the city. There is no record of any free colored
persons in the census of Louisiana which was taken in 1721
by Diron D'Artaguette, inspector general of the troops of
Louisiana and New Orleans. According to Diron's report to
Bienville on November 24 there were 514 Negro slaves and
51 Indian slaves living in New Orleans and its environs. White
persons listed included 293 men, 140 women, 96 children,
and 155 French servants.'2 Inasmuch as no free colored person
was mentioned in this census, and the case of the free Negro
Raphael was heard before the Superior Council of Louisiana on
September 13, 1722, the best available evidence indicates that
their presence dates from the year 1722. Raphael was convicted on charges of stealing from the stores of the Company
of the Indies and sentenced to receive a flogging and imprisonment for six years.13
Another early record of a free Negro in New Orleans is
available in the case of Raphael Bernard. A free man in France,
he migrated to the colony as an employee of one M. Dumanoir
for annual wages of two hundred francs in silver and clothing.
In March, 1724, Bernard loaned two hundred francs to a white
man on a month's note. When the note was not paid, Bernard
petitioned the court for recovery, and on May 9 judgment was
l1Auguste Lebeau, De la condition des gens de cozileur libres sous I'avcien
regime (2 vols., Paris, 1903), I, 49-51.
12"Sidelights on Louisiana History," 98.
13Heloise H. Cruzat (trans.), "Records of the Superior Council of Louisiana,"
Louisiana Historical Quarterly, VII (October, 1924), 678.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
declared in favor of the free
was ordered to repay the loan with interest and the court
costs.'4 Bernard also had to turn to the court to settle his financial affairs with Dumanoir whom he had served "with fidelity
and affection." The employer failed to honor his part of the
agreement, and in July of the same year the Negro, who wished
to return to France, demanded restitution for wages and clothing in arrears as well as his trunk which the employer detained.
In September Dumanoir was ordered to settle accounts with
his servant, restore the trunk, permit Raphael "to change his
service, and to advance him 100 francs." 1 From this case it is
evident that free persons of color in New Orleans enjoyed the
privilege of suing white persons in court from the first years
of the colonial era.
Numerous cases brouglht before the Superior Council in the
early colonial period indicated a certain amount of dependency
of the free Negroes on their white employers. Their status
was not that of slaves, but often a self-imposed bondage wherein free Negroes such as Raphael Bernard might hire themselves
out as servants for a specified period. In December, 1731, one
de Blanc instituted a claim against one Sieur Bellair "whose
free negro Thomas" shot a slave belonging to the plaintiff in
a disagreement over some stray cattle."6 Five years later another free Negro, Scipion, hired himself out for a period of
one year to Franqois Trudeau. In this agreement, signed before
a notary public, Scipion promised to go to Illinois as a rower
in Madame Labuissonniere's boat "or in any other capacitv as
need be." Upon his return from the journey, Scipion was to
remain in Trudeau's service until the expiration of the time.
In return the colored man was to receive two hundred livres,
to be paid "in proportion to his needs." 1
Five years was the term of bondage which the free Negro
Pierre Almanzer imposed upon himself in 1737 in an effort
to rid himself of a venereal disease. Pierre was so sorely af14"Abstracts of French and Spanish Documents Concerning the Early History
of Louisiana," LHQ, I (April, 1918), 238.
15Ibid., 242.
16Cruzat (trans.), "Records of the Superior Council of Louisiana," LHQ,
V (April, 1922), 249.
17Ibid., VIII (July, 1925), 489.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
remedes" was necessary. Lacking the means to effect the cure,
Pierre agreed to serve one Dr. Prat "as a cook or in any other
capacity, except wielding an axe or working the ground." The
five-year period was to begin when Pierre was cured. In the
meantime, Dr. Prat was obliged to treat the patient and supply
him with medicine, food, and other necessities.'8
Reduction to bondage was not a temporary measure in the
case of the free Negro Jean Baptiste. This twenty-year-old
was charged with stealing expensive wearing apparel from his
employers. Jean denied the accusations and stated the theft
had been committed by a thirty-five-year-old "free Senegal
negro," Pantalon, from whom the merchandise was allegedly
purchased. Pantalon denied complicity and declared he would
not sell shirts valued at fifty or sixty livres each for thirty
livres which Jean claimed he paid. Jean Baptiste was "reduced
to slavery for the benefit of the Hospital of the City," and
Pantalon was exonerated.'9
Many of the cases involving free Negroes which were tried
before the Superior Council concerned incidents of theft, fighting, and murder-a pattern which continued throughout the
antebellum period, particularly among the more destitute
colored people. A case in 17 3 8 charged an unnamed free Negro
with wounding a slave belonging to one de Chavannes.20 In
1730 the free Negro Andre employed by one Bellair shot at a
fugitive slave who was attempting to escape. When the slave
did not reappear, Andre was brought to trial.2' Records do not
indicate the court's finding in either instance.
Colored men were involved in disputes with white men as
well as those of their own race. The free mulatto E~tienne
LaRue became involved in a fracas with three white soldiers
on a spring evening in 1747. LaRue was a free-born native of
18bid., IX (January, 1926), 115.
l91bid., XI (October, 1928), 649-51; XII (January, 1929), 146. A free person
of color could not be reduced to slavery in Louisiana a century later. See
Thomas G. Morgan, Civil Code of the State of Louisiana: with the Statutory
Amendments, From 182S to 1853, Inclusive (New Orleans, 1854), 32, hereinafter
cited as Morgan, Civil Code.
20Cruzat (trans.), "Records of the Superior Council of Louisiana," LHQ,
X (January, 1927), 98.
21Ibid., IV (October, 1921), 520.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
Senegal and a member of the Catholic church. At the age of
twenty-two he had served as pilot on the boat L'Unique and
at this time captained a prize ship. In the court record he was
described as the "natural son of Sr. LaRue, a free negro, commanding the vessels of the Company of the Indies, of St. Louis
Coast of Santo Domingo." As the white soldiers passed the
younger LaRue on the street one of them called out to him,
"Bonsoir, Seigneur Negritte," and the mulatto responded,
"Bonsoir, Seigneur Jean Foutre." Thereupon, the white men
declared that LaRue was insulting them without provocation.
