Chapter Two. Creating Hegemony in Colonial Natchitoches: The French Creole Community
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20 chapter two Creating Hegemony in Colonial Natchitoches The French Creole Community In the early 1720s, Pierre Rachal, a soldier who hailed from St. Onge, France, arrived at Fort St. Jean Baptiste des Natchitoches with his Parisian-born wife, Anne Benoit. Following his discharge from the army, the couple remained in Natchitoches and raised three sons and threedaughters.AllsixoftheRachalchildrenmarriedfellowcreolesor people from France and settled in town, altogether parenting twentyeight offspring. At the same time, another soldier, Antoine Clermont, andhiswifeSusanMetier,whobothhailedfromBerryincentralFrance, settledinNatchitocheswiththeirdaughterJosepheJeanne.Soonthereafter ,theClermontshadanotherdaughternamedFrançoise.BothClermontdaughtersmarriedFrenchmen ,stayedinNatchitoches,andhada total of nineteen children. The Rachal and Clermont parents were representativeofNatchitoches ’sfoundinggenerationinthattheywerenot only of French descent, but they were also born in France. Their creole offspring were typical of many free settlers after the founding generationinthattheylivedinNatchitochesasadults ,marriedothercreolesor peopleofFrenchdescent,andhadlargenumbersofchildren.Creolesof thefirstandsecondgenerationgrewupwithinthefamiliarframework of French marital and societal roles and perpetuated the cultural customs of free society based on French norms, inculcating them in their children. Creolization became the dominant pattern among the free peopleofNatchitochesduringtheFrenchera.1 In the first half of the eighteenth century, the French settlers in Natchitoches found themselves greatly outnumbered by the Indians, Spaniards, and African slaves who lived in and around the frontier settlement. Indeed, the French position in Natchitoches remained precarious throughout the era as Gallic settlers made up only a small minority of the people that lived on the Louisiana-Texas frontier, which included about 5,000 Caddo Indians and 200 Spaniards. Even though the free population of the town experienced a tenfold increase during the course of the French period—from 34 in 1722 to 323 in 1765—they only constituted a small majority within the town of Natchitoches itself throughout the period (see Table 2.1).2 A4542.indb 20 A4542.indb 20 11/20/07 12:23:18 PM 11/20/07 12:23:18 PM 21 creating hegemony in colonial natchitoches Aware of their numerical minority, French settlers sought to transplant and maintain the integrity of their culture in order to retain a unified free society as a bulwark against the possibility of hostilities on the part of disgruntled natives or slaves. Officials and ordinary townspeople eagerly imposed familiar Gallic institutions such as the Catholic Church and marriage in the town. The townspeople shared a number of factors: a common language, an economy based in agricultural foodstuffs and products of the hunt, familiarity with Christian religious practices and beliefs, a hierarchical social system, an allegiance to the mother country of France, and patrilineal and patriarchal family forms. French settlers evinced a strong desire to retain a unified free society with the common language, economic patterns, social customs, and other cultural forms of expression that they brought with them. Onekeywayinwhichtheyformedaunifiedsocietywasthroughfamily formation. Marriage choice among free settlers in Natchitoches reveals that men and women were striving to impose familiar households based on French patriarchal ideas in order to create a sense of comfort and stability in a foreign, often threatening, environment. Most men eschewed marriage to indigenous partners whenever possible and favored French brides. In large part, free settlers were efficiently able to use marriage as a unifying force because an adequate number of French femaleimmigrantsbeganarrivinginNatchitochessoonafterthetown’s foundation, undercutting any demographic need for men to intermarry or form liaisons with Indian or Spanish women. Almost all men and women chose people of French descent as marriage partners and maintained household units in which the husband’s and wife’s roles were typical of early modern France. These households adapted French ideological conceptions of gender and marriage to the frontier and sought to unify the free population by promoting reproduction and assimilating the few outsiders who married into Natchitoches free society. Ironically, free Natchitoches colonists who in France would have found themselves ranked within a highly hierarchical social system Table 2.1. Natchitoches Free Population, 1722–1765 Year Free Total Pct. Growth Pct. of Total Population 1722 34 — 65.4% 1726 102 200.0% 74.5% 1737 112 9.8% 48.1% 1765 323 188.4% 54.6% A4542.indb 21 A4542.indb 21 11/20/07 12:23:18 PM 11/20/07 12:23:18 PM 22 chapter two actually created a town society that showed a marked degree of egalitarianism among nonslaves. Most free people maintained only a few distinctions of rank that were based on a family’s affiliation with original settlers or a hierarchical respect for those few people of high birth who settled in the region. Most Natchitoches households composed of a man and woman...



Subject Headings

  • Slaves -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- Economic conditions -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- History -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- Social conditions -- 18th century.
  • Natchitoches (La.) -- Race relations -- History -- 18th century.
  • French Americans -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Creoles -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Free African Americans -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Community life -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches -- History -- 18th century.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Louisiana -- Natchitoches.
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