Louisiana Creoles(people)

Louisiana Creole(people) are blacks and mixed race individuals of the French colonial culture that developed in Louisiana, the most common usage. Most afro-descendant Louisians speak Louisiana Creole French(LC). Unlike Cajun and Colonial French(CF), which are forms of French, Louisiana Creole is its own language. They listen to Zydeco.

Creole Term

Timeline of Louisiana Creole Society

1706 First recorded black slaves in Louisiana
1724 the Code Noir enacted in Louisiana society
1755 Acadians began migrating to Louisiana
1762 slave pop.@3,640
1762 Louisiana ceded to Spain, Treaty of Fountainebleau
1766 slave pop.@5,799
1795 Slave rebellion plot revealed at Pointe Coupe
1800 Spain cede Louisiana to France
1800 slave pop.@24,264
1802 Haitian Revolution, refugees from St. Domingue arriving
1803 Louisiana Purchase, US owns Louisiana
1805 Auguste Tessier organizes first Octoroon Ball
1811 Jan 8-10 Slave revolt in two parishes
1812 Louisiana incorporated into the US
1835 New Orleans law separating cemetery for W, GC, slave
1841 Slaves hijack ship Creole to Bahamas, given freedom
1860 New Orleans regiment, 1st black regiment of Union
1863 Emancipation Proclamation,13 La parishes not included
1864 Oct. 4,New Orleans Tribune, 1st black paper in Fr, Eng
1866 Race Riots New Orleans 36 killed, 100 plus wounded
1868 Oscar J. Dun, ex-slave Lieut. governor of LA
         Race riot in New Orleans
1877 US troops exit New Orleans, Dem. takeover state gov.
1890 Jim Crow enacted in Louisiana

The term creole overtime referred to different social, ethnic, racial, class groups within Louisiana French society. Originally, the term meant anyone from the French culture society of Louisiana-whites, gens de couler, and blacks. After the Louisiana Purchase, most elite whites of French, Spanish, and German descent, in Louisiana, took the term to refer to themselves, excluding the Creoles of Color. Since having one drop of black blood meant one was black in the dominant anglo-American culture and black meant low status and slave, creole whites wanted to give the impression it only meant them. They wanted to emphasize their aristocratic position in relation to the flood of anglo-whites who flooded Louisiana. The white creoles eventually began mixing with the Cajuns, who they once viewed as lower in class. After Emancipation, the term was taken by the Creoles of Color(gens de couleur libre) to differentiate themselves from recently freed blacks. During the twentieth century and presently, it is used to refer to blacks and afro-descendant mix race (Creoles of Color), juxtapose to the white creole Cajun culture.

Black Slaves

The French controlled Louisiana from 1718 to 1769. Later it was transferred to Spain in 1769. Most slave ships arrived between 1719 to 1758. Because of the prosperity of Haiti, shipping slaves to Louisiana became a futile endeavor.

French Rule

Under French control, most of Louisiana's slaves originated from the Senegambian coast. Of the 20 ships to arrive in Louisiana between 1719 through 1743, sailed from Senegal. Two Thirds of all captives (3,909) were shipped from Senegal and included Wolofs, Mande speaking ethnics like the Bambaras, Mandinkas(Mandingo). Internal rebellion within the Segu Empire produced lots of victims for the slave markets between 1700 through 1730. The French purchased their victims from Fort Joseph on the Senegal River. Louisiana society, under French rule, had a dominant Bambara component. 

The Senegambian component is reflected in many aspect of Louisiana culture. Rice cultivation was practice extensively in Senegambia, a skill brought to Louisiana by slaves. Rice dishes remain a staple of Louisiana cuisine. Slaves would usually be given the Surnames of the place of origins. Today in Louisiana, one finds individuals with last names "Sinegal." 

The Senegambian region is riched in string instruments. The fiddle and the banjo, would have arrived in Louisiana via Senegambian slaves. The banjo's origins came from a plucking instrument found in the Senegambian region. It must be noted that the fiddle also has a European origin. Europe could have been the source.

Six shipments of slaves, between 1719 and 1721, originated from Ouidah(Whydah) from the Slave Coast dominated by the Dahomey Empire in present day Benin. One originated from Cabinda in Angola. In Louisiana society, a sex imbalance existed with a very heavy male versus female ratio. 

Ethnic  Male  Female 
Bambara  48 
Chamba  46  17 
Igbo  25 
Kongo  119  41 
Mandingo  70  23 
Mina(Ewe)  69  11 
Yoruba  38  17 
Wolof 34  14 
Total  449  135 
1790 Slave ethnic sex breakdown in Louisiana

Louisiana French Creole(LCF)

During the period of French occupation, slaves developed Louisiana French Creole. Slaves coming from a variety of african locale, needed to communicate with each other and their masters. A pidgin initially developed on the plantation. The pidgin would have developed from limited access to formal Colonial French, spoken by whites and since most slaves were field hands. In addition, learning to read French was forbidden and could result in death for slaves. Their native born children would developed the subject/verb structure needed for a mature language as Louisiana French Creole. Louisiana French Creole would be the only language of the slave population. The gens de couleur libre would be versed in both Louisiana French Creole and Colonial French of the general white population.