An argument ensued, fisticuffs were exchanged, and before
the fracas ended, LaRue, who was described in the hearing
as being "very drunk," drew a pistol and fired at his antagonists. At this point a fifth person, one Tixerant, intervened
and struck LaRue with a scabbard. The mulatto was overcome
and placed in irons in the prison dungeon. Ordered to pay the
court costs and to surrender his pistol, he was fined "one
hundred livres of alms for the poor, and ten livres for the
iMlilitary service in the colonial period was not confined
w?hites as free colored men were accepted into the organize
militia during the French and Spanish regimes. The military
service of these men of color established a precedent of considerable importance. Whites who favored enlisting the services
of colored men during the War of 1812 pointed to their record
as soldiers in the colonial period, and likewise, the colored men
used their prior service as a basis for their requests to be admitted into the organized militia.23 In turn, the distinction
achieved by colored soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans was
cited as a precedent in their petition for acceptance as a mili22Heloise H. Cruzat (trans.), "The Documents Covering the Criminal Trial
of ttienne LaRue for Attempt to Murder and Illicit Carrying of Arms," LHQ,
XIII (July, 1930), 377-90. Inasmuch as LaRue was a mulatto and his father a
Negro, it is possible that the mother may have been white. This is not stated,
however. Such an assumption can only be based on the custom in the colonial
period when mulattoes were not referred to as Negroes.
23Free people of color to William C. Claiborne, Clarence E. Carter (ed.), The
Territorial Papers of the United States, Vol. IX, The Territory of Orleans,
1803-1812 (Washington, 1940), 174. Also see Donald E. Everett, "Emigres
and Militiamen: Free Persons of Color in New Orleans, 1803-1815," Journal of
Negro History, XXXVIII (October, 1953), 377-402, passim.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
tary unit in the Civil War.2" Concomitant to their military
service, the free colored population's demands for political
recognition grew in proportion to their participation in the
armed forces. The free colored soldier did not fight to protect
the white population but to raise his status nearer to that of
the white man.25
Free men of color were serving in the French army in Louisiana as early as 1735. When the Company of the Indies gave
up its control of the colony in 17 3 1, Bienville, after an absence
of eight years, returned as its governor. Fearing Indian attacks
in the various districts of the Royal Province, he assembled an
army near Mobile in 1735 to attack the Choctaw Indians.
Among approximately six hundred troops from New Orleans
there were forty-five Negroes commanded by one Simeon,
a free black.26 Dumont de Montigny related a story of Simeon's
bravery and determination which wvas similar to that demonstrated by free colored soldiers more than a century later at
Port Hudson. The French had not been very successful in their
engagement with th-e Choctaws, and the free Negro commander was particularly perturbed at the failure of his troops
to withstand the Indian onslaught. His expressions of disgust
wvere an excuse for the French officers to banter him unmercifully by declaring that Negroes could not fight. Reaching a
point of exasperation, Simeon declared that Negroes were as
brave as any other soldiers and that he would prove it. Whereupon, the colored leader made a dash for a nearby Indian
village, exchanged some shots, and returned unharmed to the
French camp.27
In another incident recounted by Dumont, the Negro Jean24New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 21, 1861; New Orleans Daily True Delta,
April 23, 1861. Indeed, the role of the free men of color in the Battle of New
Orleans had assumed a legendary aura in the city's newspapers throughout the
decade of the 1850's.
25Donald E. Everett, "Demands of the New Orleans Free Colored Population
for Political Equality, 1862-1865," LHQ, XXXVIII (April, 1955), 43-64; see also
Everett, "Ben Butler and the Louisiana Native Guards, 1861-1862," Journal of
Southern History XXIV (May, 1958), 202-17, passitni.
261t is not clear whether these forty-five Negroes were slave or free.
27Dumont de Montigny, Memoires historiques sur la Louisiane, contenant ce
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
not, owned by the Company of the Indies, was the hero. In
the mid-eighteenth century the colony found itself without an
executioner. When no white man would accept the position,
the Superior Council decided to use a Negro and ordered
Jeannot to serve. When the slave learned of his new duties
he declared that he would not execute persons who had never
harmed him personally, even though he would become a free
man in recognition of his new position. Prayers and protestations to the Council were to no avail, so Jeannot cut off his
right arm and sent it to the councilmen. Impressed by his
fortitude, the Superior Council granted Jeannot his freedom.28
Records of the Superior Council indicated a variety of reasons for emancipating slaves in the French period. "Good and
faithful service," then as in later years, was often the announced
ground for manumission when the individual freed was a
concubine or of blood relationship to the master. Service to
the state as a soldier or as an informant of possible slave insurrections could also obtain freedom for the bondsman. While
lawmnakers were eloquent in their demands for the liberation
of slaves for service to the state, with the exception of military
scrvice in the colonial period, few slaves were manumitted for
this reason. Emancipation of slaves later became a debatable
issue in New Orleans as its free colored population increased
after 1803, but records of the colonial period indicated no
particular alarm over manumission practices.29
qzui y est arrive de plus mnemorable depuis l'annee 1687. jusqu'a present; a.cc
l'etablissement de la colonie fran9aise dans cette province de l'Amerique Septentrionale sous la direction de la Compagnie des Indes; la climat, la nature & les
productions de ce pays; l'origne & la religion des sauvages qui l'habitent; leurs
moeurs & leurs costumes, &c. (2 vols., Paris, 1753), II, 225-26. Dumont de
Montigny was born in Paris in 1696 and went to Louisiana in 1719 as an officer
in the troops of the Company of the Indies. See also Alice Dunbar-Nelson, "People
of Color in Louisiana," Journal of Negro History, I (October, 1916), 371; and
Charles E. Gayarre, History of Louisiana (4 vols., New Orleans, 1879), I, 480.
28Dumont, Memoires Historiques sur la Louisiane, II, 244-46.
29This statement is based on a careful search of Blanchard (trans.), "Regulations"; and "Alphabetical and Chronological Digest of the Acts and Deliberations of the Cabildo, 1769-1803: A Record of the Spanish Government in New
Orleans" (New Orleans, 1939; W.P.A. Typescript in City Archives, New Orleans
Public Library).
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
Governor Bienville was among the slaveholders who manumitted several of his favorite slaves. He freed Jorge and Marie,
husband and wife, in 1733, "in recognition of their good and
faithful services . . . during 26 years." 30 Francois Trudeau, a
member of the Superior Council, likewise emancipated his
slave Jeanneton "in reward for her zeal and fidelity in his
service" in 1737. Jeanneton, however, was to remain in her
master's service until his decease.3' Freedom was granted two
Negroes by one Cazeneuve in July, 1728, on condition that
they act as servants for a certain Roussin and his wife for a
period of two years.32 Another attempt to free slaves for
"services rendered" failed in the case of Marie Charlotte and
her daughter, Louise, who belonged to St. Pierre de St. Jullien.
