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Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans

Jennifer M. Spear

Publication Year: 2009

A microcosm of exaggerated societal extremes—poverty and wealth, vice and virtue, elitism and equality—New Orleans is a tangled web of race, cultural mores, and sexual identities. Jennifer Spear's examination of the dialectical relationship between politics and social practice unravels the city’s construction of race during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Spear brings together archival evidence from three different languages and the most recent and respected scholarship on racial formation and interracial sex to explain why free people of color became a significant population in the early days of New Orleans and to show how authorities attempted to use concepts of race and social hierarchy to impose order on a decidedly disorderly society. She recounts and analyzes the major conflicts that influenced New Orleanian culture: legal attempts to impose racial barriers and social order, political battles over propriety and freedom, and cultural clashes over place and progress. At each turn, Spear’s narrative challenges the prevailing academic assumptions and supports her efforts to move exploration of racial formation away from cultural and political discourses and toward social histories. Strikingly argued, richly researched, and methodologically sound, this wide-ranging look at how choices about sex triumphed over established class systems and artificial racial boundaries supplies a refreshing contribution to the history of early Louisiana.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Early America: History, Context, Culture


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

On Good Friday, 1788, a devastating fire spread through New Orleans, eventually destroying three-quarters of the city’s buildings. As the fire threatened his house, notary Pierre Pedesclaux ordered his children to save the notary registries in his possession. Pedesclaux’s actions saved the records while his house burned ...

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pp. 1-16

In 1700, Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d’Iberville, sailed up the Mississippi River, gathering information about the territory he had just claimed as the French colony of Louisiana. When the expedition approached a Bayougoulas settlement, the villagers, according to André Pénicaut, “fled into the depths of the woods ...

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1 Indian Women, French Women, and the Regulation of Sex

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pp. 17-51

In March 1745, a dying Charles Egron dit Lamothe appeared before the New Orleans curé, Father Dagobert, to make a will. Born in Quebec in 1677, Egron had arrived in Louisiana with founder Pierre Le Moyne, sieur d’Iberville, in 1700 and had lived in various French settlements along the Gulf Coast, ...

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2 Legislating Slavery in French New Orleans

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pp. 52-78

In 1736, Marie, a young slave woman, ran away, claiming she was being “cruelly treated without cause.” Marie’s legal owner was Françoise Larche, who had recently inherited her father’s estate. However, Françoise was a minor and Marie was under the control of Françoise’s uncle and guardian, Joseph Chaperon and his wife, ...

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3 Affranchis and Sang-M

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pp. 79-99

In August 1725, two New Orleanians stood before Father Rapha

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4 Slavery and Freedom in Spanish New Orleans

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pp. 100-128

In June 1773, Catherina, a thirty-six-year-old mulata slave belonging to the estate of Juan Bautista Destrehan, filed a coartación petition for herself and her five-year-old daughter Félicité, requesting the court appoint appraisers to determine the price of their freedom. She argued that she had “merited the right to ...

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5 Limpieza de Sangre and Family Formation

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pp. 129-154

In December 1779, Do

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6 Negotiating Racial Identities in the 1790s

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pp. 155-177

In September 1799, Doña Clara Lopez de la Peña, a twenty-old-year-old native and vecina of New Orleans, appeared before Bishop Luis Peñalver y Cárdenas to request that he correct a clerical error concerning her daughter Luisa’s baptism. Then almost five years old, Luisa was, according to her mother, ...

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7 Codification of a Tripartite Racial System in Anglo-Louisiana

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pp. 178-214

In 1796, Eulalie Mandeville, a twenty-two-year-old femme de couleur libre, and Eugene Macarty, a twenty-eight-year-old blanco, began a relationship that would last almost fifty years, ending only with his death, and produce five children. Shortly after the relationship began, Mandeville received land and money ...

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pp. 215-220

On January 1, 1832, Alexis de Tocqueville was in New Orleans. He included the city on his tour of the United States in 1831–32 precisely to contrast its racial order with Anglo-America’s, although perhaps a desire “to enjoy the pleasures so celebrated of New Orleans” tempted him as well. ...


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pp. 221-310


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pp. 311-314

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 315-324

Writing about sex and race in early America is difficult. Much of the historical evidence consists of moralistic diatribes (which do not tell us whether the acts being railed against were in fact taking place nor, even if they were, with what frequency nor whether the speaker’s horror was representative of the few or the many) ...


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pp. 325-335

E-ISBN-13: 9780801898785
E-ISBN-10: 0801898781
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801886805
Print-ISBN-10: 0801886805

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 7 halftones
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Early America: History, Context, Culture
Series Editor Byline: Joyce E. Chaplin and Philip D. Morgan, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 608680224
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Race, Sex, and Social Order in Early New Orleans

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Subject Headings

  • Racially mixed people -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- History.
  • New Orleans (La.) -- Race relations.
  • New Orleans (La.) -- Social life and customs.
  • New Orleans (La.) -- Social conditions.
  • Racially mixed people -- Louisiana -- New Orleans -- Social conditions.
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