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xxi preface C ane River’s Creoles of color, despite their fabled “uniqueness,” were part of a larger social order long considered peculiar to “Latin” Louisiana .1 Known as gens de couleur libres, the men and women of this society were considered neither black nor white. They successfully rejected identification with any established racial order and achieved recognition as a distinct ethnic group. The diverse cultures that spawned them created an ideology conceived of necessity, nurtured by hope, and carefully guarded against changing mores of society. The status they enjoyed, however, was not entirely of their own making. The growth of this distinctive people was fostered by the attitude of a society still not common to North America. The fact that most free men or women of color bore some degree of white blood was of little consequence in most of the United States. By law and social custom, the black and the part-black, whether slave or free, were usually relegated to the same social status and frequently displayed the same lifestyle and personal philosophy. The primary exception to this general rule was found in Louisiana, although echoes existed throughout the coastal regions of the Gulf South. The introduction of African slaves into the New World spawned a complex caste system for Creoles of African descent. In the colonies of France, Spain, and Portugal, special terminology attempted to denote the ratio of African blood held by those who appear in the records. In colonial and antebellum Louisiana, where precision gave way to practicality, the classifications most commonly found in the records are these: Negro . . . . . . . . applied usually to one of full black parentage Griffe . . . . . . . . 3/4 Negro–1/4 white or Indio-Negro mixture Mulatto . . . . . . 1/2 Negro–1/2 white xxii preface Quadroon . . . . . 1/4 Negro–3/4 white Octoroon . . . . . . 1/8 Negro–7/8 white And, generically, in the Spanish period: Pardo . . . . . . . . .  light-skinned person of color, percentages uncertain to the scribe Moreno . . . . . . .  dark-skinned person of color, percentages uncertain to the scribe The degree of privilege or degradation that Louisiana accorded people of color, whether slave or free, frequently depended upon each individual’s placement upon this caste scale. The racial philosophy of the white Creoles who dominated Louisiana society also contained a counterpoint to this caste system. Upon obtaining freedom, a multiracial Creole entered into a separate but complementary racial category—an intermediate class called gens de couleur libres. As such, they were accorded special privileges, opportunities, and citizenship rarely granted to counterparts in the English colonies and Anglo-American states. Preservation of this intermediate class in Louisiana society was contingent upon strict adherence to the caste system by its members. Just as whites entertained feelings of superiority to blacks and slaves, so did Louisiana ’s gens de couleur libres. Often possessing more white blood than black, and quite often on good terms with and publicly recognized by white relatives , most members of this caste in Louisiana were reared to believe they were a race apart. Countless testimonials reveal their inherent pride in their Catholic, French, and Spanish heritage and their identification with that culture rather than their African roots. Into this complex caste system still another factor injected itself: economic status. Louisiana’s legal code provided a wider berth of economic opportunities to free people of color than could be found in any of the other states. As is the case with any given society, gens de couleur libres displayed varying degrees of initiative, industry, and aptitude. The extent to which individual members of this class developed their opportunities often determined their degree of social acceptability in society as a whole. In this economic arena, one sees the most significant difference between the status of gens de couleur libres and free people of color elsewhere in North America. In the Anglo-American colonies and states, achieving a xxiii preface greater measure of legal rights and opportunities was typically an individual process. Most jurisdictions, prior to the Civil War, refused to fractionally define the line between black and white. As South Carolina’s Supreme Court Justice William Harper explained in 1835, “The condition of the individual is not to be determined solely by distinct and visible mixture of negro blood, but by reputation, by his reception into society. . . . [I]t may be well and proper, that a man of worth, honesty, industry, and respectability, should have the rank of a white man, while a vagabond of the same degree of blood should be confined to the...


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