To prevent any dispute over their freedom in 1735, St. Jullien
"hypotheacat[ed] all his goods for any debts he may have
towards the Company or others." Unfortunately, their manumission was invalidated when it was found that the master's
debts were three times the value of his goods.33
Marie, a slave girl of eleven or twelve years, obtained her
freedom when her master, Joseph Mounier, left New Orleans
for the Chickasaw war in the spring of 17 3 6. This liberty was
granted "in recognition of her affection and her services," and
the master's fear that he might not return.34 Emancipation wAas
granted to Louis Connard, his wife Catherine, and their four
children by the will of one de Coustillas. The Superior Council
confirmed the will in March, 1739.35 Marie Louise received
confirmation of her status as a free person of color in 1745
when Vincent Le Porche filed a statement with the Superior
Council in which he declared she was "not a slave but should
enjoy complete liberty, being the daughter of a Frenchman." 36
The mulattress Marion gained her freedom under Article XX
of the Black Code which stated that "slaves who shall not be
30Cruzat (trans.), "Records of the Superior Council of Louisiana," LHQ, V
(April, 1922), 250.
311bid., (July, 1922), 403.
32Ibid., VII (October, 1924), 688.
33Ibid., VIII (January, 1925), 143-44.
34Ibid., (April, 1925), 287.
3 1bid., VI (April, 1923), 304.
36Ibid., XIV (October, 1931), 598.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
properly fed, clad, and prov
apply to the attorney general
Military service of Negro slaves as a result of the Natchez
Massacre in December, 1729, caused Attorney General Fleuriau to suggest that freedom be granted to those "who by
report of the officers in charge proved loyally useful to the
upper French posts." Fleuriau would then organize a militia
company from among these emancipated slaves who had served
the French, and they would be prepared "for instant call
against the Indians" in case of attack. Freedom had already
been promised to some of the slave participants in the Natchez
engagement, according to the attorney general, who insisted
that the agreement should be carried out.38
A formal petition was presented to the Superior Council
on May 16, 17 30, by Jacques de La Chaise, commissary general
of Louisiana, in behalf of these Negroes who saw military
service. He informed the councilors of the pressing necessity
during the Natchez siege to alert the distant French posts of
the Indian attacks. Accompanying the French volunteers on
this perilous journey were "a few Negroes chosen among the
boldest," who were promised emancipation upon their return.
Other slaves present at Natchez likewise had given "proofs of
valor and attachment to the French nation, and exposed themselves to peril with intrepidity." De La Chaise was interested
in permanently allying these men, some of whom were
wounded, to the French in the event of further attack, and h
believed the reward of freedom from bondage would best
serve this purpose. As the petitioner explained the situation,
"that will give others a great desire to deserve similar favors
by material services, and besides a company may be formed
of free negroes that can be placed in the posts which the commander will judge proper, which company is to be always
ready to march on short notice." According to the plan, officers in the fighting at Natchez would be requested to choose
those Negroes whose services had been outstanding, and
manumission would be granted to them. Mleanwhile, de La
371bid., XIII (July, 1930), 517.
381bid., IV (October, 1921), 524.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
Chaise specifically requeste
had journeyed to warn the French forts in Illinois.39
No record is available to indicate the number of slaves freed
at this time, but some of them were. In 1737 the free Negro
Diocou, who was "emancipated for his toils in the Natchez
war," appealed to the Superior Council in a suit against the St.
Jullien estate for back wages. Diocou claimed 450 francs were
due him, and he requested that this amount be "deducted from
the price of his wife, partly bought by himself." He also
appealed to the court to prevent the St. Jullien heirs from selling
his wife, urging that she remain in the employ of the estate
until he could redeem her completely. Diocou's petition was
granted by the Council.40
There was a close parallel to the biblical story of Jacob and
Rachel in the manumission case of Marie Aram, the wife of
Franqois Tiocou, a free Negro of the Senegal nation who lived
in New Orleans. Fortunately for Franqois, however, the director of the Charity Hospital of the Poor proved a more
merciful master than did Rachel's father, Laban. In 1737 Tiocou made an agreement before a notary public with one Raguet,
director of the hospital, and the Reverend F. Phillippe, Capuchin priest and "Assistant Vicar General of His Grace of
Kebecq [Quebec]," whereby the Negro would serve the
hospital without wages for seven years in return for the fre
dom of his wife. At the completion of this period Marie Aram
would "be considered as the other legitimate wives married to
the subjects of the King." 41
Tiocou faithfully kept his contract, and seven years later
on March 6, 1744, Father Raguet and Father Charles, the
Capuchin Cure Superior, petitioned Governor Pierre Franqois
Rigaud, Marquis de Vaudreuil, for permission to grant Marie
Aram her freedom. The priests stated that Franqois and Marie
had "served the Hospital well and faithfully during the time
laid down in the said engagement and that it is just to grant
liberty and freedom to the said Marie." Plans for the colored
39"Sidelights on Louisiana History," 132-33.
40Cruzat (trans.), "Records of the Superior Council of Louisiana," LHQ,
V (July, 1922), 401.
4lIbid., IV (July, 1921), 366.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
couple to continue in the employ of the hospital had been
made, and on March 10 Marie's emancipation was granted. At
that time she was given the "privileges of persons born free." 42
Tiocou and most of the free Negroes at that time were
African-born. A free colored society led by mulattoes was not
immediately established in New Orleans, although by the early
eighteenth century this class of persons had become a group
whose demands were of consequence in the West Indies. In
the earlier part of the Louisiana colonial period most of the
free persons of color referred to were listed as "Negroes," but
as miscegenation increased, mulattoes gradually assumed a more
dominant role. The degree of white blood in one's veins became an increasingly important factor. Some idea of the increase of the mulatto group is gained by a comparison of two
early census returns. One census taken in New Orleans in
17 3 2 numbered only six mulattoes in the city.43 Another report
in 1777, the figures of which included the entire Louisiana
colony, listed 273 free mulattoes and 545 mulatto slaves." In
a society where intermarriages between whites and Negroes
were not permitted, these figures indicated the frequency of
mesalliances between the two races.
