Les Gens de Couleur Libres
|The 1805 city charter authorized the Mayor to "license all taverns and boarding houses, hackney coaches, or other carriages for the conveyance of persons for hire, and all carts and drays for the carriage of goods, or other articles for
hire, subject to such restrictions as the said mayor and city council shall by ordinance
direct." Beginning in 1814 the City Council implemented regulations setting forth the obligations of licensees and requiring that they subscribe "jointly and severally with another solvent person to the satisfaction of the Mayor," security bonds for the p
roper execution of those obligations. The amount of the bond varied according to the purpose or occupation being licensed. The bond displayed here was issued to Francois Alexis, a free man of color, for a license to operate a tavern on Madison Street in
the Vieux Carre.
[Office of the Mayor, Security bonds for having a tavern, 1831]
|This 1837 assessment record for the first district of the First Municipality (the Vieux Carre/Treme area) shows that ten of the twenty-seven property owners in the square bounded by Bourbon, Bienville, Dauphine, and Conti Streets were free
persons of color. The 1835 city directory shows that Angelique Ory resided at 82 Dauphine Street.
[First Municipality assessment rolls, 1837]
|Manuel Barriere, in partnership with Medelice Thomas, operated M. Barriere & Co. selling shoes and dry goods from a store at the corner of Burgundy and St. Ann Streets in the Vieux Carre. The firm appears to have been organized in 1850
and to have begun doing business in 1852. By the end of 1856, however, Barriere was unable to pay his financial obligations and creditors had begun to file suits against him. In early 1857 he filed suit against his creditors and agreed to surrender his bu
siness property to them in payment of his debts. This document from the Barriere suit record lists the names of customers with outstanding debts to the store. At the top of the list is Marie Laveau, identified as Madame Paris nee Laveau. Among the othe
r free black citizens listed as Barriere's debtors is Basile Crocker, staircase builder, mathematician, and fencing master.
[Fifth District Court #11551, Manuel Barriere vs. his Creditors]
|Andrew Durnford was the son of Thomas Durnford, an Englishman living in New Orleans, and Rosaline Mercier, a free woman of color. Thomas Durnford was a close associate of John McDonogh and after Thomas's death in 1826 McDonogh remained clo
se to Andrew. The document displayed here is an order by the judge of the Parish Court of New Orleans authorizing the Sheriff to demand payment of a judgment rendered in favor of Durnford against several white men who owed him money. This judicial proce
eding was going through the court at the very time that Durnford was beginning to acquire land in Plaquemines Parish for his sugar plantation, St. Rosalie.
[Parish Court #5078, Durnford vs. Suarez and Maignan & Faurie]
|This folio from the 1804 census of New Orleans lists the noted architect and surveyor Barthelemy Lafon immediately adjacent to the free woman of color Modeste Foucher. When Lafon wrote his will five years later (he did not die until 18
20) he acknowledged several free black children that he had with Foucher. Modeste Foucher is also generally agreed to have been the mother of the philanthropist Thomy Lafon who was born in 1810. But Thomy Lafon's father is generally said to have been a
man by the name of Pierre Laralde. None of this proves that Thomy Lafon's father was really Barthelemy, but it is a question worthy of further research.
[Commissary of the Second District.Census of the Second District of the City of New Orleans, 1804]
|Early police records document the realities of urban life in the Crescent City during the antebellum years. These pages from the 1843 reports from the First Municipality list the arrests of white people and slaves along with lost vehicles.
Three entries are of particular relevance to the free black community. The arrest of Joseph Zamore reminds us that relations between free people of color and their white neighbors were not without friction. The reports of balls at the Washington, Con
ti, and Chartres ballrooms may provide evidence of the famous quadroon balls that were held on a regular basis in New Orleans during the period. The Bee newspaper of April 18, 1843 carried a small advertisement for the Washington Ballroom (locate
d on St. Philip Street) indicating that "Grand Dress and Masked" balls were held on every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evening. Interestingly, the French section of that same newspaper has an advertisement stating that the balls were held ever
y day except Sunday. At least one historian claims that the quadroon balls were the ones held on Tuesday and Thursday.