Spanish Rule

Between 1769-1800, Spain ruled Louisiana. Slaves during this period came mostly from the Kongo/Angola region. Unlike the French, the Spanish kept very little records on the number of slaves imported. Scholars estimate a range of 16,089-28,300 , with most siding on the low end could have been imported. The Spanish introduced the concept of coartación-the right of slaves to self-purchase. 

During this period, we also see the earliest expression of later Louisiana cultural norms. The funeral parade procession was established during the Spanish period with its festive musical ensemble, laying the groundworks for later funeral procession and Jazz. Earliest expression of Mardi Gras can be seen in the Spanish period celebration of Día de Reyes (Kings Day) with Africans dressing how they wanted, in ancestral costumes singing, drumming, and dancing. Louisiana at this time had great cultural interaction with Cuba, especially Havana. Cultural norms like funeral parade procession and Día de Reyes (Kings Day) could also be found in Afro-Cuban culture. 

By 1810, Louisiana creole territory contained 35,000 slaves.

Revolts and Maroons

African slaves on numerous occasion rebelled against the slave institution. In 1731, 400 Bambara slaves lead by Samba planned a revolt, but due to a slip of tongue by a mistreated female slave, the plot was made manifest. Slaves from the Bight of Benin of Ewe origins in 1791, in Pointe Coupée planned mass rebellion, but was quickly aborted, after being revealed. In some cases, black slaves joined indians in rebellion. In 1792, Natchez Indians attacked Fort Rosalie in collaboration with blacks, after whites attempted to aquire Natchez land. 250 whites were killed and the tobacco apparatus was destroyed. One-tenth of the white population was killed. 400 Natchez were sent to the Caribbean.

Slaves also runaway and founded maroon societies in the swamps. The most famous was the maroon society founded by of Juan Maló, who later became known as San Maló(Saint Evil). Many slaves fled the plantations to join the maroons. Many took indian wives. Juan Maló engaged in theft and sabotage of plantations. Being native born, Maló received assistance from within New Orleans society, slave and free.

Gens de Couleur Libre

Under Spanish law Blacks could purchase their freedom. Many did. By the end of the Spanish period 1,490 free blacks existed. Many of these blacks formed unions with whites, due to a scarcity of white women in the region. White men took black mistressess, in return for financial support, a system called plaçage. The plaçage system produced a well to do and property owning class of women. Well to do whitemen would typically have a white wife and family and a colored wife and family, the white Brussart and colored Brussart. They typically knew each other. When the colored family run into hard times, the white family would help out. When the white family ran into trouble the colored family would help out. 

The offspring of such unions inherited land and wealth from their fathers. Some inherited slaves, which they treated no different than white slave owners. Many owned businesses. They were merchants and shop-owners. They were professionals--shoemakers, carpenters, barbers. Some were sent to Spain and France to be educated and aquire special skills by their white fathers. They formed a middle tier in Louisiana French society, below whites and above black slaves.  After emancipation, many lost their previlege status, occupying the same status as blacks. To protect their position, the Creole of Color formed close social family networks. They married among themselves, attended the same churches, and fraternal organizations, differentiating themselves from the former black slave population.

Free blacks pursued opportunities in the military. In the Spanish period, they comprised the battalones de pardo (tan battalions) and battalones de moreno(black battalions). They were used to defend the colony and fight black maroon colonies. 

To gain freedom slaves sometimes took assignments nobody wanted. Louis Congo for example became free on condition, he became the city executioner and torturer. A very lonely and dangerous position. 

  White  Free People of color Slave  Military
(black soldiers) 
Male  1,153  324  871  381 
Female  912  538  718  
Total  2,065  862  1,589  381 
1791 census in New Orleans

French Colonial Race Categorizaion

The French colonial society devised numerous racial categorization based on generational degrees of blackness. In the plaçage system, the mulatto was the first generation. The second generation offspring was the quadroon.  

Racial Category   Description
Sacatra  7/8 black; griffe and black;8 thru 23 part white 
Griffe 3/4 black or offspring of mulatto and black;24 thru 39 part white
Marabou, marabon  5/8 black, mulatto and griffe;40 thru 48 part white
Mulatto  1/2 black;49 thru 70 part white
Quadroon, quarteroon 1/4 black or offspring of mulatto and white, or white and mameluke;71 thru 100 part white
metif  1/8 black, white and quadroon(quarteroon);101 thru 112 part white
mameluke  1/12 black or white and metif;113 thru 120 part white
Octoroon  1/8 black or quadroon and white;121 thru 124 part white
Sang-mele  1/8 black or white and quateroon 
'steenth 1/16 black

Works Cited


Bernard, Shane K. Creoles. KnowLA Encyclopedia of Louisiana. Ed. David Johnson. 8 Aug. 2012. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. 07 Aug. 2012 <http://www.knowla.org/entry.php?rec=627>

Broyard, Bliss(2007). One Drop, My Father's Hidden Life-A Story of Race and Family Secrets. Back Bay Books. ISBN 9780316008068

Sublette, Ned(2009).The World That Made New Orleans, From Spanish Silver to Congo Square. Lawrence Hill Books. ISBN 978-1-55652-958-0