Available sources reveal little criticism of the libertinism
which developed between white men and free colored women
in the French colonial period. Condemnation of miscegenation, however, appeared frequently in contemporary descriptions of the Spanish regime. Several factors may be considered
m an attempt to explain the increase in attention given the
subject. In a frontier society lacking enough white women
to permit family life on the European pattern, it was inevitable
that white men would make mistresses of their bondswomen,
many of whom were manumitted by their masters. As the
colony progressed and European women arrived in New Orleans they doubtless expressed distaste for the extralegal con42H6loise H. Cruzat (trans.), "Petition of the Directors of the Charity Hospital
of New Orleans to Grant Freedom to Marie Aram, a Negress Slave," LHQ, III
(October, 1920), 551-52.
43"Sidelights on Louisiana History," 139.
44John W. Caughey, Bernardo de Galve6z in Louisiana, 1776-1783 (Berkeley,
Calif., 1934), 78.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
nubial life which they foun
increased criticism was the presence of more frequent European visitors in the Spanish period who returned to their homes
and published memoirs, some of which were perhaps exaggerated, describing the racial amalgamation encountered in
New Orleans. Churchmen criticized the situation on the basis
of morals and religion, and perhaps the economic problems
which beset the colony influenced Governor Esteban Miro
to demand that free colored women go to work rather than
depend on incontinence and libertinism for a livelihood.
Miro, on June 2, 1786, pronounced his bando de buon gobierno45 in which he expressed particular concern with the role
of free persons of color in the colony. He announced that
concubinage would not be tolerated. Free colored women who
had formerly earned their livelihood in this manner were called
upon "to renounce their mode of living, and to betake themselves to honest labor." Those who refused to accede to this
recommendation were threatened with expulsion from the
colony. "Excessive attention to dress" would be considered
evidence of misconduct, and free women of color were forbidden to wear plumes and jewelry in their hair. Henceforth,
the headdress for this class of women would be the tignon, a
kerchief which bound the hair. In addition to these instructions concerning dress, free persons of color were no longer
permitted to assemble at night.46
The state of religion and morals in the Louisiana colony was
of concern to Bishop Don Luis de Pefnalvert y Cardenas. According to the Bishop's observations, the actions of many of
his parishioners were scandalous in a city where "resistance
to religion has always manifested itself." Pefialvert reported
that the Spanish military officers "and a good many of the
inhabitants live almost publicly with colored concubines." The
45This was a proclamation which Spanish governors generally made when they
assumed office to announce the principles by which they intended to govern.
Don Esteban Miro, however, had been in office since 1783. Franvois X. Martin,
History of Louisiana (2d. ed., New Orleans, 1882), 246.
46Gayarre, History of Louisiana, III, 179; Caroline M. Burson, The Stewardship
of Don Esteban Miro', 1782-1792: A Study of Louisiana Based Largely on the
Documents in New Orleans (New Orleans, 1940), 104.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
cleric was disturbed further by these white men who did not
"blush" when they carried their illegitimate children by
colored mistresses "to be recorded in the parochial registries
as their natural children." 4
When Magdalena Canella, a free mulattress, instituted suit
to regain custody of a slave from her former paramour, one
Beaurepos, testimony revealed the type of relationship to
which the Governor and the Bishop objected. In reply to a
question in which Beaurepos was asked if he had not lived
with Magdalena from 1767 until 1775, he replied that "when
he has committed any sin and confessed it, he did not think
about it anymore." When queried concerning his paternity of
the colored woman's two children, he indicated that he had
"forgotten all." 48
Numerous visitors in New Orleans at the turn of the century were censorious in their descriptions of the free colored
population. In accepting the memoirs of travelers as evidence
one must be cognizant of several factors which influenced
their characterizations. An anomalous free colored class was
unknown to the European visitors, and emphasis on the unusual interested their readers. Preconceived ideas affected their
attitudes as expressed in their writings, while the prejudices
of Louisiana hosts and hostesses left an imprint on the minds
of the foreigners. Social life, particularly the quadroon balls
and the system of concubinage, was described in considerable
detail while little mention was made of the means by which
the majority of free colored persons gained their livelihood.
Few of the narrators attempted to explain the historical background of the peculiar social relations between the two races
-most of them simply recorded what they saw or heard.
Despite these impediments, travel accounts offer the most complete available descriptions of the free colored class prior to
the Louisiana Purchase.
Berquin Duvallon, during his sojourn in 1802, noted more
mulattoes than blacks among the free persons of color. Most
47Gayarre, History of Louisiana, III, 408.
48Laura L. Porteous (trans.), "Index to Spanish Judicial Records of Louisiana,"
LHQ, XII (April, 1929), 341-47.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
of the free colored population at that time, according to Duvallon, were first or second generation freemen. Those who
lived in the rural areas earned their livelihood primarily as
rice planters. Some grew small fields of cotton. City dwellers
were usually engaged in the mechanical arts, "for which they
have great aptitude and little attachment." Some owned small
retail establishments, while others hunted and brought their
game to the city where it was sold. The physical proportions
of both men and women met with the visitor's approval, but
he found their features hard, their faces "not very prepossessing," and their skin coarse.49 It was the predominant mulatto
group whose character Duvallon chose particularly to vilify.
The mulattoes in general are vain and insolent, perfidious
and debauched, much given to lying, and great cowards.
They have an inveterate hatred against the whites.... It is the
policy of the Spanish government to cherish this antipathy,
but there is nothing to be feared from them.
The mulatto women have not all the faults of the mulatto
men. But they are full of vanity, and very libertine; money
will always buy their caresses. They are not without personal
charms; good shapes, polished and elastic skins. They live
in open concubinage with the whites; but to this they are
incited more by money than by attachment. . . . These
girls, therefore, only affect a fondness for the whites; their
hearts are with men of their own color.50
Fraternization between white and colored persons offended
Duvallon's sensibilities during his visit. He found taverns and
grogshops open at all hours where the "canaille, white and
black, free and slave, mingled indiscriminately." He berated
the white men who wasted time in ribaldry "with a lot of men
and women of saffron color." The house of the white man
Coquet near the center of the town was singled out as a focal
point for these festivities. Here the "scum is to be seen pub49Berquin Duvallon, Vue de la colonie espagnole du Mississippi, ou de's
provinces de Louisiane et Floride occidentale (Paris, 1803), 254-55, quoted in
James A. Robertson (ed.), Louisiana Under Spain, France and the United States,
1785-1807 (2 vols., Cleveland, 1911), I, 218-19. Duvallon, a refugee from Santo
Domingo, accused Orleanians of being inhospitable to his fellow-sufferers. He
remained in Louisiana only a short while before going to France.