[New Orleans (La.) First Municipality Guard. Reports of the captain of the Guard, 1843-1844]
|In June, 1847, the First District Court ordered the Sheriff of Orleans Parish to execute a sale of the assets belonging to the estate of free woman of color Canly Roche. Such sales were commonly ordered to provide funds to settle the
debts of the estate. The household furniture (a mahogany bed and armoire, two mahogany dining tables, a washtand, for example) and other household goods (looking glasses, candlesticks, a feather mattress, kitchenware) from Roche's home at the corner of D
umaine and St. Claude were auctioned and brought in just over $100. We know from Canly Roche's succession (First District Court #1057) that a slave named Nancy was sold separately for the sum of $665. When the debts of the estate were paid, Roche's heir
s, her natural sons each inherited about $100. Many of the buyers listed in this sale were neighbors or family members.
[Orleans Parish. Sheriff's Office. Sales Books. v. 3]
|Not all of the free people of color who came to New Orleans, especially in its early years, were model citizens. Antoine Morales, a free man of color born in Port au Prince on the Isle of St. Domingue, was accused of larceny by the Territo
ry of Orleans in 1806. Before the County Court, Morales admitted that he stole "a handkerchief tied up with wearing apparel" (valued by the court at about thirty dollars) from one Joseph L'Islet, a boat hand of his acquaintance, then took the booty Aint
o the old custom house where he fell asleep and was taken up and put in prison. . . .A Morales also told the court that he had come to Louisiana about 15 years before and had lived for a time at Pointe Coupee and at other places in the territory. It is
probable that Morales was among the first of the thousands of free people of color who fled St. Domingue in the next decade following the slave insurrection there, which began in 1791.
[Territory of Orleans. County Court. Docket #74]
|In August, 1831, Marie Couvent, the widow of Bernard Couvent, petitioned the Parish Court to free her slaves, Seraphine, aged 40, and Fillette, aged 45, who had "faithfully served her for a great number of years past, nursed her in grie
vous sickness at various times." Only a month earlier, her husband, Bernard Couvent had asked the Orleans Parish Police Jury for permission to emancipate these same slaves and also asked that the women not be compelled (as state law required) to leave t
he state after their emancipation. The Police Jury consented to Couvent's request, but Couvent died before the consent could be formally ratified. In this document, Marie Couvent petitions the court in her own name to be given permission to carry out he
r husband's wishes. The Parish Court granted her request and, presumably, the slaves were freed by the Police Jury.|
Marie Cirnaire, born in Africa, was a former slave. Fairly late in life, she married Bernard Couvent, a carpenter, also a former slave, and together they accumulated property and other assets. Upon her death in 1837 at the age of 80, she left an estate t o be used to create a school for children of color. Opposition from whites delayed the settlement of the estate for a decade, but at length in 1847 the Institution Catholique des Orphelins Indigents opened. The school, located at the corner of D auphine and Touro, eventually became the St. Louis School of the Holy Redeemer. Today, as the Bishop Perry School, it continues to provide free Catholic education to young African-American boys.
[Orleans Parish. Parish Court. Slave Emancipations. Item 31E]
|Sebastien Tagiasco was a native of Sacio
near Genoa, Italy. A fairly well-to-do shop keeper, he legally
acknowledged at least two free children of color as his natural children.
In his will, dated October 19, 1810, he acknowledged Jean Tag iasco, a
young mulatto boy of 11, the son of Louise, "negresse libre." He also
acknowledges Felicité Tagiasco, "quarteronne," aged 24 years, the daughter
of Marie Josephe, a slave of Mr. Cavelier. After leaving additional
bequests to two free women of col or (including Louise, the mother of
Jean), to another daughter of Louise, and to his sister in Europe, he left
a third of his estate to his mulatto son Jean and the remaining two-thirds
to his quadroon daughter Felicité.|
Acknowledgment of mixed race children and bequests from their white fathers were common during the late Spanish colonial period and through the early American period. Later, when Americans gained more political power, they moved to curtail and restrict su ch practices.
[Probate Court, Will of Sebastien Tagiasco, 1810]
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