50"Observations of Berquin Duvallon on the Free People of Colour in
Louisiana in 1802," Journal of Negro History, II (April, 1917), 167.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
licly" at their "tricolor balls," Duvallon reported. Announce-
ments of the events held in Coquet's house were printed and
posted about the city, Duvallon asserted, "with the express
permission of" Don Maria Nicolas Vidal, the civil governor.5'
Paul Alliot, following his visit to the Crescent City at the
turn of the nineteenth century, reported that the colored
women inspired "such lust through their bearing, their gestur
and their dress, that many quite well-to-do persons are ruined
in pleasing them." Once a colored woman saw that her white
paramour was no longer financially capable, according to
Alliot, she deserted him and began living with a more pros-
perous white man. These colored women, in turn, placed their
daughters at the age of thirteen or fourteen with white men.
Alliot observed that they usually had "more regard" for these
girls than "for their legitimate wives." While colored girls
were given a "special education" for their role in life, their
brothers were usually taught a trade. Alliot declared that both
the girls and boys in the free mulatto class grew up with a
feeling of contempt toward their mothers, particularly if the
latter were black.52
Dr. John Sibley, who visited New Orleans in the late sum-
mer of 1802, was particularly impressed with the handsome
people whom he met. He described the quadroon women as
"almost white and all free. They are prohibited from intermarrying with whites & they will not marry mulattoes. They
prefer being kept mistresses which is assign'd as a reason
for there being such a number of Single Women in this
Country." 5
A modern student has noted the high birth rate among free
51Quoted in Robertson (ed.), Louisiana Under Spain, France and the United
States, I, 216.
52Paul Alliot, "Historical and Political Reflections on Louisiana," quoted in
ibid., I, 85, 87, 89. Alliot, a nonlicensed physician in New Orleans, was deported
to France in March, 1803. He claimed professional jealousy to be the source
of his difficulties. After a brief sojourn in a French prison he returned to the
United States and presented these reflections to Thomas Jefferson.
53"The Journal of Dr. John Sibley, July-October, 1802," LHQ, X (October,
1927), 478-79. Physician, planter, cattle raiser, and salt manufacturer, Sibley was
born in Massachusetts. He lived in North Carolina nearly twenty years before
moving to Natchitoches, Louisiana, in 1803.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
persons of color as compared to the number of marriages
among this class. According to the records of the St. Louis
Cathedral in the years 1782 to 1791 inclusive, there were 2,668
colored baptisms and only forty marriages. Both adults and infants were included, however, in the number of baptisms.
These statistics, according to the study cited, "bear out the
Ayuntamiento's opinion, namely that the negress thought of
marriage as another type of bondage." 5 Another factor
which might aid in the explanation of the small proportion of
marriages to baptisms was the law which prevented free colored women from marrying white men. It is possible that these
women might not have considered marriage a form of bondage
had they been permitted to marry the fathers of their children.
Perhaps it would be nearer the truth to suggest that registration of only forty colored marriages in a ten-year period
represented the hesitancy of free colored women to marry
men of their own color rather than their fear of subjection
in marriage.
Illegitimacy played an important role in the thoughts of free
persons of color, if we may accept the following description
of these people by F. M. Perrin Du Lac, who visited New
Orleans in his travels through the western part of the United
States and the Louisiana colony from 1801 to 1803. He thought
the mulatto element in the free colored population more
dangerous than those of unmixed blood.
The latter [mulattoes], who apparently share in the vices
of the two races, as they share it in their color, are evil,
vindictive, treacherous, and the enemies alike of the blacks
whom they despise, and of the whites whom they hold in
horror. Cruel even to barbarity toward the first they are
always ready to seize the opportunity to turn their arms
against the second. Fruit of the libertinage of their fathers,
from whom nearly all of them receive their freedom, and
a very careful education, they are far from being thankful
for it. They would like to be treated as legitimate children,
54Burson, Stewardship of Don Esteban Miro, 109. The Ayuntamiento was the
governing body made up of the highest representatives of civil authority in a
Spanish colony.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
and the difference that is placed between them (and the
latter) makes them hate even the authors of their being..
As to the men of color . . . it would probably be very useful
to form colonies in some uninhabited parts of the continent.
That measure would be doubly useful: it would free the
colonies of those beings by whom they will be sooner or
later annihilated; and would decrease that gross taste of the
whites for their slaves which is the ruin of society and the
prime cause of the sparse population of the country which
they inhabit.55
Although suggestions of colonization of free persons of color
were brought up intermittently throughout the antebellum
period, this anomalous class continued to enjoy social privileges
not accorded to the bondsmen of their race. Permission to hold
balls at the Coquet house, which Duvallon objected to, was
granted to free men of color, "including those of the Militia,"
in 1800. Dances might take place there at night during the
"season" which began in November. The petitioners were
permitted to transfer their balls to Coquet's house because it
'was more spacious and would enable the committee better to
regulate the conduct of those attending." At their former
place of entertainment the committee reported it had difficulty
with "certain rascals" who left wads of tobacco on the seats,
thereby "spoiling the ladies' gowns." Another problem which
the group encountered in their ball presentations was "an intolerable odor" emanating from "vanilla sticks" which some
of the men chewed.56
Balls during the winter season were held for both white and
free colored persons. White men were admitted to all, free
colored men only to certain dances such as those at Coquet's
house, and the women of both races were restricted to their
own social affairs. Charles C. Robin, a Frenchman who visited
Louisiana at the time of its transfer to the United States, re55F. M. Perrin Du Lac, Voyage dans les deux Louisianes, et chez les nations
sauvages du Missouri, par les Stats Unis, l'Ohio et les Provinces qui le bord, en
1801, 1802, et 1803 (Paris, 1805), 212-14, quoted in Robertson (ed.), Louisiana
Under Spain, France and the United States, I, 185. The Frenchman Du Lac was
a man of letters and a geographer.
56Burson, Stewardship of Don Esteban Miro, 104-105.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
ported the incident of two young quadroon girls who dared
defy custom and attend a ball to which only white ladies were
invited. One of the white matrons noticed the presence of the
"intruders," and soon the information was passed among the
guests. Even though the quadroons were esteemed for their
''excellent education" and "honorable conduct," and the white
woman who demanded their expulsion was known to have
been involved in a number of intrigues with men other than
her husband, the colored girls were obliged to leave the dance.
Robin, in recounting the injustice, noted that the quadroons
had two brothers who were merchant marine officers. On
shipboard these colored officers could "give twenty blows with
the rope's end to white sailors, but ashore they do not even
dare look them in the face." 5
Social life of free persons of color was sometimes curtailed
by various events which white men feared might threaten
their security. On January 19, 1781, during the war between
England and Spain, the city was filled with troops and crews
of Spanish ships. Because of their presence, and that of large
numbers of free colored persons and slaves, the attorney general prohibited masking and the usual public dancing enjoyed
by the Negroes, slave and free, during the carnival season.58
No other event during the Spanish administration of the
Louisiana colonial period frightened officials as much as the
French Revolution. The Cabildo prohibited the immigration
of free persons of color from the French West Indies because
the "dangerous ideas of the brotherhood of man" were
feared.59 This action did not prevent attempts by some free
colored men to enter Louisiana. In a letter to his wife, Jeanne
Franqoise le Breton des Charmeaux, Joseph Xavier Delfau d
57Charles C. Robin, Voyages dans l'interieur de la Louisiane, de la Floride
Occidentale, et dans les Isles la Martinique et de Saint-Domingue, pendant les
annedes 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805 et 1806 (2 vols., Paris, 1807), II, 120-21. Robin went
to Louisiana to do research in science and history. A Parisian, he was a well-known
scholar and naturalist.
58"Alphabetical and Chronological Digest of the Acts and Deliberations of
the Cabildo, 1769-1803: A Record of the Spanish Government in New Orleans,"
59Dunbar-Nelson, "People of Color in Louisiana," 376.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
Pontalba wrote in February,
men of color and two black slaves, rightfully suspected as
coming from St. Domingue." 6
In a letter written Easter Sunday, 1796, Pontalba related to
his wife an incident which revealed that the ideas of "liberty,
equality, and fraternity" had infiltrated into the ranks of the
free colored population of New Orleans. A free mulatto encouraged several young Negroes who were beating a white
boy on the street to "kill him." When one Jourdain, a cooper,
reprimanded the mulatto for inciting the young Negroes to
harm the white child, the free colored boy told the cooper
to mind his own business. Jourdain inquired as to the meaning
of such insolence to a white person, and the use of the words
"thee" and "thou" (tutoyer) in speaking to a white man. The
mulatto replied, "Are we not all equals, am I not a citizen
the same as thee?" The dispute continued and Jourdain was
attacked by the mulatto who was later arrested and placed in
prison.6" Pontalba also feared the influence of "the national
cockades of the corsair ship" then in port. Crewmen told New
Orleans slaves of the glories of freedom for all under the
revolutionary regime of France."2
Fear of French influence within the ranks of the Spanish
military, according to Pierre C. Laussat who became colonial
prefect of France in charge of Louisiana for a brief period
in 1803, caused the Marquis de Casa Calvo considerable alarm.
Shortly after Casa Calvo became governor of Louisiana in
1799 he summoned his military officers to sign a statement
to the effect that they would remain in the service of the
King of Spain. The Spaniards also "exact[ed] a yes from the
two companies of men of color of this city, which compose
all the workmen of the city." Laussat reported a complaint
from two of the mulatto militiamen who asserted they were
16Joseph Xavier Delfau de Pontalba to his wife, February 24, 1796, Henri
Delvile de Sinclair (trans.), "Journal Letters of Joseph [Xavier] Delfau de
Pontalba to his wife Jeanne Fransoise le Breton des Charmeaux [des Chappelles],
1796" (Survey of Federal Archives in Louisiana, 1939; typescript in HowardTilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans), 62.
6tPontalba to his wife, March 27, 1796, ibid., 70-71.
62Pontalba to his wife, September 13, 1796, ibid., 288.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
compel them to give the fatal yes." 63
Free men of color saw military service throughout the
Spanish colonial period. Eighty free blacks and mulattoes were
in the army of Don Bernardo de Galvez when he captured
English forts in Baton Rouge and Natchez in 1779. Their
officers reported that they behaved well in battle.64 When a
Spanish expeditionary force left New Orleans for Mobile on
January 11, 1780, 107 free Negroes and mulattoes were among
the ranks, and colored men along with the white militia of
New Orleans saw action against the Indians near Pensacola a
year later.65 Free colored men in the military service were
assigned tasks other than fighting Indians. In 1782 Don Pedro
Piernas, acting commandant of New Orleans during the absence of Miro, presented the Ayuntamiento with an expense
account for the services of a detachment of free colored troops
who had spent more than two days in a search for runaway
slaves. 66
Militia units which included the free men of color were
organized separately from the regular Spanish army. Recognition of these militiamen on various occasions attested to the
importance of their services. A Royal Order of February 13,
1780, provided "10 silver medals for the officers of the colored
Militia." In 1789 the Spanish authorities granted 177 pesos
"for the purchase of Juan Cos, a free negro of the colored
militia." Cos had been taken prisoner by English troops and
later sold to a Meconque Indian who held the colored soldier
for ransom.67
Negro and mulatto slaves as wvell as free colored men aided
in the conquest of Pensacola, and Governor Bernardo de
Galvez declared that the bondsmen should receive compensa63Pierre C. Laussat to Duc Denis Decres, July 18, 1803, quoted in Robertson
(ed.), Louisiana Under Spain, France and the United States, II, 44.
64Gayarre, History of Louisiana, III, 108, 126-32.
65Caughey, Bernardo de Galvez in Louisiana, 175; Gasper Cusachs (trans.),
"Bernardo de Galvez Diary of the Operations Against Pensacola," LHQ, I
(January, 1918), 57.
66Burson, Stewardship of Don Esteban Miro, 110.
I7Jbid., 42.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
tion. If they were seriously wounded they would receive their
freedom and one hundred pesos. Those who were slightly
wounded were to be paid a like sum and would be permitted
to purchase their freedom for four hundred pesos, which was
set as the minimum price for slaves injured in the capture of
Pensacola. Promises made during the heat of battle are not
always fulfilled, however, and in 1785 the Intendant Don
MIartin Navarro awarded eighty pesos to seven of the Negroes
wounded at Pensacola. All others who took part in the siege
received only eight pesos.68
WVhile the Pensacola veterans did not receive their promised
emancipation, other slaves in the Spanish colonial period were
more fortunate. With the coming of Don Alejandro O'Reilly,
Louisiana was subjected to the Spanish law, Las Partidas Siete,
which provided means, in addition to those set up by the Code
Noir, by which a slave might become free. If the slave were
allowed the liberties of a freeman for ten years while his master
was within the colony, or for a period of twenty years while
the master was abroad, he became free.69 Slaves who became
priests or took Holy Orders also became members of the free
class. The Partidas also provided that a slave who had performed certain meritorious services for the Crown might be
emancipated, even though the master objected. In that case the
Crown would reimburse the master for the loss of the slave's
services.70 Further provisions granted liberation to a female
slave who had been placed in a brothel by her master and to a
slave who married a free Negro unless objection was made bythe nmaster.71 In the event a slave was owned by two persons,
one wishing to free the slave and the other refusing, the bonds-
mnani became free when the objecting master received compensation."
The reasons for the manumission of slaves and the means by
which their good fortune was achieved were varied. Often
the real motive for granting freedom was not listed. A benevoIi8SIbid., 102.
69Samuel P. Scott (trans.), Las Partidas Siete (Chicago, 1931), 847.
701bid., 983.
71Ibid., 982.
721bid., 981.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
lent master was not likely
because she had served him as a mistress, and seldom did a
master admit paternity of a slave child in a manumission petition. One can hardly accept at face value the "for services
rendered" explanation in the case of very young mulatto children. Again, one cannot be certain of valid reasons for emancipation at the time of purchase. Such was the case of the
slave Jeanne who was manumitted on December 23, 1769, the
day after she was bought by Jean Bordenave.73
Some slaves found opportunity to become free after their
master's death. Angelica, upon the decease of her mistress,
Marie Bienvenu Derbonne, collected alms of twelve pesos
which she offered to the court in exchange for her freedom
at the age of eighty. No bids were offered for the aged woman
at the sale of the property of the estate, and Angelica became
free in 1771. 7 Catherina, a mulattress slave in the estate of
Jean Bautista Destrehan, petitioned the court to set a price on
her and her child inasmuch as "some persons in recompense
for her services" promised to give money to purchase her freedom and that of her daughter. Estevan Bore', one of the
administrators of the Destrehan estate, declared he would not
consent "to giving her her freedom considering her bad conduct, her iniquity, her dissimulation and what she had done
to herself to become infirm so as to be valued more cheaply."
Nevertheless, the court ordered Bore to set a price, and
Catherina and the child were emancipated on October 14,
1773, for 320 pesos.75
Appraisers were called upon in many cases to set a fair
price on a slave when the master and the would-be purchaser
who intended to free the slave were unable to come to an
agreement. The free Negress Elena desired to emancipate her
son who was born while she was still a slave. The boy's father,
a free Negro, had sent her the money to pay for the son's
freedom. In the course of the dispute over his value, Elena
declared the owner asked too much for "her son, a negro
73Porteous (trans.), "Index to Spanish Judicial Records," LHQ, VI
(January, 1923), 162.
741bid., VIII (October, 1925), 708-709.
T5lbid., IX (July, 1926), 556-59.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
without a trade, a drunkard a
was set at eight hundred pesos, the original price to which
Elena had objected.76
While the slave who sought freedom by self-purchase tended
to be self-effacing, the master pointed to his bondsman's good
qualities in the hopes of obtaining a higher price. The slave
Naneta was valued at one thousand pesos because she was "one
of the most perfect creole servants in this Colony, with all the
required qualities to make a good house maid, cook, laundress
and has many other talents well known in this city." In addition to the one thousand pesos, the free Negress Margarita,
Naneta's mother, was forced to pay eight pesos a month for
seventeen months, the period of time in which Naneta had
been a fugitive from the home of her mistress. Emancipation
was accomplished on August 6, 1782.
Spanish law permitted the slave himself to petition for his
freedom at the price of his appraisement. When one Mrs.
Derruisseau refused to set the payment for the manumission of
her slave Miguel, he petitioned the court to appoint a disinterested party to determine a fair value. The court ordered his
owner to draw up emancipation papers which set his price at
five hundred pesos.78 Less haggling was necessary to execute
the act of manumission for Ana, a slave of the Capuchin monks.
The owners and the slave each appointed an appraiser, and the
two men set her value at 220 pesos. Upon payment of this
amount, and two and one-half pesos court fees, Ana was freed
in November, 1783. A somewhat similar case was as easily
expedited when the free mulatress Maria Theresa, daughter of
the slave Francisca, and her mother's master appointed appraisers who agreed on the price of three hundred pesos for the
Personal affection was in many cases a reason for freeing a
slave. Several persons, identified as Mr. Villars, Jr., Mr. and
Mrs. Fleuriau, and Mr. and Mrs. Trudeau, arranged for the
manumission of the slave "Catin for her good services to their
761bid., XIV (October, 1931), 619-21.
771bid., XVIII (July, 1935), 757-58.
781bid., XXII (January, 1939), 269-71.
79Ibid., (April, 1939), 592-93.
801bid., XXVI (October, 1943), 1198.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
deceased mother, and in cons
has raised." The Capuchin m
Charles Parish on the Germa
free his three slaves, Raph
15, 10 and 8, "before his dea
of their fidelity and good se
April, 1775. 81 Antonio Guic
the freedom of his mulatto
slave. Appraisers were appo
price could be reached by Guichard and Francisco Daniel
Dupain, the master. An act of emancipation was drawn up once
the price of sixty pesos was agreed upon for the eight-dav-old
Further suggestions of illicit liaisons may be found in w-ills
of white men despite the order of Governor O'Reilly that
freed slaves would not be permitted to receive donations as a
result of death. The free Negress Angelica obtained a court
order granting her the "clothes, linen, furniture and movables
in the house" of Juan Perret.83 Court approval also insured the
inheritance of 474 pesos, 1 V2 reales by the minor children of
Marie Joseph, a free woman of color. This sum amounted to
one fifth of the estate of Antonio Jaillot Demuy.4
Although he did not admit paternity in his will, Santiago
Lamelle named the free mulattress Jacquelina and her children,
Agata, Maria Juana, and Adelaida, his universal heirs. The free
colored family received a house on Royal Street valued at two
thousand pesos. Jacquelina was bequeathed the slave Eulalia.
Further provisions for the family included "200 hard pesos,
together with the other one-half of his table cloths and napkins, the kitchen furniture, bed linen, bed, sofa, small household affects and his handkerchiefs." Relatives received the remainder of the estate probated in 1784. 85
Janeta, a free mulattress, did not hope for consideration in
the will of her former paramour, one Darby, a lieutenant in
SlIbid., VIII (October, 1925), 728.
82Ibid., XIX (October, 1936), 1125.
83Ibid., X (July, 1927), 445.
84Ibid., XIII (April, 1930), 348-49.
85Ibid., XXIII (January, 1940), 314-37.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
the militia, and sued him for two hundred hard pesos "due
her . . . for her services for five years when she lived with
him as wife and servant." Janeta had two children by Darby,
a girl who died and a boy. When the Lieutenant married he
gave Janeta a note for two hundred pesos which he stated was
for the support of the little girl, whose death rendered the
note null. The outcome of the case is not known as it was
settled out of court in December, 1778. 86
Free persons of color in the Spanish colonial period enjoyed
the rights of property holders on an equal basis with white
persons. Charles Cazenave, a free mulatto, owned a tract measuring three arpents along the Mississippi River, four leagues
above the city.87 The free Negro Christopher owned one arpent and three fathoms of land in the barrio de Chapitoulas on
the south side of the river in 1802. 88 More extensive landholdings were the possession of the free Negro Jean Baptiste
who lived at English Turn, approximately twelve miles south
of the city. Baptiste's property measured ten arpents in front
and forty arpents in depth.89
Property disputes between free colored persons and whites
were frequently heard in the courts. Antonio Cavelier won a
suit against the free Negress Manon over the title to one
hundred feet of land on Royal Street in January, 1783. 90
Evidence was clearly in favor of the free colored plaintiffs in
a suit brought by Nicolas Bacus and Juan Bautista, free Negroes, against one Mrs. Guillermo. The colored men claimed
their property had been destroyed by grass fires set by the
lady's slaves while rabbit hunting. Although the case continued
in court for more than five years, no decision was made by
the judge.9'
Disposition of property belonging to a free colored person,
86Ibid., XIII (July, 1930), 526.
87Vincente Sebastian Pintado Papers, Book II, No. 10, Register B, No. 2,
October 30, 1795-February 7, 1801 (Survey of Federal Archives in Louisiana,
1940; typescript in Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, New Orleans), 38.
88Ibid., Book III, No. 3, January 24, 1801-December 14, 1802, p. 95.
89Ibid., Book IV, Register D, No. 4, March, 1803-May 15, 1804, p. 5.
9OPorteous (trans.), "Index to Spanish Judicial Records of Louisiana," LHQ,
XX (January, 1937), 279-87.
9'Ibid., XXV (October, 1942), 1194.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
who died intestate and with no relatives who were freemen,
was necessitated by the decease of the free Negress Martha.
There were no heirs inasmuch as Martha's only son, Pedro,
was the slave of Father Barnabe, the Capuchin missionary of
the German coast. In order to pay her creditors, the furniture,
clothes, and house belonging to Martha were sold at public
auction. Income from the sale amounted to 164 pesos, 2 reales,
and her debts totaled 115 pesos, 3 reales. Among the debts
were the funeral charges of 17 pesos, 6 reales presented by
Father Luis Quintanilla. Later the priest added several other
items "forgotten in the original bill." Once all the claims were
settled, Governor Luis de Unzaga ordered the remaining funds
paid to Father Barnabe, the master of Martha's son.92
Free persons of color owned forms of property other than
real estate. Mention has already been made of the slaves willed
to the mulattress Jacquelina and her children. Pedro Bahi was
another free Negro slaveholder. He had difficulties with the
authorities in 1790 at the time of the Tchoupitoulas crevasse
when "all free negroes and mulattoes in the city and such
slaves as their masters wished to hire out" were called upon
to aid in restoring the embankment. Rather than go himself,
Bahi sent his slave Pedro, who died while working on the levee.
The colored master's claim to recompense for the loss of his
slave's life was rejected by the Cabildo inasmuch as anyone
who employed Negroes "was never held responsible in the
event of a natural death, as this one seemed to be." Furthermore, the Cabildo declared, it was Bahi and not the slave
who was ordered to work on the levee, and permission to
substitute the slave was a matter of accommodation.93
A highly unusual arrangement in which a slave was permitted a certain measure of power over a free person was recorded in 1770. With the permission of her master, the slave
Juana apprenticed her twelve-year-old free mulatto son, Bautesta, to Nicholas Lauve, a shoemaker, for a period of four
921bid., X (April, 1927), 292-93.
93Burson, Stewardship of Don Esteban Miro, 104.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
years-. In addition to the boy's services, Lauve received fifty
pesos to teach Bautesta the trade.94
Throughout the Spanish colonial period free persons of color
enjoyed privileges denied them once Louisiana was purchased
by the United States. Prior to 1803 they did not have to plead
to be permitted membership in the militia, and they were not
under constant surveillance lest they incite slaves to insurrection. While they were never accepted on a basis of social
equality with white persons and penalties were meted out to
those who were indolent, they were accorded many of the
immunities of white citizens as revealed in the digest of Louisiana laws signed on June 1, 1795, by Governor Luis Hector,
Baron de Carondelet.
Free people of color, enjoying by law the same advantages
with the other members of the nation with which they are
incorporated, may not be molested in the possession of their
property, injured, or ill-treated under the penalties provided
by laws for the safety and security of the property of white
The syndics [policemen] shall also observe that all free
people of color labor either in the field, or at some trade
within their district, and shall send the indolent and vagabonds to the commandant of the post, who shall fix them at
the capital, where they shall be employed upon the king's
buildings, and other public works.95
During the brief interregnum, November 30 to December
20, 1803, while Louisiana was again a French colony, the
Spanish law continued. Once Louisiana became a territory
of the United States, that country permitted the Territory
of Orleans to make its own laws.96 "There were some substantive differences between the French and Spanish systems,"
wrote Henry P. Dart, "but the procedure of the latter fol94Martin Luther Riley, "The Development of Education in Louisiana Prior
to Statehood," LHQ, XIX (July, 1936), 620.
95American State Papers, 8 Cong., I Sess., Scr. 1, Class X, Miscellaneous, I, 381.
96L. Moreau Lislet and Henry Carleton (trans.), The Laws of Las Siete
Partidas Which are Still in force in the State of Louisiana (2 vols., New
1820), 1, xxi.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms
lowed lines not wholly variant with the French . . . and as
the years went by there emerged a Louisiana system, partly
French, partly Spanish, but not wholly either one or the
other." "
97Henry P. Dart, "The Place of the Civil Law in Louisiana," Tulane Law
Review, IV (February, 1930), 166-68.
This content downloaded from on Mon, 20 Apr 2020 21:42:25 UTC
All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms